Khaled Said (1982-2010)
“Khaled, do you remember when I used to tell you to ask me for things before I left you and to take advantage of my presence while I was still alive? You used to say, ‘God bless you. You are the best mother in the world.’ I didn’t know then that you would be the one who would go so far away from me. You have left me, and my heart is broken in torment.
Why would you leave me, you to whom I gave my life? I search for you, and I am choked by your absence. I long for you. You have taken all my joy away with you. How wonderful it would be if you could return to my arms, if only once! If only you could pluck me from my depths of loneliness, so love could once again flow through my veins. If only I could be by your side one more day, just to feel alive again.
If only I could be embraced by your conversation, so that my spirit could sing and my breath could be calmed. You are better than my dreams. Without you, I am without a home. I wander, and I am alone without a homeland. Were I to be near to you, my days would blossom and my home would return.
I sit silently and alone in a cold room, a bird watching me as if weeping with me. I promise you, Khaled, we will not be apart for long, my child. We will meet again soon.”
Rami Al-Sharkawi (1985-2011)
“Two years have passed, holding sorrows, pain and hope, since you died on 2 February 2011, at 10:30pm.
Sorrows — from losing a precious husband who used to love and care for his family, though not more than he cared for his country. Pain — when I see my children, Omar, four, and Mariam, two, grow up and every day ask questions like, ‘mummy, where is father?’ and ‘why doesn’t he come home?’ Hope — that Allah will never fail the martyrs’ dreams and that our revolution will achieve its goals in order that their souls may rest in peace.
Karim Bannona, who died when he was 29 years old, was a successful software developer, and his success and ambition helped him to build his own private company. Karim believed in Allah, and he wanted to see Islam portrayed in a good way, which he reflected in his own actions. He had a clear vision of what he aspired to, without allowing those around him to influence him. He had a short beard, but at the same time he refused to join any political associations because he was against stereotyping people or seeing them in one-dimensional terms.
He was kind and cheerful, and he used to enjoy playing with his children. He never hesitated to give a helping hand where one was needed or where he felt one might be required. In Karim’s last days, when he was suffering from an internal haemorrhage, he still didn’t stop thinking of needy people who were out of work because of the Revolution. On the day of his departure from this world, he bought them food to try to cover some of their basic needs.
When his mother-in-law asked him not to take part in the protests on the grounds that he had children, he replied simply, ‘I’m not only here for my children. I am also here to stand up for what is right.’ A comfortable life didn’t hinder him from thinking of other Egyptians or about his nation, which deserved a better life.
Karim was like many other Egyptian citizens who wanted to stop corruption and injustice, but didn’t know how to do so. Many things triggered the revolution — the brutal killing of Khaled Said, the fraud in the elections, the revolution in Tunisia and the church bombings. But if we really believe in our martyrs and if we appreciate the sacrifice they made for us, we need to adopt a slogan like ‘stop bothering and start gathering.’ We need to stop bothering each other and to start gathering our efforts to overcome tough challenges. And we are running out of time.
Karim predicted this situation when he wrote on his Facebook page, ‘even if the world is ending, and even if there seems to be nothing to be gained from our work, even if this moment has come, you should not stop working and dreaming of a better future.’”
Karim Bannona (1982-2011)
“My dearest Rami, one year has passed and the truth about how you left us is still not known. One year has passed, and the pain grows with every day.
We see you how you were, opening the door to the apartment, coming in laughing and joking with mother and us behind you. Everything in your room is exactly how you left it the day you went out, even the last page from the calendar you ripped out before you left is exactly where you left it on the wall.
We see you during good times when we visit people. But in your absence from us, their sweetness is gone. In Ramadan, we used to go to the mosque for taraweeh [night] prayers and compete to see who could finish the Quran first, but now you are gone. We find it difficult to listen to Eid prayers or to pray without you in the same place with your friends. So many things have changed: our lives have been turned upside down and the most important thing is missing — you.
I have passed through moments I thought I would never have to experience. It is so difficult when the phone rings and the caller asks, ‘isn’t this Rami’s phone?’ I respond, ‘yes, it’s his phone.’ When they ask to talk to you, my response is always that ‘Rami has passed away.’ Your clothes and all your things still smell of you. The house feels morbid without you and without your laughter and your energy. I feel everything is in mourning for your loss. I feel my back has been broken. Who will I fight with now? Who will hide his laughing face from me and just pretend he is upset?
There are still so many things we should have experienced together. Who will attend my wedding and be by my side? Whom will my children call uncle? Who will be by my side after God and father?
But we still see you in your friends who are continuing your journey. In their eyes, we see your simple, innocent dreams of bread, dignity, and social justice. While it’s true that none of your dreams have been realised — they even steal dreams — your dreams live inside people who will continue to fight to achieve them. We see you in everyone who takes your place in the square, and we see the day we said goodbye to you in everyone who has been killed since. Everyone who has been taken from his mother and his family revives the wound inside us, as if you have just left us with the same pain.
I can see your smile everywhere on the streets, which are tinted with your laughter instead of colours. The walls are painted with your dreams and the dreams of those before you and after you. I see them on the walls, speaking out and screaming. They died for the sake of Egypt. They died for an idea and a dream that will not die just because they left us. One day these dreams will come true.
After he died, I was told that his friends had called him ‘the smile of the square’. So he remained, until they took our smile from us at dawn on 20 December 2011 during the clashes outside the cabinet office in Cairo.
I have many overlapping and conflicting feelings: sorrow over your departure; happiness for where you are in God’s hands; despair over your lost dreams; hope for the youth who are continuing on your path; despair that we will never be able to get justice for your loss; hope in God’s justice. The country is going through a dark tunnel, and only God knows if there is light at the end.
Everything leads to one truth: that you have left us. We live in the hope that God will reunite us with you sooner or later and that we will share together everything that we missed out on in this world. It is certain that what God has in store for us is far better.
Alaa Abdel-Hadi (1988-2011)
“On 16 December 2011, Alaa Abdel-Hadi’s friends called from the field hospital to ask for help, since there were many injured people and they wanted him to come as they needed doctors. Before he arrived at the field hospital, he passed by a flashpoint where there were also many injured people. Someone next to Alaa at the time said that he had seen him tending to the wounded and then turned his head away for a moment. When he looked back, he saw that Alaa had been shot in the head, dying instantly.
Alaa dreamed of changing Egypt because he loved his country. He used to tell relatives abroad that the day would come when they would return to Egypt and sing its praises. He wanted to travel around the country, so that he could take in all the beauty of his homeland.
He felt that the revolution was a lifeline that we should hold on to because it was an opportunity that would not be repeated. His aspirations were well beyond his years. Alaa died, but his dreams live on inside his friends, and we will continue his journey.
Alaa’s death was a shock because he was popular and we relied on him for many things. It is hard to live with his memory staring back at us everywhere, in college, for example, where he left a distinct mark. He participated in sit-ins against rising prices in the college cafeteria and against the policies of the corrupt university dean and his deputies.”
Alaa’s younger brother
“Alaa was a model student, mild-mannered and pious. He was the best of our group — always helpful and dreaming of transforming his country for the better. For me, Alaa exemplified kindness, hope, love of doing good, and self-reliance. Perhaps it was the latter quality that influenced me the most.
When he was studying, he also worked, and he was responsible for himself and his studies. What I loved most about Alaa was his calm demeanour and gentle smile, a smile with which he would meet any problem or difficult situation.
When the revolution began, Alaa was one of the first to take part in it. In fact, he was one of the first to be wounded and arrested by the army. After that, I felt that something had changed in Alaa. He rejected any form of injustice or favouritism even in college, and he was one of the first to protest against unelected leadership, not only in our college but also in the university itself.
For Alaa, the revolution was his life’s dream in every sense of the word. It was a means for him to approach his bride, Egypt, as he saw her in his dreams.
The last day I saw him was Wednesday, 14 December 2011, two days before he was martyred. We talked for a couple of hours at college about the condition of the country and the sit-in outside the cabinet office, and he told me that he disagreed with the timing of the sit-in but that he had to go there himself in order to find out why the protesters were there.
I did not know that this would be the last time that I would ever see him. May God rest his soul. I blame the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and Field Marshal [Hussein] Tantawi for the death of the martyr Alaa Abdel-Hadi.”
Mohamed Taher, a friend
“Alaa Abdel-Hadi was one of the best people I have ever met. He had impeccable manners and great knowledge. He was the most intelligent young man among us, and he aspired to become a leading national figure like Ahmed Zewail in order to benefit his country.
We met in the revolutionary coalition, and he proposed some key projects for our village, including an ambulance and fire engine, as well as renovating the village hospital.
Alaa was no ordinary person. Although he was a student at a leading college, he was always modest. I can see him now carrying a bag selling soap to people, and I used to chastise him, asking him why he was doing it when he could have been resting at home. He used to ask in reply whether he should just sit at home and do nothing.
He was ambitious, and he was always seeking to do good and teach others. I can see him making me a delectable potato sandwich, which I will never taste again. I still remember his smile that has stayed with me. Even at the final farewell, he was smiling.
God bless you, my brother, for His mercy is vast. I pray that Allah will accept you in the ranks of the righteous martyrs in Heaven.”
Abdel-Kader Mohamed, a friend
Mina Daniel (1991-2011)
“‘They are killing the blossom, but they cannot kill the dream or stop the sun from rising every morning. Mina Daniel will not be the last angel sacrificed for freedom. Emad Effat will not be the last sheikh, and Al-Husseini Abu Deif will not be the last writer. All these men were killed at the hands of a dictatorship whose first priority was to kill in order to remain in power.
The bullet that killed Mina Daniel on 9 October 2011 also took away my life. He was my brother, whom I held in my arms as soon as he was born and who dreamed of a free homeland that would uphold justice and would not differentiate between rich and poor. Mina loved Egypt, its history and heritage, which is why he had dedicated himself to studying ancient Egyptian history.
Mina Daniel, just 20 when he died, was studying data systems at Al-Moqattam Academy in Cairo. He became politically active before the revolution and had participated in many demonstrations against the ousted regime. He took part in the revolution in Tahrir Square from day one onwards and until the former president stepped down. He was injured in every incident of the revolution, and even before it started he had been pursued by State Security and arrested several times.
Mina was a model Egyptian youth who loved people and wanted to restore people’s rights, especially those of the poor, so that they could live decent lives. His model in life was the revolutionary Che Guevara. His signature phrase was ‘let me breathe freedom,’ and he went out to protest in order to claim the goals of the Revolution: ‘bread, freedom, and social justice.’
He was shot in the chest during a demonstration on Black Sunday and died from his wounds. This was a day on which army snipers killed dozens of Egypt’s finest young people in a massacre for which no one has yet come to trial. Mina and his comrades died, and the culprit has been given the honour of the Collar of the Nile.
The Mina Daniel Movement that Mina’s comrades and friends have created intends to continue his struggle and to raise his picture in Tahrir Square and on Cairo’s buildings. Perhaps his murderers will then feel shame. The identity of the victim is known, and so is the identity of the murderer, but the latter seems to be above the law.
Similar bullets outside the cabinet office in Cairo in December 2011 killed the venerable Al-Azhar Sheikh Emad Effat, one of the few clerics who came out to defend the freedom of the Egyptian people and speak the truth to power. The names of the martyrs Mina Daniel and Emad Effat have become icons of the Egyptian revolution. Mina was a Christian and Sheikh Effat was a Muslim, but both were victims of the military during the transitional phase after former president Hosni Mubarak was deposed and the new dictator, Mohamed Morsi, arrived.
Our rulers share the same views on murder. Mubarak was a murderer, as were his friends in the military. Morsi has continued the killing, and most recently Al-Husseini Abu Deif, a journalist, activist and opposition figure, was assassinated in clashes outside the Al-Ittihadiya Presidential Palace at the hands of Muslim Brotherhood militias. They may have silenced Al-Husseini, but they have not silenced the voice of the Revolution in the hearts of his loved ones and friends. The killers may change, but our dream of a liberated homeland will never die.
On the second anniversary of the 25 January Revolution, I want to say to Mina, Emad Effat and Al-Husseini that only your bodies have departed. Martyrs never die, and we promise you that the revolution will continue and with it our struggle against all forms of oppression, injustice and tyranny.”
Emad Effat (1959-2011)
“‘I urge everyone, especially my students, to pause and reflect. What is their position on what has occurred and the unfolding events? The gauge is not the success of the revolution but taking a stand. Revolutions can be aborted and sincere calls defeated. The gauge is in one’s stand.
Do not look at the consequences of what has happened but look at its nature and at what it is. What was your position? Where were you? Why were some of us in class and at prayers, but absent during those blessed moments? I urge everyone to ask themselves: where was I when these events took place? Was I prepared or not? Am I ready or not? Did my studies prepare me for this situation or not? Did I know the facts, or was I oblivious, and when it was time for the truth, did I say I don’t know? Were we born to shut our ears and not live in reality, imagining that our mission is only to read yellowing books? Is that our message?
We must reassess the situation and hold ourselves accountable. What was our position? What should we do if these events continue? What if similar events occur? What have been the mistakes? How can they be corrected? How can we stand up together? God in His mercy has extended our lives, and this is an opportunity for us to re-evaluate, reconsider and think. As long as we are still breathing there is room for repentance. The end is the gauge.’
Such were the words Sheikh Emad Effat, may God bless his soul, used to his students the first time he saw them after Mubarak’s ouster. He had been away for three weeks in and around Tahrir Square where the ‘real lesson’ was taking place, as he told one student who ran into him in the square. Tahrir is where he was shot on the ‘Friday of Anger’ and where he brought stones for those defending the square during the ‘Battle of the Camel’, throwing them at the attackers. It is where he went back to help clean up the square, and where he smelled the scent of paradise. It is where he took his infant son to celebrate the day Mubarak stepped down, and where a few months later God deemed he should be martyred by the bullets of traitors.
The sheikh was ready for the revolution. He dreamed of it, waited for it, worked towards it, and foretold it. During religious celebrations, he would remind his students and those who loved him that their joy was incomplete. He would say, ‘our real celebration will take place when our prisoners are released, our enemies are vanquished, the righteous are in power and the wise are leading us forwards. May the nation be victorious in you.’
When the revolution began in Tunisia, he sent out a message saying that ‘a precedent has been set, my fellow Egyptians,’ and he followed this up with revolutionary slogans, eventually participating by taking to the streets.
The sheikh was predisposed towards revolution as a concept before it materialised on the ground because it was something that was compatible with his character: principled positions; no negotiation over what is right; a readiness to sacrifice for the sake of an ideal; keeping inspiration pure so it is not desecrated by bargaining and calculation. These characteristics of the sheikh are similar to those of prominent sheikhs in the history of Islam, including Sheikh Al-Biguri, Sheikh Al-Dardiri, and other Al-Azhar clerics whose work the sheikh taught. He was especially interested in their positions, and he taught them to his students at a time when such positions from clerics were rare.
The sheikh also supported the revolution because its demands expressed what had been occupying his mind and filling his heart in the years preceding the revolution. Primarily, there was the revolutionary goal of liberating the nation from tyrannical and corrupt regimes. He once said, ‘I wake and sleep and wait for the day that we will wake up to the news that Mubarak is dead, irrespective of who succeeds him. I swear to God, I used to follow the news on television every day, hoping to hear this news. But God has now gifted us with what we could never have imagined.’
The sheikh would become angry if a cleric in a pulpit prayed for the ousted president, and his position on the other Arab regimes was the same. His lectures before and after the Revolution were full of prayers that God would make the people triumph and be rid of the tyrants that were oppressing them. Jubilant messages bombarded everyone in his circle when an Arab people triumphed over its leaders: Bashar Al-Assad, Muammar Gaddafi, Ali Abdallah Saleh and other Arab tyrants.
Justice and the championing of the weak were the keys to the sheikh’s support of the revolution, and he always sided with the victim, viewing that as an expression of piety. When the Maspero massacre took place three months before he himself was martyred in which many Copts were killed by the military, he viewed any position ‘that does not begin by condemning the killings as lacking in patriotism, humanity and faith.’
During the sit-ins demanding that the ministry of the interior be purged after the assault on the families of martyrs, and as some clerics were issuing religious edicts against the sit-ins on the grounds that they were disrupting national life, the sheikh stood up to defend them. ‘If it is a matter of immense magnitude and there is consensus on it, so what if life is disrupted,’ he asked, declaring that the demands to dismantle and purge the Ministry of Interior were a worthy cause.
When he read the news that some had issued edicts criminalising strikes by some social category whose rights had been usurped, he said, ‘we need to understand what is behind this deviant interpretation of the sheikhs and the Sharia scholars. What has caused them to make these dubious statements? Why are they doing this? Why are they oblivious to an issue which is loud and clear to everyone else? Why are they using texts in this way and interpreting them in this manner, while the masses can easily and clearly see the spirit of religion?’
The dream of the Arab Spring that would restore the nation’s unity and cohesion and help liberate its territories was another reason why the sheikh sided with the revolution. He was preoccupied with the Palestinian cause, and every morning he would send his students news of Palestine, of the resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan and events elsewhere. He heralded their victories, relayed their news and prayed for them in his classes, and he searched for ways to serve them at all times. He would call activists from such causes, wanting to know if there was anything he could do to help and support them.
These things all guided the movements of the sheikh before the revolution. When it erupted onto the streets, he soon joined in and became even more enamoured of it, seeing clear distinctions between good and evil. On the one hand, he saw Egyptians demanding freedom of expression and expressing the desire to take back their country, build their revival and embrace their nation. On the other hand, he saw oppression, murder and betrayal by those who were entrusted with power. He saw ‘courageous revolutionary champions who were sincere, and so God was sincere to them. There were people whom I did not know, Muslims and non-Muslims, who died to emancipate me and my children so that they will grow up not having to look at Mubarak’s image or hear his voice or witness the corrupt clique of Ezz, Safwat, Zakaria, Fathi and others. Theirs is a gift that I will never be able to repay. I leave it to God to thank them for this.’
That was the stance of the sheikh, who was blessed to smell the scent of paradise in Tahrir Square. He kept his promise to God and took part in every sit-in and protest that served the goals of the revolution. He joined the demonstrators even if he personally disagreed with some of the things they were saying if they were being beaten or killed by the authorities. Despite the darkness surrounding him and others, he would never abandon anyone who was wronged.
God chose him as a martyr near the square in the confrontations outside the cabinet office on 16 December 2011, or 20 Moharram 1443 Hijri, only days after he had returned from pilgrimage.
In his actions, the sheikh remained an Azharite, upholding the approach of the institution: thought preceded action; awareness preceded pursuit; respect for experience was paramount as was the opinion of experts in every domain. He sat with the pillars of society and politics like a humble student; he listened and learned from them; he attended seminars, workshops and conferences; he followed articles and research and forwarded them to his students and supporters. He listened to their criticisms and did not hesitate to change his position if he found he was in the wrong.
He followed the example of his predecessor clerics who had championed truth and supported those who had been wronged.
The sheikh’s funeral was like his life, acting as a beacon for all those present. It started at Al-Azhar, where he had lectured on the religious texts and adhered to the ways of the pious and their heritage of knowledge and scholarship. Revolutionaries walked in his funeral procession, demanding that the revolution continue. They continued their resonating chant: ‘revolutionaries, be free, we will continue the journey.’ They championed truth and justice by demanding that ‘we either avenge them, or we die like them.’ A huge procession took him to his final resting place near Sayeda Aisha, may God’s blessings be on her.
Sheikh Emad Effat, an Azharite of the Ashaari and Shafei Schools, was buried where centuries ago Imam Mohieddin Al-Nawawi stopped during his visit to Imam Shafei and said, ‘even if he [the Imam] were alive, I could not come any closer.’ He was buried between Al-Azhar, where he taught, and Dar Al-Iftaa [the centre for religious edicts], where he worked, and between the Mausoleum of Imam Shafei, whose doctrine he studied, and the Sultan Hassan Mosque, where he attended Friday prayers.
May God bless the sheikh and may the nation benefit from his enduring knowledge and work. May he join the ranks of the righteous, and may we hope to join him when our time has come.
a student of Sheikh Emad Effat