Sherief Gaber

As Interviewed by Elizah Flores, March 30, 2011

Sherief Gaber: In His Own Words

My name is Sherief Gaber. Right now I’m twenty-six. I’m a graduate student at the University [of Texas]. I grew up in Memphis, went to college in Saint Louis, then I lived for a year and a half in Egypt. My parents are both from Egypt, they moved here shortly before I was born. I had always gone on visits to Egypt when I was a kid, and I decided that I wanted to live there for a bit after college, and study some before I came here to Texas, where I’ve been for the past four years.

The twenty-fifth happened, and it was enormous. It was just... it was really something else. I was watching the news the whole time, getting updates from my friends. I’d heard that this was one of the first times that the protesters had not just come out in this big a number in the years, but also the ways that they’ve been able to, just, keep momentum up, and keep up against the police, who were just attacking them incredibly violently. Made me get the sense that there was something going on here that was much bigger than it had ever been before. And after watching on Friday, the next big day of protests, I just couldn’t stand not to be there. Whatever connection I had with Egypt was just, screaming at me that I had to go.

There were some demands that were shared of all different factions who were participating, and still people are trying to make sure that the demands are met. The foremost was that the President and his entire team, his entire party, all the people he’d been putting into place and into power for thirty years would be forced out of power. Because there was just incredible amounts of corruption, and of abuses of power. And so, that was a big issue, and then supporting that, another big issue was an end to police violence, torture, political imprisonment. The police have turned into this huge incredibly violent apparatus. And they were just used against the citizens. One of the big triggers for the protest was a young man, about in his early twenties in Alexandria just that past summer, had been publicly beaten to death by police officers. Because he didn’t want to pay them a bribe. And so that sparked huge indignation. It was just a trigger for all of this resentment against the police.

The first evening I got there I had gotten a ride from the airport, and immediately it was different. There was this moment when I got off the plane and there was that smell of the dust in the air that I was used to, and that I expected. But at the same time you could tell that things were different. There were tanks on the streets. And there were people who had come out because the police had been pulled away. The government wanted to scare the people to go back to their homes, so they pulled the police away and they sent out thugs in plain clothes to attack homes and stuff. And so there was just this bizarre experience of just snaking through all these back streets, cause the main streets were closed off.

But then, I got to downtown. I got to Tahrir Square where the occupation had been going on since the last Friday, and it was unbelievable. It was like a festival. It was just incredible energy of people who were just excited and committed and angry but also so exuberant with what they’d already achieved. And there was dancing and singing, and young people out in the street, and laughing and interacting in ways that I’d never seen before, really anywhere, much less in Egypt. Where, you know, the kind of public places are really heavily policed. It was just a totally eye opening experience.

After that festival that night, the President came on and he gave his very aggressive speech. Refusing to step down, ultimately being very hostile. And so, we were very worried, it sounded bad. It sounded like he was inciting people into violence against the protesters.

The next day, all of a sudden we got news that all of these people on horses had charged into the square and were attacking protesters. And they’d been knocked off and taken away and the protesters took them very calmly to the army, and said, you know, “just take them away from here”.

So we were hearing this, and we jumped back in my friend’s car, and we’re going back to downtown, the whole time we’re seeing these weird groups of people who are supposedly supporting the president and stuff, but they didn’t look right. Y’know, you could tell. And so, as we get into downtown, it’s incredibly tense. There’s real deep dense air. A lot of people going around, kind of angry, they didn’t seem normal. And, you know, the government had a history of whenever there was a protest, or whenever there was something, they’d go around, round up some guys, and give ‘em some money to just go beat people up.

We kind of knew that’s what was happening, so we kind of quietly meet up with some friends and just walk, find our way into the square, and then within an hour or two of that; everyone was surrounded. I mean the whole square, thousands of people. There were kind of angry thugs, throwing rocks, attacking people with weapons. And as time goes on, the army just kind of disappears that night, they’d been guarding all the entrances to the square, and they just disappeared.

It turned into these huge battles. Protesters breaking up the pavement to get rocks to throw back at these people, who were coming in with guns and knives and clubs and Molotov Cocktails. And you could tell that half of them were plainclothes police. People would grab them, and they’d take them and they’d find ID’s on them that showed that they were cops. So this was really a dirty, dirty tactic. And people knew that if they didn’t take to defending what they had gained last week, that they could all be just butchered. It was really scary.

That’s the same night I was actually holding up one of these barricades that people had just you know, torn of metal feeding from walls and stuff, and they were using it to block the stones that were being thrown at them. And I’m holding one of these, and there’s this negotiation going on, right? Are we gonna move them forward? Are we gonna push them back and away and out? Or do we just stick where we are and just defend where we are? And so I looked up to see where they are, and all of a sudden, I just wham, get hit in the face with a huge brick. I fall to the ground, my nose is broken, I couldn’t see out of my right eye. And I’m just bleeding profusely.

At the same time though, I went and there were doctors there who treated me immediately. There was a hospital that they’d set up in a Mosque that I went to, where people were being treated. I got stitches, I got medicine, I got good care. Even in this anxiety and this fear, people were just being so generous and working together in such a way that was just astonishing. People were sharing food, they wouldn’t finish even a piece of bread, they’d split a piece of bread in half and say, “no I’m full, I can’t, I can’t.” And so, you could tell that people at the same time that they were afraid they were trying to kind of encourage themselves by being so humane. to one another.

And so, that was the last big day of violence. And it just became this cycle of like, not good enough, the president’s system is not good enough. And people just growing and growing and fear just falling away, until there were millions in the square every day. All of them kind of coming in and just having their minds blown, you know. Seeing people picking up litter, just ordinary kids picking up litter in the streets. Cleaning up, sweeping the streets and ground. These things just don’t happen anywhere, much less in Egypt, where littering is like a sport. And these changes were happening, where people would see this, cause the media had been lying about us. they had been saying really horrid lies about the protesters. Trying to get people angry with them, to fight against them. And so there was this move inside the square that every time something like this would happen we’d prove it by doing something even more amazing. By proving to people just how we could change the world here, in the small moments, and how that could mean a different future for the country as a whole politically.