An Interview with an Egyptian Streetfighter
Dec 7 2012
Egypt's political clusterfuck took another dark turn this week. Deadly clashes took place in the vicinity of the presidential palace, between mostly secularist protesters angry at President Morsi and his supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood.
Two weeks ago, President Morsi awarded himself sweeping powers that placed him in a position of authority that was more or less beyond reproach. This angered the judiciary and public alike, who noted that former dictator Mubarak never sought to ensconce himself in a position of such limitless power. Mass protests across the country resulted in offices belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood – who dominate the government in post-Mubarak Egyt – being set on fire and two protesters being killed in confrontations with police.
The next week, a draft constitution was rushed through parliament, deeply polarising the country. Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched on Parliament on Tuesday to register their disdain for the decision. Fighting quickly broke out with police and President Morsi was evacuated from the building. Some protesters camped out overnight but woke in the morning to the sounds of their tents being kicked in, as Muslim Brotherhood members – bussed in from all over the country – made a violent attempt to clear the camp.
What followed were some of the most violent scenes seen in the country this year, with both sides using firearms and six people losing their lives, as the police, outnumbered, watched the chaos unfold. Clashes in Egypt are always a dangerous place for journalists but Tuesday's violence was exceptional, with one Egyptian photographer shot in the head at point blank range and other journalists threatened.
To find out what really happened from a street-level perspective, I spoke to an anti-Morsi protester over Facebook chat, who swapped his camera for a stone and fought with the Muslim Brotherhood for eight hours.
VICE: So what time did you get to the presidential palace?
M: Just after Maghrib prayer, about 6PM.
What made you want to head down to the palace and protest?
To help the other protesters, because I know that the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi supporters are sick motherfuckers . I had my camera and my mask with me but I usually never throw stones or fight, I only go to take photos and help people and throw away tear gas cannisters. B ut that day I couldn't resist – I had to throw stones and fight back.
Why did you feel you had to fight yesterday?
Because they are ruthless motherfuckers. They have been is prison for the last 60 years or so. They are bloody bastards.
There were lots of people saying that some of the MB were paid to disperse the protesters camped outside the palace. What are your thoughts on that?
The MB are like Freemasons, they don't get paid, they get membership , they are a secret society and have to obey the rules – if they do, they get jobs and benefits from the organisation .
Right I see, so what happened when the MB turned up at the palace on Wednesday?
They started kicking people out and fighting the anti-Morsi protesters. They kicked two of them to death. As soon as that happened, thousands more anti-Morsi protesters came back to the palace to show our strengh. On Tuesday, there were so many of us we could've stormed the palace, but we chose not to.
We are peaceful protesters, like Gandhi, we are angels. The protesters got back to the palace, to help their people there because we heard that some of the protesters had been stripped naked and hanged. Then the clashes started all around the palace and the streets around the palace, too.
And to begin with it was just stones and petrol bombs being thrown, right?
Yes , but the MB had gunshots and tear gas. I don't know from where they got tear gas from.
Do you think it was the police who gave them these weapons?
I don't know – the police were so pissed off at them – but maybe. The MB have a lot of weapons, especially after the Libyan revolution .
Why were the police not trying to stop the clashes?
I think they had orders to do so, plus the regime is a MB one and police usually care for the regime. But this time I think they are pissed off. The numbers were so great and the people were so mad, so they left. It was war.
So they were scared to intervene?
Yes for sure, watch this video, this is from the MB side, the anti-Morsi protesters are on the other side, behind the yellow walls:
So that was an MB guy with a pistol?
I also saw some videos of anti-Morsi guys with guns. What do you think of that?
Yes, we had shotguns too, but we didn't have them untill 10/11PM because we couldn't resist without them. It was a last-minute decision .
Okay, so you felt the need to defend yourselves?
Why do the MB say the anti-Morsi protesters are all members of former president Mubarak's political party?
It's all part of the media war, because all the Egyptian people became united and the MB are left alone in their party .
So they're trying to smear you guys?
Yes. Watch this video:
What was in that guy's hands that he was waving in front of the camera?
They are complaining about the cheese packs, saying they're an American brand.
Haha, so they're saying that America funds the anti-Morsi protesters because of the cheese they found?
Yeah. We are in the middle of chaos. This is crazy.
So what happened when you arrived on the scene?
When I arrived here there were serious clashes and stone throwing from both sides. The atmosphere was pretty dark when we arrived, we were scared, because we don't know who is MB and who is protester; we didn't know who is who because of course we dress the same, we look the same. They do have slightly bigger beards, but we didn't know for sure till we got right up close that we were at the right place with the right protesters .
Did you start throwing stones straight away, or did you wait?
No, like I said earier, I don't usually do that.
Was there a specific moment that made you realise you needed to fight? Like did you see something that made you so angry you had no choice?
Yes, they got one of us and beat him so hard in front of us and the police :
He looks like he was lucky to get out alive.
Did you get in any fist fights or just stone throwing?
No, just stone throwing, there was a no-man's land between the two sides.
Did you see if any of your shots hit any MB?
No, I couldn't. We were using the shields for cover so we couldn't see.
Were you hit by any stones?
Yeah, a couple of times in my hands and legs . Thank god it's only really small bruises.
So even though you were hit you consider yourself lucky?
Either you only get small bruises or you get hit really bad, there's no middle ground.
Do you enjoy the fighting or do you see it as a duty?
It's a duty indeed, but later on you feel some excitement from the adrenaline.
So how long did the clashes last for?
Really long. It started at about 5.30PM and lasted for too long – I left at 2AM.
So what happens next for Egypt and this crisis? Do you think Morsi will give up his new powers?
I'm sure he will.
So, do you think Morsi should step down and another election should take place?
Sure, but I think it will take time to step into another level. We don't know what's gonna happen, but in god we trust.
Do the actions of the past week show that the revolution is not finished?
Totally, we are like sharks: more blood, more sharks.
What do you think the Egyptian opposition need to do to now?
The politicians need to man up and do the right thing, they should unionise themselves and make a presidential counsel, the Egyptian nation stay in the streets .
- - -
Since Wednesday, seven of Morsi's closest advisors have quit in protest at his handling of the crisis. On Thursday, the army was drafted in to protect the presidential parliament, scenes which have not been seen since the revolution. With Morsi refusing to back down, protesters returned on Friday, cutting through the barbed wire barricades, hugging army troops and dancing on their tanks. So far, it's remained peaceful, but with both sides still at loggerheads that peace probably won't be lasting too long.
Follow Henry on Twitter: @Henry_Langston