Thursday, February 3, 2011


Pauline was intent on going downtown this morning, where all the protests are, to pick up an American friend Rosa, who wanted to stay with her. Rosa was petrified and didn't want to make the trip to Zamalek alone. I asked Pauline not to go. Mubarak supporters are out to get foreingers, because they are saying that the revolution can't be Egyptian inspired, it must have come from the outside. She said that if I wasn't going to go with her, that she would go alone. I tried all I could not to convice her not to go, but I didn't want to let her go alone. She warned me not to say that I was Palestinian. It was good advice. I thought of bringing a knife. My knifes would have been useless. It's a good thing didn't. I remembered in the taxi, that I forgot to bring my revolution photo filled camera... this may have saved our lives.

We were told that Tahrir Square was closed and tried to make our way around it through Garden City. When we got there we were stopped by a mob of toothless Medieval looking men wielding clubs and machetes. They asked to see our passports... and took them away. Mine is American and Pauline's is French. I was used to this by this point. People defending their streets is common. It's impossible to travel one kilometer without bumping into a community road block. These men were not from the that community. They were hired thugs and seemed to have a rank among them. Things changed when they asked us to get out of the taxi. "When are you from" asked a balding 50 something man. "I'm American." He said, "No, no, your nationality," meaning what kind of Arab are you... "Egyptian" I stated, "You don't sound like an Egyptian?" he said. I couldn't help it, but as the words were coming out, I was trying to stop them. "My mother is Palestinian." I couldn't believe I said this. I knew that it would get me in trouble. Egyptians like the Palestinian cause, but not Palestinians. I've been advised not to say that I was Palestinian many times here.

A green-eyed man, who seemed to be in charge, started asking questions about what we were doing and why we were there. Some members of the mob said "We are only supposed to check them for weapons and let them go." There was a little bit of an argument between them, including one veiled women who was on our side. Green-eyed man said "This is my responsibility." It was him and the balding guy who had it in for us. They whisked us away and said that they were taking us to the Police after frisking us for cameras and weapons.

At one point they lead us through a back ally and deserted street. I was terrified. I thought they were going to do something to use there. We turned the corner and thank God, we saw a police station with uniformed men. They handed us over to them and balding guy said. "We saw them smoking "bunga" (hash I think), in the back of a taxi. My heart fell to the floor. "Who would smoke in a time like this." I said. "I haven't even had my coffee yet. We are going to bring a friend back to Zalamek." We stated again and again. A half uniformed officer walked with us to the station also claimed to have witnessed us smoking hash in the back seat of a cab during a revolution. We're screwed I thought.

They had us empty our pockets in the middle of the half open gazebo type station. The mob began to form around us as we were searched and questioned. Someone from the mob yelled "Palestinian son of a Dog" at me (a big insult in Arabic). One guy told them to let us go if I was from "48," an Israeli Arab.  The half uniformed cop said that he was going to have the army deal with us. I said "Yes, please do." This was a relief because the army is the most professional and even handed of the mobs. As he escorted us through the streets a small group of very scary looking armed busy bodies followed us on a crowed street of thugs. We walked about two blocks before we finally spotted a lone soldier standing in front of a demolished car. Half uniformed guy handed him our passports and talked to him about the "bunga" and about the fact that I was Palestinian. I asked the soldier to take us away. The mob around us had grown to about 150-200 most with sticks, some with knifes and machetes. One toothless guy with a machete grabbed Pauline's arm and said come with me after blowing her a kiss. This was the worst moment of my life. I thought that they were going to try to separate us.

Hundreds of armed people were looking at us with hate and making comments about us. It looked like a scene from a Hollywood movie that wants to make Arabs look bad. The soldier gets in the destroyed car and tries to start it. It was a silver four-door wrecked car with the front windshield shattered and all other missing. We asked to go with him. He agreed and there was a moment of relief. The back seat of this wreck was removed. We sat on a folded cushion as the mob surrounded us. The guy with the machete asked Pauline if she was Muslim. She said that I was, but she wasn't. There were about four people who fought the rest of the crowd to stick their heads through the window as the car moved back for only two feet then stalled. We had to get out and back into the crowd. It was horror. The soldier escorted us through the crowd and we began walking through towards Tahrir. The mob slowly disappearing behind us. He took us through a checkpoint, the other side of which was relatively unoccupied. I breathed a sigh of relief. At this point I looked forward to going to jail.

We walked a block before the soldier stopped a civilian car and commanded him to drive us forward. He sat in the front,  us in the back as we tried to get our story straight. "We are just friends... we both live together in Zamalek... We were going to pick up a scared friend to bring home." The soldier was in full gear with helmet on his head and Ak47 type machine in his hand. He actually tried to console us, he wasn't too confident in the mob, but told us that he was taking us to the army post.

We drove a few blocks to an army post that was a bombed out police station near Tahrir, destroyed the days before. All windows smashed, three different spots of blood on the walls. There were about three soldiers in full uniform with flack jackets and fingers on the triggers of their machine guns. They asked us to wait while they held our passports and called someone. I was relived to be there, even with the bloody walls. A few minutes later walks in a young well dressed military officer with our passports in hand. He starts to speak to Pauline in French and at this point, the soldier who knew that I was Palestinian had left. I refused to speak anything but English and pretended not to understand the Arabic.

He was mild mannered and seemed educated, but I didn't trust him.. I could tell that Pauline was doing a good job at telling our story. I could hear the protesters in Tahrir and was hoping some event would happen so that they would quickly let us go. He continued to talk to Pauline as if I wasn't there. I stayed quiet, they seemed to have a good report . My phone rang during a lull and I had enough time to tell my friend Sarah that we were picked up and asked her to call for help.

About a half hour later, walked in a large, also well dressed man who later claimed to be the head of the army in Tahrir. He asked us similar questions, but he didn't speak English or French so Pauline translated in perfect Arabic. They seemed friendly and seemed to be interested in the story of us picking up her friend. "You shouldn't worry about her, it's safe out there" he said like he really believed it. At one point the chief asked Pauline to call her friend and tell her that we weren't coming to pick her up and she should go to Zamalek buy herself. I thought this a good sign because it meant he might let us go to meet her.

They kept us for another hour. This was not a good sign. If they bought our story, Why would they not let us go? I was concerned. Finally the young guy goes outside and has words with the chief, he comes back and says that he wants to let us go, but he doesn't know a safe route out. He said that he told his boss that he went to language school with Pauline and that she was okay. He suggested that we go back in the direction of the Medieval mob. We said "No way." He gave Pauline his number and asked her to call if we got into more trouble. We are indebted to him.

Each of the three groups, mob, police and army, were very interested in whether or not we had a camera. If they saw the photos of us in Tahrir square the days prior or behind the lines with the protesters, we would have been in real genuine trouble. This may have been the first time that I left my house in Egypt without a camera and it was only because it forgot it. I thank God for that.

The problem now was how not to get arrested again. We walked through several streets and turned back when we saw mob check points. It wasn't before long that we found ourselves in front of Rosa's house. It was a relief, we were on the protester's side now and that was a really good thing. They were awesome. We went upstairs and found Rosa waiting for us. There was a problem. The only safe way out was to walk through Tahrir Square. We had no other choice. It was closest to the bridge and we felt that the pro-Mubarak mobs were on the other side. It was tense. I was very nervous going through the first few mob checkpoints, but these were good guys, they checked out passports and welcomed us. We could see Tahrir a block away. While almost there, we heard screaming behind us. A pro-Mubarak gang had gathered to fight the protesters, we were between them. The protesters began whistling and yelling to alert the others. A wall formed and the mob retreated as we slipped past the protesters.

Tahrir square was safe and peaceful. One would never know that tens of people were killed there just hours before. I felt safest in the eye of the storm, the epicenter of the revolution. There were many many injured and bandaged protesters where still there and refused to leave. It was unbelievable. We bumped into some journalist friends and told them what had happened. We made it safely over the bridge to Zamalek.

It's early evening and I just heard that Rosa, the girl we just got arrested trying to help, was arrested herself after she left the apartment to buy phone credits. I was just on the phone with the embassy and they told me that there is nothing they can do. I'll keep trying.


  1. The drama continues. It's moments like this that I realize how good we have it here in America. So many others fail to recognize the beauty in freedom and safety. Why do I complain over the silliest things? Unbelievable chains of events spiral millions of peoples lives each and every day and I'd get upset because the guy driving in front of me won't speed up so I can catch the light too. I guess all this snow and ice is not so bad after all. Take care Sam. Good luck.

    Wil Heredia

  2. yea Sam...As I always say to myself "2 Years ago, did you ever think you would be here now"??

    On the other hand surviving the grit of life builds character and perspective.

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  4. "... how good we have it in America ..."
    Your first commentator's facetious cynicism runs deep.
    We are so responsible for this!
    And we'll keep doing it whether it's Haiti, Iraq, Somalia, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua,

  5. Your account of your experience had my heart racing, very tough situation...glad you and your friend was spared but what about Rosa...keep us posted.

  6. Be safe Sam! We are thinking about you and all our friends there...

  7. Sam,
    I don't know if I could've gotten thru such a day. You got what it takes.

  8. stay safe, sam. keep posting.

    see you again in red hook one day. - andrew hogan

  9. Eli V. sent me your link. Please keep us posted. I am wishing you well and pray for your safety and the safety of your friends.

  10. Rosa is safe at the Dutch embassy called this am at 3. So good to hear her voice. She recounted her experience...harrowing. She said that the propaganda is to arrest anyone who is foreign as a spy. Journalists are being badly beaten. We are trying to get her out but there is no immediate pause in the action that would facilitate that. All of you there be very careful it sounds like total chaos.

  11. Your blog has just been posted on the AOL Welcome Screen....fantastic info and updates...please keep at it! I cannot believe you have only 55 followers....very fascinating stuff....I landed in Cairo in October of 1981...Sadat had just been assasinated that very day....I felt it was such a privilege to have been there, if only once....LOVE your blog and keep posting!!! Candy from the Cornfields of Ohio....

  12. I recently have been taking alot of interest in world news and I read about the chaos in egypt thats going on, but recently I have been soaking in prayer and through my prayer god gave me a revelation that told me to open my bible and read and It opened up to Isaiah 29 and Isaiah 30 of the old testament which was all about egypt and how they should surrender to the Holy one of Israel which is God and thats the only thing that is going to bring them peace in there country. and it said for them to put down there idol worships and start praying and knowing the word of the lord jesus christ.

  13. Very well written account of events, truly spellbinding. Please keep us updated as things unfold there. We are with you in spirit and grateful you and your companion[s] are safe.
    Peace and Love

  14. Somewhere along the line you probably wondered why you didn't listen to me and stick to selling sofas.

    I'll tell Fariha. Our prayers are with you.

    Tom A.R.

  15. Dear Sam,
    Come home!!
    Joanne Seattle

  16. somehow... i had forgotten that you were there. now i need to remember you in prayer. be safe.

  17. "SamOnEarth" where are you?

  18. Hi Sam

    Thank you for posting this. I'm collecting similar accounts (more details here:

    I was wondering whether you could put me in touch with Rosa? If so, please email me on the email mentioned above, thanks.