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Feminspire | April 23, 2014

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In the Middle of a Massacre: An American Woman in Egypt

In the Middle of a Massacre: An American Woman in Egypt

Trigger warning for description of violence 

As I sit here, my eyes full of tears, glued to the TV, I think, Obama, how could you leave my people to get massacred like this? I’m an American. This is not far from home. I am here in Egypt. I am sitting in disbelief as my family stares at the TV in fear. This is not far from home. This is my family. These are many Egyptian-Americans’ families. These are our fellow human beings. Humans. Like us. Our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers.

My heart shatters and my skin crawls as I stare at the screen and think about what these people are going through, right at this very moment, as I sit here in the safety of a home, not too far away from the bloodshed.

I want to help these people. I can feel it in my bones. My humanity screams at me.

So I do the only thing I know to do: write. Speak up. Spread the word. Hoping it will make the slightest difference.

The world watches silently, barely flinching, preparing meaningless speeches full of lies and empty promises, hiding behind their personal agendas as Egypt continues to bleed.

August 4th, 2013
Al-Mogama’a Al Islami (The Islamic Center)
New Damietta City, Egypt

Today I was able to witness and experience the power of a people who vow to expose corruption and injustice and fight for their rights and freedoms as equal human beings.

Today I witnessed this corruption firsthand. Thugs waiting outside of a police station, holding long wooden bars, rifles, swords, pieces of metal, and whatever they could find that could do the harm they intended to do on these justice-seekers, these freedom fighters.

Sit-in at Egyptian Mosque

The sit-in in New Damietta City in honor of a local boy that had been killed in the protests in Raba’a Al Adawiya, Cairo. Minutes after I left, the sit-in was attacked by thugs armed with tear gas, guns, wooden bars, and the support of the police, seriously injuring many, breaking into cars (including my aunt’s sister’s car, which I had just been in that night), and terrorizing everyone in the vicinity.
The poster I hold reads: Legitimacy is the red line. (meaning the bottom line, the line that can not be crossed)

Today, I joined in. As an American who knows freedom all too well, I want so badly for my Egyptian counterparts to feel the same – to get their justice. To experience the taste of freedom that I have grown desensitized to in America. Today I was able to stand with these people and say I support you, I am with you, I feel for you, I love you, I pray for you, you all give me hope, you’re beautiful, keep fighting, don’t stop, don’t stop. 

As I walked away, I took a last look at the beautiful crowd, chanting prayers for the ones who’d been killed in search of freedom, and I felt a piece of my heart stand its ground with these people, forever standing with humanity, for freedom and justice, wherever it is called for.

Thirty minutes later, as I drove back home in the safety of a car, we received calls that the people who I was just with were being attacked by thugs and policemen, people trying to suffocate their voices with their cowardly tear gas. Attacking the mosque where I had just prayed the most beautiful prayers with the most beautiful people. During the most holy night of (what’s presumed to be) Laylatul Qadr, during the most holy month of Ramadan.


Don’t you know that these people only fear The Just, The Most Powerful, The One God? Don’t you know these people aren’t afraid to die for the sake of justice? For freedom? Don’t you know God is always on the side of the righteous?

Don’t you know?

The question here is not pro-Morsi vs Pro-Sisi. The question is not the Muslim Brotherhood. The question is freedom, justice, democracy, humanity. The question is a people united for a just cause. The question is right and wrong. The question is massacre. The question is a beautiful dream for a beautiful Egypt.

One of my relatives is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. I stayed with this relative for the majority of my stay in Egypt. I wish I could describe the mixture of fear, despair, hopelessness, worry, courage, bravery, anger, sadness, and disbelief I saw in their eyes every day as we anxiously flipped through news channels and awaited phone calls, desperate for any update on the most recent attack.

I wish I could describe the shock I was in when this relative looked me in the eye, the desperation and fear forming over his eyes like dark clouds before a dreadful storm, and told me that in a few hours, security forces and thugs were planning on attacking all property of members of the Muslim Brotherhood. The horror was overwhelming.

What has he ever done? I have known him my entire life. Everywhere I go, I carry a keychain of my name written in sparkly pink Arabic letters he had bought me as a gift. We share laughs and inside jokes; I have never seen anything but love, generosity, care, and hard work from him. He is one of the kindest and most lovable people I know, and many people from the local community can attest to that. Charity work and generosity are things he does without hesitation; he gives much without expecting anything in return. He has worked sweat and tears to become the successful engineer he is today. And now he is wanted by the government, in hiding, fearing for his life and his wife and kids, in danger of being attacked and losing everything he has ever worked for, because of a label. And a misunderstood one at that. 

Egyptian Checkpoint

One of many military checkpoints and searches we went through on our drive from Damietta to the Cairo International Airport.

Later, as I sat in the Cairo airport during curfew hours, I was to learn that the police had filled his street, gone into his apartment building, and invaded and raided the home of a member of the Muslim Brotherhood that lives on the floor right above his.

I felt as though I was living in Germany in the 1930s. The Egyptian Holocaust of all individuals with a different dream for their country than that of the government — targeting, attacking, and massacring a people because of their beliefs and how they choose to label themselves. And so many people blindly and heartlessly backing this unjust, murderous, oppressive, blood-thirsty government. Except this time, there is media (social or otherwise) to expose the bloody, inhumane truth — and yet the world watches and does nothing.

I sat unable to speak as his son drove to his father’s office to save what papers and things he could before the dreaded attack. I have never been so worried and scared in my life. The son was gone for about an hour; I spent that time praying for his safety, for the safety of my family, and for the safety of all Egyptians.

A red alert flashed on my phone. All U.S citizens currently in Egypt are to be cautious of their surroundings at all times and are advised to leave the country as soon as possible.

I was consumed with feelings of guilt while sitting with my Egyptian loved ones. It was almost as if to say, you’re important because you’re American. Your government cares about you, but does not care about us (the Egyptian people). The Egyptian government itself does not care about the Egyptian people. They’ll kill them off one by one based on labels, while brown-nosing to the Western governments and their citizens.

Why? Why do we insist on prioritizing people based on labels? Are Americans any more important than the Egyptian people? Is our blood more valuable? Why can’t we as a people prioritize the integrity, dignity and respect of all of humanity? Can that be our priority?

The next day I was to walk in the shadows of the streets of Damietta, Egypt, with my relatives, afraid and paranoid that the eyes that watch us may be those of a thug programmed to kill people like my family, people like me. People who stand for what they believe in and crave justice and freedom. People like you.

Written by Dina El-Rifai
Follow her blog and on Twitter.

  • Aliaa Khidr

    My dearest Dina,
    May Your sincere words pave a pathway of awareness in the hearts of all people who value bravery and sacrifice in pursuit of self respect, humanity, freedom and justice.
    Aliaa Khidr

    • Dina El-Rifai

      Ameen. I take these kind words with the utmost appreciation and humbleness. To earn the approval and pride from you is the greatest achievement, Mama Aliaa. I am thrilled (and surprised) by how much of an affect my writing has had on numerous people and can only thank God for giving me the opportunity to be able to speak on behalf of those who experience injustice and cannot speak for themselves. Alhamdulillah.