What began as just a protest many thought would disperse as usual within hours - became a tidal wave of demonstrations sweeping Egypt by storm, purging it from the hated crooks of Mubarak's regime and achieving the toppling of the dictator in only 18 days. Not only Egypt - the whole world was stunned at this record-braking pace to overthrow 30 years of tyranny and at the peacefulness with which this was achieved.
But the price for freedom was high: More than 6.000 Egyptians wounded by the dreaded security forces opening fire and almost 1.000 killed by gunshots, clubbed to death or driven over by security trucks. The pictures that were posted on the internet in those hectic days of the revolution and the videos shot with the mobile phones of activists were gruesome and hard to bear and become so abundant that one wanted to shy away from yet another visual proof of the cruelty the Mubarak forces exerted. To download it and preserve it was emotionally impossible. The fight was still on. Knowing of this proof was one thing and bad enough, the thought of keeping it for later at that time of upheaval seemed unbearable.
But four months and an astonishing development of events later the mind has not come to rest. It still sees those photos of bleeding civilians, of gunshot wounds and dying young people, still recalls the images of cars running over peaceful demonstrators hurling their bodies into the streets. The subconscience does not let go of these fateful memories and reminds us that life was cheap to those who now say - they can't remember.
I can. And if I think back to all those pictures and videos that accompanied the daily battle for freedom and the quivering hope this could be won against all odds - one image simply will not go away and is the strongest of all: the image of that young, unknown man in Alexandria who was gunned down point blank by the Mubarak forces in what seemed to be the most incomprehensible killing of all.
I don't know who he was. I don't know his face. But I know that I will never forget him in my life. For it was he that proved to us all that the yearning for freedom is such a strong power that no gun-firing dictatorial forces can ever prevent man from achieving it. - And be it only for half a minute.
Turmoil in Alexandria
January 28 - exactly four months ago to the day - was a day of anger all over Egypt. Tens of thousands took to the streets and demanded freedom and an end to oppression. They were met with brutal force by the security guards of the regime that - as we know now from the evidence and confessions in trials - had given order to shoot live ammunition at the peaceful demonstrators to quench the uprising. Snipers shot from roofs, police officers shot out of their police stations, ground forces fired into the masses of unarmed protesters. Hundreds died on this day by the hands of the regime, being cut down from behind or from above in surprise attacks, never seeing the killers that shot at them.
One man in Alexandria however did see his killers. He confronted them eye to eye, never budged or wavered, looked at them, spoke to them even, and stood his ground - calm, controlled and collected. When they shot him, he died in front of the eyes of the world - that was to see his killing only a week later. Because those that unintentionally had filmed this murder needed time to overcome the shock and to realize that this evidence had to be published at all costs. It was not only unspeakably horrid proof for the cold blooded ruthlessness of Mubarak's killers - much more it gave evidence of the pride of a young man who was not willing to give up on the one thing he wanted the most: his freedom.
The video was filmed by two women on a balcony of a house believed to be in the Manshya District in Alexandria. It shows the heat of the day with gunshots ringing out, people running for cover, protesters barricading themselves behind shields they are carrying, while a burning car tire rolls across the street. It is a day of brutality and deadly force.
And then happens what no one could have expected in this atmosphere filled with danger and fear: A young man walks calmly along the street towards the T junction where two armed forces with guns are waiting, the guns positioned ready to shoot. The young man comes to stand at the corner of the street, and when he sees one of the uniformed man standing rapidly up and aiming at him - he spreads his arms wide to show he is unarmed, he even lets his jacket drop so that both arms are confined now by the sleeves making it absolutely impossible for him to pose any danger to the men holding the weapons. He speaks to them calmly, something we cannot hear. He again spreads his arms, opens his chest. The armed men are unsure how to react. Suddenly six more appear from behind. Again the young man lets his arms fall down to his sides, the jacket restraining him good, showing the armed men that he is harmless, as innocent as anyone can be. He takes a step back still looking at them. Then a shot rings out. The young man drops to the ground - and is dead.
The women who unintentionally became witness to the killing scream in anguish and shock, try to get a better picture of the now dead young man lying on the street - and then cut the filming as the horror of what they have witnessed is to intense. We are left alone with the pictures in our head. And we don't know what to say, gasping for air.
The gesture of freedom
I have often had this scene flash through my mind in the last four months ever since and I would like to say that it haunts me. But while I gasp still to this day at a killing so unbelievably intentional and without the slightest reason, it is not so much the image of the young man dropping dead to the ground that is stuck in my mind - but the unbelievable sight before that - of a young man so determined to gain his personal freedom that he confronts armed forces with open arms and total vulnerability. It is the poise of the young man facing the tanks on the streets of Prague 1968 and the pride of that one unarmed young man standing in the middle of a street in Peking blocking a tank to enter Tiananmen square.
What is it that drives a young man to open his arms wide, revealing his chest with his precious heart to those threatening to kill him? It must be a hunger for peace and freedom that those who murdered him will never understand. It is true, from the moment he first opened his arms, unafraid, poised and proud, to the moment they shot him dead, only 30 seconds elapse. A terrible short time one should think. But in these 30 seconds, that when you know what will happen seem like an eternity, this young, unknown man of Alexandria was truly free. He was himself, he was without fear. For a split second he had the freedom they did not want him to have. He showed to them: Look here - you can kill me, but you can‘t take away my freedom. That was what got them so upset, made them so uneasy, scared them to such an extent that they killed him, thinking - with shooting him dead they could crush his freedom.
But they couldn‘t. What they did not understand: He had lived it already, there was nothing - not even killing him - that could alter that. He took his freedom in his own hands. And for 30 long seconds the armed forces were completely powerless and it was he that had the power of freedom in his hands. No one could give or deny it to him. It was his alone. He was at peace with himself.
Whenever I see his picture flashing accross my mind, which happens often since that brutal day of January 28, I see this unbelievable gesture of freedom - his arms spread out wide like a bird in a sky, opening himself and his chest to the armed forces in front of him, being as vulnerable as a young born child, innocent, pure - and undeterred in his belief to be free.
He will be forever remembered for this. His gesture of freedom is the gesture of all Egypt. His determination to strip away everything that could hold him down the determination of all of Egypt overthrowing the murderous regime. He is the unknown hero of the revolution and we should pay tribute to him and his courage that teaches us what being proud really means - and that freedom is the most precious thing we can possess.
If ever a monument is build in the memory of the martyrs of the Egyptian revolution - which is a must - I hope it will carry his gesture of freedom, his poise, show us his undeterred belief in the power of freedom. Because then - and only then - will it be really in honor of those 846 martyrs who gave their lives for a new Egypt.
An Egypt, that has yet to be truly free.
(Should anyone ever find out the name of this heroic young man of Alexandria, please let me know. The world should know his name - and never forget him.)
Update - July 28, 2011
Six months have passed since he was killed. But still his name is unknown. Even the human rights organizations deeply engaged in Egypt could not help. They themselves had tried to find out who he was, without any results. - I fear his name will remain unknown. But his bravery will not be forgotten. To us, who owe so much to those who gave their lives, he will forever be the Unknown Hero of the Egyptian Revolution.
Update - January 28, 2012
One year has passed since you were killed. Don't ever think I could forget you. I could never.
May you rest in peace.
Update - January 28, 2013
I promised you, I would not forget. Ever. I keep my promise.
Update - January 28, 2016
Five years have passed. But it is impossible to forget you. Impossible. R.I.P.