Published August 16, 2013
The following text is an excerpt of photojournalist Aymann Ismail's first-hand account, "This Is What It Looks Like Just Before the Muslim Brotherhood Jumps You."
All I smell is sweat and spray-paint. All I see are fists. I’m thinking of last year, watching protesters pull a riot cop out of Tahrir Square into an alley and telling Bucky, “That guy is dead.”
Now I’m thinking, “I’m that guy.”
That night, I was planning on going to my cousin’s wedding. I spent the last five days of Ramadan with my family in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, then went to my aunt’s in Cairo. At 4pm, near El-Hegaz Square, a Muslim Brotherhood-organized protest marches past her balcony.
Illegal and underground for sixty years, until the Arab Spring, the Muslim Brotherhood decried the ousting of Egypt’s first democratically-elected president Morsi as a coup. The whole trip, my family was trying to scare me from going near protests. They said I’ll get attacked or robbed. But from the balcony, I can only shoot crap photos, so I grab my mom’s phone and a Canon 6D and head out onto the streets. I’ll “be back in a minute.”
The protesters are peaceful.
They pose for me, throw up Morsi signs.
I’m pulled onto that Toyota pickup, next to the speakers mounted to the truck. They’re blaring protest chants.
I’m on the roof getting great shots. I’m thinking, these are going to look so good framed on my wall.
I spot a dozen men on the sidewalk, walking parallel to us, writing graffiti — “Morsi is my president,” “No CC,” and “CC is a murderer,” phonetically referring to the current leader and coup-mastermind General al-Sisi. They’re hitting everything — walls, awnings, buses — bombing in broad daylight.
I jump down, run over and ask permission to shoot, in Arabic. “Yeah, we’re not afraid,” they say. Then, this burly man runs up to the door of the Saint Fatima Church which the nearby square is named after. He spray-paints “Islameya.”
Islameya means “Islamic” and is short for masr Islameya. In this context, on that door, it’s “Egypt is Islamic.” An older protester runs right up, pleading with him to stop: That’s against Islam, because Lakum deenukum Waliya Deen — “For you is your religion, and for me is mine.”
The vandal clocks him. Several others run up, drag him away and egg the vandal on: “Write it! Write it!”
I’m snapping away. I’m stepping closer. The photos are getting better. I have permission. I’m cool… Until he turns around.
“Why are you taking pictures of me?!” he yells. Before I have time to think, he lunges at me, spray-can aimed.
I swing my camera down, cradling it like a football. He’s aiming for the camera, but he’s spraying my neck and face. Next thing I know, twenty people surround me. Hands on my arms, on my legs, around my neck. They’re trying to tear me apart.