On the first night of Eid, after the long fasting month of Ramadan, young men gather in Mohandiseen. Note, there are depictions of sexual assault: 

By Ahmed Saeed

Translated by Enas El-Torky

Kamil’s tall body flew in the air, and he landed on his back. The room went dark for a second after the slap he got to his face, and Usta Fawaz’s words rang in his ears:

– Are you robbing me, you son of a bitch?!

Kamil mustered his strength and rose to his feet, crying:

– I triple swear in the name of Allah, Usta, I don’t know where the five pounds have gone. By the Holy Quran, by my fasting, may a car run me over if I’m lying!

Usta Fawaz kicked him in the stomach:

– Do you still take me for a fool, you son of a whore?! Get out of my sight, you son of an old hag! I have no wages or Eid bonus for you.

Kamil fell again, then got up, weeping without shedding tears as he shouted:

– I swear to God, this is unfair! Why can’t it be Awad who took the money?

Usta Fawaz grabbed him and dragged him from the room to the workshop’s hall:

-Because Awad isn’t debased like you, you son of sin!

Kamil was seething by the time he reached the workshop gate:

– Let me go! I won’t leave without my money in my pocket!

The owner of a nearby shop intervened, calmingly:

– Let him go, Usta Fawaz, and give him his money. He’s your apprentice, and we’re approaching the eve of Eid. Eid is a time for generosity and forgiveness.

Usta Fawaz hollered as he punched Kamil in the head:

– All through Ramadan he’s stolen from me way more than his Eid bonus, and I can’t tolerate his filthy nature any longer. By God, if you don’t get out of my sight right now, you’ll no longer have a job with me!

Kamil took the punch on the neck and lowered his head in great dismay. He walked away, loudly evoking the power of God against those who did him injustice. He stepped out of the lane in which the workshop was located and stood at the head of a nearby alley. He straightened his clothes and erased the expression of dismay he had drawn on his face. He leaned against a wall, lit a local cigarette, and waited. He didn’t wait for long. As soon as he’d finished his cigarette, he was approached by a young man in a dirty white jalabiya who asked him:

-Did you bring the money?

– I was only able to get five pounds, and the son of a bitch swore he wouldn’t give me my Eid bonus.

– But that’s not enough. You’ll only get half the strip of pills for that.

– Give me the whole strip, and I’ll get you the money when I can.

– Nah, genius, you know that’s not how I operate.

He gave him the money and received half a strip of some sort of medicine. Kamil popped the five pills out of the blister pack and shouted:

– Get me some water from your house!

-Why? Aren’t you fasting? It’s the last day, wait till the call for prayer.

Kamil gave a sarcastic smile:

-Fasting is only for the rich.

***

At a quarter to six, the call for the sunset prayer rang out in the sky. Salah was excited to hear the call that signaled the beginning of the night before Eid. His eyes wandered away from the television screen that was set to some channel broadcasting Arabic songs. But he lingered just long enough to catch a glimpse of the face of the singer who was winking, lips parted in a seductive manner that he sensed was telling him: “I want you, I’m horny.” He slowed down and ignored his mother’s call, telling him to come to the table to have his iftar meal. It was his favorite scene, when the camera zoomed out, away from the face that was full of lust, and showed her body wrapped in a white silk sheet that revealed the details of the nude body beneath. The camera panned lower and zoomed in on her sensuous legs, and he saw the sheet fall to her feet. He bit his lower lip, imagining what the sly camera had hidden from him, and exhaled a hot, satisfied sigh.

He sat at the round table, and his hands raced his mouth to the various dishes before he finished saying the iftar prayer. He mustn’t waste time. It was a blessed night that he waited for every year, like its counterpart that came after the eve before the Big Eid. It was a night for pleasure, gratification, and transgressions.

His hands stopped reaching for the food, and the bite in his mouth turned into a sort of a lump when he heard his father say:

– It’s nice to see that a failure like you has such an appetite for food!

He was filled with gloom and muttered:

– Aren’t we done with this nauseating argument yet?

His chest tightened, and he didn’t wait for the rest of the words that he knew would no doubt be coming. He left the table and went to his room, grumbling a few words.

His father shouted to make sure his voice reached him:

– Have you no shame, you failure? Watching TV every day when you’re repeating the year, yet again!

His wife reproached him:

– You shouldn’t have, Abu Salah. Upsetting the boy at the table, and on Eid eve!

After a while, his parents came to his room, and his father placated him with a few words and a handful of cash. Salah’s expression grew joyful once again, and he threw his new clothes on over his slight body. He spruced himself up and carefully preened his hair. He diligently polished his shoes, sprayed on some cologne, and readied himself for the big night.

At half past seven, his phone gave a single ring, and he understood what it meant. He bid his parents goodbye, wished them a happy Eid, and hurriedly shut the door behind him without listening to the remainder of their warnings about being careful and not getting into any trouble. There was a new car with three of his friends inside waiting for him in front of his building. The two sitting in the front, Anwar and Milad, were his childhood friends. The other one, Nagy, was like him, repeating the first year in the faculty of commerce for the second time. He got in beside Nagy. His friends welcomed him and exchanged greetings and jokey insults. The car moved on without any specific destination, so he asked them:

– Where are we going? Are we going to stay in Nasr City or go somewhere new?

His friend Anwar, who was sitting behind the steering wheel, answered impatiently:

– We don’t know yet. I’m still waiting for a call to let me know where the place will be.

Salah smiled devilishly and asked a question to which he already knew the answer:

– Why don’t we go to Geneina Mall till you get the call?

Anwar started to object, but Nagy answered sharply:

– No. No way!

Milad asked him:

– And why’s that?

Nagy grumbled, and spoke as if by force:

– My sister’s going there tonight. I warned her a hundred times not to go, and I fought with her, but the moron insisted. She said nothing was going to happen to her, that she’d be with her friends, and that there were cops everywhere.

Salah shook his head, feigning mock regret, and said in a sarcastic tone:

– You son of an idiot! And you believed that the cops would protect her?

He answered nervously:

– What could I have done that I didn’t do? She insisted. It’s her choice. I warned her a bunch of times. Whatever happens to her will be her responsibility.

Salah answered in the same sarcastic manner:

– You’re playing dumb big time, Nagy. Nobody leaves his sister, knowing what’s going to happen to her. Geneina Mall was our spot a couple of Eids ago. You know what we did, and you know what the others will do tonight.

Nagy’s face flushed as he brought out his phone and pressed some buttons before holding it to his ear.

– Hello. Don’t go to Geneina Mall. Go to City Stars, it’s better there. To hell with the new movie, I said don’t go! To hell with it . . . but I’m the man! Hello! Hello!

He tried to call again and held the mobile to his ear before lowering it, angrily muttering:

– The bitch turned off her phone!

Milad reached out his left hand and patted Nagy’s shoulder, muttering:

– You did what you could. She’s your older sister and knows what’s good for her. Everyone knows what happens there, and God willing if she goes early nothing will happen.

Nagy blew out a worried breath that had filled his mouth, and then wondered aloud:

– How about we go there to check on her, and protect her till she gets in the mall?

Anwar couldn’t help himself this time, so he snorted then shouted in admonishment:

– What? You want Hany Altahsh to see me and split my head open like I did to him last year? No, Mr. Mama’s Boy! I’m not buying your shit! Besides, if he sees you especially, he won’t let you go.

Nagy’s eyes showed that he was lost in thought, and he asked desperately:

– What can I do?

Salah answered with devilish sarcasm:

– Let her, maybe she wants to!

Nagy glanced at him, understanding.

– What do you mean?

Salah went on, specially emphasizing his words:

– Maybe she wants to!

Nagy flew into a rage, transforming all his inner turmoil into fury.

– Shut up, you dumb fag! You son of a bitch!

But Salah didn’t shut up. He smiled mockingly, enjoying pissing him off.

– The fag is the one who lets his sister get fucked.

Anwar shouted from behind the steering wheel:

– Cut him some slack, Salah. Don’t piss him off like you always do, and don’t ruin the night before it starts.

Salah nodded in agreement, and feigned politeness:

– I’m sorry, bro. Don’t be mad, it’s my bad.

Nagy nodded briefly as a sign that it was over. Still, Salah couldn’t help himself and said once again with devilish sarcasm:

– But, maybe she wants to!

Nagy turned to him angrily and punched him in the shoulder, as Salah was overcome by a loud wave of laughter that shook the car.

***

Kamil smiled at himself in the mirror. His crooked teeth appeared to be fighting with one another. He felt that the person in the mirror in front of him was handsome and happy. He wished that he had another half strip of pills to sustain his mood through the night, against any of the bumps in his life.

He ventured with lazy steps out into the alley where he lived, and his expression brightened as he saw a beautiful young girl approach. He stepped into her path and said with a tongue that was heavy with an invisible weight:

– Good evening, good smelling! May your evening be filled with flowers and perfumes!

She sized him up from head to toe until her eyes settled on his face, with its dark skin filled with small volcanic craters caused by old pimples. A long furrow stretched across his right cheek, made by an old scar from a penknife. She spat on the ground, loudly saying:

– Get away from me, Kamil, or I’ll make a scene out of you for the whole alley to watch!

Kamil leaned toward her, with his body shaking:

– I only want to get close to you, beautiful!

She gave him a dirty look as she walked away, shouting:

– Stay away from me, shit face!

Kamil snorted and hollered at the top of his lungs:

– Get out of my sight, you daughter of bitches! You bitch, sleeping with anybody who’ll pay you a pound!

***

It was quarter past eight in Nasr City, and the car was still moving aimlessly. Nagy tossed the butt of the hash joint out of the window, then shut it quickly so that the blessing that had filled the car wouldn’t escape. Milad muttered, blissfully wasted:

– Oh God, I really missed this joint. I don’t know why you can’t smoke in the night during Ramadan?

Nagy answered with a mind that was surrendering to the stupor of the hash:

– No, things like that are haram during Ramadan, because they can lead to more serious stuff. I heard that from some sheikh in a mosque.

Then his eyes widened, and he raised his open palms beside his head, which he tilted towards his right shoulder as a sign of salvation. He added sarcastically:

– But after Ramadan, everything is permissible!

Salah asked him with his usual slyness:

– Why don’t you smoke by yourself, Milad? In any case, you’re Christian. Ramadan means nothing to you except riddles and TV series, so why don’t you smoke it on your own?

Milad answered as reality slipped from his sight:

– Because I have no real friends to smoke with other than you. Besides, Anwar’s the one who buys it and brings it with him.

Anwar cast him a sideways glance with his eye half shut, as he continued driving:

– But you didn’t ask. If you’d asked, I would’ve given you some from my stash.

Milad winked at him with the attitude of someone who’s too clever to be duped:

– So I would smoke on my own and be the only one wasted among you, and you guys would have fun at my expense during your Ramadan and kick me to each other like a ball? No way! Besides, that could never happen. Where’s the fun without you, you sons of whores?

Salah lit a new joint and passed it to Nagy, then to Milad, who handed it to Anwar while keeping his breath held tight in his chest, so that his voice came out stifled:

– Good evening!

Anwar slowed the car down and brought it closer to the left sidewalk. His eyes widened again, as if he had just noticed something, and he exclaimed:

– Just a second!

Anwar opened the window and put his entire left arm out of the car. He slowed the car down even more, and cautiously approached a couple of girls who wore headscarves over tight-fitting clothing and were walking next to each other on the left sidewalk. He calculated the distance between him and the closest of the girls, and knew that he could reach her. He held his breath, and as soon as he came up right behind her, he raised his left palm and firmly grabbed the rear end of the girl that was closest to him. His demon shouted through his tongue:

– What a great ass!

He stepped on the gas pedal to escape, and was overcome by a strange ecstasy, like someone who had committed a sexual act, mixed with the exhilaration of someone who had just committed a crime and felt he was being chased by dozens of people. He glanced at the car’s left side mirror and saw the girl standing there, looking stunned, her hand resting on her rear as if she had lost something precious. The friend who was walking with her rained down a shower of filthy insults on them, most of which Anwar didn’t hear because he had closed the window. The car rang with their laughter, before he took the hash joint and inhaled deeply with pleasure. He held his breath to hide his loud heartbeats, as it pounded violently with excitement.

Milad objected, saying:

– And when I do that, you shower me with insults!

Salah argued with feigned solemnity:

– Of course. Veiled girls means Muslims, meaning one of us. What business do you, a Christian, have with them? However, if she wasn’t veiled, then it can go either way, Muslim or Christian. We leave that for fate to decide. So the veiled girls are ours only, and the unveiled are for all of us.

Milad was silent for a while, then he noticed something and snorted:

– That means that all Christian girls are yours!

The other three who were wasted burst out laughing, and Nagy answered, trying to overcome his laughter:

– And why not? Aren’t we all brothers?

Anwar scolded him after the laughter died down:

– Quiet, Nagy! Never mind them, Milad. Just to prove to you that the crescent lives with the cross in peace, you’ll be exempted tonight. Tonight is full of blessings; a night for transgressions after a long period of deprivation.

Then he spotted something, so he veered toward the right sidewalk. He drove slowly and said:

– This is a gift from me to you, so you won’t claim that I forget my promises.

Milad understood, so he opened his window without noticing Salah, who also opened his window behind him and stuck the upper half of his body out of it. The car slowly approached a veiled young woman whose clothes didn’t lack respectability and decency. Milad reached out with his hand to do what his friend had just done a moment ago, letting out a shout that scared the woman. She quivered with shock from both the shout and the deed itself. Salah then leaned out with his body and reached out to pull the headscarf off her head, but it escaped his hand and he left her with her hair half bare.

The four looked at her, drowning in a wave of hysterical laughter. Anwar’s foot crushed the gas pedal. They were overcome with feelings of pleasure that they wished would surround them forever. “Aren’t you ashamed, you loser?” The phrase suddenly popped up in Salah’s mind, and he felt a knot in his stomach. His thoughts were disrupted, and he quickly shook off the idea that had upset him. He reached out and hurriedly lit another hash joint, and another, and another. They passed the joints to one another and a lazy happiness slid over their minds.

Anwar’s phone finally rang. He answered it then told them:

– The new spot is in Mohandiseen. At the end of the Arab League Street, near Farghaly’s juice bar.

Salah let out a few whoops like an American cowboy, and his expression lit up, while Nagy’s face remained expressionless. He was exhausted by being so wasted after such a long period of deprivation. He swung between consciousness and unconsciousness, and he didn’t remain in one state for long.

Milad added in an orator’s tone, with eyes half shut:

– So it is the big Battle of Mohandiseen! We shall all wage it in defense of Jerusalem!

Salah exclaimed with a wavering voice, having understood the reference:

– Milad, Heart of the Lion! Leader of the Crusades, speaking before the World War!

Anwar leaned over to Milad and gave him the last puff of the joint that he held in his hand. Milad dragged the final hot puff and held it in for as long as he could before exhaling. He coughed violently and muttered:

– Shouldn’t we buy some beer before leaving Nasr City?

Salah gave him a reproachful look:

– Are you blind, man? Ramadan has only been over for a couple of hours, and you want us to drink beer, as simple as that?

Milad remained silent and didn’t comment. Salah went on, mimicking the voice of a leader of war and peace:

– Not before six hours have passed!

***

It was half past nine in the evening in Mohandiseen, on Arab League Street. It was one of the most crowded nights, and the street was filled with visitors. Anwar parked his car far away and walked with his friends toward the exit of the bridge that connected Arab League Street with Bulaq al-Dakrour. Varying groups of young men, approximately the same age as them, were standing there. They crowded in huge rings around one another, so that each ring represented a gang of friends, or the residents of a particular area.

Milad wondered:

– Why did you park the car so far away?

Anwar answered:

– We don’t know what will happen tonight. It’s safer to leave the car away from other stupid guys like us.

Salah, upon whom Nagy was leaning, said:

– We have to get Nagy something to eat. He won’t last long with us like this.

Anwar answered:

– Take him to get something to eat, then join us again when you’re done.

Anwar and Milad continued to walk towards the crowds that stood huddled along the entire length of the sidewalk. A young man around their age greeted them when he saw them. They approached, laughing, and he was just as wasted as they were. He was of medium height, obese, and his eyes were red and clouded over with lethargy. His tongue was heavy and dull. His face was as pale as Nagy’s, drained of any trace of youthfulness.  His lips twitched, lacking confidence, and his fingers shook as he greeted them: weak and powerless.

The young man introduced them to nine of his companions. They already knew each other, and they exchanged Eid greetings. They went on jokingly exchanging insults with the friends who they had met before. Time passed till Salah and Nagy joined them and exchanged their greetings and insults as well.

Two of them separated from the group. They approached a modern sports car parked nearby, with dark reflective windows, concealing what went on inside. They disappeared inside it for a few minutes, then returned with one of them fiddling with his nostrils. He had a feeling that some of the white powder was still hanging there, despite having checked that it was clean in the car’s rear-view mirror. Kamil passed near them, casting an envious glance at the two young men who appeared relaxed amidst their gang. He instantly realized what they were doing in the sports car. He inwardly loathed them for being rich, and was furious at his own helplessness. The most he could afford to do to get a bit more wasted after the half strip of pills was to sniff the bag of glue he had thrown under the bridge before coming over.

He venomously and hatefully spat on the ground in their direction, but hid the challenging look in his eyes to avoid an untimely fight. He walked over to a ring of young men who lived in the same area as him. He was greeted by a gang of more than twenty young men, by his favorite nickname: Moalim, or Teacher.

– How are you doing, Moalim Kamil?

– Happy Eid, Moalim!

– What’s wrong, supreme Moalim of all of Egypt?

Kamil gave his gang the look of a leader and waited till the wave of greetings subsided. He commenced with his usual manner of jokes and insults, snort and spittle flying from his mouth. To their ears and eyes, it was bliss. Laughter roared all around him.

Kamil was the only one among them who had shaved the sides of his hair so that no trace was left of it, which made him feel unique in their midst, enjoying a prestigious status. Among those around him, some cut their hair regularly, while others bleached some locks with hydrogen peroxide, or bleached it all a dark orange color. Some grew their hair long and slicked it down with hair gel, to make it seem smooth in their opinion, despite its obvious frizz. Some sought to avoid frizzy hair and straightened it with a local cream that inflamed the scalp and caused chemical burns, but gave—in their view—an acceptable effect.

Kamil stood relating his tall tales and his sexual exploits, his body swaying, his movements emphasizing what he said. He placed his palm on his pants over his crotch and moved his hand over it jokingly as if he couldn’t bear the pants, as if the genitalia on which he prided himself wanted to burst free. He went on recounting his escapades in worlds of sexual fantasy, while they listened, treating his words with sacred respect. They were ready to soon become just like him.

A woman in her late twenties passed by. She had a plump body and a pretty face crowned by medium length hair that she had dyed blonde, and she carried a young child in one arm. Kamil interrupted his story and made a sexual joke about breastfeeding in a loud voice, while staring at the woman’s rear end that was gripped by skin-tight pants. The young men in his ring laughed at his joke, but the woman turned towards him, gave him a dirty look, then went on her way. She had just given him a look, but Kamil didn’t need more than that to jump at the chance to regain his respect among this tribe that revered him. He proceeded with stealth until he came up right behind the woman who was too distracted to notice the impending danger. He turned to his friends, gave them a wink, and raised his right hand to them. He stuck out his middle finger so that it preceded his other fingers at a right angle, but the woman still didn’t sense the shadow that had fallen on her back. He pointed at them with his finger, wiggling it, then turned once more toward the woman who was still headed on her way. He forcefully thrust his finger between her buttocks. The woman shook violently with shock, both at the surprise and at the action itself. She let out a short scream that was left cut off. She turned around in a daze to look at Kamil who confronted her with a face that oozed with insolence, gloating and defiance. “Shit face! You bitch who sleeps with anybody who gives you a pound!” She was going to spit at his face, but froze instead as if she had just remembered a previous experience that forced her to suppress her feelings of indignity and to forget her spilled honor. She just made do with a few intermittent screams mixed with some words and insults that, in the end, sounded meaningless. She held her baby to her chest as she walked away with quick steps, letting out intermittent screams mixed with the tears that leaped from her eyes. She didn’t wait for anybody to help or avenge her.

Salah’s ring and the other rings that were standing around noticed what had happened, and a ripple of worried laughter spread between them as they waited to see the consequence of what that young man had just done. But the event didn’t result in anything; nothing whatsoever happened. Nobody moved, and nobody said anything, not even a word. Everybody felt relieved by the reaction and they knew that they had chosen their spot well, just as fate had chosen the passersby and the onlookers who lived in the surrounding buildings well.

Kamil returned to his tribe full of pride and self-satisfaction at his boldness. A shameless degenerate laugh rang from his lips. His eyes darted around quickly to make sure that there was no sign of any objection to what he had done from passersby, the owners of nearby shops, or the customers that crowded in front of them. He felt relieved and didn’t care when he saw that the most anybody managed to do was to cast him a look filled with disgust and disdain that was not devoid of helplessness.

Kamil put the middle finger with which he had just committed his deed in his mouth and sucked it pleasurably, as if he were eating something off of it. He raised it in front of his friends, wet with his saliva, and applauded it:

– God bless you, precious!

He was showered with responses from his companions: encouraging congratulations and commendations of his deed:

– You fixed her, man!

– Good for you!

– You really satisfied her, Moalim!

– She won’t need her man tonight. She’s had enough for today!

Kamil started recounting his finger’s adventures, telling fictitious tales about the sexual pleasures that he felt in his precious finger, and about women who begged him just for his finger. He went on telling these fantasies that became famous in the poor neighborhood where he lived, and where men believed in a special lust that dwelled in that finger.

***

Ten o’clock in the evening, the big battle of Mohandiseen, at the exit of the bridge leading to Bulaq al-Dakrour.

Throughout the irritable conversations that were ongoing between members of each ring, and between the demonic laughter that escaped their lips or rang in their ears, their drugged spirits were attempting to muster courage similar to that which had encompassed them Downtown the previous Eid. Little by little, the memories gave them some assurance that alleviated the remains of the tension and apprehension in their chests. And, little by little, the huge crowd gave each separate individual the confidence in the strength of the group and its tyranny and force. Each individual represented a source of security to the one who followed, and each calmed some of the premonitions that partly restrained their frenzy, such that they believed their collective force to be enormous.

“Hurraaaaaaah!”

It was a single shout that Kamil let out when he saw two girls who had recently crossed the threshold of femininity. They approached the crowd of youth that were standing there, seeking a look or a smile or some sweet flirtation. However, the situation got out of hand, far more than they’d imagined. The shout travelled in space so that all the crowds noticed it, as if he had summoned their looks with his call. Kamil broke out running toward the two girls. Before either of them could understand what was happening, Kamil embraced one of them, grabbing her rear end while hugging her, gluing his chest to hers. He moved his torso against her as if copulating with her. That was the signal to the crowd that was standing around to start. Most of the young men around him let out the same shout, “Hurraaah!” With that shout, they let go of all fear and timidity that had remained within them. They let their demons possess their bodies and the crowds ran to encircle the girls, surrounding them from all sides. Salah was the first to arrive, and he hugged the other girl from behind. He moved his torso while his hands ravished the young girl’s chest. Nagy hugged the girl that Kamil was hugging from behind and did the same. The demons’ eyes met, feeling encouraged. The crowds engulfed the young girls so that their weak screams disappeared in the uproar created by the crowd.

The faces of the passersby and the people around the crowd froze from the horror of what they were seeing. Shopkeepers were stunned, and all buying and selling came to a halt. Some cars stopped in the middle of the road, too overcome by amazement and disbelief to be able to drive. Yet nobody made a move to protect the two girls. Some muttered: “There is no power but from God,” while others lowered their gazes, feeling the bitterness of cowardice and shame fill their mouths and chests. Others thought of attacking the crowds to free the two girls, but the sight of the huge numbers made them drag their feet.

More than one hundred young men surrounded the two girls, so that they were lost among the bodies that were piled one above the another. Each one trying to feel what he can feel, grab what he can grab, lick what he can lick, and bite what he can bite. The girls’ screams were suffocated under the weight of the vicious bodies. Each young man wanted to quench the wild, riotous deprivation pent up inside him, waiting for this moment to be fulfilled. There were those who wanted to try the power of the magic finger, and others who longed to feel the soft bodies. Some wanted a taste of the soft skin, while others who kept moving their torsos didn’t seem to care that they were grinding against the rear end of their companions who were too occupied trying to grab a breast to the extent that they didn’t feel their own bodies and what was happening to them.

Suddenly, without any warning, the crowd around the two girls dispersed. Kamil gave the signal to withdraw, and the whole crowd backed off in a strange blind obedience. It was as if they had ordained him their leader and obeyed his commands. They left the two girls lying on the ground with torn clothes, severely violated. A look of distraught fatigue was glued to their faces, as if they were oblivious to the reality of the world around them. Some of the shop owners ran over to them, as did two veiled women and another with greying hair. They yanked them from the ground, fearful that the barbarous crowds might return. They carried them into a nearby shop and shut its door after them.

The savage crowd was boisterous, shouting and laughing with a mad hysteria. The event had given them a sense of force, strength and power; the power of the crowd, the power of the tribe, the power of profligate demons.

Some of the passersby tried to call the police, and some of the people living in the surrounding area received answers that help was on the way. However, nobody showed up, and nothing foretold the approach of something, anything.

A bit farther away, behind the sidewalk on the other side of the road, a police car was parked, half-hidden. A police officer stepped out alone to stand on the side walk, watching along with the others. Anwar saw him from the opposite side of the road and felt apprehensive for a moment before he was reassured when nobody, not a soul, stepped forth.

The police officer was like a caged hungry tiger, with its food sitting outside right before its eyes. He paced back and forth as if he were encouraging his legs to announce his desire to attack the mob by himself. However, each time he shouted into the walkie-talkie he held in his hands, explaining the situation, he received a cold answer, commanding him not to engage and to wait either for reinforcements or until the situation resolved itself. The tiger-like officer stared at Kamil, committing his face to memory. He saw him from a distance, running with the mob behind him shouting barbarically, until he and his gang reached a shop selling food. Kamil’s eyes roamed among those present until they settled on a distraught young girl who was standing next to her bald older father. Kamil’s eyes shone as he shouted “Hurraaaaaaah!” The father understood, and Kamil and his crowd rushed towards them. The father grabbed his distraught daughter and shoved her toward a nearby car that had two young men he didn’t know inside it. Yet, since they hadn’t joined the crowds, they must have been different somehow. The two young men understood what he wanted. As Kamil got closer, one of them opened the lock of the back door for the girl while her father pushed her inside, shutting the door after her and signaling her from the outside to lock it. Kamil and the mob got to the father who raised his arms desperately up by his shoulders, as if trying to stop him, as if protecting his daughter from this evil.

The youthful bodies slammed against the old man, who was only able to stop them for a fraction of a second, barely enough for the girl to lock the door, while one of the young men shut the windows and the other revved the engine. Kamil placed his hands on the glass of the window across from the girl, savagely ogling her body, refusing to let her escape. His wolf-like breath condensed on the window. The girl backed away in horror and alarm. He banged his palms against the glass forcefully and violently. The crowd surrounded the car, and some of them threw themselves over its hood and windshield. The glass gave away and cracked. Nevertheless, the young man behind the steering wheel had lost his sense of panic, and his eyes blazed with the look of a warrior fighting his final battle. He backed up the car, then went forward a bit, then back once more, indifferent to the savage bodies that surrounded all four sides, shaking the car violently with mad arms. The young man went on doing what he did, not caring about the scratches and blows his car was taking, or about the madman jumping over its roof stamping on it forcefully with his feet. He managed to clear a way for himself amidst the hooligans swarming all over the road. He stepped on the gas so hard that the rioting young men around him scattered and the madman fell over them. Through the rear window of the car that was speeding away from the danger of the mob, the girl saw with eyes trembling with fear that her father had been surrounded by Kamil and some members of the crowd. They punched and kicked him until he fainted and fell to the ground. Kamil continued to kick him.

It was Salah, Nagy, Anwar, and Milad who let out the shout this time: “Hurraaaaah!” They lunged forward with the crowd that moved with them, surrounding the cars that were parked to watch or that were prevented by other cars from moving. They banged against the glass, the metal, and the tires. They shouted and spat at the cars and the heavens. The occupants inside the cars were frightened and panicked. They all shut their doors and windows, and not a single car was able to escape. The crowd prevented anybody from moving along the wide road.

One of the hooligans brought a gas canister and opened it, placing a flame in front of it so that a column of fire erupted from the canister. He aimed it towards the windscreen of one of the cars. Its occupants panicked and lost their nerve as their blood fled in extreme terror. They were on the verge of getting out of the car, but the hooligan aimed the column of flame towards a second car, then a third. Screams of children rose inside the cars, and imploring tears flowed along with prayers and supplications.

The hooligans shouted as they sensed their power growing, that nothing was capable of stopping them. Each individual grew stronger through the power of the group, adding their violent shouts to the shouts of those near them. Some felt that the pleasure of power and control even surpassed their sexual urges when they witnessed the cringing and supplication in the eyes and mouths of those who were besieged.

Nagy saw a luxury car moving a little farther away, down a side street, where it stopped in front of a woman wearing a full-face veil. The woman got in and immediately removed her veil, revealing her face. Under the deceitful appearance of her cloak, her revealing clothes were visible. The car moved away, and the prostitute averted her gaze from the mob. Nagy felt a suppressed rage in his chest. He picked up some huge stones and threw them in every direction, not caring where the stone would land, even if it was on one of his companions in the crowd.

A famous journalist happened to pass by where everything was happening. As soon as he saw what he saw, he called a relative of his, who was a general occupying an official position. He told him what he’d witnessed, and the general said he would come over himself to see what was going on. But the commotion had attracted four more innocent girls; four young girls of tender age, who had not yet graduated from high school. They thought the commotion was a celebration of Eid night, like the tumult that follows football matches. They approached to watch from a distance, then they got closer to see more clearly. As soon as they got closer, they became visible to the eyes of the barbaric mob, in particular the eyes of Kamil, who shouted, calling to the gang that harbored him and supported him:

– A feast!

He rushed, running towards them, followed by the riotous violent crowd. The four froze in their places amidst a number of passersby and observers, thinking that maybe the crowd would pass them and keep going. But what they thought didn’t happen. The very worst happened, and the tragedy of the two previous girls was repeated once again in front of the eyes of all those present. They surrounded them, embraced them, threw them to the ground, and jostled each other to molest them.

The reactions of onlookers varied between mumbled prayers, stupefaction, or simply observing. Some wished to join in but were held back by shame and timidity, fear and embarrassment, or some remains of religious belief that didn’t control them in any other way.

It was mass agitation in opposition to mass passivity, until the three appeared. They were the three who dropped all the passivity, fear, and cowardice. They were the three who refused to remain paralyzed like all the others. Two of them happened to be passing by when they saw what they saw. One was a bearded young man who had shaved his moustache, and the other was a young man with blond hair. They didn’t discuss what to do, but preferred to intervene immediately. The third one heard what they intended to do and threw his lot in with them, come what may.

They were three facing over a hundred, but they didn’t care about the vast difference in numbers. They attacked the bodies that were piled up, shouting and yelling. They grabbed the bodies and threw them aside roughly and violently. They beat and cursed, and got beaten and cursed. A ripple of confusion and fear went through the crowd. Those who got thrown aside wanted to curse, but looked behind, thinking that an army of people had attacked them. The hearts of those who got beaten were filled with fear, thinking that the police had come and attacked them. No sooner had they intended to return the blow than they turned around, imagining that the bodies of their companions were their enemies, or that they were retreating, such that they were frightened and retreated along with them. The three young men saved the girls from the grip of the mob. None of the onlookers had imagined that they could succeed. Nobody had imagined the power of the few in face of the many.

Kamil received a kick in the face from the blond young man, so that his teeth sunk in the flesh of his lower lip. He lost consciousness for a while, and before he was able to order the remnants of his gang to reassemble and resume the attack, some of the shop owners arrived, carrying thick sticks in their hands. They surrounded the seven, protecting them and announcing that they had come to join them. Two women wearing full face veils and a young woman with short red hair approached the four girls. They propped them up against a nearby shop, the owner of which signaled them to come in. They shut the shop door after them, while the three young men and the shop owners gathered around the door to defend it. They were joined by one or two of the passersby or the tenants of the surrounding buildings. They all stood, prepared for the coming battle.

On the other side, Kamil stood screaming and cursing and spitting blood. Agitated by the sight of blood, he gathered around him the crowds, which felt relieved no police were involved. The two groups stood in opposition. Salah shouted:

– Let us have the whores, you blind idiots!

Milad hollered:

– Let them go, you pimps!

From behind the crowds, the car of the police general who the journalist had called arrived. He came by himself in a civilian car and clothes. He was horrified by the multitudes in the crowd, and that the phone call had failed to do justice. He shouted a few words into a walkie-talkie and walked toward the officer who was pacing like a tiger on the other side of the sidewalk. He shouted at him, and the officer argued that he was powerless in face of the orders from his superiors. He quickly summoned a few subordinates from the concealed patrol car, and the general gathered some of the police snitches that were hiding amongst the passersby. They attacked the barbaric crowd from the back at the same moment that the two opposed sides engaged in battle in front of the shop door.

***

A whole hour. Sixty minutes passed during the Big Battle of Mohandiseen before any trace of the police was seen. The battle ended after the remnants of the barbaric crowds escaped into side streets. Some were arrested with the help of the three young men and some of the passersby and shop owners. Those who were arrested guided the police to some of the others who were with them, so that the number of those arrested amounted to thirty-eight young men, including Salah and Milad. They all swore fervently that they were not with the mob, may God curse them if they were lying! They were all detained in the neighborhood’s police station, where they found Kamil in a miserable state. The tiger-like police officer had tracked him down, chased him, and arrested him. He gave him a special beating that nearly emasculated him.

However, not a single one of the victims came forward to report the incident. Not a single girl filed a report for being assaulted and molested so that the case and those accused could be referred to the Public Prosecutor. Not a single father reported that he or his daughter had been attacked. Not a single car driver reported being terrorized or having his car smashed. For them, everything ended with the incident itself. They were afraid, too fainthearted to react. They surrendered to God’s will and waited for Him to avenge them against those who had done them wrong and assaulted them.

Some of the shop owners volunteered to bear witness to the incident, but where was the case report without a victim? Thus, all those detained were released, and five police officers were investigated for abandoning their posts in the neighborhood on the night of Eid. They were later penalized by having a few days docked from their salaries.

That night, Nagy returned home after the call for the dawn prayer, feeling sorry that his comrades Salah and Milad had been arrested. He made sure that his older sister was sleeping peacefully in her bed, then went to wash off the remnants of the hash and semen covering his body and his clothes. He went out to find his father waiting for him, wearing a white jalabiya for the Eid prayer. He teased him saying that nobody in Nasr City wore a jalabiya for Eid, then he changed into new clothes. Out of habit, he accompanied his father and sat apathetically and unenthusiastically repeating the Eid Takbeer, glorifying God. He prayed with the others and raised his hands in supplication to God, asking for His forgiveness for what he had done.

He was positive that God would forgive him. After all, was He not all forgiving? And Nagy was the poor, penitent worshipper. Besides, he had not committed a major sin. What he’d done was not fornication, and God forgave all sins except the major ones. What he had done was less than that. Wasn’t it?

Ahmed Saeed, is a former civil engineer. His writings appeared in a number of literary periodicals in Cairo. His stories describe and interrogate social changes and the human condition in Egypt by delving in protagonists’ everyday lives and deep feelings. Saeed has two published collections of short stories in Arabic: As If He Were Alive, which landed him a Sawiris Award for Emerging Authors in 2014, and Click to Enter, which appeared in 2015. Both collections are published by Merit in Cairo. He is currently finishing the final edits of his first novel.

Enas El-Torky studied English language and literature at Ain Shams University, where she earned her Ph.D in 2003. She has translated several books into Arabic, including Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger (2018), Michael David Lukas’ The Last Watchman of Old Cairo (2020), and John Lanchester’s The Wall (2020).

One thought on “Lock-in Lit Series: ‘The Big Battle of Mohandiseen’

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