Egyptian blogger from Cairo.
Revolutionary Socialist.
Partner & Creative Director at ThePlanet.

Bansyon el Horreya

el Bansyon

el Bansyon

How can we talk about the ongoing revolution without bringing up my home during two weeks? From the day after Angry Friday and up until Mubarak’s resignation, my address changed from conservative, backwards Mohandeseen, to progressive and bohemian Tahrir square.

Moving to Tahrir square

On the morning of the 30th I got a call from my dear friend Waleed Fateem, and he proposed to take his camping tent and go stay the night in Tahrir square to demonstrate. At the time it sounded a bit crazy, which is why I thought it was a brilliant idea. We packed our stuff and headed over, and while there were people from the day before who had crashed arbitrarily by the bushes, there weren’t any tents set up. In fact, we had so much room, that it was difficult to choose a location because it felt awkward.

We picked a random spot and had the entire square stare at us because it seemed like a bit of a posh thing to do (the tent, while not fancy, is more expensive than what any of the protesters of Tahrir at the time could afford).

I can proudly boast that for 13 days I lived in Tahrir square. I slept there every single night, and only left my fort every other day for a couple of hours to shower, charge phones, etc. and head back.

Tahrir: home

In 2008 I spent a few months in Paris (not quite like Tahrir square, but you’ll see the similarity in a moment) and I can vividly remember when I considered the city to be my home, a few weeks after arrival. It is like when a military personnel is converted into a solider – a specific moment that makes you realize that everything has changed and that you’re no longer looking from the outside, you are now from within. In Tahrir, the day after Wael Ghonim appeared on TV for a live interview upon being released from a political prison, millions showed up in downtown (many of which were not the type who were regulars, but were moved by the interview and came out as a result). As I was struggling to make my way back to the Bansyon through the overwhelming crowd, I found myself saying out loud, “I hate tourists!”

That was the moment.

I was no longer crashing in a camping tent with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, I was living a new life, albeit temporarily, where my mission was to remain as is until an 82 year-old maniac got the message that was displayed and illustrated in all languages. I was living in a new neighborhood full of people complaining of old problems. A lively atmosphere looking to topple a dieing regime. At a time when many were losing friends, I gained all of those who surrounded me.

Bansyon el Horreya

Bansyon el Horreya

Daily life at the Bansyon

For the first couple of days, almost all shops downtown were closed, people were too worried about going back to life normally. Thus, for a matter of a few hours, we had a shortage of nutrition. I say a few hours because before Waleed and I had enough time to realize that we’re deprived of some of the luxuries that we took for granted at our homes, friends and family queued up to make it over to the Bansyon and supply us with ‘basic necessities’ that would feed a small town. In fact, food was coming in so fast, with relatively little being passed around the square later, that there was little space inside the Bansyon to sleep comfortably. It was normal to wake up halfway through the night and find two boxes of dates underneath my knees, and a bag of snacks and chocolates pressuring my legs.

It was a matter of days before there were vendors offering koshary, all sorts of sandwiches, sweet potatoes and pop corn all within a minute’s walk from Bansyon el Horreya (although on busy days, it took up to 25 minutes to walk over – Cairo traffic is one of those things that will never change).

My sleeping habits were rather arbitrary, especially during a couple of nights when we all had to be awake and on alert. Add on to that the bitter cold that struck at around dawn, and you’d end up with a trio of siestas looking to connect but failing. I usually slept by 11pm or midnight (until the second week, there was very limited late-night entertainment at the square). This meant that I would be up from 3-5 in the morning, and then back to sleep till about 9am. An inevitable 2-hour siesta made it through somehow, depending on the circumstances.

Let us not forget that the main stage (where there was a projector on a big white piece of cloth hung up by the building with Hardee’s on its corner) didn’t stop all night long. If it wasn’t someone giving a speech, sharing an opinion, yelling at us thinking it’s in anyway effective – the activities were endless. And if there were times that the MC team decided not to let people speak, the patriotic revolutionary songs were jacked up and the party was rollin’. Did I mention that while we started with one stage, we ended up with about six? I could hear three of them from the Bansyon.

Proud co-founder of Bansyon el Horreya

Proud co-founder of Bansyon el Horreya

Even though I’m not a breakfast person, I started off my mornings with a bite into the food stocked in the Bansyon. By 11 I would get my first set of visitors, and the general atmosphere remained calm. It’s by the early afternoon that the festive mood replaces the more relaxing one, and you find yourself competing for some personal space. Before long I’d be fixing the Bansyon el Horreya residents and the regulars sandwiches of all kinds. The box to the right of the Bansyon never ran out of water, juice or soda pop. And despite the Tahrir residents’ frequent visit to the drinks’ box, the rate of refill was superior to that of consumption.

As the entire complex of Tahrir square became inhabited by residents of all shapes and colors, the early settlers developed their infrastructure. What originally started as a camping tent with a couple of blankets progressed into a full-fledged Bansyon. We had extra blankets, a ‘lobby’ right in front of the Bansyon where guests sat and ate, a large trash bag on either side, a box with all sorts of drinks and plastic bags’ worth of food supplies. We even expanded the guest area and annexed a tent close to ours and called it ‘El Horreya Qofi Shob’.

By the final two days, I reached an agreement with my neighbors and their neighbors to extend me a cord and I had electricity installed at the Bansyon’s lobby. Guests could charge their cell phones and laptops, however using a tea kettle was prohibited under the terms and conditions provided by my neighbors’ neighbors who stole the connection from one of the main light posts on the edge of the square. Apparently a kettle’s consumption is too big for the power cables to handle. But not to worry, there was a tea stand on every corner.

The sign

The sign read ‘Bansyon el Horreya’ in Arabic, until some random guy with a red marker decided to write the English translation and chose to add ‘Freedom Motel’. I was ready to break his back, claim he was a thug who attacked me and hand him over to the army, but the positive ambiance made me forgive and forget. I tried to make it clear to everyone that there’s only one way to pronounce it, but a couple of days after my sign was raided but that random dude, I had the idea of writing the title in Spanish. I added ‘La Pension de la Libertad’ and then the slogan ‘No Pasaran’.

The slogan was my friend Oscar’s idea, and originates from the times of the Spanish civil war in the late 30s when the Fascists were fighting the Leftists and hunting down all of the intellectuals and artists throughout the entire country. Madrid, being a hub for many Bohemians at the time, found itself in the middle of many right-wing cities that housed fascist militants. As a slogan of inspiration, many put up signs on their doors that read ‘they will not pass’ to indicate intent on holding their grounds and fighting to the end. Regardless of the fact that Madrid, and all of Spain, fell to the fascists and become under the dictatorship of Franco for almost 40 years, the message is still uplifting and very relevant to the situation where we were defending Tahrir from Mubarak’s fascists.

Within two days of setting up our tent, Bansyon el Horreya 2, 3 and 4 popped up. Shortly after there was ‘Montaga3 el Horreya’ (Horreya complex) and then Bansyon el Horreya (Women). Near the end, my new friend and Bansyon regular Sherif el Alfy went on to open his own business and set up Bansyon el Horreya 5.

Moving back to Mohandeseen

The night of the resignation we threw a party and went wild with the neighbors. Waleed, after sustaining an injury and spending about a week visiting during the day but sleeping at home, came back to spend the last couple of nights at the Bansyon again. The day after we had decided we were packing and going home. By then my sister Nevine Shalaby, her husband Robin Hiesinger, and my brother Amr Shalaby all flew into Cairo and visited the square.

The Shalabys (with Robin) and Waleed after packing up

Nora, Amr, myself, Waleed, Nevine, Robin, Mammy

After spending the day as a family together at the square and sharing our stories, we took down the Bansyon, packed our stuff, and headed back ‘home’. We were victorious in that battle, but there were still many others to fight. However, Tahrir square would no longer be the venue.

I went back to an apartment in my residential neighborhood in Mohandeseen. No more late-night chills. No more neighbors to stimulate thoughts. No more religious prayers and speeches at 3am. No more packaged food. No more threats, no more scares. I was back home with my family, and while the revolution continued, that chapter of the Bansyon came to an end, and it was time to move on.

Much like the revolution it is part of, Bansyon el Horreya might end, but Bansyon el Horreya will always live on.

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11 comments

M Radwan

March 10, 2011

dont know if i can throw this in on “comments”

Nagwa Saad

March 10, 2011

Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience, you are something else you know that?! But please we have a lot to do here I don’t want to see you taking the north coast for support.

Yvonne Drummond

March 10, 2011

Hi Tarek,
You may not remember me but I taught English at El Alsson when you were a prep student. I have followed you every day on twitter since the revolution began and have the greatest admiration and respect for you. I wish you the strength to keep up the fight and to eventually have all your demands met.

Soheir

March 10, 2011

we7esh awe!! :p I didnt read it and I didnt like it at ALL!

Tarek Shalaby

March 11, 2011

Rad-1: Thanks for sharing the photo! Here it is:

Bansyon

Tarek Shalaby

March 11, 2011

Nagwa: Thanks! Don’t worry, I won’t head to Salloum (wink wink) unless things are settled here. I wouldn’t want to pass the opportunity in Egypt, I’ll always be around.

Eh akhbar twitter ma3aki? hehehe

Yvonne: Of course I remember you! You represent a vital phase of my childhood, and I’m very thankful for everything that you’ve taught us. I’m flattered to hear such kind words, and I truly appreciate your support.

As a thank you gift, the entire Arab world will overthrow our dictators and will rule our lands ourselves. And we’ll dedicate it to the people that have taught us to fight and realize our dreams.

Soheir: Eh el nezam? Me7assesany ennik afsha begad, howana 3amalt 7aga lasama7 Allah?

SouSou

March 11, 2011

la2! Mesh afsha! I liked it I really liked it, I liked it A LOT . La2 howa ana I loved it , I loved it khara! I read it 3 times for ur info, bas Toz !

Sarah

March 12, 2011

This was such an enjoyable read. I read it alone then read it again to my husband. Awesome stuff. You totally put me there and I thank you dearly for that. Cheers!

Emer Murphy

March 12, 2011

Great account, Tarek!
Hold your head up, you’re Egyptian :-)

Waleed Fateem

March 21, 2011

Comrade Tarek!
I finally got to read your posts! Nicely done! I like how you laid out the topics and different aspects of the whole experience.
I want you to know that Bansyon el horreya is with me here in my room and I’m planning on taking it on a trip to Sinai. I think it deserves a break.

Yvonne Drummond

December 4, 2015

Hey Tarek,
You are never going to believe this but I only just came across, by chance, your reply from my message on 10th March 2011…don’t quite know how that happened??
I am so glad you remember me. That was a vital time in my life too and I still have memories of so many if my students from that time. I remember teaching you all about McDonalds and McLibel and wondering how long I would get away with radical teaching methods before I lost my job. But hey, survived :-)
How are you surviving these days. I hear mixed reports about life in the aftermath of the revolution and still think if you often.
Sending big love and respect to you meanwhile xx

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