Saturday, February 12, 2011

Alf Mabrouk Masr

Feb 11 2011

Beth and I got to the Square at 10 today. The square was already crowded when we arrived. We had taken the Metro to avoid the soldier that tried to keep us from entering yesterday. It was a good choice because there were no soldiers on the street we took from the metro station, just civilian-check points. Later today I would hear that they weren’t allowing anyone with Israeli or Jordanian visas to enter the square. The person who told me this believed that it was state TV spreading xenophobia to the people even in Tahrir. I’m not convinced though, because I would only have my visas checked once by the civilian check-points, and that was the only time I was asked if I had any of those two visa. Besides that, I was shown nothing but hospitality. Besides just being welcomed, no one would let us pay for ourselves while in the square.

As we waited to get some coffee, we started talking to two brothers who were both sleeping in the square with their wives. They said that they feared today would be a bloody day, but they were doing this for their children. They would end up buying us our coffee. As we drank with them, they talked about how Tahrir has brought back old spirits and customs, such as “breaking a piece of bread in half and sharing it with a complete stranger, who in turn does the same, and so on.”

I talked to another man, a software engineer, who came back from the UAE with his son to come to Tahrir. We joked about how we should have known that Mubarak wasn’t stepping down, when the CIA and Fox News confirmed it. He bought me a bottle of water, even though I showed him that I had one.

People were still going around with books to write statements about the protests. As I wrote in the book I talked to a doctor, he told me that the death toll is 500. He also said that they are over stocked with supplies due to donations.

Noon Prayer took over most of the square. After it was over, the square reached maximum capacity, so we went down a side street to get food and sit down. Outside the square it was a street festival. Popcorn, sweet potatoes, and roasted corn were being sold on the street. Children were walking around and selling flags. Large rallies marched through the Downtown area on their way to the square, while people blasted Nasr era music from balconies and threw pamphlets down to the crowd.

Beth and I left the square, with very little sense that anything was going to change today. Mubarak seemed determined to stick around until dragged into the street. We had heard rumors of that police were pushing people away from the presidential palace. I think that was a rumor because there are reports that they threw food and water to the protesters. The square was impossibly full, with people trying to move every which way through the crowd. Yet somehow, people got where they needed to go. Sitting down in a grassy area near the Qasr el-Nil entrance, after we finally made it through the crowds, we talked to a man who came from Zaga-Zig Governance. He talked about how he carried his large cane because the Army didn’t protect the protesters from the government thugs that attacked the square. Again, I was offered food. We could see protesters in the distance surrounding the state TV station.


For a second night, we got home to news that there would be a statement. I almost missed it because literally Suleiman came on camera for a couple of seconds, said his lines, and left. It took me a moment to realized what had happened as people cheered on TV. I ran to the balcony and immediately heard the women two floors below us let out a loud twill of joy. Then I started seeing youths in the street running in the direction of Tahrir.

By the time we got to the Bridge it was packed. It was a spirit I had never seen before. People were on foot, motorbike, in busses and on top of them, all cheering. Shouts rang out of “The people finished collapsing the regime,” and sang the national anthem over and over again. People were standing on top of monuments and military vehicles.

The square was impossible full. We didn’t really walk we just flowed and oscillated with the current. Despite this, people still worked a security point or two for those entering the square. Fireworks were set off and the stoplights in the square were turned back on, adding more color to the night. People held up in triumph the posters of the martyrs.

Tahrir st. in Doqqi was backed up further than I could see. Everywhere people where hanging out of car windows and stood on roofs, waving flags. Some people told us about how they did this despite Obama’s hesitation to side with them, but more importantly everyone talked about how they are free.


WTF Mubarak

Day 16 2/9/11

It seems that the protests are sparking up again. Yesterday protesters moved through the barricades, past the armed forces and surrounded the parliament. They are still there and now the military has needed to make a chain around it.

The trade Unions have arrived. At least one is from Mahalla, consisting of workers of the largest textile plant in the country. Some are demanding higher wages only, but others are looking for the regime to go. The news is claiming that it is the largest protest yet, which many are contributing to the Google executive who was released from detention yesterday and speaking on TV about his detention. The square seems even more covered by tents.

In misspoken celebrity news, Tamr Hosni came and asked the protesters to leave. That didn’t go to well for him. Oops.

Day 17 2/10/11 “I arrived at the idea that I am an Egyptian”

Today Beth and I went back to Tahrir, the military would not let us in through the Qasr el-Nil entrance and criticized me for letting my visa laps (I’m not sure what I was supposed to do. The building is in the square). He told us to go to the side street and go to the Mogama’a, which according to him, was open. It was not, but telling the soldiers guarding the street leading to the building got us past the checkpoint. When we got to the Mugama’a, there was a human chain of protesters, blocking anyone from entering. They asked what I was doing there, and I said, “The Mugama’a.” They immediately said, it’s closed, so I joked, “well, because of that, the rally.” Smiling protesters then guided me to each checkpoint. As, always, each search was coupled with unnecessary apologies for the search. During one search I was given a bagged lunch of cheese, dates, a wrapped sweet, and bread. They wouldn’t let me refuse it.

As I walked towards the square, I was amazed by how it had changed in the past couple of days. The square has gone from a sustainable protest to a mini village. We met a man from Port Said named Mohammed who gave us a tour of the square. As we walked with him, noticed just how many new tents there were. In the grassy areas of the square and along the sidewalks are clusters of tents. Many tents had signs and writing on them. One cluster of tents had a sign saying, “Camp Alexandria,” in which were people who came from Egypt’s second largest city, to camp out in Tahrir. Entire families are spending their nights here. Those not in tents are in blankets on the sidewalks. You could see many people with duffle bags walking into the square, planning to spend a long time in the square. Blankets were one of the main goods I saw coming in. People were carrying piles and piles of them. Other goods such as oranges, bread, and packaged meals were coming in. The square is still the length of the barricades, put up as far away from the square as they could during the height of violence. Although there was still threat of attack people were not standing armed with stones, as they at been. Many of the stones have now become part of the street art.

Besides just the tents, the square’s visuals have changed. Where there had been a few printed vinyl signs, now they are all over the place. Many of them had cartoons of Mubarak, but the most striking ones were those who had been killed. Much of protests rhetoric was in remembrance of their martyrs, the youngest being 15 years old. The pictures on the posters were either pictures of them in their prime, but the most striking, were the bloody pictures of them on their death bed, bloodied and on life support. There was also a cordoned off area in the square with framed photos of the martyrs surrounded by flowers. At the furthest barricade near 6th of October, where the greatest violence took place, there is a solemn shrine of bloody cloths, of those killed. One shirt had a bullet hole clearly showing. This was not just a visual aspect of the protest either. As I entered, a mother of one of the recently killed youths was giving an impassionate speech.

Music was playing at all times, whether from speakers or performers. A lot of the music was Nasr era tunes. There were many other types of entertainment too. Kids were coloring in pictures outlined on the pavement with chalk. There is also an art wall, joke wall, news papers posted as broadsheets. A person who had a computer could get on the internet because a router was posted on top of a street light. There was also an area for charging mobile phones. The protesters also set up an area where people could write suggestions on how to make the square better.

Rubbish, which had been put in piles, is now being put in trash bins separated into organic and non-organic waste. When a bag is full, it is taken to edge of square to await trash pickup. One huge pile of bagged trash was located outside the barricades behind the Mugama’a. Mohammed told us that if anything needed to be done in the square, someone would just grab a microphone and ask for volunteers and it would get done.

There is a large informal economy inside the square outside the square for people waiting in line for the civilian checkpoints. For sale are Egyptian flair, cigarettes, food, drinks, news papers, phone cards, and anti-Mubarak literature. The kids that sell tissues on the street have also started soliciting in the square. Within the square a restaurant and a café re-opened and business was booming. There was also a small internet café and a very a tiny clothing store. One ground floor office was offered for the protesters to use. It became part of the clinic system set up in the square. Outside of the Qasr el-Nil entrance, there were many more tables than a week ago. Carriage rides, which used to go up and down the cornice, now give rides back to Giza from the protests.

Hygiene was not a problem either. The protesters fixed up the once dilapidated public bathroom in the square, installing new seats and cleaning it. One young man was getting his hair cut in “residential” center of the square. Among the many clinics in the square, there was at least one with an inpatient area

The rallies have started to show the economic sectors that have joined the protests. There was a rally of doctors that came to the square to not just work the clinics, but to also march around the square. The lawyers syndicate was there, with many marching to the palace. I also saw Union Flags within the rallies. Mohammed told us that Egypt’s factories are on strike.

People are already planning on how to document the square for the future. There is a site being put up for any photos or videos taken here. There are also people going around with notebooks for people to write messages in.

By 12 30 the crowed was getting big. It started to rain at one point to cheers of “Ya Rab” (Thank you Lord). While some went in the tents and under awnings, many kept going. There was one loud clap of thunder, followed by the protesters whistling in joy. The whole time the rain came down, you could continue hearing the beating of drums. While it rained, Mohammed, Beth, and I sat in the café on the square. In the café, people were reading the papers and talking politics. At any other time, you could read the paper, but not talk about it in public, but not today. People would just sit down and start talking to complete strangers about politics. The café had the TV tuned onto al-Jazeera, which has been criticized, for their coverage vehemently, by the government, and at one point blocked (maybe still so). People just adjusted their dishes to a different satellite. I asked why Al-Jazeera had been criticized by the protesters when the protests began, if the government also didn’t like the coverage. Mohammed told me it was because they were covering the Palestine papers and the sectarian politics in Lebanon and not the protests. He said the protesters wanted al-Jazeera to focus on the protests and not the discord between Arabs at the moment. Once the coverage changed, however, it was important because it was the only media coverage Egyptians got of the protests. It created curiosity to see if it really was peaceful unlike what the government was saying.

Just like the general atmosphere of the crowd, people in the café would just sit down and start talking to each other. We were soon joined by a named Mustafa just sat down next to us and started talking with us. Soon some of his wonderful friends joined us. One of the people we met in the café was a woman named Waafa, who writes for a government publication, but she made it clear that she always criticized the government in her articles. She told us that while her husband owns a tour company, she doesn’t care about the flight of the tourists: “This is more important than money, this is about our children.” She added that this rally cannot fail because “there is no turning back or we will all be killed.”

The most touching conversation we had as we sat there was when I asked Mustafa why he decided to come to the square for the first time today. He started to answer a few times, but then would stop. Then he said to me, “Think about how you felt during 9/11. You realized you were American, right? Well I guess that is what happened to me today. I arrived at the idea that I am Egyptian.”

By three O’clock I could see the square was crowded, and by the time we went back into the square from the cafe at four, it was hard to move. It took us at least 20 minutes to get to our exit across the square. During our walk home, I saw two children using the domed roof from one of the police outposts, which had been destroyed, as a see-saw. It felt like a nice way to end the day, but the day wasn’t over.

As has been the norm, the news goes on as soon as Beth and I get home and immediately we heard that Mubarak was expected to say he is stepping down. Mohammed also called to tell us the news, but it was impossible to hear him. The square was too loud.

As we waited for Mubarak to speak, the news kept coming in that multiple sources confirmed it, such as the CIA chief. Mubarak was to speak at 10, but he would be 50 minutes late to what we thought would be his good bye speech. Twitter had a hash sign of #whymubarakislate. The state news was showing a 3 minute video about how great Egypt is. But then Mubarak didn’t and the square erupted with anger. Al-Jazeera juxtaposed live feed of the speech and the square and you could see that it only took a few sentences for the protesters to come to the angry conclusion that he was refusing to step down.

Beth and I walked up to Qasr el-Nil Bridge and just saw depressed people. More people leaving than coming. One woman we passed simply said, “Khara…Khara,” (shit… Shit) dejectedly as she pasted by a police station. No one could understand what was going on, and it seemed that it could get bloody. People had already started moving to march on the TV and Radio center and others were camped outside of the Palace. It appeared there could be bloodshed the next day.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Feild notes from Tahrir

Tomorrow I will go to Tahrir again and see if I can get in unlike earlier this week. Until then, enjoy some very interesting field notes from an anthropologist who spent a week in Tahrir:

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Day 15

The protesters are still going strong today, with reports on people going to Tahrir for their fist today. Hopefully this is a sign that more concessions from the government are on the way. Perhaps the best start would be removing the Emergency Laws and and dissolving parliament among other important things.

In other News:

An analysis of the many forces shaping Egyptian politics.

Did the interior minister actually plan and order the attack on the Coptic church in December

Suleiman states (in a secret cable) many have know, the Muslim Brotherhood was simply a "Boogieman" to help the narrative of "stability or Sharia"

This is for Mohamed Munir fans

Other protests going on in Egypt

Monday, February 7, 2011

Normalcy at last?/ "Day of the Martyrs"

February 6, 2011

Things are starting to reopen in Cairo today. Supplies like phone cards are in full supply again. The banks were open for 3 hours today, from 10:00 until 1:00, and the lines were out the door. Some businesses have started to remove the graffiti, while Giza governance just sprayed black sprain paint over their defaced welcome sign. It would be difficult to say that normalcy is starting to return, when the protesters have done a good job at making sure their message is hard to miss visually. They are also preventing the bureaucratic monolith, the Muga’ma, from reopening. With the press and government officials repeatedly bemoaning the loss of income from the over one million tourists that left Egypt in one week, it is important to mention that visas are among one of the many things that is processed there. A major card in the protesters hands as the government starts making concessions.

As I walked through Doqqi, I saw two Central Security patty wagons drive by, on two separate roads. If they are returning, they are doing it slowly to avoid causing a stir. The military is still the main, official security, along with the police that have started to reappear on the streets. Because of this, the neighborhood checkpoints have started to disband in my neighborhood.

Today was “The Day of the Martyrs” and despite things reopening there were long lines to enter Tahrir. The military has now started wearing riot helmets as they run checks in front of the square. I took two trips to the entrance, and saw more people coming the later the day got. Despite businesses reopening, it appears that it just changes the time at which people gather—today most likely based on the banking hours. The line as I left around 2:00 pm went back onto the median of the Qasr el-Nil Bridge. Around them were tables where people where selling drinks, flags, phone cards, and cigarettes, the latter two, goods that were among the hard to find items for the last week and a half. Last week I could only find phone cards when I was actually in the square and saw a teenager selling them from a tray he was carrying. The people in line were a diverse group and were continuing to bring needed supplies into the square.

There was no apparent counter protest, but there was a line of people opposite the line of people trying to enter who had video phones and were filming the people in line. Perhaps they just didn’t want to enter, but I suspect they were secret police. I don’t have evidence of this and I didn’t want to go up and ask, with journalists continuing to be kidnapped. There is a sound bite circulating on al-Jazeera of an activist saying, “If we go home now, they will hunt us one by one.” Sadly, she is correct. If they are continuing to detain journalists, there is no reason they won’t go after every single person in Tahrir, with absolute impunity.

As businesses reopen, this is a time of a change in tactics by the protesters to get people to continue to go to the square. They have already called for a Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday mass rally this week. I also expect that you will see people taking shifts there, as businesses reopen. The government is betting that they can out last the will to hold the square, but I see little evidence of this. We will have to wait and see.

February 7, 2011

The last thing I saw before I went to bed last night was protesters lying in front of tanks and sitting on the treads to keep them from entering the square. While the military, may have vowed not to fire on protesters, this seems like a step towards allowing thugs—I doubt Central Security could enter without risking another defeat and adding extra favor to the protesters—to start terrorizing those inside easier than they already have. It was wise not to allow the military to take the barriers down over the weekend like they had tried to do. It looks like Defense Minister Mohamed Tantawi is a little upset his request for people to go home was ignored. This morning the protesters made a human chain to keep the Muga’ma from reopening, despite the military trying to intervene.



Robert Fisk talks about Frank Wisner’s connections to Mubarak:

The Arabist has a little tidbit on the suspicion of the Military as it continues its role as peacekeepers:

Sunday, February 6, 2011


The video of the man shot down by thugs was in the Sinai, not Suez

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"Day of Departure" February 4, 2011

Today was another amazing day for the pro-democracy protesters. Despite the government brutality carried out by armed thugs, waves of people entered Tahrir Square today, for a day of protests, along with millions across Egypt. I attempted to enter the square twice today. The first time by way of Qasr el-Nil, but was turned back by the army, which was set up at the el-Gala’a bridge (the bridge between Doqqi and the island Zamalak. Qasr el-Nil is between Zamalak and Tahrir Sq). After that, Beth and I tried to go to the same bridge I took yesterday, but we made the mistake of taking a taxi. The entire ride he told us stories of foreigners being pulled from taxis. I couldn’t tell if he just didn’t want us at the square (he was a Mubarak supporter), or if he was concerned for our safety (he obviously didn’t hate foreigners). These two possibilities are in no way mutually exclusive and I assume he didn’t want either. After this, he tried to turn down a street that I knew was littered with pro-Mubarak supporters. I told him stop, so he pulled over. Looking down the street, I saw these thugs standing in small groups in the street. We told him to turn around. We could have had him drop us off on the cornice and walked up it as I had yesterday, but we didn’t want to risk being seen getting out of a taxi and walking the long stretch to the checkpoints to just be turned around at this point.

Another concern running through my mind was that I can’t contact my friend Josh. Every since trying to call him, I have had random numbers call me for one ring. Every time I called one of them back it would be a man in Arabic. I have been suspicious, perhaps paranoid, that these are thugs and they are monitoring and then calling anyone who calls it. I don’t know. I hope I am just getting paranoid. Another possibility is the government takeover of Vodafone, has made the phones do something screwy. Again, I’m not sure. As we drove back across the bridge, I was angry I wasn’t going to get in today. It looked amazing and has been completely safe. It seems that when the thugs aren’t actively attacking the square, the pro-Mubarak protests look minuscule. As the cabby dropped us off in Doqqi he told us to “go home now!”

(Before posting this I got a message from Josh that he flew back to Beirut. He and his friend hid in a hotel near where they had been accosted and threatened. He had over 600 dollars stolen from him, but escaped with his life. He said that some foreign correspondents he talked to said the events here are the worst things they have ever seen.)

Instead, Beth and I sat in a café and watched the BBC Arabi live coverage. It was better than sitting at home and watching the al-Jazeera loop I had already watched through multiple times. In the café there was an apolitical sign written in sharpie in support of the country as a whole. I stopped at a shop near my house and talked to the woman running it. She asked me why I was interested in the rallies. After explaining my past times in Egypt and my interest in social movements, I asked her what she thought about them. Her response was simply “Freedom!” But then, when I asked her what her opinion about Mubarak was, and she said, “He is a good Muslim man. I like him.” Perplexed, I asked why she liked the rallies if she liked Mubarak, and she explained how there are poor health services in Egypt and her aunt is having a problem with her liver and kidneys. She wanted better health services here. She also said that there is a lot of poverty in Egypt and no job opportunities. For her, the rallies were more about the economic issues the protesters have talked about, rather than the main demand of Mubarak being ousted. While the media focuses on the rallies and skirmishes, there is a large portion of Egyptians not being talked about on the news. They are the ones who need to watch their shops because of the hardships the protesters are fighting against—by fighting the corruption inherent of this dictatorship.

One last note: I cannot say how many Egyptians believe there is a foreign conspiracy behind the violence, but I have not personally had any problems, even though I have been prone to healthy fits of paranoia. I hope things resolve themselves soon, with an equitable change to the system, for everyone’s sake.


A video of thugs shooting a man in Suez

Slavoj Zizek and Tariq Ramadan on al-Jazeera.

Here is a spread sheet of those who have been killed. It is still a work in progress given that the best estimates of those killed is between 100-300 so far.

A glimpse of the detention that is going on in Egypt

Here’s a story on the neighborhood watch groups by my friend Josh