In his official capacity, Mido Sas is a project manager at a contemporary art gallery at the intersection of two lanes filled with car mechanics. If you ask him what he does, he says that, you know, he solves problems. He loves to work with his hands. He collects heavy-duty Leatherman tools, army knives, reinforced flexible wires, stuff. He is quick to teach you how to tie a special knot — something that came in handy during the revolution.
Man on the street: Why are you smoking Cleopatra? This is for the poor people.
Bidoun: It tastes good.
Man: If I got my money, if I’m rich — I would not smoke this tobacco.
B: What would you smoke, then? Marlboro?
Man: Anything that come from somewhere.
B: [Laughs] This is like, a pre-revolutionary attitude.
Another man on the street: Dunhill.
A third man on the street: Dunhill!
First man: Yeah — Marlboro, Newport, Camel… Kent…
B: I don’t know. I like these.
Man: The only reason people buy these cigarettes is because they are poor. Not much money to buy one packet: ten pounds, fifteen pounds. Government wants people to not speak — they make this cigarette for them.
B: Have you heard of David Hockney?
Mido Sas: No.
B: It’s not important. He came to Cairo, I think in the 1980s, and fell in love with these cigarettes. I heard he still has them delivered to him in London.
Man: He is stupid.
B: So I heard you were very involved in the revolution.
MS: Sure. I don’t know. I don’t like to talk about it.
B: Why not?
MS: I hate it. I don’t know. It’s too much. I don’t know what it means.
B: You don’t know if it was worth it?
MS: I don’t know.
B: You don’t know what has changed exactly?
MS: I don’t know. So many people were killed. I mean I see it with my own eyes. I was so angry. It’s just, I see them and I get angry.
MS: The army. I remember when the people started to say, The army is protecting the revolution! The army is saving the revolution! I was saying, This is bullshit. The army is saving nothing! The army is doing nothing. The army is doing zero because it cannot do otherwise. What could the army do?
B: I mean, they could have… crushed the revolt.
MS: What are you talking about?
B: If you look at history, that has happened many times. When there is a revolution? Often.
MS: In Egypt?
B: I’m sure.
MS: In history of Egypt…
B: I mean, the history of Egypt! Seven thousand years!
MS: No, this is too long.
B: I’m just saying, if you look at history, when a city was revolting — they kill all kinds of people.
B: This is part of our history.
MS: Yeah, but it’s not like that. And actually — this is not Libya.
B: Egypt is not Libya. I’ve read that somewhere.
MS: Egypt is different. [Sighs]
B: Anyway, what I was saying is that from the outside it seemed like a stroke of genius to embrace the army… it was like this violent affection, holding them in check. It was genius—
MS: —but only in a way—
B: —especially in this situation.
MS: —where they cannot do anything.
B: You know, like errrrr! [simulates bear hug] I love it!
MS: Imagine if I see you coming from the streets, I smile at you and I shake your hand, and you… punch me in the face. And everyone saw this.
B: You really think the army didn’t have a choice?
MS: The army didn’t have a choice.
B: But what was the relation of power between the army and the people in that situation? Who was in charge?
MS: The people kicked out the police. There are way more police. And the police are smarter than the army. The police know all the tricks — they know the city — where to go — what to do. They are trained to deal with these kinds of things. The army is not. The army can’t do anything.
MS: No, really, they can do nothing. I was one of them. Look at the pictures people were taking of the army — the soldiers sitting on the tank. Look how they look. Being in the army is terrible. You’re in a camp in the desert. Being in the city? It’s heaven. And sitting, watching people, seeing what is going on? That is heaven. It’s nice to be in the city. When I was doing military service, in the desert, when a private car entered the camp it was like seeing a naked woman.
B: So they’re happy.
MS: So happy. Colors, and civilians… it’s really so much fun. For them.
B: Not for you.
MS: I remember one of the days, the officers were trying to convince us — this was when people were supporting the barricades in front of the Egyptian Museum. Military police was being so rude and violent with us. And they had a tank. Like, why are they bringing a tank? Let’s say someone tries to rob the museum — are you going to shoot them with the tank? What is the point?
B: The point is to scare people.
MS: Yeah, and it didn’t. So the guy was like, Take this barricade down, so the cars can go in and out. So things can get back to normal. And I was so angry! I went in and pushed them — I felt like they were trying to take something from us. And then at like 2am my friends all called me — Mido, you were in the news. We saw you on Al-Jazeera pushing the army officer!
MS: We could tell it was you! Your glasses and your jacket! I was like, That’s cool! [Laughs]
B: Were there any other… battles? That you remember?
MS: Actually the fight with the police on January 28 I remember very well, because the police used the criminals. They got the criminals out of jail to attack people. You could tell the police by their uniforms, but the criminals… might be one of us. So me and my group, we were talking to each other on walkie-talkies — the phones were all dead then. And some of us were on a friend’s balcony, telling others friends on the walkie-talkie how to find the criminals. The criminals were arresting way more protestors than the police were — they would put them in a big car or beat them or cut them. And we were really furious about that. So that day we mostly ignored the police and just focused on the criminals. I arrested a lot of them, actually. We’d tie them up and put them in one of the buildings.
B: You tied them up?
MS: You know, we have these of plastic things that you can just — ahh, how to describe it. I still have so many of them…
B: Like what would you use them for normally?
MS: For cables and wiring. I have long ones, so I’d put them like this [gestures] and…
B: How do you catch the guys though? So you’re using walkie-talkies and you’re watching them…
MS: Okay, so I say, What? to this guy, because he is among the protestors but he really looks like a criminal. He’s like, Really? Three or four of us walk after him and we watch the guy go and talk to the police and then he comes back. So we get him, we arrest him, tie him up, and put him in one of the abandoned buildings.
B: And then… someone would guard them?
MS: No, we didn’t guard them. We had this iron door; it’s like the gate to the Townhouse building, you know? With a lock, so you close it. If you tie them from behind, in the legs, they will never move. It’s like an office building, four floors. We kept doing this until 8pm. Then, we were so tired from the tear gas, we decided to rest for an hour in the building, watching these people tied up, cursing and shouting. This was just what we felt we had to do. Like, it was chaos out there, but these people seemed like the most threatening, the ones who looked like civilians.
B: Were you fighting the police that day, too?
MS: No, not at all. I don’t know why. I swear, a lot of those guys, if you asked them? [Laughs] They didn’t even know what was going on. A lot of them come from Upper Egypt. They are not educated. They do this for three years. They feel that they have no future. Maybe they know who the president is, but they don’t know what is going on. They go to their camps. They are really blacked out from what is going on. Because once the officer will come and say, Okay, we have a demonstration in this place so we have to go there. We’re going to beat the hell them up. So they take the order and they do it. Really, they are not aware of what they are doing. It’s like if somebody drugged someone and then you tell them to do things.
B: Do you feel that was part of why they couldn’t win, also?
MS: Yeah, for sure.
B: Because they’re in a situation where everything’s changed. Do you know what I mean? You can’t wait for orders.
MS: Yeah, yeah, for sure. So many people! I believe it! A friend of mine was arrested at one point and he told them, We are doing the revolution for you, you know. Me, I have a car. I have a phone. I don’t need anything, but I’m doing this for you… and here you are doing this to us. How can you do this? And the guy answered, I swear, We don’t know what is going on. We arrested you because you are making violence in the street.
And my friend said, This is not what is happening. It’s a revolution, for God’s sake! And they let him go.