It was a customary tradition in our school to wear whatever you liked on the last day of every semester, so you didn’t have to wear the school uniform. As a result, everyone was trying their best to wear their most beautiful clothes . I was 14 years old.
I remember that I had a crush on somebody in my class. It was that kind of “childish-teenager-growing-up-love” you may have experienced when you were the same age. As it was the last day of the semester, everyone in our class was going out either to the cinema, club, mall, or restaurant. I went to the cinema with my friends and she did also with hers. Then, as I stepped into my house and opened my Facebook account, I saw her photo with another boy. That really broke my heart (although I’m laughing right now as I’m writing this, but I remember that she was really beautiful! So there was a good reason for that). The next day was Friday. I was still upset and depressed. I tried to open my Facebook account, see if she posted another photo or something, but it wasn’t working. A few minutes later, I realized that there was no internet connection at all. Anyway, I got ready and went to the mosque for Al Gomaa (Friday) prayer. I saw my nephew on my way back home. I asked him whether his Facebook was working or not, he laughed a little before saying: “Facebook! There isn’t Internet connection or mobile connection. The government cut everything off”.
But why? I didn’t have any idea until I heard some gossip about some demonstrations happening in Cairo. I remembered that our teacher had told us about it. So there we were; no Internet, no Facebook, no mobile phones. The Egyptian media then (and now) was one of the most dishonest, unethical propagandists you can imagine. I was at my grandmother’s house, and we didn’t know anything about what was happening. For example, most channels were broadcasting scenes of empty places and roads (and sometimes the Nile!) in order to give the impression that everything was ok and the streets were all empty. My grandmother decided to go to my parents, so she could talk with my mom about certain things.
As we were in the car, on our way to my house, we saw hundreds of demonstrators who were closing the street and shouting, “The People want the System down.” At first I didn’t understand what they mean by the word “System.” I asked my grandmother to get out of the car in order to watch them closely. And before I heard her response, I was already out of the car! And guess what, I didn’t return back for 10 hours.
The demonstrators were shouting: “The People Want the President Down!” As I joined the crowds, I found myself shouting with them! “The People want the President Down!” Then they returned to the previous chant, “The People Want the System Down.” I quickly asked one of the crowds what they mean by “System.” Then I realized that it meant the whole ruling class: The President, the government, everything. As the march entered some sub-streets, we saw people in the balconies who were watching us. We began to shout with our hands pointing at them: “Come Down! Come Down!” encouraging them to engage in the demonstrations. They were throwing plastic bottles containing cold water, praying for us to be alright. As we entered another sub-street, we did the same thing, shouting “Come down! Our families, Join us!” On a third floor balcony, I saw a girl in her 20s holding a camera pointed at us, beside her there was a man who was wearing a T-shirt and ironically, he was fully naked underneath! (To be honest, until now I still don’t know the reason why for god’s sake he was naked. Maybe he was mocking us or something. It’s still a mystery!)
As we returned back to the main street, we saw the security force about 100 meters from us. Suddenly, they started dropping a huge amount of tear gas. I saw the people around me running away, so I ran too. At that time I didn’t know what tear gas really was.
I thought that it only made us cry, just like onions. One of the demonstrators had the ability to catch the tear bomb from behind, and threw it at the security forces; some others began throwing stones. I liked the idea of catching the bomb from behind, so I decided to try to do the same! But as I went close to the bomb, I accidentally smelled the tear gas. I felt like my nose, my mouth, my chest were burning. I couldn’t take any breath any more. I found myself on the ground without being able to do anything except coughing. About four people held me while running to a garage; they put onion and a tissue soaked in vinegar on my nose. I remember that I heard somebody saying, “Keep up, you’re a man!”
After a while, I came out from the garage searching for the demonstration but they were all gone. I realized that I stayed about half an hour at the garage. I ran through the streets searching for any demonstrations until I found another one.
All the demonstrators were heading to the Tahrir square, which later would be the icon of the Egyptian revolution. I continued engaging in the demonstrations until I finally recahed the square. I noticed that there were clashes between the security forces at the head of the demonstration, preventing them from entering the square. Suddenly, I saw a couple of people carrying a man who probably got shot, and his face and clothes were full of blood. I didn’t know whether he was injured or something worse, but I didn’t get panicked. I had already seen a lot of injured people by then (mostly by tear gas), and I heard a lot of bullets fired. After a while, I felt really tired, and I didn’t have the enthusiasm to wait to enter the square. I checked my pockets, and I didn’t have any money, so I tried to call my parents, but there was no connection in the whole country. So I realized that the only way to return home was by walking. Most of the streets were already empty except of some Riot Police cars which were set on fire.
After 1 hour of walking, I finally arrived to my house. My parents were going crazy on me; “Where were you? What happened? What did you see?”
I realized that the security forces had withdrawn from all the streets. The whole country was in chaos.
There are still a lot of things I haven’t told about that day. A lot of stories were adventures for me on that day, on January 28th 2011. It was the most important day of the whole 18 days of the revolution. But I wanted to share with you some scenes of a day which changed my whole life, and maybe the entire Arab region.