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Front Matter Pages i-xii. Pages Fairytale Roots and Transformations. The following day, as Laila approached Tahrir Square, she realized this indeed was something altogether different from the toothless Egyptian protests of the past. Until now, the Cairene activist community had considered a protest successful if it drew several hundred demonstrators. In Tahrir Square on Jan. The protests continued over the next two days, until, on Jan.

That morning, she and some friends traveled to the Imbaba neighborhood in northwest Cairo to join a group intending to march on Tahrir, only to be met by a wall of soldiers in riot gear. It became a fixed battle between the troops and the residents, and there was absolutely no moving those people. They were going to break down these soldiers and torch the police stations, or die trying. The battle for Imbaba continued late into the afternoon. Laila, having become separated from her friends, decided to walk to downtown alone.

It was an eerie journey. The streets were deserted, and fires raged in the growing dusk: cars, barricades, police stations burning. Echoing off the surrounding buildings came the sound of gunfire, some single shots, others the sustained bursts of assault rifles. With darkness falling, Laila finally emerged onto Ramses Street, a major thoroughfare in central Cairo. They had just broken through the police cordons, and they were running to get to Tahrir.

On Feb. For two days, Ahmed was interrogated by a variety of officers, but he would have reason to recall one encounter in particular. It came on the morning of Feb. When he was rejected in public, he lost it. Upon his release that day, Ahmed stopped by his home for a change of clothes and then immediately returned to Tahrir Square. It soon became clear that the regime was losing control. Across Egypt came reports of army units refusing orders to fire on demonstrators, and in Tahrir Square television cameras captured images of soldiers embracing the protesters and sharing cigarettes with them.

After submitting his resignation, the president and his immediate family boarded a plane and fled to their palatial retreat in the Red Sea resort town Sharm el Sheikh. But among a small handful of Egyptians, joy was already tinged with a note of disquiet, especially when it was announced that a group of senior military officers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, would serve as an interim government until elections were held.

One of those who worried was Laila Soueif. Just seize power now before the military steps in. People needed to feel they had won. Not us, the politicos, but all these millions of people who had come down to the street. They needed a time to feel victorious. But I think that was our critical moment, and we lost. By January , Majdi was completing his third and final year in the national air force academy, a sprawling compound in southwest Misurata, hoping to earn a degree in communications engineering. He was an unlikely soldier — softhearted, slightly pudgy — but the academy was an easy choice for Majdi, allowing him to spend regular leaves at his family home, just a few miles away, and hang out with his civilian friends.

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He and his fellow cadets followed the news of the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt in astonishment, but none connected that tumult to their situation in Libya, much less imagined it might spread there. Then, on the evening of Feb. At first, they thought it might be firecrackers, but the sounds intensified and drew nearer, until the students realized it was gunfire.

Soon they were ordered to assemble at the drill ground, where they were informed that all leave had been canceled. By then, the watchtowers that ringed the compound — usually empty or occupied by a single bored sentry — were manned by squads of soldiers with mounted machine guns. But still, no one would tell us what was going on. Majdi hoped he would get an explanation when classes resumed the next morning, but the civilian instructors failed to show up.

In contrast to the shy Majdi, Jalal, wiry and quick on his feet, was always ready with an irreverent joke or an elaborate prank. What the two shared was a fascination with science and gadgetry — Jalal was studying aviation weaponry — and over the course of the previous two and a half years, they had become inseparable. Jalal frequently spent his weekend leaves at the Mangoush family home in Misurata, a hospitality that was reciprocated when Majdi spent part of the summer of with the Drisis in Benghazi.

In the bizarre news-free environment that existed at the academy, the young men tried to puzzle out what was happening. Over the next two days, the gunfire beyond the walls continued sporadically.

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The sound would draw near at times, only to recede; intense exchanges would be followed by long periods of quiet. A measure of clarity finally came on Feb. As the days passed and the unseen gun battles raged, the students lounged around their barracks wondering what was to become of them. Did it mean anything? We had to stop. We had to talk about football or girls, anything to distract us. Their peculiar limbo ended on the night of Feb.

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Someone in the vaunted 32nd had made a logistical error, however. To transport the cadets, just two buses had been ordered. Bused to a vacant military high school compound on the southern outskirts of the city, the cadets were billeted in barrack halls and empty classrooms but barred from leaving or having any contact with their families. That edict was enforced by armed soldiers posted at the gates. But the confines of the Tripoli high school were a good deal more porous than those of the air force academy, and from their minders the cadets gradually learned something of the conflict that had befallen their nation.

Provided with this narrative, Majdi was not altogether surprised when, in mid-March, Western alliance warplanes began appearing over Tripoli to bomb government installations.

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  • It seemed merely to confirm that the nation was being attacked from beyond. Neither Majdi nor Jalal were selected for this mission, however, and their stay at the high school dragged on. Then one day in early May, Majdi ran into an old acquaintance at the barracks. The acquaintance, Mohammed, was now a military intelligence officer.

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    • He wanted to talk to Majdi about Misurata. Majdi thought nothing of the conversation, but one afternoon a few days later, he was called to headquarters. Instead, he followed the Tripoli ring road to the coastal highway and then turned east. By early evening, they had reached Ad Dafiniyah, the last town before Misurata and the farthest limits of government control.


      There, Majdi was led into a small farmhouse, where he was told someone wanted to speak to him on the phone. It was Mohammed, the military intelligence officer. Once he had done this, he would pass the information to a liaison officer secreted within Misurata, a man named Ayoub. To make contact with Ayoub, Majdi was given a Thuraya satellite phone and a number to call.

      Upon hearing all this, Majdi had two thoughts.

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      One was about his friends at home: Ever since hearing about the scale of fighting in Misurata, he assumed that some of his friends must have joined the other side. If he carried out this mission, it might very well result in their deaths. The other thought was of a recent conversation he had with Jalal. But any hesitation swiftly passed. Perhaps most of all, he just wanted the limbo to end.

      For nearly three months, he had been cut off from both his family and the outside world, and he simply wanted something — anything — to happen.