Stories from the Egyptian Revolution Told by a Film, a Book, and a Journalist’s Testimony

Stories from the Egyptian Revolution Told by a Film, a Book, and a Journalist’s Testimony

Raghida Dergham |

Those who shape public opinion – and in particular Western public opinion – really need to watch the documentary film “The Square” (Al-Midan), so that they may get to know the role played by Tahrir Square in forging the new Egyptian identity and laying the foundations for the Egypt of tomorrow, beyond the process of transition. In this film, brilliant director Jehane Noujaim tells the story of the young men and women of change, ever since it began in the square in order to topple a regime, and until it was confronted with the bitterness of the birth of a regime that brought young people back to the square to topple it too. With intelligence and touching humanity, this important film challenges those who have decided to reduce what happened in Egypt to a coup against elections and democracy, and proves the exact opposite, with realism and the greatest simplicity, meaning that what had betrayed democracy had been the greed of the Muslim Brotherhood in power. People also really need to read the book “Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here” by Algerian-American author and college professor Karima Bennoune, published in English. This book recounts the stories of women and men who defied extremist Muslim fundamentalism as well as the kind that puts on the garb of moderation. From doctors to lawyers, and journalists and human rights activists, there is a clear thread in this important book that emphasizes, through the stories, the role of women at the forefront of fighting extremism in Tunisia, Mali, Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, and elsewhere. It is also absolutely necessary for people to be informed about what happened to fellow journalist at Al-Ahram newspaper Khaled Dawoud. While driving his car last week, he encountered by chance a demonstration in support of toppled President Mohamed Morsi, and suddenly found himself surrounded by knives, after one demonstrator identified him, yelling “it’s Khaled Dawoud the infidel from the Salvation Front!” Another demonstrator then tried to cut off his hand, saying “we’ve decided to cut off your hands, infidel!”


Let us begin with the story of Khaled Dawoud, a former colleague of mine at the United Nations who used to be a corresponded for Al-Jazeera before returning to Egypt and witnessing the birth of the Revolution three years ago. Khaled is a personal friend and our opinions diverge at times and meet at others. When the news came about what had happened to him, I contacted him to find out the truth.


Khaled Dawoud used to be a spokesperson for the National Salvation Front, but resigned from the Salvation Front on August 16, two days after the protests of Rabia al-Adawiya Square and al-Nahda Square were dispersed, in protest of what he described as excessive use of force on the part of police and security forces against protesters from the Muslim Brotherhood and other Morsi supporters. Khaled Dawoud’s resignation came two days after that of Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei – who had also resigned in protest. Khaled retained the post of Media Secretary of al-Dustur Party founded by Dr. ElBaradei.


Khaled had just returned from a trip abroad, stopping by his home before heading out to a meeting, without realizing or paying heed to the fact that a demonstration was taking place, one which Morsi supporters had decided to hold on October 6, a day of great celebration in Egypt commemorating the country’s sole victory in the 1973 October War. The purpose of the demonstration had been to topple what they call the “coup government,” and what it resulted in was a violent response from security forces, leading to the death of 51 people. That took place later. But when Khaled Dawoud drove by in his car and someone yelled “infidel,” violence and hatred came spontaneously, being integral to the ideology of the demonstrators and to their group’s culture.


Suddenly, more than 40 people surrounded the car, and they started to break the glass of its rear and side windows. One of them stabbed Khaled with a knife near his heart. “I was surprised at how quickly the knife had come in and out, and amazed to see a fountain of blood gushing out of me,” Khaled said. “I was begging the one who was stabbing me with his knife: have pity, enough blood!” But his answer was another stab, this time hitting the bone. The other boys were at the same time hitting him with sticks and punching him in the face repeatedly. Blood started gushing out of his eye as well, as he begged them: enough blood, enough blood! Suddenly, the man who had been breaking the rear window came around and told the one who had been stabbing Khaled with the knife: “leave him to me.” He took out a large razorblade and started sawing at Khaled’s hand and tearing at his ligaments, saying: we’ve decided to cut off your hands.


The car was on a small bridge, “and I was thinking, as I was beginning to lose consciousness, that I was surely going to die, but that I should not get out of the car. The one stabbing me with the knife meant to kill me. He was stabbing to kill, not just to injure. Blood was gushing out of my body and out of my eye, and I was fighting to remain conscious, when some young men from the neighborhood came to my rescue. One of them was named Salim.”


Those protesters, who have perfected the art of appearing as constant victims in front of the cameras of Western and Arab media outlets, only represent half the story of the overwhelming hatred that strips away the claims of peaceful demonstration. The other half of the story is shocking in what it reveals of the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology, which makes killing and torture permissible with a yell of “infidel!”


“Salim took me to the students’ hospital for health insurance, a hospital of limited means. Most of the doctors there were sympathizers of the Islamist movement. They threw me in an emergency room or a waiting room for more than 20 minutes without any kind of care. I was yelling, begging them: treat me, I’m dying, treat me! No one would answer. I yelled: please give me my medication – I have been suffering from asthma for years. They purposely ignored me. They refused to treat me until Salim called Al-Ahram newspaper, and Al-Ahram called the hospital. Then they began my treatment. They said they did not have the needed anesthetic, and thus inserted a thick tube into my chest without using anesthetic. They stitched up my wounds without using anesthetic.”


Khaled asserts that stitching and inserting the tube without using anesthetic was most likely due to the hospital’s meager means. But he also asserts that “personal hatred was very clear at the beginning, when they purposely left me without care, while I tasted the blood in my mouth and nose, without any doctor or nurse coming near me.”


Khaled Dawoud had yelled at the “boy” who had been stabbing him: “I was against what happened to you in Rabia [Al-Adawiya Square], enough blood!” But it was the boy who surprised 46-year old Khaled Dawoud. This boy did not know him personally. What could then lead him not to fear blood and to stab him again? Why all this? At the end of the day, I was merely a talking head, not a decision-maker.


The answer is that hatred is stronger than ignorance. “The ideology of hatred and killing, and of offering people up as fuel in the battle, represents an essential part of the culture of the Islamist movement – both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists,” says Khaled, who clings to the soundness of “our ideology, based on elevating the value of human life, which is why we have always chanted in the face of every provocation: peaceful, peaceful!” “I am not Gandhi,” adds Khaled, “but I feel sorry for the boy who stabbed me, as he will now be facing around 15 years in prison, instead of going to school and starting a family.”


Khaled Dawoud also insists on criticizing security forces in the police and in the army, as they “confront the Brotherhood’s protests with a little bit of teargas, quickly followed by a great deal of bullets. I demand that the police and the government also elevate the value of human life. I demand that they stop making excessive use of force. I demand that they stop falling for the provocation of the Islamist movement, which has become expert at promoting horrific images, so as to claim to be the victim, to be peaceful and to represent moderation.”


The film “The Square” (Al-Midan) documents stories similar to that of Khaled, and in fact exceeding it. The film’s producer, like its director Jehane Noujaim, is an Egyptian-American who insists that what Egypt is going through represents “not a process of transition,” but rather the “pillars” of the future. Karim Amer is also a thirty year old young man and a child of “the Square” – just like director Jehane Noujaim, whose record is rife with achievements, including a documentary about Al-Jazeera called “Control Room.” Her latest achievement, the film “The Square”, has won international awards, and could even win the Oscar for best documentary. It is the story of the Egyptian Revolution – a story that goes beyond the headlines. It is the story of the Square that has become a source of inspiration for Egypt’s youth, who toppled two presidents within a single year, resisted the dictatorship of the military and exposed the Muslim Brotherhood’s corruption and its betrayal of democracy.


“Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here” is a book that strips bare the claims made by the Muslim Brotherhood and exposes the false moderation it claims to represent. It is a collection of stories about men who somewhat resemble Khaled Dawoud, and about women who have resolved to represent an essential building block of the “pillars” of creating change and building democratic institutions. Karima Bennoune has written a book whose stories are inspiring because they do not stop at complaining or even at the end.


Indeed, the importance of people like Jehane, Karima and Khaled is that they believe in beginnings.