Gouda realised that this was not simply a demonstration, but a revolution. He saw many young people with teary and bloodshot eyes, holding posters and shouting “where are you, Li Peng?” addressing the then Chinese premier. “I felt that at that certain moment, Chinese people were going to explode,” says Gouda.
The crackdown, when it came, was a shock to Gouda. He heard a commotion and saw other students running down from their dorms that morning, so he joined them. When he got downstairs he saw the body of the nine-year-old boy on a truck outside the campus, his mother weeping beside him. Only then did he realise that the army had entered Tiananmen Square and cleared it using violence.
The scene had a powerful impact on the 20-year-old Gouda. Even now, as he flips through the photo album of photos he took that spring and summer, he still recalls the agony of the innocents. “That’s the first time I saw face-to-face such a crime that leaves your senses numb, you can’t believe your eyes,” his voice quivers. “I was stunned. I was speechless. This is how [it is] to be living in a communist country. Your life has no value to them.”
Witnessing the cruelty of the regime shattered Gouda’s fantasy about communism. “When you read about communism, it’s a utopia. We are all equal, no one is better than others. This is very beautiful. But how it is practised and applied in real life, it turns into a nightmare,” he says.
In the aftermath of the crackdown, foreign embassies advised their nationals to leave as the situation in Beijing grew more tense and dangerous. “On June 6 and 7, any foreigner with a camera, if they see you with a camera, they would shoot right away,” says Gouda.
Gouda spent a few days in a safe house but ignored the instructions of the Egyptian embassy to stay there, choosing to return to the dormitory instead. “Somehow I felt there was something inside me driving me to go back,” he says. “On the way, I saw a lot of tanks. All the streets were empty. All the streets [there] were tanks and armed soldiers.” A few months later the situation in Beijing began to ease and Gouda returned to Egypt to finish his university studies.