Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Night We Turned ‘Beast Mode’ On

When we were in our early 20s, three friends and I went out one Friday night to a famous club. Located at the World Trade Center, the place was called Upstairs and it was Cairo’s ‘in’ outing during the late 90s. I had a membership, meaning I could bring in three people with me; sometimes they would say a couple plus a male, but after a while the managers and bouncers knew me and I could bring whomever I wanted.

When we arrived to Upstairs on that fateful night we could see a long queue by the entrance, signifying that it was packed as it always was on the weekends. As I always do in those busy nights, I waived to the assistant manager, who was standing there surrounded by three huge bouncers, to get his attention with an eye-contact while squeezing myself through the crowd to reach the entrance. I told him we’re a couple, my friend Bops and his wife who was then still his fiancée, plus a single male buddy and relative, Ezz.

Oftentimes I used to bring three and four males with me to the club without any issues, but the assistant manager who was on-duty that night didn’t know me well enough. As such, he said that the place is packed and can only allow the couple in. 

Obviously, the only two options we were left with wouldn’t work; going in and leaving Ezz outside or just turning around and going home. I tried again with the manager, saying that my friends are celebrating their engagement which was true, but he was insisting. We weren’t the only ones facing the same issue that night, other members were right there trying to bring their friends in. The big-ass bouncers, however, were blocking the way; and if you saw how they look, you wouldn’t think much about breaking any rules.

Still standing by the entrance, people were pushing from behind us and it was getting hot and tension was rising. Though I was convinced that we’ll be able to get in all of us as we always did. So I let Bops and his missus in first. Then I wanted to sneak Ezz in and our problem would have been solved. Unfortunately, being almost 2 metres in height (6’7”) and having broad muscular shoulders made it impossible for this big guy to go unnoticed. 

He also happens to have a genuinely kind heart, just like a gentle giant.

What happened next can only be explained if you consider that final shoot-out scene from True Romance or scenes from Gangs of New York and how long they lasted. Luckily, there were no guns, and maybe that’s probably why the non-stop commotion lasted for a long while.

The first spark I remember is how one of the three bouncers had his hand right in front of Ezz between the desk and the wall to block his way; he was colossal but not as tall as Ezz. As mentioned, the crowd was pushing us from the back, so in turn, we tried to move forward by pushing the bouncer’s hand. I think the guy then pushed Ezz and that was the beginning of the madness. 

Being who he is, Ezz reacted by pushing or punching the bouncer in the chest. Another bouncer who was standing on the left then tried to attack him. When Bops who was already on the other side of the entrance saw this, he pulled the dude from the neck and kicked both his feet off, leaving him flat on the ground. Other than being an ex-Taekwondo player, Bops was one heck of a daring street fighter.

The area surrounding the entrance desk where all this was happening is quite narrow. Girls on both sides began screaming and it was utter mayhem. Luckily, T.T, another friend took Bops’ missus and used the emergency exit on the left to keep her safe. 

The second spark I recall which had intensified the whole matter and took it to a different level was when one of the bouncers threw a metal stand ashtray on Bops’s face, leading to having his nose bleed like a fountain. When we saw the blood, something devilish and primal and savage all at once came upon the three of us. Whatever it was, it was unspoken and we only discussed it much later after the fight. But the sight of blood smeared on my Brotherman’s face and dripping onto his shirt turned our non-compos-mentis beast mode on — complementing us with such a tremendous power while leading us to that dangerous “Screw it” state of mind. I know I blacked out for a good 10-15 minutes and the same happened to Bops and Ezz.

The fact that I was a member of the club, most of the bouncers knew me. So I can safely say that I was the least of the three to get attacked by them. Of course I used this as an advantage because once the fight began, your mind is only focused on either ‘Friend’ or ‘Foe’. Remarkably, none of the onlookers dared to interfere — and they were enough people — simply because the sight was quite scary.

When at some point the scrimmage calmed down a little, we took Bops to the nearby bathroom to wash his face. This is when more bouncers followed us to carry on the fighting. Usually, the bouncers’ job is to guard a place from fights and should not leave their post to follow some guests to beat them up. But since the initial three bouncers were all bloody and had their shirts torn off they called for backup. There were two other clubs in the same area which belong to the same owner, Sawiris, so another two or three bouncers came rushing to the bathroom for another vicious bloody scene.

I remember one of them frantically shouting to Ezz: Did you see what you did to his face? — I believe he meant the very first one at the entrance. What I forgot to mention is that apart from his size and powerful physique, Ezz is also a boxer. So his punches are the kind that leave a scary sound of bones being forcibly crushed and smushed. This made it almost impossible to come too close to him, which made the bouncer pull the hand dryer from the wall and throw it at him à la WWE. It was as mad as Hollywood action movies, I’m telling you… only that it was real and there was no ‘CUT’. 

The following scene could very well be from those funny Kung Fu movie.

So as if the bouncers were not enough, four or five cooks and stewards in their white uniforms holding knives came rushing out from the kitchen of Upstairs wanting to attack Ezz. Why? Because apparently those 10 minutes during the previous scene when we all blacked out, Ezz found himself cornered and stuck in the kitchen, so he beat the hell out of whoever happened to be there before finding his way out through the employee door on the right of the main entrance.

That said, while Bops and Ezz were behind me in the bathroom dealing with the ‘fresh’ bouncers, I found myself standing alone in the hall of that second floor of the mall while the kitchen crew came ragingly running towards me. I was still in that daze because Bops told me later that he got scared when, all the way from the bathroom, he could hear me shout in an ogrish way. I do not recall this bit. It’s probably a subconscious reaction to being on the verge of being attacked by angry men in knives. Despite the fact that I was no boxer or ex-Taekwondo player, I think I overcompensated with a healthy dose of minacious madness and a somewhat fearless heart. 

But the truth remains, the three of us were not the kind of guys to mess up with.

What I do recall from that moment is how at the same time another Brotherman, Abbas, just appeared out of thin air and stood between the kitchen staff and myself, before a few other people came to the rescue.

The three of us regrouped after another five minutes and thought that it was best to leave. Once on the ground floor, Bops decided to kick the glass of one of the malls’ fancy stores, which made the poor security guard come to object or say something — because that’s his job. Abbas, who came down with us to escort us to the car, told him that it would be wise if he stayed away from us. The man had no choice and that’s exactly what he did. 

First stop was the hospital to fix Bops’ wound. As we were there in the emergency room, the doctor came in, looked at Bops’ bloody face, and chuckled subtly. This made Bops even more angry and, using the back of his right hand, punched the glass window by his side, breaking it into a million pieces and injuring his hand. I’m not exactly sure why the doc acted so unprofessionally, but that’s what happened. 

Ten minutes through as the nose wound, and the hand one, were being taken care of, the police arrived. I first thought that it was pretty quick: How did they know where we were? Did they follow us after Upstairs? That doesn’t make sense. Apparently, the police didn’t know anything about the fight, they were there because the hospital called them when Bops broke the window. 

I remember that I was the one who dealt with them, stating that we had a tough night and the doctor shouldn’t have laughed in a patient’s face as he did. The hospital didn’t file a report and 
agreed to settle it peacefully if we covered the damages — we paid 100 L.E.

Afterwards, the three of us headed to my place and this is when and where we took the featured photos. Almost 20 years later, it’s funny to think that after such a wacky night we were still in the mood to play around the camera; smiling and exchanging positions in each photo like Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma. Luckily, the damages on our side were minimal: We all had some light bruises here and there, plus Bop’s nose, a twisted wrist of mine from throwing a punch, and a couple of torn buttons from Ezz’ shirt. 

Ezz then went home and Bops spent the night.

Ummagumma Styling
In the morning I received a call from Abbas, informing me that Upstairs had filed a report at the nearby police station and that we should go file one as well. I called Ezz whom I think passed by, then we got into my car and headed to the station. Being a best friend of mine, Abbas coolly also came along. None of us told our parents because we thought we’ll handle it ourselves, like adults. After all, I was 22 at the time, Bops was 24 and Ezz 25. 

We got to the station by 11 am or noon to find that there was indeed a report and our names were right there. They took our testimonies which we had briefly prepared before going. Put simply: “I’m a member of this high-end night club and those are my friends. We were there to celebrate our friend’s engagement, but the bouncers didn’t let us in and decided to beat us up.

We were then told that we’ll be taken to “prosecution”. We waited at the station till maybe 4 pm. 

We got into my car with one policeman and headed to the “Dar el Kadaa el Aly” building in Downtown where the courts are — seen in the background in the photo below.

On the way, we passed by a foul and falafel place in the streets to have breakfast/lunch and ‘invited’ the policeman out of courtesy.

Once there, we were guided to the fifth floor where we waited for another hour in a corridor. This was when I told Bops and Ezz that I’ll be the one speaking. I know what to say and I can confidently win over the man we’re supposed to meet, or so I usually feel.

During this waiting time, Ezz called a neighbour of his who is a prosecutor and told him the story. We were finally taken inside the office to meet officer X. 

First, we each went in separately. When it was Abbas’ turn, he was told that his name isn’t included and is not needed as a witness and that he was free to go home. 

Then the three of us went in together.

As agreed, I began storytelling. I made us look like gentle boys coming from respectable families who aren’t into fighting and who were savagely “beaten up” by monstrous bouncers.

When I was done with the slight overdramatisation, the officer looked me straight in the eyes and said with a witty smile: “By the way, I saw how the bouncers’ faces are deformed, huh. And the only damage for the three of you is his nose — pointing to Bops’ face.” 

I couldn’t help but to smile in response. I haven’t seen the bouncers afterwards, but from what the man confidently shared it seemed that they were badly hurt. 

At some point, he looked at the three of us and said: “You’re going to court, you’re going to court,” as if he was assuring us that it was happening. Hm. This was the only time I began to get slightly worried, thinking that I should have probably told my father before willingly heading there. Having been a General Manager of Cairo Sheraton for the previous 17 years, he knew lots of authority folks as they knew him.

Abbas and I goofing around The Courts building in Downtown maybe five years after
the fight night to commemorate the event. The policeman kindly agreed to play along.

Then, in an odd display of synchronicity, the officer received a call. He picked up, eventually saying: “Yes, they’re right there in front of me. Ahh. Uhmm. OK…”

After hanging up the call, he offered us to settle it with the bouncers. Despite feeling relieved, I decided to carry on with the act and said: “Well, whatever you say.” He gave me that “Really?” face. So I proceeded: “We were going out to celebrate my friend’s special engagement and we were beaten up… .” You know, if you are going to act then you might as well be convincing. 

Once again he smiled and sarcastically said: “Enough please, you’re really breaking my heart with your words. Or do you guys prefer to go to court?

No, no,” we all said in the same breath.

We were told that we’ll be meeting the next day with the bouncers to carry on with the reconciliation deal.

Finally, by 6 or 7 pm we went home. On the way, Ezz shared with us a remarkable ‘coincidence: The neighbour whom he called is the partner of the prosecutor we were just with. Apparently, both of them share the same desk and alternate between shifts. Perhaps it was a reason why the phone call didnt last long. One can say that we literally were saved by the bell.

Once home, I was told that my father wanted to speak to me and automatically knew that he had found out. I told him my side of the story, still attempting to look like victims. A little later, he said that he’s on his way to meet Sawiris, the multi-billionaire owner of Upstairs and the other clubs. He didn’t say much about his meeting when he was back, only to be on time the next day. 

As planned, in the morning Bops, Ezz, and myself headed to the Headquarters of the Cairo Police. We got there on time to find a couple of bouncers along the chief security of Sawiris’ enterprise. We said an awkward ‘Hello’ before noticing the damage on their faces. The prosecutor was right: The black eyes were indeed significantly visible. 

We all entered the building and headed to the office of Ismail el Shaer who was then one of the deputies of the Minister of Interior, Habib el Adly, and the highest authority figure in charge of Cairo. He is, in fact, one of the few men who accompanied El Adly to prison after being accused of killing the protesters during the January 25th Revolution of 2011 — 12 years after our little incident. They were acquitted many months later for lack of evidence. Yep.

Once we reached the office I noticed how the three of us were treated differently than the other party. We were allowed to sit in the waiting room while the bouncers and their boss were kept standing outside. 

This time we all went in the office together. Sitting behind his desk, The 50-year-old Al Shaer asked the two parties to stand separated. 

He began with the bouncers, asking about their names and job descriptions. Then proceeded in lecturing them about what they did. “So you’re acting like bullies! You’re there to maintain peace, not fight!”

He looked at one of his assistant and said: “You are the bully there! [in the neighbourhood]” Then he instructed him to gather information about all the bouncers working for Sawires, explaining that if any such fights break out again, all of them will be rounded and brought to jail.

One of them tried to reply to El Shaer with a: “But… .” One of the assistant screamed at him: “Shut up when standing in front of ‘El Basha!’” as he slapped the back of his neck with full force. The sound of the hit echoed through the room. We all found it amusing to see this huge guy chicken out like that and say: “Yes, Sir.”

Then it was our turn. He first asked who’s in the American University in Cairo (AUC), to which I identified myself. I think this is how he found out that I was my father’s son. “You come from a good place and you’re educated, why fight and get into such trouble?”

I understood by then what was going on. So I didn’t try to convince El Shaer with anything, or even carry on with the “poor us, they hit us” thing — I mean, the two men and their black eyes were a couple of feet away, so... . I simply nodded in agreement while looking apologetic and that was that. 

He asked Bop and Ezz a few brief questions and repeated what he had told me. They also nodded and thanked him, before we all went out of the office, happy that it all finally ended. 

In the corridor outside, I recall how one of the bouncers was so shaken. He asked the officer if they will have a criminal record ( هنتسجل؟ ), literally translating into “Are we going to be recorded?” 

The man deliberately ignored the bouncer’s question, before looking at us, flashing a sly smile, and telling him: “Not this time, but if you ever get into any other fight again, you will be.” 

We had to sign a few papers and we were free to go. We actually shook hands with the three men and made peace. I actually felt kind of sorry for them. Surprisingly, the brother of one of the two guys worked at the swimming pool of Cairo Sheraton where I lived. Tiny world.

In the car, we each wondered if the others have noticed what happened. It was apparent that my father’s meeting plus his other contacts helped us big time. We equally reckoned that he did not tell me anything about the phone call(s) he must have made just so we can live through the dire consequences of our own actions and learn the lesson. If I knew that he can get me out of trouble using his connections, I would probably get into more fights in the future — not that I loved fighting or did it often. Filled with sincere gratitude, the natural thing for us boys to do was to head to his office at the hotel and say Thank You.

In Egypt, connections are pretty much everything and that was a clear reminder. I wonder what would have happened if me wise Poppa hadn’t interfered.

O well. That was the bloodiest fight I have ever been into. Going back to University after the weekend, I felt like a macho dude with an inflated ego. I had a bandage over my twisted wrist which attracted even more attention. Only then did I hear the other perspectives from people who were at Upstairs on Friday night and have either seen the fight by the entrance or heard the scary noises from inside the club. 

Others just heard about it since it was the weekend’s big and unusual happening about which people were gossiping.

Funnily, I also came to find out that some of them were actually happy we did that. Because they previously have had similar experiences with the bouncers, but never had the guts to take it further or get physical. So in a way, we avenged them by having our own experience redeem their own.

One thing was certain, though: No one has ever beat the Upstairs bouncers, and definitely not all of them in a matter of 20 minutes. 

By no one, I mean the guests of Upstairs who would sometimes hire thugs to come fight with the bouncers after being bullied or beaten up them. Even in such cases, however, most of the times the situations do not develop in this hazardous way and end up peacefully — simply because many of Cairo’s known thugs and the bouncers know each other.

The first time I went to Upstairs a few weeks later I was met by the actual manager who offered me a drink as an apology. We chitchatted for a bit and left it at that. But after several years of being a regular member, something happened that night regarding the vibe, which eventually made me stop going. The same can be said about all of the boys. It wasn’t long before the place closed down.

I dare saying that because of that night I never got into a physical fight again. Many years later in L.A I was actually physically attacked once by a Bloke Who Thought I’m Too Much of an Alpha Male; and, to my surprise, I didn’t fight back, but chose to respond peacefully instead. Truly, no one wins in a fight and I’m quite grateful this useful lesson ended the way it did. 


Banged Up Abroad — My Few Days @ The Don Jail

The Great Pyramid’s Blessed Curse

The Bloke Who Thought I’m Too Much of an Alpha Male

Stop-n-Search That Hippy

The Night I Became a Stripper

Attempting to Bridge the Gap Between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’: Officer Roberts

Attempting to Bridge the Gap Between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’: The Coke Prank

Attempting to Bridge the Gap Between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’: Sergeant Pepper

Attempting to Bridge the Gap Between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’: Evolution

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