Thursday, February 3, 2011


It took me a while to get to the square today. I had been hearing reports of attacks against journalists and anyone suspected of being one. I talked to my friend Josh who came here a few days ago to cover the situation. He told me that he had a crowed of pro-Mubarak supporters turn on him and his photographer buddy pretty quickly last night. I decided to walk to a bridge much further away from Downtown and looped back up, as to avoid suspicion for most of my walk to the square. Once on the other side of the river, I saw large group of people chatting with police. This made me suspicious of them. Normally, seeing the cops on the street talking and joking with people is ordinary, but at this point, nothing seems normal in this city.

I moved through a quiet neighborhood I know well and stopped at a small shop to think as I drank the drink I had just bought. As I stood there, I listened to the sounds of grates closing over store fronts on the main street ahead of me. As I was listening and trying to figure out what was going on, and what my next move would be, one of the young men outside the shop asked me if I was on my way to Tahrir. Which lead to another young man asking if I liked Mubarak? I told him “that’s a dangerous question these days. He told me not to worry, so I told him “no.” Both men were happy with this response, which was calmed me down. Given all the junk that state media is reporting here, you would think that every person not in the square thinks that “foreign forces have infiltrated the square and hurting Egypt.” There is no reasonable reason to believe that just 2 days after millions marched in the streets, they would decide the regime learnt its lesson. Never the less, this was still reassuring.

What these two men disagreed on, however, was if it was safe for me to go to the square. We watched the main street as, what I can only assume was, a small group of Mubarak supporters marched up the street. They had to be supporters because the main street leads to the only entrance that the military has complete control of, so no one would be entering the square from that way. As I departed, the man said “I am happy because he met you today, but be careful.” So while it has become nerve-racking here, we cannot forget that these clashes against journalist and westerners have all come from Mubarak supporters (hired thugs), to scare the press away and inflame the fear of foreign agents. Omar Soliman today has said in his state television interview that foreign allies are housing networks that aimed to hurt Egypt. I do not feel that opinions of Americans or westerners have change among the Egyptian populace. It is a dangerous time for everyone in this period of state brutality.

As I entered the square at the Qasr al-Aini entrance, it was calm. Multi-tier barricades had been erected over night, stretching out beyond the line of tanks. Protesters were in each tier to provide protection to the queue of people getting their initial search. This was just the first of at least four searches that continued behind the tanks. I would often get my bag checked twice at each point because the volunteers would just grab the next person they saw once they searched a person. The square seemed to have as many people as yesterday, but then I realized there must be more because the physical space had been extended way past the tanks. The focus areas of congregation was now at the barricades, not just the square. On some side street the front tier barricades were at Tala’at Harb Square and Tala’t Harb Street. The Protesters had barricades from the side of the Egyptian Museum all the way to just before the overpass. There were piles of rocks set up on the vehicles that had become part of the barricades. There was a clinic set up near the farthest entrance because of the trouble of getting to the Ambulances set up on Qasr Aini St. Behind every barricade there were groups of pro-Mubarak supporters.

The square is still being well maintained and sustainable. People are sweeping, bagging trash, and handing out food and drinks. I saw one man collect water bottles from people so that he could go and refill them. There are more tents in the square, with more going up as I walked around. People are determined to keep the square sustainable. Um Kalthoum was being played through speakers to keep moral high. At one point a man gave a concert with melodic versions of the anti-Mubarak chants. It was a nice moment of levity to watch people dancing around and singing. It seemed that those who had the energy and were not at the barricades took on the role of trying to keep morale up. Two youths simply stood for hours over a metro grate, holding flags that were flapping straight up from the air coming from the metro tunnels.

This same could not be said about the supporters of Mubarak. The entrance of the square, where they were the day before was covered in rubbish. It is clear that people don’t care about space when they can just leave it, which is what they do at the end of the day, besides those that show up for night time attacks. The type of sustainability in the square is nonexistent outside the barricades. This just adds to my suspicions that they are sustained by other means, namely the regime.

The people themselves were a diverse bunch. There were people who armed themselves with slingshots, bricks tied to rope, or just stones in their hands. In the center of the square, away from the areas of skirmishes, there were rallies. Even with the continued violence there were chants of “peaceful,” in the square. In the grass, there were more people sitting and sleeping than the last few days. They all looked exhausted from the last day of fighting and/or living under threats of violence. There were fewer families in the square today. It was impossible to count the injured walking around. People with bandages on their heads and faces were all over the square. I saw people with casts on multiple limbs and naked arms in makeshift slings. Most of the injured had head wounds.

I visited another clinic today and talked to Dr. Ashraf When I asked him about the situation he made it clear that there was a difference between yesterday and today, and looked over my notes as I wrote to make sure I wrote what he said. He stated that, “Yesterday was a disaster. There were between 1,000 and 1500 injured. At least 15 of them were gunshot wounds. Six people died. They were shot by police forces. The other Injuries were abrasions, contusions, lacerated wounds, and fractures. We dealt with them here and the critical cases were sent to Qasr el-Eini hospital.”

Today was a different story (at that point). He said the clinics were quiet “mostly due to army protection.” I then asked what their supply levels were and if they were in need of anything. He explained that they were well stocked in “bandages, cotton, stitches, anti-biotics, gauze, gibson for fractures, intervenes fluids, dressings, and volunteers.” Later in the day I witnessed cheering as doctors walked in with a group of people carrying medical supplies.

As I continued walking around, a man named Mohammed started walking with me. He told me that he came from Alexandria yesterday, but couldn’t get to the square because of lack of knowledge of what entrances were viable at the time. He had come by microbus because the trains are still not running. I asked him about the Mubarak supporters, and he replied that these are all police and poor. If he is correct, they are not Central Security like I asserted yesterday, (it is still possible they will return) but the street cops. The more IDs I see posted seem to confirm this. As for the poor people he said he met some of them that they stated that they are not in support of Mubarak or the demonstrators, but are doing it for food and money. He followed up on that before I could ask about rival claims. “Everyone says we burned everything for 50 pounds and KFC.” We both began to laugh at this because the KFC on the square is closed and covered in graffiti. He did not come to fight fellow Egyptians, but as he said, “freedom is tough.” Before we parted I asked, “What if Mubarak does not step down?” to which he replied, “We will not step down.” I would later meet a person who came all the way from Luxor four days earlier.

At 2:20 today there were shots fired by what people were saying was the “secret police.” This lead to warning shots by army personnel carriers. Things soon quieted down, but there had been no retreat from the front line during the commotion. If anything, people started moving towards the front. As I sat on a the edge of the island in the middle of the square, in a spot that had the top layer of brick removed the night before, I watched the flow of people back and forth between the barricades and the square. In both directions went supplies and people. There seemed to be no pattern of what came and went. Everyone just seems to following a few ideals, and besides that they are free to do what they liked.

After sitting in the sun for awhile, the weather has been fairly warm and sunny during the day, I decided to walk to the furthest barricade. It felt like a surreal world. I had walked by the shops to my right so many times before, but I was in a completely new place. Going through layers of checkpoints, trucks turned into watch towers, and layers of barricades made from a sheet metal wall surrounding a construction site, underscored how this has turned into a siege. Earlier an army lorry was moved up as an extra wall and shield for the protesters inside. Looking through a crack in the furthest wall, I noticed an army tank with its engine running, oscillating its turret, but never having the gun leave the direction of the square. This was taking place as Mubarak supporters were moving around outside. It dawned on me that the Egyptian military was now stuck in a position where it was pointing their guns at each other. As I walked back through the checkpoints I saw a man have a switch blade, which he quite reasonably had for self defense, confiscated from him by those organizing the checkpoints.

After some more walking around and talking to people I decided to leave. At the last checkpoint, he soldier who checked my passport saw that it was issued in Philadelphia and said he went to Elementary School in Carlisle, PA. We both gave each other—both of us complete strangers—a smile of familiarity. It was a one of those few short moments of the day that filled me with relief from what has been an overwhelming sense of anxiety and waiting. It was the same joy I felt when meeting many friends for the first time during these last ten days.

This feeling went back to anxiety as I tried to leave. As I reached the cornice, I received a call from Josh who told me to go back into the square. He had just had the taxi he was in surrounded by men wielding machetes and clubs. He said the only reason they got away was two soldiers getting in the taxi and going with them to the next checkpoint. Not wanting to go through the Mubarak people to get back in at the Qasr el-Neel entrance, I made the long walk home, refusing to get in a taxi or microbus. For some reason I felt safer being on foot, where I could set my pace. Any other day, this would have been a beautiful and quiet day on the cornice. The cause for this quiet was what filled me with fear the whole way home.


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