As the firing of a tear gas canister signaled the renewal of clashes on Qasr al-Nil Bridge, two 15-year-olds stood close to the front line in their school uniforms and backpacks. They didn’t budge, even as passers-by ran away from the rising gas.
Standing their ground, they explained that they come to the site of the clashes every day after school. They said they do so for the sake of the revolution — and if they die, they will be martyrs.
Since January, protesters and police have engaged in intermittent battles just off this iconic bridge, at the start of the typically tranquil Garden City Nile Corniche.
The sporadic clashes have turned deadly some nights. Still, the site has become something of an after-school hangout for many children and young teenagers, who were in a common lesson-skipping drive and rigid classrooms’ escapade. In a way, the clashes became a site for an anti-system of some sort.
Along with some street children, they spend most of the day engaging in confrontations with security forces.
This particular demographic is not entirely new to the scene. The street children and school-age kids — some as young as 7 — who are involved in the Nile Corniche clashes have joined older protesters and activists in similar battles with security forces in the two years since the 2011 uprising.
Now, in the absence of older protesters, these children dominate the scene, facing dangers unthinkable for their young age.
Despite attempts to use the same big words they’ve heard older revolutionaries speak, their answers reflect both innocence and utter oblivion to the severity of the life-threatening risks they take just by being in the area.
Their mixed motivations for returning daily to the front line ranges from feeling they have a unique and important role to play in protecting the revolution, and a less glorious, childish urge to be part of the exciting grown-up game of clashes.