Tag Archives: American University in Cairo

An Egyptian Halloween

“I could only get on at all by taking “nature” into my confidence and my account, by treating my monstrous ordeal as a push in a direction unusual, of course, and unpleasant, but demanding after all, for a fair front, only another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue.” – Henry James, The Turn of the Screw

The following occurred while in Egypt in the fall of 1997 when a fellow student from Conn went missing shortly before Halloween.  The worst was assumed for an American college student alone in a foreign land.  Without warning several days after his disappearance he reappeared at the dorms and told us of what had happened; this is his story:

It was mid October, even though it didn’t feel anything like autumn to us within the fragrant smog of Cairo.  We were preparing costumes for an upcoming U.S. Embassy Halloween party and Oliver’s costume was the traditional attire of a Bedouin tribesman.  The Bedouin are nomadic peoples who live throughout the Middle East, and who usually live as outsiders within their own countries.  I think the place of the Bedouin within Egyptian culture fascinated Oliver, as it was a classic example of native peoples whose fidelity to their traditions had kept them apart from assimilation into the mainstream culture.  The inspiration for his costume was a Bedouin dagger he had recently purchased at the Khan Khalili bazaar. All he needed to complete his costume was a robe, so he put the dagger in his backpack and got on a bus to head to a particular shop in one of the outskirts of the city.

After walking for a while, searching for the shop he realized he was lost.  Dusk was approaching so he tried heading back toward where the bus had dropped him off.   Retracing his steps, the streets falling quiet, he continued on when to his right he heard what he thought were the sounds of muffled screaming.  He backed up slowly and in the shadows of a small alley he saw a man and a woman struggling.  Frozen, not knowing what to do, only he could know what flashed through his mind in those few seconds.  He realized as the man ripped the woman’s clothes that this was no domestic dispute but a rape in progress.  He walked into the alley, moving closer.  Quickly, Oliver shouted at the attacker hoping to scare him off by taking him by surprise.  Instead, in that split second the attacker jumped up and instead of running, swung round and lunged at Oliver with his fist.

The next thing Oliver remembered, he was lying on his back with a warm sensation of blood running down his face.  Awareness slowly came back to him and he realized that only a few feet away the woman lay sobbing, pinned to the ground, the attacker on top of her.  For seconds that seemed to last for minutes he fought the overwhelming urge to drift back into unconsciousness.   Closing his eyes, all he could hear were her cries in his ears.  In that moment he remembered the Bedouin dagger.  With all his will, Oliver pulled the dagger from his pack and rose to his feet.  Quietly he approached from behind.  Suddenly, Oliver pulled the attacker up by the shoulders and swung him around to face him.  As the attacker wheeled around to strike, Oliver raised his arm and sliced the dagger across his face!  Down he brought the knife and with every ounce of strength he buried the blade into the attacker’s midsection.  Waves of pain and adrenaline overtook him and before Oliver lost consciousness he saw the attacker doubled over, stumbling off out of the alley.

The next thing Oliver remembered he awoke in a hospital bed surrounded by a doctor and two Arab men in western suits.  They explained that he was in Alexandria, 250 kilometers from Cairo.  Before he could ask questions, one of the men in suits began to thank him profusely for saving his daughter’s life, and told him that anything he wanted they would give him, that whatever he wished for to just ask.   Oliver simply asked that his nose, which was shattered by the blow from the brass knuckles the attacker had been wearing, be fixed and that he have a train ticket back to school in Cairo.  The men told him that the reason he was brought to Alexandria was that the man’s brother was one of the best plastic surgeons in Egypt.   They showed him a mirror and removed the bandage from his face.  His nose had already been repaired, however they couldn’t find any pictures of him to model the reconstruction after. The surgeon hadn’t had any experience working on African Americans before so the only thing they had to go on was a Tupac CD  they found in Oliver’s backpack.

With his nose bandaged, standing around in the courtyard of the AUC dorm, almost a week after he went missing, Oliver told us this story.  When he was finished and we were all asking a thousand questions, Oliver’s roommate Chris said “Do you know what’s weird, do you remember that dream you told me about last week?”  In Oliver’s dream a huge snake rose up and confronted him.  The snake lunged forward and bit Oliver’s face and he in turn sliced the snake in two with a sword.  As we all stood around listening to this we couldn’t believe our ears, but Oliver really did end up with Tupac’s nose and the dream of the snake further re-enforced that we all really were engaged in some larger subconscious drama that was being played out.  We couldn’t explain how a dream could have foretold of events that were yet to take place, but we couldn’t deny the powerful truth of what we witnessed.  I personally will never forget the chills that ran up my spine upon hearing this and it was to me at least, as Henry James had said, another turn of the screw of ordinary human virtue.

The Pharonic Cobra of Lower Egypt

The Pharonic Cobra of Lower Egypt

Letters from an Islamic Front

Letters from an Islamic Front
The following letters I share with you after almost 12 years and on the 8th anniversary of the 09/11/2001 terrorist attacks.   In late 1997, as a study away student at the American University in Cairo, we found ourselves riding a wave of terrorism which was not to crash upon the shores of New York and Washington for another 4 years.  This is part of the story…
On September 19th, 1997 explosions could be heard in our classrooms near Tahrir square.  From the roof of the university we could see the commotion and the smoke.  As I made my way via taxi from school and through the rotary traffic by the museum, a burnt black and shattered bus was still smoking. A bus load of German tourists had been machine gunned and firebombed just outside the Egyptian Museum moments before.  Back at the dormitories across the bridge in Zamaleck we sat around in various states of shock, disbelief, and panic.  A fellow student came back that evening white as a ghost.  He was at the dorms at the time and had heard of the attack.  As an aspiring journalist he took a taxi to the square and with his camera pushed his way toward the bus.  The way he told it, his voice trembling as he made it to the front of the police barricade he pulled out his school ID and picture which he kept on a chain and shouted Time Magazine, Time Magazine!” and was quickly ushered under the ropes.  He entered the bus to a stench of burnt flesh and corpses of the recently dead before him.  He took photos of the scene however after nights of sleepless nightmares he destroyed the photos and turned down offers of thousands for their purchase.
On November 17th 1997, a week before we were to travel down to the valley of the kings
in Luxor, a group self-proclaimed “The Battalion of Havoc and Destruction” carried out a massacre outside the Hapsetup temple.   Shortly after, I obtained a copy from a fellow student of U.S. embassy translations of two letters left at the scene.  Reading these letters in our dorm rooms shortly after the attack, we wondered out loud what references such as the “regime in the Scaffolds” might mean; Whether the repetition of the certain phrases had some meaning;  whether the mention of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the so called “blind sheikh” had special meaning as he was in prison in New York for the bombing of the World Trade Center on Feb. 26 1993.
We wondered at that time what the these letters could possibly forshaddow.  On the crystal clear morning of September 11th, 2001  I stood watching the second plane hit the World Trade Center from televisions in the John Hancock Towers in Boston from where it was said the plane’s had taken off.  The following letters and my experiences in Egypt four years before flooded immediately back to mind.  Latter, I questioned why if a group of students with so little prior knowledge could see four years ago that there was some terrible attack being planned, why couldn’t the United Stated Intelligence services connect the dots and prevent this.  Little did I know that the same group of Egyptian terrorists had joined a larger network of Al Qaeda in order to make good on their promise to “undermine the economy of every atheistic and profligate regime that has diverted from God’s sound law… destroy its establishments… burn its entity; and… bring down with God’s might its foundation.”
The following is the full transcripts of the two letters with Embassy commentary:
1) Subject:  “The Islamic Group in Egypt” leaflet found at the sight of Luxor terrorist attack.  Egyptian State security sources have given Embassy a copy of a leaflet found at the site of the terrorist attack at the Hatshepsut temple in Luxor November 17 (1997).  According to the leaflet, the “Islamic Group in Egypt” (IG) claims responsibility for the attack.  Mustafa Hamza, mentioned at the beginning of the leaflet is one of the IG leaders living outside Egypt.  Informal Embassy translation of the leaflet follows: Begin text:
“There is no God but God
Mohammed is the prophet of God.
The Islamic Group in Egypt.
The Battalion of Havoc and
Destruction responds to the call and
Submits an apology.
Here we are, Mustafa Hamza.  Here we are at your service s a strong leader of Al-Muja Heddin.  Here we are at your service, and here we are at your service, and here we are at your service.  We, the Muslims in the Egyptian Armed forces have responded to the call and followed your command.  Your command is always obeyed.  Our souls are a sacrifice for this great religion.  We will revenge our brothers who were killed by the regime in the Scaffolds.  We will undermine the economy of every atheistic and profligate regime that has diverted from God’s sound law.  We will destroy its establishments; we will burn its entity; and we will bring down with God’s might its foundation.  (A grave in) the depth of the earth is better for us than its surface, if we live to see our sister’s lying in prisons and our brothers and families in police stations.  We here see our sanctities desecrated, and our honor violated, and disloyal rulers oppressing us.  What life is this?  Yes, death is better for us.  Yes, our patience has run thin.  Yes, our patience has run thin.
We will not let an atheist desecrate our land and spread atrocity and vice.  We had warned all foreigners against coming to Egypt, but they are people who do not listen.  They thought the police would protect them while the police themselves are the one’s who need protection.  We have sworn not to leave this spot of Egyptian territory until we have cleansed it from desecration or until we have met God as martyrs.  We apologize to our leaders for not being able to accomplish the first mission.  We dedicate our happiness with the victory to our great martyr and apprentice engineer Samir Abil Maati who died of despotic torture after being arrested on his way to his battalion at Luxor Airport.  Let everyone know that the revenge for our martyr brothers, foremost of whom is Dr. Yasir Fathy Fawwaz, is not like any revenge, and we will see who is quicker than us in execution.  God is greater, and power be to God.  His prophet, and the Believers.  The Battalion of Havoc and Destruction.”
2) Subject:  Second “Islamic Group in Egypt” Leaflet found at Site of Luxor terrorist Attack.  Embassy obtained a copy of the second leaflet found at the site of the terrorist attack at the Hatshepsut temple in Luxor on November 17 (1997).  Embassy sources said the leaflet was stuffed into one of the corpses at the murder scene.  According to the leaflet, the “Islamic Group in Egypt” warns foreign tourists against visiting Egypt and demands the US and the west to release Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman from detention” Informal Embassy translation of the Leaflet follows:
“In the name of God, The Merciful, The Compassionate The Last Warning The Battalion of Havoc and destruction warns all foreign tourists against coming onto Egypt, and demands the United States and the atheistic west to release Dr. Omar Abdel Rahman, the Imam and reverend preacher of Muslims, from detention, otherwise the consequences will be grave.”

The following letters I share with you after almost 12 years and on the 8th anniversary of the 09/11/2001 terrorist attacks.   In late 1997, as a study away student at the American University in Cairo, we found ourselves riding a wave of terrorism which was not to crash upon the shores of New York and Washington for another 4 years.  This is part of the story…

On September 19th, 1997 explosions could be heard in our classrooms near Tahrir square.  From the roof of the university we could see the commotion and the smoke.  As I made my way via taxi from school and through the rotary traffic by the museum, a burnt black and shattered bus was still smoking. A bus load of German tourists had been machine gunned and firebombed just outside the Egyptian Museum moments before.  Back at the dormitories across the bridge in Zamalek we sat around in various states of shock, disbelief, and panic.  A fellow student came back that evening white as a ghost and described what he had saw.   He was at the dorms at the time and had heard of the attack.  As an aspiring journalist he took a taxi to the square and with his camera pushed his way toward the bus.  The way he told it with his voice trembling,  he made his way to the front of the police barricade and pulled out his school ID and picture which he kept on a chain and shouted “Time Magazine, Time Magazine!” and was quickly ushered past the officers.   He entered  to a stench of burnt flesh emenating from the corpses of the recently dead melted into the seats of the bus before him.  He took photos of the scene, however after nightmares and sleepless nights he destroyed the photos after turning down offers of thousands of dollars for their purchase.

On November 17th 1997, a week before we were to travel down to the valley of the kings in Luxor, a group self-proclaimed “The Battalion of Havoc and Destruction” carried out a massacre outside the Hapshetsut temple.   Shortly after, I obtained a copy from a fellow student of U.S. embassy translations of two letters left at the scene.  Reading these letters in our dorm rooms shortly after the attack, we wondered out loud to each other what references such as the “regime in the Scaffolds” might mean;  Whether the repetition of the certain phrases had some meaning;  Whether the mention of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the so called “blind sheikh” had special meaning as he was in prison in New York for the bombing of the World Trade Center on Feb. 26 1993.

We could not know at that time what the these letters were to forshaddow.  On the crystal clear morning of September 11th, 2001  I stood watching the second plane hit the World Trade Center from televisions in the John Hancock Tower in Boston from where it was said the plane’s had taken off.  The following letters, and my experiences in Egypt four years before flooded back to mind.  Latter I questioned why, if a group of students with so little prior knowledge could see four years ago that there was some terrible attack being planned couldn’t the United Stated Intelligence services connect the dots and prevent this?   Little did I know that the same group of Egyptian terrorists had become part of  a larger network of Al Qaeda in order to make good on their promise to “undermine the economy of every atheistic and profligate regime … destroy its establishments… burn its entity;  and… bring down with God’s might its foundation.”

The following is the full transcripts of the two letters with Embassy commentary:

1) Subject:  “The Islamic Group in Egypt” leaflet found at the sight of Luxor terrorist attack.  Egyptian State security sources have given Embassy a copy of a leaflet found at the site of the terrorist attack at the Hatshepsut temple in Luxor November 17 (1997).  According to the leaflet, the “Islamic Group in Egypt” (IG) claims responsibility for the attack.  Mustafa Hamza, mentioned at the beginning of the leaflet is one of the IG leaders living outside Egypt.  Informal Embassy translation of the leaflet follows: Begin text:

“There is no God but God

Mohammed is the prophet of God.

The Islamic Group in Egypt.

The Battalion of Havoc and

Destruction responds to the call and

Submits an apology.

Here we are, Mustafa Hamza.  Here we are at your service s a strong leader of Al-Muja Heddin.  Here we are at your service, and here we are at your service, and here we are at your service.  We, the Muslims in the Egyptian Armed forces have responded to the call and followed your command.  Your command is always obeyed.  Our souls are a sacrifice for this great religion.  We will revenge our brothers who were killed by the regime in the Scaffolds.  We will undermine the economy of every atheistic and profligate regime that has diverted from God’s sound law.  We will destroy its establishments; we will burn its entity; and we will bring down with God’s might its foundation.  (A grave in) the depth of the earth is better for us than its surface, if we live to see our sister’s lying in prisons and our brothers and families in police stations.  We here see our sanctities desecrated, and our honor violated, and disloyal rulers oppressing us.  What life is this?  Yes, death is better for us.  Yes, our patience has run thin.  Yes, our patience has run thin.

We will not let an atheist desecrate our land and spread atrocity and vice.  We had warned all foreigners against coming to Egypt, but they are people who do not listen.  They thought the police would protect them while the police themselves are the one’s who need protection.  We have sworn not to leave this spot of Egyptian territory until we have cleansed it from desecration or until we have met God as martyrs.  We apologize to our leaders for not being able to accomplish the first mission.  We dedicate our happiness with the victory to our great martyr and apprentice engineer Samir Abil Maati who died of despotic torture after being arrested on his way to his battalion at Luxor Airport.  Let everyone know that the revenge for our martyr brothers, foremost of whom is Dr. Yasir Fathy Fawwaz, is not like any revenge, and we will see who is quicker than us in execution.  God is greater, and power be to God.  His prophet, and the Believers.  The Battalion of Havoc and Destruction.”

2) Subject:  Second “Islamic Group in Egypt” Leaflet found at Site of Luxor terrorist Attack.  Embassy obtained a copy of the second leaflet found at the site of the terrorist attack at the Hatshepsut temple in Luxor on November 17 (1997).  Embassy sources said the leaflet was stuffed into one of the corpses at the murder scene.  According to the leaflet, the “Islamic Group in Egypt” warns foreign tourists against visiting Egypt and demands the US and the west to release Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman from detention” Informal Embassy translation of the Leaflet follows:

“In the name of God, The Merciful, The Compassionate The Last Warning The Battalion of Havoc and destruction warns all foreign tourists against coming onto Egypt, and demands the United States and the atheistic west to release Dr. Omar Abdel Rahman, the Imam and reverend preacher of Muslims, from detention, otherwise the consequences will be grave.”

Omar Abdel-Rahman

Omar Abdel-Rahman