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

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