Will witch hunts for deserters and its initial refusal to arrest Mubarak lead Egypt’s military down a blind alley of violence and tyranny?

eguptstoryGue042-575.jpgPhotograph courtesy Paulo Siqueira


Friday, April 8, 2011

11 a.m.

She wants me to look at the sign she holds high above the heads of protesters, and read the words she has written on either side of a photograph of her five-year-old grandson.

     From the revolution     where are my rights

     I’m an innocent child     release my father

And this below his picture:

     Bring my father out quickly

     Bring my father out injustice is not good.

     Bring my father out I want to see him

     I see everything dark without my father

     Bring my father out or you will go to hell

Dozens of people push and shove, jostling around the grandmother, 48-year-old Magada Ahmed Mohammad. Spinning in circles, moving one way and then another with no apparent purpose other than to escape the crush of bodies descending on Cairo’s Tahrir Square for today’s demonstration, a day of “cleansing and prosecution” as organizers have called it.

Two months earlier similar gatherings in the square forced Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak to leave office. Those demonstrations also had names: “The Day of Revolt,” “The Friday of Anger,” and most memorably “The Friday of Departure” when Mubarak quit the presidency on February 11.

Now the youth movement that defied him has grown impatient with the slow pace of change since he left office. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that now rules the country appears reluctant to prosecute Mubarak and his cabinet for corruption and human rights abuses. So the hundreds of protesters now clogging the square have decided to once again demonstrate and stay until Mubarak and his cronies are arrested and charged with crimes.

Magada sits on a green railing holding her sign aloft, her black hair hanging as loosely around her lined face as the baggy blouse that sags rumpled around her body. She is in the square for an altogether different reason than the protesters. She seeks justice for her 30-year-old son, Abdel-Hamid Mohammad, the father of her grandson whose wide-eyed photo stands out among all the hand-held Egyptian flags waving around it. Magada hopes someone in the square will see the photo and ask about it. Someone who has the clout to do something on behalf of the boy’s father. She thought I might be that someone until I explain through my Egyptian colleague Rashad that I am an American journalist covering the protest. She purses her lips and nods, giving me a look that lets me know I am of no use to her, but rather another example of the bittersweet days following the fall of Mubarak, when hope spread throughout the country and region, and even helped inspire a revolt in Libya, before those expectations began to be overshadowed by the lingering hangover of the despot’s long reign; government corruption including money laundering and profiteering; a nearly ten percent unemployment rate; and the continued mass arrests of political opponents.

Magada tells Rashad that Abdel-Hamid was detained in November 2007 for marijuana possession and drug-dealing, and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment. Magada insists the allegations against him were manufactured by crooked police. She has left messages at the prime minister’s office, the district attorney’s office and with secretaries to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. No one responds.

As she tells her story, Magada’s sense of isolation increases with the rising bustle around us. The commotion reminds me more of the Super Bowl than a protest. Vendors hawk black and red wristbands the color of the Egyptian flag, E-shaped key chains and V-for-victory pins. Boys sell chocolate candy, peanuts, and popcorn. Bugs Bunny, Cinderella and SpongeBob balloons bob beneath banners denouncing Mubarak. The beaming white mustachioed face of Colonel Sanders just feet away at a Kentucky Fried Chicken offers American-style fast food and large glass windows for hastily scrawled protest signs taped crookedly across advertisements for family-friendly Variety Big Box Meals.

     The people want prosecutions!

     Put Mubarak on trial!

     We will not leave until a judgment is passed on Mubarak!

Various demonstrations have used the square as a rallying point for years including the 1977 Egyptian bread riots, and the March 2003 rally against the U.S.-led war in Iraq. A large and busy traffic circle occupies its center. A statue of Omar Makram, who resisted Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, rises stalwart above the crowd northeast of the traffic circle near a mosque named after him and where Magada stays at night.

     The revolution will never die!

An old man painting Egyptian flags on the cheeks of protesters holds out a cup of steaming tea to Magada. She reaches for it, her face an expression of weary thanks, but a shift in the crowd knocks the cup from the old man’s hand.

I have to fight off a sense of drowning as I am driven deeper into the crowd, the pouting appeal of Magada’s grandson eclipsed by upraised faces shouting into the sky, confident their every demand will be met if they simply occupy the square once more.

When we got to Tahrir, two things came to mind. Oh, my God, look at all these people. Then I thought, if this doesn’t work, what will happen to us?


Rashad squeezes after me. He enthuses about the revolution in a voice that hints at a slight British accent but is combined with a street cockiness expressed through the liberal use of the word motherfucker. His father was a diplomat and Rashad has lived throughout Europe, the Middle East and parts of Central Asia. But the Egyptian revolution has been the highlight of his life. He can’t stop talking about it, recalling it, reliving it, even now amid the hubbub and distorted shrieks of static-cracked speakers carrying the increasingly hoarse voices of screaming protesters.

     Who are they? Thieves and robbers. Who are we? The people!


On January 25, the first day of the revolution, “The Day of Revolt,” I prepared some banners. I was in one group of twelve guys. If the motherfucking police watched us, my job was to draw attention to myself so the group could reach the square. That’s how we began walking to the square, man. Groups of twelve from all over the city—small enough, we hoped, not to be noticed—began. Hundreds and hundreds of groups of twelve. We were like the legs of a motherfucking spider stretching down all these streets marching. When we got to Tahrir, two things came to mind. Oh, my God, look at all these people. Then I thought, if this doesn’t work, what will happen to us?


Magada watches Rashad and me disappear into the throng before she turns and faces a woman who has stopped to snap her photo.

If I get my son released, then the revolution is fine, Magada tells the woman.

Don’t move, the woman says. She holds a cell phone in front of Magada’s face and clicks a button. She looks at the photo and frowns.

I had hoped my phone camera would work so I could take pictures and spread the word about you but it looks like the battery is dead.

Oh, Magada says.

She stares after the woman who quickly disappears into the throng of protesters. Magada wants to unburden herself, release the anguish inside. But it must be to someone who can help her son. She sits silently, the weight of her loss left unspoken bearing down upon her as much as the pressure of the sun’s heat sears her neck draining her of energy and hope.

On the day he was arrested, Abdel-Hamid had invited his parents to lunch. He and his wife lived in an apartment below them in Cairo’s Imbaba neighborhood, a congested middle-class district of narrow broken roads and grimed apartment buildings interrupted by cramped clotheslines and dust-blown trees.

He stood in the street and shouted for his mother. She leaned out a window and told him they would be right down. Magada called to her husband who was in the kitchen making tea. Let’s go, she told him. Then she heard yelling, and looking out her window saw Abdel-Hamid arguing with a policeman standing outside a van. Another policeman sat in the van.

What are you doing here? the policeman demanded.

What concern of it is yours, Abdel said in an angry voice that carried up to Magada. He approached the officer standing inches from his face.

I’m waiting for my parents.

The policeman shoved him. Watch how you talk. You better know who you’re talking to, he said. Abdel cursed him. His one mistake, Magada thinks. The policeman grabbed Abdel. The other officer got out of the van and together they opened the back doors and forced Abdel inside. By the time Magada ran downstairs they were gone.

She asked for him at the police station but was told he was not there. She described the arresting officers; not very tall, stocky, black hair. One had a mustache. Both looked to be in their thirties. The desk clerk shrugged. He did not know anyone of either description. Magada left the station and described her son to a street vendor selling oranges and bananas. Did you see him brought in, she asked. He said he did see Abdel-Hamid walk into the police station with officers on either side of him gripping his arms. Don’t worry, the vendor said. Your son is probably in the fridge.

Magada panicked. She thought he meant Abdel was in the morgue but the vendor corrected her. The fridge was an interrogation room on the third floor of the police station.

Magada and her husband hired a lawyer and met with Abdel-Hamid a week later. His head was shaved and his clothes torn as if he had been dragged across a floor. His face was swollen on one side. He said he had been tortured until he agreed to sign a paper confessing to drug-dealing. OK, I’ll write what you want, he told his captors.

Remembering this, Magada begins to cry. A young man with a white and black scarf wrapped around his neck stops and asks if she is all right.

Yes, she says.

Why do you hold that sign? the man asks her.

This is my grandson. His father was falsely accused of dealing drugs and is now in jail.

I am sorry, the man says. Hopefully he will get out.


Friday, April 8, 2011

1 p.m.

In east Cairo, miles from Tahrir Square, 27-year-old Libyan rebel fighter Naher Asser al-Sonousi tells me that he knows all about imprisonment. As a boy, he had seen Libyan police snatch people off the street without explanation including one time his father.

Now he lies in a bed at Cairo Specialized Hospital watching television coverage of the protest. His face has been scorched a dark tan. Pink skin shows along the edges as if he wears a mask. A cast encloses his right leg. Metal screws jut out of the cast, and keep his nearly severed ankle bound together. Two of his right toes have been amputated. His big toe may be removed as well.

The heat from a fire roaring out of the dashboard seared his face and hands, and he threw himself from the car to put out the fire consuming his clothes.

A static-filled cheer rises out of the TV. Flags wave frantically on screen. The static interferes with the voice of the broadcaster making it difficult for Naher to understand him. Gaddafi called the revolution in Egypt the work of thugs. Naher knew he was lying. His thoughts are always with Libya and the struggle there. At least Mubarak treated people as human beings and stepped down. Gaddafi attacks them with planes and maintains his grip on power.

The day Naher was wounded marked the highlight of his life. It was the biggest honor he could get. He had sensed an uprising in Libya as far back as 2008. Maybe he desired it more than sensed it.

He had hoped to die a martyr. He imagined himself in battle. He thought it would be in Gaza fighting the Israelis. But then war broke out in Libya. What the hell, a battle is a battle.

Fighting produced in him the best feeling in the world. It was like a wedding. Men fire guns at weddings as part of the festivity. Naher heard the sounds of the battlefield and exulted as if he was part of a celebration.

He was injured in Las Renuf when a shell struck his car. It spun in mad circles, the noise sealing his ears until all he heard was a muffled silence before the car stopped abruptly in a sand dune. The heat from a fire roaring out of the dashboard seared his face and hands, and he threw himself from the car to put out the fire consuming his clothes. When he stopped rolling on the ground, he could not move his blood-soaked right leg. He felt a fierce pain consuming his face and leg. He screamed when he was strapped onto a stretcher by other rebels. Then he felt nothing.

Naher was taken to a hospital in Benghazi, stabilized and then driven by his father to Cairo. The hospitals there were better. War had not reduced the number of doctors and medical supplies as it had in Libya. Now four weeks later, Naher vows to return to the front in Libya when he can walk again.

Another cheer returns his attention to the television. More flag-waving.

Although Mubarak was toppled, Egypt is still ruled by the military. There must be further change. Watching the protesters, Naher hopes that when Gaddafi falls, the military does not rule Libya.

A security detail from the Ministry of Interior walked in a short time later and started shooting their guns in the air. They told everyone in the store to put their hands up and get home before curfew.


While Naher watches television, Magada notices thirteen Egyptian soldiers approach one of the makeshift podiums the protesters have arranged in the square for anyone to bound up and rally the crowd. She listens to the soldiers declare their allegiance to the protesters. They call for the reform of the army and the downfall of the military coalition controlling the country. They pass around their military identification tags. Protesters standing beside the soldiers look at the tags and shout their approval and the crowd soon joins them. Magada watches as dozens of fists pump the air. Music blares over some loudspeakers. The soldiers leave the stage and walk to the traffic circle, sit down, and drink tea.


One time during the revolution, I wanted to buy some motherfucking vegetables for dinner. I was hungry. I got home from Tahrir Square about 2:45 p.m. Curfew started at 3 p.m. and lasted until 8 a.m. Like living in a motherfucking prison, man. An effort by Mubarak to crush the revolt. I wanted to cook chicken and rice and didn’t have any onions or garlic. I go over to a corner supermarket. A security detail from the Ministry of Interior walked in a short time later and started shooting their guns in the air. They told everyone in the store to put their hands up and get home before curfew. Look at us on your way out and we’ll shoot you in the fucking face. That’s what they said; fucking face, man. I walked out staring at the floor. The security detail fired in the air again. Just to make a point. They used pellet guns. You know, the kind where bullets spray all over the place. Motherfuckers.


Friday night/Saturday morning

April 8 and 9

8 p.m.–5 a.m.

The Tahrir Square protesters shout their increasingly hoarse slogans deep into the night.

Magada wanders the sidewalks with her sign in the fading light. She sits with some women on the traffic circle and shares their dinner of bread, rice, and chicken. About midnight, the soldiers who defected earlier in the day return. They carry the Egyptian flag on their shoulders and shout they are ready to die. Magada and the women think they are just chanting with the rest of the protesters. Everyone says they are willing to die for the revolution. But the killing and dying happened in the days Mubarak clung to power. Magada does not expect more death. She finishes her chicken. It is very safe to say you will die for the revolution now that Mubarak is gone, she tells the women.

Over a bullhorn, an officer announces a curfew until 10 a.m. Stay in the mosque or the army will take you home, he shouts.

Around 2 a.m. an armored military vehicle shows up. Six soldiers get out. Magada watches them walk around the square. They do not speak to anyone. Their boots crunch loose gravel. Magada sees the deserters sitting stock-still looking at the ground until the soldiers leave without a word. Then the protesters carry the deserters in celebration, chanting, down with Mubarak, down with the military, rejoicing that the army had not arrested them.

They are still singing and chanting when Magada leaves for the women’s dormitory of Omar Makram mosque. She has not been asleep long when she hears gunfire. She assumes thugs are harassing the protesters. But the gunfire increases.

Magada peers outside. She sees soldiers with ski masks charging the crowd. She watches the deserters run. She ducks at the pop-pop of gunfire. Soldiers swing batons and she hears the flat smack of wood against flesh, the crack of bones. Tear-gas canisters whine in the air. Protesters throw rocks, break off tiles on a fountain and toss those too. Bleeding people sprawled on the sidewalk get trampled beneath the feet of those fleeing. A woman clutches the hand of her three-year-old son, but he cannot keep up and she lets him go and continues running without him. Over a bullhorn, an officer announces a curfew until 10 a.m. Stay in the mosque or the army will take you home, he shouts.

In her bed at the mosque, Magada covers herself with a blanket and presses her hands against her ears to block out the screams she trapped in her mind. Finally, she fell asleep, but when she awakens at dawn, she hears the mother of the three-year-old boy calling for her lost son.


Saturday, April 9

9 a.m.

On the way to my hotel this morning, Rashad tells me he saw soldiers blocking roads to Tahrir Square. In the middle of the night, I had heard what I thought was gunfire. Then it stopped and I dismissed the noise as firecrackers. A party somewhere.

I don’t think it was firecrackers, dude, Rashad says.


10:20 a.m.

The charred windswept remains of a scorched bus smolders in the square. White smoke rises from the twisted steel. Singed paint peels off, curls into fists like molting snakeskin. The roof caves inward as if it were flattening beneath the unbearable weight of the still-static air. Gawkers stare, whispering among themselves while vendors take positions around the bus and sell plastic bottles of water that sweat in white buckets of melting ice. Boys blackened from ash play in the driver’s seat. They raise their hands and spread their fingers in victory signs. Over everything, an aura of stagnant alarm as if somehow the mayhem was interrupted, left incomplete.

I don’t believe any of you, a woman says, raising her cell phone to snap a picture. Egypt is safe. We are not Libya.

A group of women snap pictures and cluster together and compare photos.

I’m digging the contrasts, man, Rashad says. Burning buses and tight-ass jeans.

They didn’t warn us, a man shouts. He waves a jagged square piece of ragged blood-smeared cardboard. In his other hand he holds six bullet shells.

They beat the shit out of us, he says. They didn’t tell us to leave. We threw rocks. We torched buses. We tried to put up barricades. Then we got out.

Other men gathering around him interrupt to say what they saw just hours before. Some Egyptian soldiers had joined the protesters. The army killed one on the spot. At least four were arrested. The others fled with the protesters. No one knows what happened to them.

I don’t believe any of you, a woman says raising her cell phone, to snap a picture. Egypt is safe. We are not Libya.

This is depressing, a man says.

The army was not attacking protesters, another man insists. They were going after the defectors. They see what’s happening in Libya, what happens when soldiers defect.

A distant rumbling grows louder and louder until chanting protesters converge on the square from a side street and vow to reoccupy it. The small groups of people already there run toward them cheering. A man in a red and white top hat selling T-shirts and peanuts watches as the rush of bodies flips his table.

Rashad recognizes two friends among the protesters, Torek Nour and Gamal Abd El-Hamid.

About fifteen minutes before the sweep, Gamal says he ran into an army officer near the KFC. The officer was telling people to leave. I know what’s going to happen here, the officer told them. You don’t want to see it. Gamal freaked and split.

I stayed all night, Torek tells us. This defector I saw shot was in a tent. We told him to take off his uniform and put on normal clothes. He said I’m not leaving. They can kill me first. After the army came, an officer approached him and told him to get on the ground. He refused. The officer shot him in the heart on the spot. I was beside the tent hiding. I was afraid, crying. I was shitting in my pants. The officer ignored me. He came in for a specific purpose—to get defectors.

What the defector did was suicide, Rashad says.

Definitely, Torek says. He showed the bravery of Egyptian men.

Let’s forget the emotional bullshit, Rashad says.


6 p.m.

From his hospital bed, Naher Asser al-Sonousi listens to a television news anchor describe the army’s sweep of Tahrir Square. He says the Army has promised to investigate allegations of civilian casualties. Naher shakes his head. The army will admit nothing. It should be protecting people. Why can’t it just leave them alone?

He thinks of Gaddafi and the people he has killed. He must be punished if for nothing else for taking his father from him.

I will not leave until a judgment is passed on Mubarak, says a man with his face painted the colors of the Egyptian flag.

In 1993, his father, an army major, participated in a failed coup against the dictator. He was arrested and served ten years in jail, three of them in solitary confinement. Naher was ten years old at the time. He was with his father when he was detained two months after the coup attempt. They were leaving their house when his father was stopped at the edge of their driveway by an army general and six soldiers. Come with us, the general told him without offering an explanation.

You are the son of a hero, neighbors whispered to Naher.

During his father’s imprisonment, Naher and his mother moved in with a cousin. Naher worked on a farm and fell behind in school. It was hard to keep up with his classes when he was harvesting corn and feeding cows instead of studying. Years had passed since his father was imprisoned and Naher did not know where his father was or if he was alive. Naher was unable to get the necessary security clearance to apply for jobs. He was denied entry into any university.

Naher won’t say how he reacted when his father was released in 2000 and he saw him again for the first time in seven years walking down the dirt road toward the house.

His hair was black when he went in, white when he came out, Naher says. He wore the same tan pants he had on when he was arrested.

Pushed to say more, Naher’s eyes dampen and he smiles sadly and asks that the conversation focus on happier times. His father sacrificed for Libya as the people in Tahrir Square are doing for Egypt. It doesn’t matter what nationality anyone is if they love their country. They are doing as much as they can.

Leave them alone.


9 p.m.

Rashad and I stop in a tea shop in downtown Cairo for some dinner. Men sit in shadows on wobbly wood chairs and sip tea from steaming glasses pausing long enough to smoke tobacco from waist-high shisha pipes. Across the street, a woman hangs laundry from her apartment balcony above a camera and cell phone shop. Boys run past us, their sandals flapping against the pavement. Rashad gives his shoes to a shoe-shine man who slides a piece of green cardboard beneath Rashad’s feet so he does not dirty his socks against the pavement. I hear the snap of a whip against a horse drawing a wagon.

On a TV, General Ismail Othman, the public relations director for the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, insists that the Egyptian army had not discharged “a single live round” in the square. Soldiers fired only blanks to disperse the crowd. Forty-two people were arrested. There were no deserters. Othman said the military had detained several uniformed men “posing as soldiers to create unrest.”

There were no deserters, he says again.


I was there on The Friday of Anger. January 28, man. Three days after the protests started. That’s when the motherfucking police did their first crackdown on us. No, that was not the day the guys rode in on camels. That was later. The camel riders may have been people pissed off that the revolution was hurting tourism. I’m happy they’re fucked. The tourist industry distorts the image of the country. They rip off tourists. There’s no set price. One guy charges someone fifty dollars to see some motherfucking pyramids. They come back to their hotel and tell another guest and the guest goes, what, I was only charged ten dollars. They got ripped off. Screws the whole trip.

No, what I’m talking about was on the 28th. I was stuck in a friend’s apartment near the Ministry of Interior. I’m talking random shooting, man. Tear gas blew into the apartment. I had the pleasure of smelling it for hours. It was fucked up, man. The shit sticks to your clothes. It’s a smell like exhaust and chili mixed together. Burns your nose and eyes. You put water and lemon in [your] eyes. Stings like shit but it’s better than tear gas. All night long, tear-gas canisters going off. Fucking noisy. Kids came in and went in this one building and then jumped from building to building along the rooftops. They’d throw Molotov cocktails [at] armored vehicles. The soldiers shot all over the place. They’d run into one building and the kids would jump rooftops to another building. I heard the sound of bottles shattering on cars. One soldier got hit right in the back of his fucking head. He was on fire, man. Soldiers jumped on him to put it out.

They caught one kid and beat the shit out of him. His screams, man, echoed until I covered my ears. Three a.m. Just beat the motherfucking shit out of him. Then threw him in a car. I don’t know where they took him. I’m pretty sure this kid is fucking dead by now.



April 10 and 11

Madga resumes her spot near the KFC and holds her sign. Protesters mill around the square but not nearly as many as there had been on Friday. They try to rally one another with slogans, but the repetition of the same chants soon flattens and fades.

I will not leave until a judgment is passed on Mubarak, says a man with his face painted the colors of the Egyptian flag.

Magada ignores him. Her son’s case has just become more complicated. The district attorney will have bigger problems to consider now.

I will be neglected further, she says.

10 p.m.

Lawyer Ahmad Alli sits at the Lawyers Club in the Cairo neighborhood of Giza and contemplates the Nile as it flows below him. He knows that the sweep of Tahrir Square will double his caseload. He already represents dozens of clients detained since the military council took power after Mubarak stepped down. Now this latest roundup of protesters. His cell phone has not stopped ringing. He recognizes the number of one repeat caller: Magada. She leaves messages telling him not to be distracted by the crackdown. Don’t forget about my son.

He does not know what to do with her. She thinks sleeping outside and holding signs will make the district attorney sympathetic. Egypt, Alli says, does not work that way. She has to let him knock on doors, get an official to reconsider the case. Instead she listens to her friends who tell her, Lawyer So-and-so can get your son out. So she drops Alli, wastes months and money with a new attorney who does nothing and then finally returns to Alli, and asks his forgiveness.

Alli believes the police fabricated a case against her son Abdel-Hamid to solve a crime. Very common tactic in Egypt. He was arrested in November. End-of-the-year evaluations are administered in December. The evaluation comes with a bonus providing an incentive to solve cases. The evaluation does not ask whether a suspect was found guilty and sentenced. No, just if the case was solved, if someone was accused and jailed. The police have so many unsolved cases to finalize. They round up parolees or just anyone. Young men on the street call this time, “police wrapping-up season.”

Alli has lived in the same neighborhood as Magada all his life. He has sources and connections in police stations and their investigation units. He knows everyone. Someone would have told him if Magada’s son was a drug dealer. To get him out of jail, Magada must let Alli do his job. And now he will have very little time to do even that much.


Tuesday April 12

5:30 p.m.

Rashad receives a call from Torek. Gangs of Mubarak supporters are swarming the square, picking fights with protesters. The fear is the army will use this as an excuse to clear the square for the final time.

Whether that is the motivation or not, it happens. By the time Rashad and I reach the square military armored vehicles have commandeered roads leading into the square. Lines of soldiers corral protesters onto the sidewalk where fights break out between protesters and supporters of the army.

A garbage truck moves at a grindingly slow pace allowing soldiers to throw banners, sleeping bags, tents, and vendor stalls into the back. Tow trucks haul away the charred remains of the burned buses. Behind the truck, cabs and buses progress slowly as traffic begins moving through the square again. Protesters pace the sidewalk many of them weeping.

What is happening now is another form of abuse, one of them shouts.

The army better punish Mubarak soon, another man yells. They people will not take this harassment.

The military has eliminated all evidence that demonstrations took place here only days before. Every scrap of trash, every loose banner and leaflet has been cleared.

But the soldiers don’t listen. Instead, they hurry past us, hustling handcuffed protesters down the street. Rashad takes my arm and steers me in another direction.

Keep moving, he says. They are arresting people randomly. You can never speculate, man, about what the military will do. It can show up out of nowhere in huge numbers like motherfucking X-Men.


Friday, April 15

10 a.m.

On my last day in Cairo, I stop by Cairo Specialized Hospital to say goodbye to Naher Asser al-Sonousi. He feels himself improving every day and is eager to return to the front, he says. He misses the sounds of guns, the sounds of celebration.

I return for a final visit to Tahrir Square. The military has eliminated all evidence that demonstrations took place here only days before. Every scrap of trash, every loose banner and leaflet has been cleared. I can still make out the faded swirls of scrubbed revolutionary slogans on some buildings. Fresh sod covers areas where protesters once camped. Amid all the beeping and maneuvering, traffic flows in fits and starts around the traffic circle. Police chase away loiterers.

Mubarak and his sons were placed in custody the day after the military cleared the square. As a consequence, some protesters like Rashad’s friend Torek have decided the governing military council is finally responding to their demands.

We have other things to do now than tie up the square and piss off people, Torek says. We need to arrange rallies in support of the Libyan rebels.

I tell Rashad I don’t share Torek’s optimism. After all, Mubarak may be out, but the military still rules.

Yes the military still rules, Rashad agrees, but now they have listened to the people, he says. Maybe they are trying to calm us and we will have to demonstrate again. Maybe they will be fine. Maybe the military will flip out. You never know.

As we leave the square, I notice Magada alone near the KFC. A tourist pauses, asks about her sign.

This is a picture of my grandson, Magada says.

Stay still, the tourist says, raising a camera.

His father was falsely accused of dealing drugs and is now in jail.

Stay still.

Magada hesitates, sighs. Her mouth settles into a determined line. Without another word, she looks directly into the camera and waits.

**J. Malcolm Garcia** is a contributing writer for Guernica. His writing has been anthologized in Best American Travel Writing and Best American Nonrequired Reading.

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