Written by Nada Hemida
The King had not come to his position of power by inheritance, and certainly not through elections. He had come by spilling blood. Almost seven years ago, the previous king – who was a fool, but not entirely a criminal – had fallen ill and died. At least, that’s what the people were told, but we have our theories. You see, the previous king was partially the cause of our economy’s fall, of our unemployment rate’s increase, and of many other political faults.
When he died, half the population was enraged. We had hoped that with the king’s death – the king who had no heirs – we would finally get to elect a new sovereign; and if not, at least the prime minister at the time (who was supposed to become king after), wasn’t half as bad. We had no high hopes for ending the monarchy entirely, for we knew that before we had transitioned to a monarchy, the president still had absolute power over everything. Ending the monarchy wouldn’t have changed a thing for us – we hoped that we would, at least, have a choice. But that was denied us, too.
The king’s advisor had come to power after him. By no means did the people have a say in it, which yes, fueled our rage even further, but it was only the beginning. Shortly after his coronation, the new king turned the tables on us all. He made living for the lower class even harsher: increasing prices, spending the nation’s money on elite-only projects, and increasing taxes. It was almost as though he wanted to rid Madach of all those who were poor.
So, the people revolted.
You could say that the whole lower class rebelled against the new king who had almost become a sworn enemy. The more privileges those with influence got, the less help we received.
I was living on the streets then; in slums just outside the capital city.
I lived with my brother; my only living relative, and all the family I had left.
He’d been raising me ever since our parents dumped us in the middle of nowhere for not being able to afford raising us. I was eleven. He was only sixteen then. Those who lived in our neighborhood were almost family, too; for in our condition everyone held onto every last hope of compassion and support. It had almost become home for me.
Badr was the first one to teach me to keep my guard up. He taught me how to fight and defend myself, for you never knew when you’d be in danger. And no, we never feared that danger to be the poor and homeless like us, but those who wanted us out of “their” country.
Badr was among the rebels when the time came, five years later. He believed in the cause, believed that there would be brighter days, and wholeheartedly promised that we would see days better than the ones we lived. I believed, too.
The protests went on for days, and every day I would beg Badr to go with him, and he would decline.“That’s not fair; I want to fight for this, too!” my sixteen-year-old-self had argued one day.
“It’s not safe, Nour,” Badr had said, “I can’t bear the thought of you being in that kind of danger.” I didn’t know if he understood that I was worried for him, too.
I knew what he was talking about; I watched the news all day while he was out there. The government would not yield. In fact, they were only hostile. They tried a dozen different things to get the rebels to stop. First, by sending armed forces who did not fire directly at them; they were there just to scare them off. Then, started the flash and gas bombs, and hosing them down with water. But every day, the rebels still came.
“Then why do you go?” I said, “Is it not because it’s worth fighting for?”
Badr had given me a sad smile, kissed me on the forehead, and then left after telling a friend to take care of me.
“They’re willing to hear us out!” Badr had announced one day, first thing once he came back.
I gasped before I jumped into his arms, for he was smiling from ear-to-ear, seeming genuinely happy and light-hearted for the first time in weeks.
“The King has asked the movement to elect representatives and set up a meeting, so they would speak to him and his cabinet! They chose me, Nour, as one of the representatives – I’m going to speak to the King! Nour, it’s all coming together,” he said and I only teared up in joy.
I wish I was smarter back then. I wish he was. I wish we had known.