We hoped it wouldn’t happen

Last night was nice. I attended a great conversation at the Opera House cafe between a journalist/former US ambassador and a group of the Egyptian artists active in the June sit-in at the Ministry of Culture. We discussed how the artists’ occupation of the ministry evolved and how it connected to Tamarod and the National Salvation Front. We talked about artists as documentarians, historians, catalysts and change makers. Americans and Egyptians alike talked about how the United States has had a “lack of imagination” when dealing with the revolution here and addressed various conspiracy theories and definitions of terrorism. We all had different opinions of the military under General Sisi’s leadership. Some artists told horrific personal stories of the violence by the SCAF in 2011 and 2012. I reminded them of what I had learned about Basiony‘s story. Some artists showed evidence of recent violence by the Muslim Brotherhood/pro-Morsi protestors, kidnapping a friend of theirs and torturing him at the Rabaa site the day before. The discussion was above-all passionate and ended with friendly goodbyes and and a shared bill.

This morning I awoke to a friend saying to turn to the news. The pro-Morsi sit-ins were being dispersed by force. We knew it was going to happen. We also thought it might not happen, maybe not. We hoped it wouldn’t happen. We hoped that if it did happen, my friend’s family (Salafi, MB supporters) would not be there. We had hoped that if it did happen, it wouldn’t be like this. We didn’t know it would be today. Even though we disagree with the pro-Morsi protestors, we think they have a right to be there. And them being martyred is a tragic, awful, sickening and stupid strategy by the military and interim government.

Some say all the protestors were unarmed. Some showed pictures of them with machine guns and homemade weapons. ON TV showed ammunition-filled suitcases and other weaponry that had been confiscated. State TV showed a different story. Some say there was no warning and no safe exit for the protestors. Some say there were bulldozers being used as weapons, protestors burned in tents, police in armored vehicles, tear gas, live ammunition on both sides, and mass arrests.

All I know for sure is that pro-Morsi protestors started to set up camps and march in other places in the city, including near my apartment in Mohandaseen. My boyfriend went out for a few much-needed groceries and found the main street where I had danced with happy Egyptians during a street party on July 3rd, now void of traffic and peppered with brick barriers, marchers, tires on fires, tear gas. All my flatmates and myself (Egyptian, European, American) received calls that we had the day off from work. For a big city usually abuzz with life, today was eerily quiet on the streets other than the pops of gunfire. I live off Gameat El Dewal and for the very first time during my 12+ months in Egypt in the past three years, I was concerned enough to obey my friends’ warning not to leave the apartment.

I turned to Twitter. People who supported June 30 were saying today was the real coup. Some called it a massacre. Some said the military had to do something. Some showed a photo of a police vehicle pushed off a bridge, with officers inside. Some say Islamists had retaliated by burning Christian homes and 18 Coptic churches, including two of the oldest in the nation, killing a 10-year-old girl. Some say dozens of police officers were killed. Officials said 149 people died. Muslim Brotherhood said 2200 were murdered near Rabaa alone. Journalists were going into mosques, morgues and field hospitals, reporting their own counts of bodies.

The images on TV and Social Media were graphic.

Despite my far less important personal battle with cabin fever, I stayed home and kept on the phone and online.

@rabihalameddine: If I go back to bed, can we rewind to the night before? What happened in Egypt is horrifying, confusing, and utterly familiar.

@Ikhwanweb: #WeStandTogetherForEgypt show your support for the #AntiCoup #Prodemocracy movement in Egypt under attack by own military and police

@KLF33: A call to all Muslims. We will rebuild our churches.  Yes I said our.

@AhmedKadry: Churches burning down, Egyptians being murdered, journalists being killed. Not “the revolution continues”, it has yet to start.

@monaeltahawy: I repeat: I do not know whose death toll figures to believe. That’s how meaningless truth and accuracy are in #Egypt today.

@Amiralx: Rejoice for interior minister has promised no more sit-ins anywhere ever and a return to pre-2011 revolution security. High fives all around

I turned to @MadaMasr for translations of the speeches.

Reports confirmed the killing of the daughter of a MB leader and the arrest of 8 senior MB members. Reports confirmed the deaths of journalists.

I Tweeted my personal experience of ballet class being cancelled and being afraid when my friend just went out for bread, milk and sugar. Somebody read what I wrote and decided to publicly call me a f@%kwit because of the triviality of my post.

I just know I felt things feel so wrong, so sad.

Then a State of Emergency was declared, with a 7pm to 6am curfew for a month at least. My friends and flatmates, having been through this before, took this news in stride. Naively, I don’t know what this means for my dance classes scheduled  for the evenings and for my commute home afterward. I wonder what this means for those who work late shifts. I wonder what this means for the economy and healthy public dialogue that are generated by night life activities. I wonder what this means for human rights. I wonder what this will mean for the few American artists headed to Cairo in the next couple weeks who have reached out to me to show them around when they get here. Evidently, after a couple days restaurants and cafes will stay open and people will simply be asked to go directly home after a night out.

As the 7pm (turned 9pm) curfew approached tonight, I worried that my friends would go home in time. I also realized that I wouldn’t be able to go to the grocery store for four days because I don’t have cash and today was the day I was supposed to go pick up my replacement ATM card. And all banks are closed tomorrow; then it is the weekend. Guess we will turn to ramen noodles and prayers for the nation.

My flatmates and I are now taking a break from the news, watching a Dwayne Johnson movie on tv instead. I turned online one more time before logging off for the evening…

VP El Baradei has resigned because he “couldn’t accept the responsibility of decisions he did not agree with.” The photos of the cloaked bodies started appearing everywhere, Morsi supporters turned into martyrs.

@MagyMahrous: Despite curfew, I can still hear ikhwan sit-in from my house! #Maadi

I can’t keep up and will just stay close to friends into the quiet night and through to see what tomorrow will bring. Somehow the goodness that went along with the artists’ movement and June 30 and the mission of the 2011 revolution must burst through this darkest of days.


  1. Really?

    PS. You don’t want to know who I am, it would break your heart. You have no clue the damage you do to people you think you are helping.

    • shawnlent

      Dear Really?,

      I thank you for your ongoing criticisms which I do very much take to heart. As you say, I probably do know you or have known you as a friend. I am calling for a more productive dialogue between us as I do wish to address the harm you say I am causing. This is very important to me.

      Social media and blogging have become a source of communication and personal development. I turn to friends for advice often and am sorry you seem to feel very negatively by that.

      In any case, I respect that you wish to remain anonymous. But if you do so, please provide some concrete and clear points of criticism for me and my readers to learn from and address. If you are not willing to do that, I kindly ask that you let me know your identity so we can discuss this privately.

      All my best,


  2. Really?!

    I have great respect that you want to listen to me. I’ve wanted to say these things to you for years. I do believe you are a good person with important ideas.

    Check your email.

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