A former Fort Worth woman still sees unrest in Egypt

Posted Sunday, Sep. 23, 2012  comments  Print Reprints

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Mary Thornberry still feels the anger and outrage.

As unrest over an anti-Islamic film erupted in the Middle East, Thornberry -- from her tiny apartment near Tahrir Square in Cairo -- heard protesters chanting, muffled roars and once even a low-flying propeller plane.

"People are deeply angered over the film, of course, and tend to blame U.S. government, of course," wrote Thornberry, 78, the former Fort Worth woman who made national news last year by defending herself during violent political protests with a rolling pin after being trapped in her apartment. She ultimately escaped the country unharmed.

Thornberry recently went to the square.

There, at the U.S. Embassy, she found that "our flag was torn down and a black flag was raised in its place," Thornberry told the Star-Telegram by e-mail last week. "The flag had some Arabic writing on it which I was informed [said], 'There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is His Prophet.'"

Violence and attacks

In the days after the American-made film mocking the Muslim Prophet Muhammad sparked violence and attacks in the Middle East -- including the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in an attack on a U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya -- streets leading into Tahrir Square were blocked off and traffic was banned.

"Large security troop trucks are everywhere," Thornberry said. "Across my street in front of me park six, seven of these vehicles. They line the side of the Egyptian Museum.

"The government has admitted to three deaths, I hear, and perhaps 200 injured. Some Molotovs, tear gas, but no water cannons of which I am aware."

She said there is "selective TV picturing," which broadcasts a nearly vacant Tahrir Square even when it is relatively full of people and protesters.

Over the previous weekend, she said, "there was a FLURRY of white uniforms shown all over Tahrir," Thornberry wrote. "The policemen abruptly came out of hiding, where ever that had been. The remaining tents, the vendors, the garbage, the general trash, disappeared. The area is now cleared and cleaned of its accumulated filth."

Last week, authorities were painting over walls of graffiti and street art in and near the square that express frustration and anger with the government.

Thornberry is no stranger to violence erupting around her in Egypt.

She moved to Egypt about 15 years ago to study ancient Egyptian history. Before that, she and her husband, James Derrick, lived in Fort Worth about 20 years.

She became a focus of national news last year during the beginning of the uprising that swept President Hosni Mubarak out of power after her son, Phil Derrick, alerted media to her plight -- being trapped in her apartment building amid protests.

For days, she was believed to be the only tenant left in her apartment building overlooking Tahrir Square as activists took over the building.

She stood guard at her front door, preventing people from entering by using her "armory" to hit hands reaching through shattered glass to unlock the door. Ultimately, an Egyptian who works for the U.S. Embassy in Cairo helped her leave the building - dressed in traditional attire, including a long skirt and hijab, the headscarf worn by many Muslim women - and go to the airport.

She returned to Egypt this year.

Anna M. Tinsley,


Twitter: @annatinsley

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