Mohammad El Zayatt testimony
First of all, I’d like to offer my condolences to the families of the martyrs, and to pay tribute to all of Egypt’s martyrs — and I do count them among God’s martyrs.
Second, this is a testimony, not a piece of analysis. I’m saying only what I’ve seen — no allusions, no analysis.
On the day of the protest, I was at work. I was following the march on Twitter as soon as it set out from Shubra. At the Shubra tunnel they were ambushed by thugs, but they managed to get past and keep going. The news on Twitter said that they had passed the Al-Ahram building on Galaa Street and that lots of people were joining them. I said to myself: it’s no good being in solidarity with them while sitting behind my computer. I decided I have to go join them in Abdel Meneim Riad Square, even if for just half an hour, just to make a stand, so my actions will be in line with my principles and all that. So I headed out and took a taxi, leaving my car behind. I didn’t even take my wallet, because I wasn’t going to Tahrir Square or to a dangerous demonstration — just Christians protesting. I wasn’t expecting anything to happen.
Anyway, I arrived at the Ramsis Hilton and found large numbers of people. They’d already reached the television building. And just as I thought, it was a ‘Christian protest’: overly polite people carrying signs and candles and crosses. There were lots of Muslims, too: men with beards, veiled women and girls. I took a candle and walked in the middle of the march for a bit so I could watch. I got to the optician’s next to Radioshack on the Corniche when suddenly someone held my right hand. I looked up and found a young man smiling at me this ‘We’re One Hand’ smile. I smiled back and walked with him. We were walking, holding hands, making a point. He didn’t ask me who I was and I didn’t ask him either, he didn’t ask whether I was Muslim or Christian and neither did I. There was a priest standing on top of a van with speakers on it. He was saying ‘God have mercy!’ and we repeated it after him.
Suddenly, I heard gunfire, a lot of it, and women screaming, and chaos broke out. The young man pulled me towards the pavement because everyone was running around in panic. I had no idea what was going on and was completely terrified because the sound of gunshots was coming from all directions.
Then all at once I felt my hand being pulled down. I looked at the young man and found his legs swaying beneath him and a bullet in his right temple. It may have gone all the way through to the other side, or not, I don’t know. His whole body started swaying and he buckled down to the ground. He was looking up at me with a look of utter bewilderment…a look of not believing what had just happened…a look of “Am I dying? But how? Why?”…a look of disbelief at death itself. At first I thought he was looking at me but when I reviewed the scene I realised he was looking up at God, and I just happened to be in the way. His look was not angry or upset, just astonished, incredulous, searching, with a little half-smile. I swear to God I have no idea if this young man is Christian or Muslim, I didn’t get a chance to ask. He wasn’t wearing a cross and I didn’t notice whether he had one tattooed on his wrist, I wasn’t paying attention. All through this he was holding my hand and then he quietly let go of it and folded to the ground, his eyes wide open.
In shock, I got down on my knees and started shaking him, saying, “Get up. Get up!” A few people came around, looked at me, and said, “What are you saying? Just help us carry him.” We lifted him off the ground.
I looked to my left towards the television building and found people being scattered like ants, and then I saw the reason: an armed personnel carrier (APC) weaving madly into the crowds, as though its driver was drunk. The APC was coming right at us to the point where we actually had to drop the young man after lifting him and run for our lives. Is there any humiliation greater than this?! Do you know how it feels for a man to have to run and leave behind someone dead or injured? To flee because he fears for his life? That is true humiliation. Men will understand what I mean.
I ran towards the Nile. Tear gas filled the air. I was crying and I didn’t know why — because of the gas, over the boy who died, over myself, over everything? As I was retreating I saw for myself the carnage left behind by the APCs…brains and intestines and legs and half a human being…all this I saw. But the nastiest, dirtiest thing of all is that I saw people running and, out of their minds with panic, stepping on these remains — beyond thought, just trying to save their skin. Do you know what it means to see a corpse desecrated in front of you, people trampling all over it and it’s moving, twisting and turning, because people are scrambling over it without even thinking to look down?
I kept retreating, stunned, and at the Ramsis Hilton I saw tourists inside the hotel watching the scene. Suddenly a tear gas bomb flew into the hotel — right inside — and the whole place filled with white fog. God knows what happened to those tourists.
I kept running away till I got to the headquarters of the bloody National Democratic Party. I saw people on top of the 6 October Bridge hurling rocks at those underneath. The scene looked like a war zone, people screaming and others running back inside. I spotted some people chasing the APC — the one that was about the run us over a little while ago — as it headed back after finishing its little spin.
I ran in the opposite direction and went back to the office. I’d like to say that if I was killed that day no-one would’ve known. I wouldn’t have even resurfaced because I didn’t have an ID on me. I would’ve been one of those unidentified martyrs buried in mass graves in a charity cemetary. My question is the same one the young man had, the young man who died, who had become a dear friend without me even knowing his name: Why did this happen? If anyone has an answer, please explain.
Mohammad El Zayatt