This is such a moving story. Got a lump in my throat first time I read it.



I replied to something. Reply got a bit long. Might as well make it a blog post.

Dunno Annette. Maybe melancholy wasn’t the right word. It’s all so very intense, very real. Real emotions, real problems, desires, wishes, hopes. A real longing for freedom, not as an abstract concept, but in terms of a concrete, tangible chance to make something of your life without the government putting up a roadblock at every conceivable opportunity, threatening to jail you and take away your life, hurt your loved ones or beating you until you shut up and become docile.

I’ve seen fathers explain to their kids that Mubarak was a tyrant, that they’re now free, that things will be better, I’ve seen people with a broken left arm rush back to throw stones with their right arm, laughing through their pain and defying the very real chance that they would not make it through the night in pursuit of, simply, a shot at life. A good life.

These people are not just numbers on a strategic planning assessment, but individuals that have decided they would take a chance and ride on the wave of emotional uprising that had no plan, no strategy, no clear goals, stages or roadmap laid out towards the final goal.

And most believe they’ve succeeded. This simple man with his two cute little daughters who he was explaining to that everything will now be better… I can’t help but think of the Americans, Israelis, Europeans that must now be busily orchestrating Egypt’s next government and doing everything they can to prevent that – God forbid – Egyptians will get to choose their own government in a few months. I can’t help but worry that some of these happy protesters will end up in a torture chamber in a few weeks, months.

And I find myself smack bang in the middle of it. So I was wondering: what am I doing here? Then I heard the song, and felt melancholic. Even if it’s not the right word.

Lessons from the revolution

Lessons learned from my first-ever revolution, so far:

– Going over land is just as expensive as flying;
– Take a private car from city to city if you’re short on time and worry about the costs later;
– Prices triple in times of revolution;
– Make friends with a high-ranking officer and get his name and number. Do the same with organisers on the other side.
– Major cities are closed off days before major protests;
– Lie to get through the checkpoints, all seven of them. You’ll be surprised at how far you get;
– Bring an extra phone for the local SIM so that you can use international and local numbers at the same time. Make sure your paper covers your phone bill;
– Bring a third phone in case someone wants to confiscate one;
– They can start shooting at any time;
– If one side threatens to kill a prisoner, you stop making notes and try to intervene if you can;
– Try to get both sides’ story and don’t assume nobody can be a Mubarak supporter unless they get paid;
– If one side starts hitting you, stick to the other;
– Make sure your stuff is packed in a bag next to the door if you feel you may be forced to leave quickly;
– Also keep a little escape bag with money and ID documents;
– Stock the hotel room with food and water while you can;
– Buy credits. A lot;
– Bring money. A lot;
– Make sure someone pays for it all.

– Nothing beats Being There.

A city under siege

Whoever took a taxi through downtown Cairo today, found himself in a city under siege. Tense soldiers backed up by tanks man the corners on the blocks surrounding Tahrir square. The streets are blocked by civilians – neighbourhood watch if you’re lucky, violent Mubarak supporters if you’re not. I spent twenty nervous minutes at a military checkpoint being asked why I came from Amman and not by airplane, and what a translator was doing here. All foreigners are now considered spies, you see: agents provocateur sent to sow discord among the united people of Egypt, to prevent them from becoming the great invincible nation that the West would shiver in fear of. While I was being interrogated, nasty-looking youths were eying me, relating the proceedings by phone.

The normally touristy and relaxed neighbourhood has been the scene of full-fledged street fighting for several days now, with pro-democracy activists battling pro-Mubarak (the two are antonyms) activists corner-to-corner for control over Talat Harb or El Bustani street, a bridge over the Nile or a square in the middle of Tahrir neighbourhood. Hundreds of fist-sized rocks, Molotov cocktails, petrol bombs are flying back and forth in long arches, hour after hour, night after night, wounding people, burning people, injuring hundreds – many very seriously.

And killing them. Last Wednesday, I was walking along on Tahrir square at 4.00 a.m. with a very smart young Palestinian-Egyptian surgeon called Yasser. He had just shown me what they did with their wounded, after I gave him a call asking him to intervene because activists were threatening to kill one of their prisoners. While we were at the northern edge of the square, watching the Mubarak supporters throw firebombs off the bridge facing the square, the pro-Mubaraks suddenly retreated and the pro-democracy fighters followed them, thinking they were winning. Yasser and I ran with them.

It was a trap. As soon as the pro-demo’s left their position, the other side opened fire with pistols and automatic rifles. We had to run for cover – literally. While Yasser was shouting at me to run to the tank he was sheltering behind, a guy running ten meters in front of me just fell down like a sack. Bullet in the gut. A few seconds later we were back in a safe zone, while four bearded men were running past us with the wounded man on their shoulders. I asked Yasser if he would make it. “If he can make it to a hospital in thirty minutes he will. If not, he will die.”

He died on Saturday afternoon.

I learned something here – I will keep a longer distance next time. But in my defense: these were the first shots, I had no idea they would switch from rocks to bullets.

Now I spent the day in the hotel. And I regret it. Stories of journalists being beaten up have been reaching us (about a dozen Dutch conflict / Middle East journalists are staying here) all day. Some people are making plans to leave: if you can’t leave the hotel, there’s no point in being here. One guy left to go around the neighbourhood and was promptly detained by police in civilian clothes who took his phone. Then again, I just went out to get some water and snacks and am still alive. And I now realise that my own sources have been telling all day that the city is reasonably okay to go into. I will trust those more from now on.


Tension now at boiling point. A swedish journalist was attacked and stabbed, is in hospital stable but seriously injured. My hotel guy is nervous. Some embassies have started evacuating journalists under military escort. I think they’re planning something awful, awful on that square. And they don’t want the world to see what they are going to do.

Battles in Cairo

Just got back. Couldn’t reach my hotel earlier because of angry people who beat up journalists. I have now, after spending half the night at Tahrir square. It’s squarely in the hands of anti-Mubarak supporters. Pro-Mubaraks have started shooting live ammo. They are definitely organised. Seen three people with bullet wounds. A guy got shot in his stomach ten meters from me. That woke me up. Time to call it a night.

Libanees cynisme

En toen woonden we in Beiroet. Een dag of vijf geleden zijn we in een appartement in de chique wijk Achrafieh getrokken, met een prachtig uitzicht op de bergen ten westen van de Libanese hoofdstad. Voor een zacht prijsje, maar dan moet er ook nogal wat gebeuren. Op het briefje is inmiddels afgestreept: kleerkast (zo’n linnen geval, is vrouwlief nu in elkaar aan het knutselen), wc-bril, schoonmaken, badkamerspiegel, bestek, beddengoed & kussens, televisie, enfin, u begrijpt wat ik bedoel. Nu nog een klusjesman om alle plankjes op te hangen (ik ben schrijver hè) en een wasmachine, en dan komen we aardig in de richting.

Beiroet is aangenaam, tot nu toe. Ik val met mijn neus in het nieuws – de regering is hier net gevallen – en het is hier allemaal veel westerser dan in Damascus. Dat betekent dat wij een enorme Spinney’s supermarkt in de buurt hebben waar we HAK groente en allerlei soorten Lay’s chips kunnen kopen, en dat het hier wemelt van de lekkere restaurantjes en dure auto’s. Dat het hier een stuk westerser is slaat dan ook niet echt op de zeden en gewoonten, maar meer op het straatbeeld, zeg maar.

Maar het kost allemaal wel wat, mijn God. Ik heb me daar aardig op verkeken. Gelukkig heb ik al verschillende keren van winkeliers en taxichauffeurs te horen gekregen: journalist? Oh dan heb je hier genoeg te doen! Met als toppunt een cynische Libanese collega, die fijntjes opmerkte dat ik mijn wasmachine en airco zo bij elkaar heb nu de regering net gevallen is. Tja. We zullen het zien.