If this is the first time you’ve been to the Emporium then let me introduce myself. My name is Mahmoud Taji, I am a voiceover artist based in Cairo, Egypt and for those that haven’t been following recent world news that basically means that all hell has broken loose around me.
I’m not Egyptian but I’ve lived here on and off for 18 years… almost half my life. I went to high school here, I graduated university here, got my first job here, got married here, and both my children were born in the land of the Pharaohs and now this is the country that I will be leaving for the sake of my family’s safety.
50 days ago Egypt’s democratically elected president was exiled by force because a Military coup lead by the Minister of Defense Abdul-Fatah Al Sisi took place. So far the President has been kidnapped and around 5,000 to 6,000 peaceful protesters have been murdered by the army and tens of thousands have been injured, and nearly double that detained.
To someone who lives here and doesn’t really watch much local television (namely myself) this sudden brutal crackdown was like a sucker punch in the gut, right in the solar plexus. To those who have been aware of what the local media has been doing, it’s a different story. You see as the smoke clears and the dust settles you can start to trace all the foreign money coming in from different parts of the globe to destabilize Egypt. The President that we once thought was ineffective turned out to be a lone warrior fighting an upstream battle against the hidden forces of media corruption, judicial corruption, army corruption… well let’s just say he didn’t really have a chance.
For every revolution it is said that there is a counter revolution. A blow back from the corruption that is deeply rooted within the original corrupt state, a corruption that is such an integral part of it, that the only way for it to be removed is amputation.
The media brainwashed about one quarter of the Egyptian population and on the 30th of June an estimated 3 to 5 million people filled Tahrir square to ask for early elections. What they got from the army was free flags, rides on tanks and firework plus a clear message that the army has chosen one part of the political landscape over the other.
The counter revolution had started and the Army gave the president (who ironically is the head of the Armed forces constitutionally) an ultimatum, to either please the opposition or actions will be taken.
What they did next was a textbook military coup and 2 years of democratic process and 5 regional and national elections got scrapped, the constitution (also something the people had voted on) was scrapped) and the Minister of Defense crowned himself undeclared supreme commander of the lands of Pharaoh.
The majority of Egyptian people who didn’t want a relapse of Military rule took to the streets and showed their solidarity with the exiled, imprisoned President (who as of yet has not officially stepped down) Millions upon millions of peaceful protesters filled the streets for the period of 30+ days even demonstrating during Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims where they have to fast (abstain from food and water) from sun up till sun down.
These people were persistent and unrelenting and representatives from all of Egypt’s different economic segments. So while the Army based their Coup on the unhappiness of 5 million people who demonstrated for 6 hours in Tahrir. These demonstrators were out there for a month straight demanding a return of legitimacy.
Half way through Ramadan during the Dawn prayers while protesters faced mecca and had their backs to one of the Army barricades the first military lead massacre took place. The police and army basically shot 80+ peaceful worshipers in the back claiming that armed gunmen among them had attacked the barricade. Ironically the army had not considered that the people living in the buildings around the barricade would film all that happened which would prove that the Army had fabricated the “we got attacked” story and took pictures of them planting evidence on the bodies of some of those they killed in the massacre.
The second massacre occurred a week before the end of Ramadan, where the Army and police tried, for 7 straight hours to disband the protests. An estimated 250 peaceful protesters died. Videos of the massacre popped up all over youtube and the army’s image was tarnished further.
I have seen some of these videos and if you could read Arabic and follow my twitter account (@mahmoudtaji) you would have seen videos of 20 year olds getting sniped. Unarmed peaceful protesters shot in the head, in the neck. These weren’t riot control rubber bullets either, these were internationally illegal dum-dum bullets designed to explode and do as much damage to flesh as possible. Bullets shot at people that weren’t rioting, just protesting.
But if this incident was heart-breaking. The next massacre would be the biggest this country had ever seen. This occurred after Ramadan when the police and Army cleared Raaba square in Nasr City (about 2 km from my parent’s home where I grew up) by force. An estimated 2600 people were killed that day. Women and children were mercilessly gunned down. Tents that the demonstrators had set up for their sit-in were set on fire while people were in them. The Injured in the interim field hospital near Raaba square were shot in cold blood and the 5 story building that had peaceful protesters being treated from the previous massacre during Ramadan was set ablaze, with the injured still in it.
My sister’s husband is Egyptian. He alone lost 3 close friends during the Raaba massacre. My sister also lost friends, people I’ve heard stories of. People I saw during my nephew’s birthday party nodded my head to and who’s names at the time I didn’t make an effort to remember.
Martial Law has been re-instated and there is an enforced curfew in all of Egypt. I say enforced because if you are caught outside during curfew time, they will shoot you.
So dear reader I’ve decided that enough is enough. I do not wish to live under military rule. I do not wish to be prosecuted because I have a beard. Nor do I want to be in fear that the Thug brigade (a tool the army uses to terrorize Egyptian citizens that consists of criminals and people with criminal pasts who have been promised a clean slate if they did what the army asked) will assault me or hurt my family.
This is not an easy decision and not one that I take lightly, other than the aspect of physical and emotional harm there is the financial issue. Everything is getting exponentially more expensive. The utility costs have sky rocketed and Egypt now stands politically isolated which means that all the aid that it used to depend on to survive the day to day is withheld from the public. Recently I had left my full time job to pursue a full time career as a voiceover artist. Since the Military coup, it’s been 5 weeks since I had a voiceover job come my way. Egypt has come to a financial stand still.
Within 50 days the country’s debt has tripled, everyone is afraid that the banks will collapse so they are withdrawing all their money, which in turn is causing the banks to collapse. In fact the army is borrowing money from the banks to fund the massacres and oppression it is inflicting on the country’s citizens. So the bullets and bombs and army equipment that the Egyptian citizen has helped fund through taxation are the same weapons that are killing said Egyptian citizen.
I’m withdrawing all my savings from the banks as well; I can’t get all of it at once because the banks have now set a rule that you can’t withdraw more than a set amount every day. So I’ve been going and withdrawing the limit every day now. The currency exchange folk are the ones getting fat off this panic, you can’t get a steady price and they can smell someone preparing to leave the country a mile away.
We’ve sold nearly everything. Lost much of what we’ve invested in our home through the years. I’ve come to terms with what has to be done. It wasn’t easy but once we made the decision to leave the task at hand nearly overwhelmed me. Not so much the logistical aspects of it but the emotional elements, withdrawing my daughter from her school, a place she loves and where most of her friends attended. Selling my children’s baby cot, the one I helped design and commissioned. I know they are all material worldly items. I know they are just dead wood fiber and ultimately there’s nothing really that special about them.
But they meant something to me.
Which brings us to now, to cope with these overwhelming feelings I decided to share my burden, I wrote a short post in one of my linkedin groups called “Taji’s Voiceover Casting Group” and I set my troubles adrift in the ether.
The response from the voiceover community was amazing, from the comments and direct messages to the post I published I truly felt like I wasn’t alone in my predicament, that I was not part of the flotsam and jetsam of war. That maybe things will turn out alright.
I’ve come to terms with my situation and hopefully I’m doing the best I can to make things easy for my family. We’ve got a few things to sell before we purchase our plane tickets out. I’ve got to dismantle my studio next and pack up what I can. The rest I’ll have to leave in storage here and ship it at a later time to our new home, in another country, on another continent.
Here’s hoping you guys never go through this turmoil.