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A family nurtured in rebellion

For the Seif family — long active in leftist politics in Cairo — the Egyptian uprising was a long time coming. And when it did, they were prepared, though this time it was the children who would take the lead.

February 13, 2011|By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times

"I grew up, just becoming involved. They never taught me. It was just something that became natural," Mona said.

For years, she said, she has been side by side with her mother in demonstrations all over Cairo.

"My dad is always handling things from the legal point of view. My mom is the fighter," she said. "You always hear people say, 'If you're in a demonstration and Laila Soueif is there, then you are safe.' Because she is fearless. I mean, she is unbelievable."

Mona remembers an incident at an early protest over the death of Khaled Said, a young Alexandria man whose fatal beating at the hands of police in June was one of the triggers of the Egyptian uprising. She became involved in a menacing confrontation with one of the female officers, who are notoriously violent with female protesters. Her mother rushed over, bellowing. "She said, 'This is my daughter. If you put one hand on her, I will take it off,' " Mona recalled. " 'You can put me in jail, you can put me in prison, but you will live without hands.' "

On Jan. 25, the day the uprising began, organizers told Mona to bring a group of 12 demonstrators she was in contact with online to a location she didn't learn of until 30 minutes before she was to be there. From there, they joined the growing flood from several parts of the city that was rushing toward Tahrir Square.

Mona would e-mail news of the protests to Alaa, the family said, who was helping distribute information on the Internet from South Africa. But when Internet and cellphone service were cut off, he could bear it no longer and jumped on a plane, arriving just as the violence broke out.

"He came right into the battle, really," Mona said. "All the drama, the horses and the camels and the Molotov cocktails and the shooting — it was an awful night. He was there on the front line, trying to ward off the thugs. He'd throw rocks and rest for a while and go back again."

Meanwhile, Soueif's sister, well-known novelist Ahdaf Soueif, was sending out urgent messages trying to call attention to Seif's arrest at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, which he co-founded. "Just saw 8 to 12 people being dragged out of No. 1 Souq el-Tawfikiyyah St and bundled into a civilian micro-bus while a military police vehicle waited nearby. The people were being beaten and the street had been told they were Iranian and Hamas agents come to destabilise Egypt," the novelist wrote to a blog called the Arabist.

By the final days of the uprising, Mona and Alaa were at parliament, Soueif was going back and forth to Tahrir, and Seif, who had been released but whose diabetes made it difficult for him to go to the square more than once or twice a day, was glued to the television at home and phoning updates to his wife.

After Mubarak's last speech — in which he refused yet again to resign — Mona joined a furious march on the TV building and got a call from her mother, who was at home showering and changing clothes.

"I told her, 'We're around the TV building,' and she said, 'OK, I'm coming.' This was after 10 or 11 at night [after curfew], and she basically walked from home, and she made it there, and it was me and my mother and a friend. We stayed there all night."

The next day, Soueif headed to Cairo University to organize a faculty march back to Tahrir after Friday prayers. Mona began walking alone from the TV building back to the square.

"All of a sudden, I found people screaming in the street, and everyone was running toward Tahrir Square and yelling, 'He has stepped down! He has stepped down!' " Mona said. "I just found myself surrounded by thousands of people, rushing toward each other and crying, they are laughing and hugging me.... I kept trying to call any member of my family, but of course, all of the lines were completely down."

Late that evening, they all found their way back to the apartment in Mohandiseen. They talked excitedly, compared notes, had a brief meal. Then they headed back to the square, which somehow felt more like where they belonged.

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