Laura El-Tantawy – Cairo

Reda Abdelaziz Mohamed, 19, is seen before and after his injuries. He is seen a few months after earning his diploma in Tourism and Hotel Management, when he was 17, and a week after he lost sight in both eyes.

photograph by LAURA EL-TANTAWY

Reda Abdelaziz Mohamed is not crying.

His left eye constantly weeps, his right, blinded forever.

Nineteen-year-old Reda (Arabic word meaning ‘contentment’) was shot in his eyes on November 19, 2011. He was in Mohamed Mahmoud Street in central Cairo to support protesters in an ongoing battle against security forces off Tahrir Square. Reda was not throwing rocks at police — he was kneeling down to pick up a protester’s dead body when he was shot. “I don’t remember feeling anything. I ran and knelt down to pick up a dead body. Next to me stood a police officer. Suddenly I was thrust backwards and I have not seen anything since.”

As the story of a new Egypt continues, it’s extremely hard not to tell the story of people like Reda and hundreds others who have suffered the life changing consequences of fighting for freedom and dignity. Last month alone almost 50 people died in violent clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud Street and at least 1,000 others were injured. Most suffered pellet wounds to the head and eyes, some died of suffocation from excessive tear gas. The Ministry of Interior denies using live ammunition and tear gas against protesters on Mohamed Mahmoud and claim a “third party” is responsible. No one has been punished for killing and injuring protesters.

Almost 10 months have passed since I stood in Tahrir Square to celebrate Mubarak’s resignation — the best day in my life. It is hard for me to see a new Egypt given nothing seems to have changed.

Egypt post January 25 looks and feels exactly the same as Egypt now: corruption, failed policies and mistreatment of the general population remain standard procedure. This is the reason for a constant upheaval of emotions and anger among protesters who founded the January 25 movement that ousted former dictator Hosni Mubarak. On Saturday (December 10), Tahrir Square was reopened to traffic after nearly three weeks of a sit-in demanding an end to military rule and introducing an elected civilian government. Many of the protesters have moved camp to a sit-in outside Parliament, but everyday their numbers are dwindling.

Pro-democracy activists say they are being slowly exterminated in the same way as they were during Mubarak’s rule. Some have been secretly kidnapped and tortured and others are being put in jail to undergo military trials.

Freedom silenced?

The consequence has been resilience and determination to finish what started on January 25.

Reda says if he ever manages to see again, he would return straight to Tahrir. His parents, who never took part in politics, say they will join him, so does his uncle and aunt.

One casualty of Egypt’s unfinished revolution has given birth to at atleast 10 activists — revolutionaries — who are ready and willing to join the frontline.

I left Reda smiling, talking to his fiancé on the telephone, but I walked out, I noticed his left eye softly weeping.

I wondered if he was crying.

30 Responses to “Laura El-Tantawy – Cairo”

  • This is so sad. But it’s also the reality.
    You are doing great work Laura!

  • Heartbreaking and powerful, thank-you Laura.

  • One year ago today Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire, and started the Arab revolution.. a long and painful way to go to reach freedom, and full of individual stories as the one reported above.

    Important work.. and told this way, on a personal level, brings it much closer and less abstract.. thank you, and stay safe, Laura!

  • last month alone 50 people died in clashes…. 1000 were injured….

    And people here in USA whine about pepper spraying…

    ‘nough said!

    Thanks, Lara.

  • Laura – You continually amaze me – and here you show the larger meaning of the violence in so powerful a way when what we normally see is only a flash in the news, followed by the next flash.

    Herve – Pepper spray today, bullets today, bullets tomorrow – unless maybe enough people “whine” about the pepper spray today.

  • Outside of America, which see nothing but the reflection of itself in the glass, everybody saw this coming. And there are several moves yet to be played out before we see who has the board.

  • Herve – Pepper spray today, bullets today, bullets tomorrow – unless maybe enough people “whine” about the pepper spray today.


    Herve, :)
    you cant till the last minute, till its too late…they are slowly removing our rights…cameras everywhere on me but I (or any photog) cant shoot freely…no cameras on London subway, no shooting close to ambulance, felony if u shoot a farm in florida and on and on…conspiracy theories? maybe yes, maybe a good 80%..but but but theres always that 20% of “if” i wait too much then it’ll be too late..

  • cant wait..gotta act now…even if that is a PJ a photog, a writer, a blogger an artist of any kind! Spread the word…at least warn the next generations of what to expect…educating the next by educating myself first ..otherwise no reason to record all that..we do daily filling up hard drives like Hummers

  • like Hummers…with gasoline!

  • Herve, it sounds like you’re saying that you are okay with governments that torture and jail non-violent protesters as long as they don’t go too far? Otherwise, the construction that X shouldn’t complain because Y has it so much worse is not a good argument when we’re talking freedom and rule of law.

  • Herve, c’mon man. What’s this all about?

  • Shall we snort at Egypt because Syria has it “worse”?

  • “Whining” about being gratuitously pepper-sprayed while sitting peacefully protesting is part of what halts a progression of violations by the State against it citizens. Expressing outrage of “minor” brutality helps keep “major” brutality in check. And sometimes it doesn’t:

  • Panos,

    “felony if u shoot a farm in florida”

    What’s that about?
    Do you have a link?

  • It has been upheld over and over that a person is free to photograph things in plain sight while standing on public property.

    Any majority of idiots can pass a law. The law may get passed but it would never hold up on appeal.

    Oh and it would be appealed. The NPPA has a bunch of lawyers that love this stuff.

  • Thanks Michael.
    I was trying to think what could possibly have brought this about?
    Then I thought PETA?

    Seems like it after reading this comment:

    Alicia Calzada
    March 19, 2011 @ 10:48 am
    Denny, my understanding is that the Farm Lobby is trying to prevent exposes that have created bad publicity. I guess the legislators understand the theory “you don’t want to see how sausage is made.” The argument they probably would make would be that they are trying to protect their trade secrets- but of course a) there are already laws protecting trade secrets and b) how you mistreat animals or fail to properly process crops should not be a trade secret.

    Sorry to hijack Laura’s work here but this was a bit startling!
    Back to Laura!

  • All – thanks for your kind comments and for the conversation that ensued, regardless of what direction it eventually took. It’s all on the subject one way or another.

    I just got back to London after a terrifying night in Cairo. I was due back in London end of January but literally had to book a flight and jump on a plane three hours before it was due for takeoff.

    At 2 am this morning a detective came to my home and said the car I had been in was stolen and involved in a serious accident that he described as a “disaster”. I was actually not at my house and was spending the night at my uncle’s. The car was parked right underneath my uncle’s house, so what this officer/detective said was an obvious lie. My cousin who had spoken to him started to make some calls and eventually was asked about my political activity. They said there were many question marks regarding the whereabouts of the car and a woman seen in it and they wanted to speak to me in person.

    By now it is about 3 am and the mere mention of “political activity” made it clear this was a matter of state security and that I was in big trouble.

    Alarm and panic were indeed felt but most of all, there was fear of the unknown and the unpredictable and having to deal with the state security apparatus, which has been corrupt for more than 30 years and whose mere mention causes terror.

    My family deliberated and we decided it was best for me to leave. I say this with utter sadness, but the last few weeks I spent in Egypt made me feel terrified to be in my own country. The situation is much worse than I had expected. People are generally scared and the military has split up public opinion between siding with them or with the protesters. People are fighting on the streets, in Tahrir people are being shot and killed and the military continues to blatantly deny using force against the protesters, who in my opinion are really being exterminated and are fighting a violent campaign started by the military to ruin their reputation.

    I have no answers for anything. At this moment I am trying to get my thoughts together. It’s extremely difficult to be a journalist under those circumstances and I have the utmost respect to all my friends who are working in Egypt. It’s not just about physical harm and verbal intimidation from police and the military, but simply being able to tell a balanced story given all the conflicting statements.

    I have known which side I am on with this story from the start and I really want to do this work with persistence, focus and as much honesty as I can. Right now it is not so clear how I will proceed and how I will plan my return ahead of January 25 (one year anniversary of the revolution). My work will remain focused on the humanitarian cost of fighting for freedom and dignity. On people like Reda who will never go back to a normal life because they stood up for what they believe.

    Please keep Egypt in your thoughts, especially the young Reda’s who are being beaten, tortured, killed and injured as you now read this. It will be so sad if at the end of this their voices are silenced and we go back to what we were or something worse.


  • After seeing Reda even that ‘leave a reply’ up here becomes painful… Abuse, abusers… blindness… humanity, humans, people with names and faces, with their own lives, with their joys… No more, never again… saying stop, saying it out loud, confronting… fear paralizes… When abuse does come as a reply? Is it really an answer or is it just a cowardly way to avoid it?… Never stopping until you get a real answer… making it evident… Abuse is abuse, in any degree, any way, any form, anywhere. – i think. As I think as well many of us here share the same path.

    Many thanks Laura.

  • That was my fear, that something like this would happen, with all the news coming out of Cairo.. I think you made the wisest choice, but I also think you’ll go back, ’cause you feel you must go back..

    It does not look good.. yet, once the process is initiated it cannot be stopped.. perhaps I’m being just naïve, I want to believe that fear and oppression will lose in the long run..

    Wishing you and your people strenght! And thank you for your work! You’ve done right, otherwise they would not come after you!

  • LAURA,

    itwas a wise decision to return to London. Let’s hope the situation in Egypt stabalizes for good and let you return to a safe and peaceful country.

  • I am so sad for you and the people of Egypt Laura. The story is still un-folding, let’s be hopeful. You have been very wise to get yourself out of there.

  • I was writing at the moment you did Laura. I read you after. Wisdom is real strenght I think. Many thanks again.

  • Scary, upsetting video in the news today, military kicking a female body on the ground, pulling her around, half naked, and not stopping kicking her in the breasts.. bestial..


    i have been traveling and now just catching up here….what i am trying to figure out is how the departure of Mubarak has led to a worse secret police situation then when he was in power….i thought his departure was to improve not make worse the situation…yes yes i know what i read, but still there must be more…of course we have seen many times in many countries where the departure of a powerful “dictator” has in fact led to massacre and war…these often cruel dictators have gotten in power by consolidating rival forces, and then when they are deposed, the rivals come out of the woodwork….i am sure i am oversimplifying this, and am anxious for your opinion….

    in any case, as much as i would love to see you finish your Egypt essay, i fear for you and your family more….if the police are on to you, then they are on to your family as well….how could it be safe for you to return in January? please wait before returning…i well know your commitment and admire this of course, yet at the same time having watching this sort of thing come and go and evolve and change in other countries i see little point in exposing yourself to danger over police/military security issues…you are a journalist, and you are an artist….i simply want to see your work have the most lasting effect for the most number of people for all the right reasons….basically, just want you safe….you have already done some moving work since the beginning of the revolution….please do not push too far…we all want you around for an epic Egypt book…..

    cheers, hugs, david

  • Contrasts…. Hot from Rio…. Heavy from Cairo! :-(

  • LAURA you are strong!!! be safe… keep up the good work… and yes safety (whatever that means really) first – you have to stay alive and well to be able to share the story with us! !!!

    Haik, Happy Birthday!!!

  • With all sides fearing one another………winner takes all is a real worry.

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