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heart. He listened to the speaker attentively and enthusiastically until

the first pause. Then Fahmy shouted along with all his comrades at

the same time, "Independence!"

3 ys

Naguib Mahfou

He listened to the continuation of the speech with an interest enlivened

by the shouting. When the speaker reached a second stopping

point, Fahmy cried out with everyone else, "Down with the Protectorate!"

Then, his body rigid with emotion and his teeth clenched to

hold back the tears inspired by the agitation of his soul, he kept on

listening until the speaker reached his third stopping place. With all

the others, he shouted, "Long live Sa'd!" That was a new chant.

Everything seemed new that day, but this was a ravishing chant.

Deep inside him, his heart reverberated to it and kept repeating it

with its successive beats, as though echoing his tongue. But the cry

on his tongue was actually echoing his heart.

He remembered now that his heart had repeated this chant silently

all through the night prior to the uprising. He had spent that night

in grief and distress. His stifled emotions, love, enthusiasm, aspirations,

idealism, and dreams had been scattered in disarray until the

voice of Sa'd had rung out. They had been drawn to him like a pigeon

floating in the sk drawn back by its master's whistle.

Before they knew what was happening, Mr. Amos, the assistant

British iudicial counsel in the Ministry of Justice, was making his way

through their midst. They greeted him with a single chant: "Down

with the Protectorate!" He was gruff with them and not even civil,

advising them to return to their lessons and leave politics to their


At that point one of them protested: "Our fathers have been imprisoned.

We won't study law in a land where the law is trampled


The cry from the depths of their hearts resounded like a peal of

thunder, and the man quickly withdrew. For a second time, Fahmy

wished he were the speaker. How many ideas were swarming

through his mind, but other students proclaimed them first. His enthusiasm

became even more intense. He was consoled by the fact that

what he expected to happen would more than compensate for anything

he had missed.

Matters progressed rapidly. Someone called for them to leave the

school. They went off in a demonstration, heading for the School of

Engineering, where the students joined them at once, and then on to

Agriculture, where the students rushed out chanting as though they

had been expecting them. They went to Medicine and Commerce. As

soon as they reached al-Sayyida Zaynab Square they merged with a

mass demonstration of citizens. Shouts were raised for Egypt, independence,

and Sa'd. With every step they took, they gained more


enthusiasm, confidence, and faith, because of the impulsive partici


and spontaneous response of their fellow citizens. They en


people whose souls were primed, reeling with anger that

found expression in their demonstration.

Fahmy's astonishment that the demonstration had occurred almost

overpowered his feelings about the demonstration itself. He won


"How did all this happen?" Only a few hours had passed since

morning, when he had been despondent and deiected. Now here he

was a little before noon taking part in a turbulent demonstration

where he discovered in every other heart an echo of his own, re


his chant and imploring him not to hesitate but to persevere

to the end. How joyful he was and how enthusiastic His spirit

soared off into the heavens with boundless hope. It regretted the

despair that had overcome it and was ashamed of the suspicions it

had entertained about innocent people.

In al-Sayyida Zaynab Square he witnessed another of the novel

scenes of that amazing day. He was one of those who saw groups of

mounted policemen commanded by an English officer advancing on

them, trailing plumes of dust behind the horses. The earth shook with

their hoofbeats. He could well remember how he had stared at them

in dismay. He had never before found himself exposed to such unexpected


He looked around him at faces that glowed with enthusiasm and

anger. He sighed nervously, but kept on waving his fist and chanting.

The mounted policemen surrounded them. Of the formidable ocean

in which he was surging he could only observe a limited area and

even there everyone else was craning his head to see. Then they

heard that the police had arrested many students, those who had

confronted them defiantly or had been at the head of the demonstration.

For the third time that day he had an unfulfilled wish. He wished

he were one of those arrested, but he could not have extricated himself

from the band he was in without extraordinary effort.

That day had been relatively peaceful compared with the next.

Monday morning began with a general strike and a demonstration in

which all the schools participated, carrying their banners, together

with untold throngs of citizens. Egypt had come back to life. It was

a new country. Its citizens rushed to crowd into the streets to prepare

for battle with an anger that had been concealed for a long time.

Fahmy threw himself into the swarms of people with intoxicating

happiness and enthusiasm, like a displaced person rediscovering his

family after a long separation.

The demonstration, which was thronged by onlookers, passel by

the homes of influential politicians, voicing its protests in various

terms, until it reached Ministries Street. Then a violent disturbance

passed through the swarms of people and someone shouted, "The

English!" Bullets immediately started flying and drowned out the

sound of the protesters. The first fatalities occurred. Some people

continued on with insane zeal, while others seemed nailed to the

ground. Many separated off and sought shelter in homes and coffeehouses.

Fahmy was in this last category. He slipped into a doorway,

his heart beating wildly in alarm. He stopped thinking about anything

except his life. He stayed there for he knew not how long until silence

prevailed everywhere. Then he stuck out his head, followed by his

feet, and set off for home, incredulous that he had survived. He was

in a kind of daze when he reached his house. In his sorrowful solitude

he wished that he had been one of the departed or at least one of

.those who had held their ground. In a blaze of harsh self-criticism,

Fahmy promised his stem conscience to act more thoughtfully the

next time. Fortunately the arena for thoughtful action was vast and

near at hand.

Tuesday and Wednesday were like Sunday and Monday. They

were comparable in both their joys and sorrows. There were demonstrations

and chants, bullets and victims. Fahmy threw himself totally

into all of this. Driven by his enthusiasm, he reached far-flung

horizons of lofty sentiment. He was troubled that he was still alive

and regretted his escape. His zeal and hopes were doubled by the

spread of the spirit of anger and revolution. It was not long before

the tramway workers, the drivers and street sweepers went on strike.

The capital appeared sad, angry, desolate. There was good news that

attorneys and civil servants were about to strike. The heart of the

nation was throbbing. It was alive and in rebellion. The blood would

not have been shed in vain. The exiled leaders would not be forgotten.

A self-conscious awakening had rocked the Nile Valley.

The young man rolled over in bed. He turned his mind away from

the deluge of memories and began to follow the beats of the dough

once more. He looked around the room, slowly becoming visible as

the sun rose outside the closed shutters. His mother was making

bread! She would continue to knead the dough morning after morning.

God forbid that anything should distract her from concentrating

her attention on preparing the meals, washing the clothes, or cleaning

the furnishings. Great activities would not interfere with minor ones.

Society would always be flexible enough to embrace exalted and triv


ial matters and to welcome both equally. But not so fast .... Was a

mother not part of life? She had given birth to him, and sons fueled

the revolution. She fed him, and nourishment fueled the sons. In fact,

nothing about life was trivial. But would not some day come when a

great event would rock all the Egyptians, leaving none of the differ


of opinion that had been present at the coffee hour five days

ago? How remote that day seemed Then a smile came to his lips

when this question leapt into his mind: What would his father do if

he learned about his continual struggle, day after day? What would

his tyrannical, despotic father do about it and his tender, affectionate

mother? He smiled anxiously, because he knew he would be exposed

to problems no less significant than if the military authority itself

should learn his secret.

He pulled back the covers and sat up in bed murmuring, "It's all

the same whether I live or die. Faith is stronger than death, and death

is nobler than ignominy. Let's enjoy the hope, compared to which

life seems unimportant. Welcome to this new morning of freedom.

May God carry out whatever He has decreed."

No one could claim any longer that the revolution had not changed

at least some aspect of his life. Even Kamai's freedom to go to school

and return by himself, which he had enjoyed for a long time, was

affected by a development he found obnoxiously burdensome, although

he could not prevent it. His mother had ordered Umm Hanafi

to follow him on his way to and from school. She was not to let him

out of her sight and to bring him home if they ran into a demonstration.

He would not have a chance to loiter or obey any frivolous


The news of the demonstrations and disturbances made the mother's

head spin. Her heart trembled at the savage attacks on the students.

She spent gloomy days filled with alarm and panic, wishing

she could keep her two sons at home until matters returned to normal.

She was unable to achieve her goal, especially after Fahmy

promised he would definitely not participate in any strike. Her confidence

in his good sense had not been shaken. Her husband rejected

the idea of keeping Kamal home from school, because he knew the

school would prevent the younger pupils from participating in the

strike. Reluctantly the mother agreed that the brothers could go to

school, but she had stipulated Umm Hanafi's supervision for Kamal,

telling him, "If I were able to go out, I would follow you myself."

Kamal had objected as forcefully as he could, because he realized

intuitively that this supervisor, who would keep nothing about him

secret from his mother, would put a decisive end to all the mischief

and tricks he enjoyed in the street. That would destroy this brief,

happy time of his day as he went from one of his prisons to the

other: home and school. He was also intensely annoyed at walking

down the street accompanied by this woman whose excessive weight

and faltering step would certainly attract attention. He was forced to

submit to her supervision, since his father had ordered him to accept

her. The most he could do to comfort himself was to scold her whenever

she got too close to him, since he had decreed that she should

stay several meters behind him.

In this manner they made their way to Khalil Agha School on


Thursday morning, the fifth day of the demonstrations in Cairo.

When they reached the door of the school, Umm Hanafi approached

the gatekeeper and, acting according to her daily instructions received

at home, asked him, "Are the pupils in the school?"

The man answered her indifferently, "Some have gone in and others

have left. The headmaster is not interfering with anyone."

This answer was a bad surprise for Kamal. He was prepared to

hear the response he had come to expect since Monday--namely:

"The pupils are on strike." Then they would return home where he

would spend the whole day in freedom. That made him love the

revolution from afar. His soul urged him to flee to escape the consequences

of this new reply. He told the gatekeeper, "I'm one of

those who leave."

He walked away from the school with the woman behind him.

When she asked him why he had not gone in with the others who

were staying, he implored her repeatedly, for the first time in his life,

to deceive his mother by telling her that the pupils were on strike.

To strengthen his entreaty and gain her affection, he prayed for her

to have a long and happy life when they were passing by the mosque

of al-Husayn Umm Hanafi was unable to keep the truth, as she had

heard it, from his mother, who chided him for being lazy and ordered

the woman to take him back to school. They left the house again and

Kamal treated her to a fierce tongue-lashing and accused her of

treachery and betrayal.

In school, he found only boys his age, the youngsters. The others,

the overwhelming majority, were on strike. About a third of the pupils

were present in his class, which contained a higher percentage of

younger students than any other. The teacher ordered them to review

the previous lessons. Meanwhile he busied himself correcting their

exercises and ignored them as though they actually were on strike.

Kamal opened a book. He pretended to read but paid no attention to

the book. He did not like staying at school with nothing to do, when

he could have been with the strikers or at home enjoying the vacation

that these amazing days had unexpectedly granted him. He found

school oppressive in a way he had not before.

His imagination flew away to the strikers outside with astonishment

and curiosity. He often wondered which view of them was

accurate. Were they "daredevils" as his mother claimed, with no feeling

for themselves or their families, unnecessarily putting their lives

in jeopardy? Or were they "heroes" as Fahmy described them, sacrificing

their lives to struggle against God's enemy and their own?

He was often inclined to agree with his mother because of his resentment

toward the older pupils at his school who were among the

strikers. They had made the worst possible impression on him and

the other young pupils like him with the rough treatment and contempt

they meted out in the school courtyard, where they challenged

the younger boys with their enormous bodies and insolent mustaches.

Yet he could not totally accept this view, because Fahmy's opinion

always carried a lot of weight with him and was hard to ignore.

Kamal could not deny them the heroism Fahmy ascribed to them. He

even wished he could observe their bloody battles from a safe place.

Something extremely serious was no doubi underway, otherwise why

were the Egyptians striking and banding together to clash with the

soldiers? ... And what soldiers? The English! The English ... when

a mention of that name had once sufficed to clear the streets. What

had happened to the world and to people? This amazing struggle was

so overwhelming that its basic elements were engraved in the boy's

soul without his having made any conscious effort to remember them.

The terms "Sa'd Zaghlul," "the English," "the students," "the martyrs,"

"handbills," and "demonstrations" became active forces inspiring

him at the deepest levels, even if he was only a perplexed

bystander when it came to understanding what they stood for. His

bewilderment was doubled by the fact that the members of his family

reacted differently to the events and at times in contrary ways. While

Fahmy was outraged and attacked the English with lethal hatred,

yearning for Sa'd so much it brought tears to his eyes, Yasin discussed

the news with calm concern and quiet sorrow that did not

prevent him from continuing his normal routine of chatting, laughing,

and reciting poetry and stories followed by an evening on the town

that lasted until midnight. Kamal's mother kept praying that God

would bring peace and make life secure again by cleansing the hearts

of both the Egyptians and the English. Zaynab, his brother's wife,

was the most disconcerting of them all. She was frightened by the

course of events, and the only person she could find to vent her anger

on was Sa'd Zaghlul himself, whom she accused of having caused all

the evil. "If he had lived the way God's children should, meekly and

peacefully, no one would have harmed him in any manner and this

conflagration would not have broken out."

Thus the boy's enthusiasm was set on fire by the thought of the

struggle itself, and his sorrow overflowed at the thought of death in

the abstract, without his having any clear understanding of what was


going on around him, locally or nationally. He would have had a fine

opportunity to observe a demonstration at close range or to participate

in one, if only in the school courtyard, the day the pupils of

Khalil Agha School had been called to strike for the first time, had

not the headmaster, to Kamal's distress, immediately shut the

younger pupils up in their classrooms. He had lost that opportunity

and found himself kept indoors, although he could listen to the loud

chanting with a mixture of astonishment and secret delight, inspired

perhaps by the chaos affecting everything and mercilessly wreaking

havoc with the tedious daily routine. He had missed the chance then

to participate in a demonstration just as he had lost the opportunity

today to enjoy a holiday at home. He would remain confined to this

boring assembly, looking at a book with eyes that saw nothing, cautiously

and fearfully exchanging pinches with a friend across a book

bag until the end of the long day came.

Then, suddenly, something attracted his attention. It might have

been an unfamiliar voice at some distance or a ringing in his ears. He

looked around him to determine what he had heard. He found that

the pupils' heads were raised and that they were looking at each

other. Then everyone stared at the windows overlooking the street.

It was a reality, not something imaginary, that had attracted their

attention. Different voices were blended together into an enormous,

incomprehensible sound. Because of the distance, it seemed like the

roaring of waves far away. As it grew closer it could be termed a

din, or even an advancing din. There was a commotion in the classroom.

Pupils started whispering. Then a voice called out: "A demonstration!"


heart pounded. His eyes took on a gleam of joy mixed

with dismay. The din came closer and closer until the chanting could

be heard clearly, thundering and raging in all directions, surrounding

the school. His ears were bombarded by the words that had filled his

mind during the past days: "Sa'd," "independence," "protectorate."...


chanting came even nearer and got louder, until it filled the

school courtyard itself. The pupils were dumbfounded. They were

sure this deluge would flood them, but they welcomed it with a childish

delight that shunned any consideration of the consequences, because

of their zealous yearning for anarchy and liberation. Next they

heard footsteps coming toward them and noisy shouting. The door

swung wide open from the impact of a violent shove. Bands of stu

Naguib Mahfou

dents from the University and al-Azhar potred into the room like

water rushing through an opening in a dam. They were shouting,

"Strike! Strike! ... No one can stay here."

In a matter of moments, Kamal found himself swept away by a

tumultuous wave pushing him forward so forcefully that resistance

was impossible. He was extremely upset. He moved along slowly

like a coffee bean revolving in the mouth of the grinder. He did not

know where to look. All he knew of the world were bodies crammed

together, not to mention the clamor assaulting his ears, until he discerned

from the appearance of the sky overhead that they had

reached the street. He was being squeezed ever more tightly till he

could scarcely breathe. He was so frightened he screamed a loud,

continuous, piercing wail. Before he knew what was happening, a

hand had grabbed his arm and yanked him forcibly, making a way

for him through the crowd until it pushed him up on the sidewalk

and against a wall. He started panting and searching around him for

a safe place. He discovered that the metal security door of Hamdan's

pastry shop had been pulled down until it was close to the ground.

He rushed over and got on his knees to crawl under it. When he

stood up inside he saw Uncle Hamdan, who knew him quite well,

two women, and a few young pupils. He rested his back against the

side of the counter with the trays on it while his chest rose and fell

repeatedly. He heard Uncle Hamdan say, "Students from al-Azhar

and the University, workers, citizens.., all the roads leading to alHusayn

are iammed with people. Before today I wouldn't have

thought the earth could support so many people."

One of the women said in astonishment, "How can they keep on

demonstrating after they've been fired on?"

The other woman commented sadly, "May our Lord provide guidance

... they're all good boys, alas."

Uncle Hamdan said, "We've never seen anything like this before.

May our Lord protect them."

The chanting burst out from the demonstrators' throats, convulsing

the atmosphere, at times so near it resounded in the shop and at other

times at a distance in a great, incomprehensible hullabaloo like the

roaring of the wind. It continued without interruption, its slow but

steady motion revealed by the differing degrees of intensity and loudness

between the waves of people as they approached and drew


Whenever he thought it had ended, another wave came along. It


seemed it would never end. Kamal concentrated his whole being in

his ears to listen attentively, although he felt uneasy and anxious. As time passed without anything terrible happening, he was able to catch

his breath and regain his composure. Then he was finally able to

consider the situation as transitory. It would soon be over. He wondered

whether he should tell his mother what had happened to him

once he got home: "A demonstration without beginning or end burst

into our classrooms, and before I knew it, I was surrounded by the

raging current, which swept me out into the street. I shouted along

with everyone else, 'Long live Sa'd! Down with the Protectorate!

Long live independence[' I was carried from street to street until the

English attacked us and opened fire."

She would be so alarmed she would weep, hardly able to believe

he was still alive. She would recite many verses from the Qur'an as

she shuddered.

"A bullet went by my head. I can still hear its drone ringing in my

ear. People were bumping into each other like madmen. I would have

perished with the others if a man had not pulled me into a store."

His daydreams were cut short by loud, sporadic screams and footsteps

rushing past in confusion. His heart pounded, and he looked at

the faces surrounding him. He saw that they were staring at the door

with an expression suggesting they expected to be bit on the head.

Uncle Hamdan went to the door and leaned down to peer out the

gap at the bottom. Jumping back, he quickly lowered the door until

it was flush with the ground. He stammered in confusion, "The English!"

Many people were shouting outside, "The English[ ... The English!"

Others called out, "Stand firm ... stand firm."

Someone else yelled, "We die, but the nation lives."

Then for the first time in his short life the boy heard shots fired

nearby. He recognized them instinctively and shook all over. When

the women let out a scream of terror, he burst into tears.

Uncle Hamdan was saying in a shaky voice, "We proclaim that

God is one ... one."

Kamal felt afraid, and a deathly chill crept throughout his body

from his feet to his head. The shots kept on coming. Their ears were

assailed by a clatter of wheels and a neighing of horses. Voices and

movement were heard in extraordinarily rapid succession and then

they were joined by roars, screams, and moans. To those crouching

Naguib Mahfou.

behind the door, a fleeting moment of combat seemed an eternity

spent in the presence of death. Then a frightening silence prevailed,

like a swoon following an onslaught of pain.

Kamal asked in a hoarse and trembling voice, "Have they gone?"

Uncle Hamdan put his finger to his lips and murmured, "Hush."

Then he recited the Throne Verse from the Qur'an (2:255) about the

omnipotence of God.

Kamal recited another verse about God, to himself since he no

longer felt able to speak. "Say: He is God, one, only one." (Qur'an,

112:1). Perhaps this verse would drive away the English as effectively

as it drove away the iinn in the dark.

The door was not opened until the noon prayer, when the boy ran

out into the deserted street and dashed off like the wind. Passing by

the steps leading down to Ahmad Abduh's coffee shop, he noticed a

person coming up whom he recognized as his brother Fahmy. He

rushed to him like a drowning man grabbing at a life preserver. As

Kamal grasped his arm, the young man turned in alarm. When he

recognized his little brother he shouted at him, "Kamal?... Where

were you during the strike?"

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