I had returned home from the doctor’s clinic on Saturday evening fidgeting with anxiety. My surgery was scheduled for the next day, and naturally my mind started contemplating the results. If all goes well I should be alive and in a better condition than I am in now. If not … Well, I didn’t want to dwell on the possibilities.
As I lay in my bed that night in an attempt to quiet my mind and go to sleep, I came across a friend’s tweet. It said that our friend Mohamed Radwan had just made a forced appearance on Syrian TV “confessing” that he received 100 pounds (less than US$20) to photograph the anti-regime protests and that he had recently visited Israel. In essence, it looked like he was confessing to espionage for Israel in a country that has been its sworn enemy for decades.
My chest grew heavy, my breathing more difficult and my thoughts stood still.
Then my mind jumped to the worst conclusion. Espionage is not a crime that is punished lightly, and especially in a country that sees itself in a state of war.
Radwan is an engineer who worked for a petroleum services company in Syria, and he was in the Umayyad Mosque in central Damascus when he was arrested. His last tweet had said that pro- and anti-regime demonstrations had erupted and there were clashes between both parties.
I was all too familiar with a government using the “foreign agenda” excuse and unleashing a spell of xenophobia, with the help of state media, to justify the breaking up of unrest. I had seen it in Tunisia and Libya and lived through it in Egypt throughout the revolution.
In short, I felt that Syria needed to parade a scapegoat and Radwan was it.
This news put my worries about a minor surgery in perspective, and I started to think back to the infamous Battle of the Camels that took place on February 2, smack in the middle of the Egyptian revolution.
On this day, hired pro-regime thugs charged at unarmed protesters in Tahrir square with camels and horses in an attempt to disperse the protests. Radwan and I were among the group that was stuck there, and human nature has its way of creating strong bonds between those who find themselves facing danger together.
Lying in a hospital bed after coming out of surgery, the TV was glaring at me. Many of the various news channels were talking about Radwan. I even saw some of them refer to him as the “spy Mohamed Radwan.” I had no doubt he was innocent, and referring to him in such a manner left me fuming.
But there was not much I could do. I couldn’t even get out of bed, how could I possibly help save a friend locked up in a foreign country?
A campaign had been started by his friends and family. They reached out to people through the media, the Internet, and personal connections. All that could be done was being done. On Wednesday, the third day after my operation, still dizzy under the effects of medication and barely able to walk in a straight line, I dragged my feet to the Free Radwan stand by the Syrian embassy in Cairo.
Around two hundred people had showed up, all holding banners and flowers in a silent stand asking for Radwan to be freed. As we stood there, I was reading live tweets of the Syrian president Bashar El Asad’s speech. There was a good part of it about foreigners interfering in Syrian affairs and how this would not be accepted or tolerated.
This pushed my thoughts once again in a negative direction, but I didn’t dare share them with anyone, lest I spoil the morale.
The Syrian ambassador then surprised us by letting most of us inside the embassy gates, and standing next to Radwan’s mother, atop a small flight of stairs, he gave us the typical diplomatic reassurances saying, “These things take time”, “he had confessed on TV” and “if he is innocent he will be out”. Soon afterwards we left.
On Friday, Radwan was released, safe and sound. He stayed in the Egyptian Embassy accompanied by his father. On Saturday he flew back to Egypt and on Sunday night we all gathered at a friend’s place to welcome him back.
As we stood in the large terrace, the air was crisp and fresh, after very unusual hours of rain. With his back to the terrace door, around twenty of us had formed a circle facing him, listening to his stories. We were mesmerized by the events, and hypnotized by his storytelling.
Everyone was fixated on Radwan, as if afraid to look away in case we wouldn’t find him when we looked back. You could feel the joy and happiness radiating, and his story triggered synchronised laughter many times.
As the tale unfolded, I started to get more emotional. I quietly retreated away from the group, and stood by the edge of the terrace. More comfortable in solitude with the story and comments filling the background, I looked out at the streets, the city, then into the black sky, reflecting on what had just happened and what I had just heard. I wanted to let out a long sigh of relief.
I was happy he’s back.