The Arab Spring of 2011 dismantled multiple political institutions throughout the Middle East. Even Egypt, a more stable and independent nation, was thrown into turmoil when the citizens rose up and demanded that President Hosni Mubarak step down after a thirty-year reign. Mohammed Morsi was “elected” despite his affiliations with the illegal Muslim Brotherhood party, and claimed near totalitarian power to settle the unrest. On the ground, CBS News correspondent Lara Logan was reportedly raped by two hundred men, and another woman known as the “girl in the blue bra” was videotaped being beaten to death by Egyptian Army soldiers and police.
In 2013, that same Egyptian Army took advantage of mass protests calling for government and employment reform. General Abdel Fattah al Sisi would eventually take over as President in a military coup.
“What’s your take on all this mess, Reza?”
“Meh, it just doesn’t stop. You know politicians. They’ll do whatever it takes. They have to.” Reza paid for a little tuk-tuk taxi to take us to his family’s house.
Reza’s family welcomed me into their home. Spices and sweat permeated the thick humid air inside the house. His sister, brother, mother, grandmother, and two uncles introduced themselves, and asked me all sorts of questions. I told them I was American, a university student studying to become a teacher. We all sat on the floor around a small table and ate a variety of rice, chicken, and sauces with our hands. The lack of silverware surprised me, so I copied the way everyone else ate, small bites with the right hand.
The grandmother, with Reza translating, asked where I planned to stay for the night. I told them I found a room not far from their home. Reza’s older brother, Rafid, told me about a whole apartment I could rent for cheap, with views of the pyramids and sphinx from the bedroom and balcony. He said I could look at it first, so we walked over to see the place. Although covered in sand, dust, and hair from stray cats who passed in and out through the open terrace, the apartment indeed had majestic views of the lit-up megaliths. Rafid told me the price was five hundred Egyptian pounds (around forty US dollars) for four nights. The price was comparable to the inn I enquired about online, and I couldn’t wait to sleep off the jet lag. So we shook hands and called it a deal.
Reza took me to an ATM and I withdrew the five hundred Egyptian pounds plus a little extra for incidentals. When we returned, Reza’s sister, grandmother, and a maid were cleaning my newly rented flat. His sister had removed her hijab and was sweating profusely through her light-blue cotton blouse which clung tight to her breasts and nipples, leaving little to the imagination. She was one of the most gorgeous women I’d ever seen, and it was all I could do not to stare.
When the women finished cleaning, uncle Mahmoud, an older gentleman wearing long grey “man-jammies,” brought a hookah over and wanted to converse with me. So Reza, Rafid, Mahmoud, and I started to smoke the night away on the luxurious balcony.
Rafid was the first to leave us, followed shortly by Reza. Mahmoud stayed behind and told me a bit about himself. He was an engineer who lived part time in Germany and Lebanon. Things got interesting fast when he told me the “real” reason Egypt was having protests and a coup. Long conversation short: the Freemasons, controlled by the Jews, infiltrated the Muslim Brotherhood and took over too much of Egypt’s government during the Arab Spring. The Jewish-controlled media is blaming the military for starting a coup, when it’s really their Freemasons trying to make war against Muslims in Egypt. Further, President Bush, a Zionist, was trying to eradicate Islam by going to war with the entire Middle East, and Egypt was next. I tried to assure him this was not the case.
Being the habitual button pusher that I am, I tried making a convincing argument for the existence of Israel as a Jewish State. Mahmoud told me it’s nothing I could ever understand because of the Jewish media’s news monopoly in America. He seemed genuinely concerned and sad, but understanding, believing I’d been brainwashed by the Jews my whole life. Then he hit me with some more rattling news about himself.
“Ryan, I used to be involved with Hezbollah. Your media calls us terrorists. Do you know what I did? I built schools. Schools for Palestinian children displaced by the illegal Zionist government occupying their country. Meanwhile, your country goes to Iraq to kill peaceful Muslims. The American people are very good, yes, but do you truly see what your government really does? The USA and Israeli government are the real terrorists. I have three friends, three dear friends who died in your war with Iraq.”
“So do I.”
A strange but calm and bonding silence filled the atmosphere. Mahmoud and I, two very different men with contrasting upbringings and life experiences, both knew the universal sting of friends lost at war, regardless of allegiance. The conversation got deep, and perhaps in another life, we could have been friends. But the night was pushing 2AM, and Mahmoud, after some friendly and understanding words, left for the night. He offered to show me around Cairo in the morning.
So much was running through my sleep-deprived head. Hezbollah?! Were they the Sunni or Shia paramilitary group? Are they dangerous, or is that Hamas? I couldn’t remember. Jet lagged beyond all hell and uncomfortable associating with Hezbollah members, I decided I’d get a couple hours of sleep, then head to the Pyramid View Inn as originally planned. I didn’t want to see Mahmoud again.
Despite the jet lag, I didn’t sleep well. Stray cats made their way onto my bed through the open balcony for some unwanted cuddles. The morning air was surprisingly cool and refreshing. As I dressed, the Islamic call to prayer blared across the city through blown out speakers, indicating the start of the day’s Ramadan fast alongside the rising sun. After packing, I locked the doors and made my way to Reza’s house to return the key. As I got closer to their home, I noticed a cluster of around twenty rambunctious men fighting in the middle of the unpaved street. Some of the men on the periphery of the circle seemed to be recording something with their phones. Suddenly, I witnessed a blood soaked man emerge from the crowd. I was shocked! What happened to him? As I walked closer, I noticed another man in blue jeans and a polo shirt take a lunge at the bloody figure. The mob pushed the two men apart, then seemed to let the man in the polo shirt take another lunge at the guy covered in blood. As I walked closer, I noticed the man in the polo shirt was armed with a small blade.
I was mortified. I helplessly tried to assess the situation. I noticed the man covered in blood had multiple long cuts and gashes on his back and torso. His blood-drenched shirt was in tatters around his waist. As he stuck his hands and arms ahead of himself for defense and mercy, I saw he held no weapon. Regardless, the man in the polo shirt took a lunge after lunge while some men in the crowd yelled and others laughed.
I tried to think about what to do as I approached the circle of men. I had no weapons. Could I take the knife-wielder one on one? Maybe. I’m far bigger than any of them. But what if everyone else had knives and ganged up on me? I’d be dead in no time. And what if the blood-soaked guy is some kind of rapist, and deserves being slashed to bits? Why has the gang shifted their focus to me now?
Mere meters from the scrappy gang of men, I locked eyes with the group for a few seconds, which seemed like an eternity. Their eyes told me I should fuck off rather quickly. Meanwhile, my mind raced while I decided whether or not I was going to risk my life to help a stranger in need. That moment felt like a western standoff… and I walked away with my head down. I strutted away in self-defeat a half-block to Reza’s family’s house and tied the key lanyard to their front gate. When I looked behind me, the guy in the polo shirt was mounted on top of a lifeless, bloody body, two hands gripping the blade, plunging it over and over again into a corpse which had been breathing moments before.
Up to that point in my life, I’d dreamt of deploying overseas to fight our country’s wars. Canceled deployments to Nuristan and Helmand provinces hung over my head as a veteran of six years without a combat patch. That single violent encounter and the lingering nightmares clearly illustrated I wasn’t ready to be a warfighter. To this day, as I ponder that fateful summer morning, I feel a strange mix of regret, shame, relief, and gratitude that I made it out of there in one piece.
Having had less than 24 hours in Egypt, I’d encountered a revolution, several rip-offs, a terrorist sympathizer, and now a murder. I’d had enough. It was time to execute my exfil plan and make my personal exodous to Israel.