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Egypt protesters post their wills on Twitter, Facebook

Anticipating more military violence after the killings of Coptic Christians, protesters show their determination to remain defiant to the end.

October 18, 2011|By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times
  • Mourners gather in Cairo's Tahrir Square last week for a candlelight vigil in honor of Coptic Christians killed days earlier during clashes between protesters and security forces.
Mourners gather in Cairo's Tahrir Square last week for a candlelight… (Mahmud Hams, AFP/Getty…)

Reporting from Cairo — In keystroke bursts of poetry, defiance and humor, Egyptian activists are posting their wills on Twitter.

The electronic missives, vibrant with immediacy and edged with wit, specify how organs should be donated and small sums of money spent. One activist asked that his picture not be posted on Facebook so as to spare his mother pain. Another sought to calm the country's deepening sectarianism by arranging for a grave in a cemetery shared by Christians and Muslims.

"Bury me in the grassy island in [Tahrir] square," wrote protester Metry Ghebreyal, conjuring up the hallowed ground at the epicenter of the uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in February.

After the recent deadly clashes between soldiers and Coptic Christian protesters, activists fear their peaceful revolution is slipping into a dangerous phase. The ruling military council has expanded martial law and has pushed back the timetable for handing the nation over to a civilian government.

The wills are a distillation of young lives imprinted by social media and longing for social change. They are part publicity stunt, part reflection, offering a glimpse into the desires and frustrations of a movement that inspired upheavals across the region only to find itself mired in an unfinished, often messy, revolution.

Talk of national renewal remains vigorous. But there is disillusionment that after months of protests, razor wire and rifles glimmer in the streets while men with gold-brimmed hats still hold power behind closed doors. The demonstrations ahead, activists suggest, may become bloody, especially in light of the violence of Oct. 9, when 22 Copts were killed by thugs and troops firing weapons and ramming military vehicles into crowds.

"Death has become so near and we are all ready to die for Egypt," a group of activists wrote. "You need to publicly speak out against the repression of the military, not just their army trucks and rifles, but also their hypocritical use of the media. Write and write.... This is an open invitation for everyone to document their will."

The effort, which has spread to Facebook, is called Martyrs in Demand: Write your own will against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The idea arose after Mina Daniel, a Coptic Christian activist, was shot in the chest Oct. 9. His will asked that his body be carried through Tahrir. Mourners honored the wish, marching his coffin from the morgue through the busy square and toward the graveyard.

Thousands of people turned out for Daniel's vigil, and for the funeral processions of other fallen protesters, whose deaths symbolized a nation's yearning — and yet reluctance — for change.

Egypt is stuck in a battle between those envisioning a new spirit of democracy in the Middle East and those fearful — even resentful — of how such a tremor will recast traditional powers, especially the omnipresent military. The wills also point to the divisions and suspicions over Islam's political prominence and what effect that will have on November's parliamentary elections and the drafting of a constitution.

"Do not trust the military and do not think that any good will come from the Muslim Brotherhood," one activist wrote in his will. "Never give Tahrir Square up. It is the only guarantee that the revolution will succeed."

Other postings blend the inspirational with the eerily specific: "I donate my eyes and the rest of my body to the injured," wrote Islam Hafez. "Continue our revolution."

The anger of activists against the military, notably Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the ruling council, is searing: "My will is executing Tantawi and his gang … so that Tahrir remains clean of their blood," Ahmed Fouad Eldidi posted on Facebook. "Military officers should be like any public employee getting his salary from our taxes to serve us."

Heba Khattab was short and direct: "Don't leave my rights, bring back my country from those who kidnapped it."

Not all Egyptians feel this way. Many are tired of protests and revere the military as protector of the country during political uncertainty and economic turmoil. But the activists plot and type away, sending out news on demonstrations and posting final wishes that border on melodrama and humor.

One protester doesn't have much money to bequeath, but knows how he would want it spent: "If I die crushed [by an army truck], don't forget to get vengeance for me. There are 200 Egyptian pounds [$34] in my drawer, please take them and buy ice cream for all my followers. They are good people."

jeffrey.fleishman@latimes.com

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