Mahmoud: Crippled in Tahrir Square
Though the flesh may be weak the spirit stays strong.
Today I walk through Tahrir Square on two steel crutches. I walk with an aluminum leg and a prosthetic foot held down by a weighted shoe. I used to have two fine, strong legs; now they resent long distances.
- “From Egypt” attempts to draw a cultural map of Egypt and the Arab world by profiling the artistic, literary, and political issues that affect the region via on-the-ground coverage of current events, publications, and the fight for freedom of expression.
- Hamdy El-Gazzar is an Egyptian writer and one of the 39 young Arab writers included in the Beirut 39 Project. His first novel, Sihr Aswad (Dar Merit, 2005) won the prestigious Sawaris Award, and was subsequently translated by Humphrey Davies (Black Magic, AUC Press, 2007). His second novel, Ladhdhat Sirriyya (Secret Pleasures) was published by Dar al-Dar in 2008. He is currently working on a third novel.
Today I am learning to balance my shoulders against the crutches and push them forward quietly. I gently rest my elbows and move the right crutch one step forward as my aluminum foot drags behind. Then my left crutch catches up and I propel my left leg, my only fit leg, forward, to complete a single step.
I have regressed to the level of a toddler learning to walk, except I lack the smile of accomplishment and joy that a toddler wears. It has been replaced with the hardship of old age, even though I am a young man. I look at the compassionate, glowing faces of the people I am surrounded by and for a second I feel that I have not lost anything important; in fact, I have received more than I ever could have dreamed of.
“Limp, limp Mahmoud, and forget that you were once a champion in track, hurdles, and javelin.”
Yes, this is me now, lame and slow on the same square that witnessed my fall, the same arena where I once galloped like a horse.
I was among the youth who guarded the Egyptian Museum. I stood on two legs. I held a long wooden stick in my hands and there was a glow of alertness and passion in my eyes.
Earlier that evening I had rushed out of my house like a tiger to protect the museum. I saw the thugs on TV attacking the museum, seeking to rob and destroy it during the peak of the protests in January, 2011. I am an art student in the Ancient Egyptian Relics department and no one was going to take those relics away from me. No crooks would lay their hands on them as long as I lived. I came to protect and defend the relics but was hunted down like prey.
I took three bullets; one to my right knee, one to my left foot, and the third to my hip. I was fortunate to survive, as several people died around me. They were much less lucky. The bullets hit their chests, hearts, heads, and eyes. I did not lose my vision as many far more courageous fighters did. I did not lose one eye or both, the way Ahmed Harara did. The way hundreds of youth did.
I am neither bitter nor angry about what has happened to me. However I am astonished that I did not die. I was not killed like hundreds of martyrs were, whose blood waters the soil of Tahrir Square, reminding me of that old proverb: “The life of the menace is long lasting.”
They are heroes. And I am a cripple.
I have become a weak body crawling on two crutches. The bones in my knees have been crushed and the era of running is behind me. My bravery and strength are wiped out. I am a cripple. I am weak, but I have not yet given up and I will never do so. I will not leave The Square unless I am departing to my grave.
Now how about a cup of hot tea with mint?
“Smile my friend, you are in Tahrir Square!”
Translation: Nour Abdelghani