Today is the most disturbing day I have ever witnessed. The following is my day on Tahrir Square before and during the ensuing violence.
As I walked to Tahrir square this morning, a man named Hamdy stopped me, and told me, “I am Egyptian. These people in Tahrir Square are people who will say anything for 50 pounds and a box of lunch, but we are a nation of 80, 81, 84 million people, and today at 11, 50 million people will come in support of Mubarak. We will not find a president as wise as Mubarak.”
I entered the square around 11 and there was a small group of Mubarak supporters shouting “The people want the president”, but there was no problem entering and it was very peaceful at the checkpoints. As I entered, a soldier took me aside and asked if I was a reporter. I told him I was a teacher, and he said, “Leave soon for your own safety.”
The square had changed quite a bit overnight. There were flat beds that were being used to clean the square of rubbish that had been swept into piles out of the main part of the square. Also, the military was using a crane to lift scorched security vehicles out of the square.
The crowed was the smallest I had seen in days, but by no means small, and within an hour it started to swell again. While I could still move around in the open space of the square, I noticed more graffiti than the day before and saw a man painting on the pavement. It appeared that this extra opened space gave opportunity for street art and ease for marches around the square. A man in the crowd came up holding two pieces of bread and said, “There is no bread in Egypt.” When asked because of the protests or because of Mubarak? He replied, “Because of Mubarak.” Soon after this, I had an unexpected conversation as I continued to walk around. A man walked up to me and said:
“Listen to me. I am Egyptian. In a few days this will all be over.”
Me: The regime?
“The regime is a powerful force. I am Egyptian. These people [the protesters] know nothing. This is bullshit”
He then walked away from me, much quicker than most people who want to give a message. I could tell he didn’t want to be noticed. Right after this, I saw Mubarak supporters who had been yelling pro-regime chants being removed peacefully. Every time this would happen, they would be taken to an army checkpoint and sent out, as the opposition yelled, “Out! Out!” and “Fall, fall, Hosni Mubarak.” Everyone who was removed was done so by pro-democracy protesters, who put their arms over the pro-Mubarak supporters’ shoulders, as you would when walking with a friend. I clear sign that the protesters were trying to maintain peace in this space they claimed as theirs.
As I walked around, I was pulled into a crowed circling an army officer in uniform, who was sitting on the ground protesting the government. Also, I was taken by another person to one of the camps. He wanted to make sure I understood that people have been sleeping here every night night. In this encampment I talked to a man sitting in the grass next to a makeshift tent and he showed me a bullet and said that he was shot in his buttocks during the Friday protests. As I talked to more people they told me things such as:
“I want the regime to leave. The protesters will remain. This is the last card with the president”
“The speech was trick. He gives some things, but these will not change anything. He has all the media in his hand. He is brainwashing people like my wife. He is paying people to come out in support of him. My wife hasn’t changed her mind, but says, ‘let’s be reasonable, we will never win.’”
I also talked to a doctor who was walking around the square. He said that he is working with the clinics that have been set up and are running 24/7 around the square. When asked about any endemic problems in the square he said that in the first few days it was very bad. They had to take care of people with wounds from fighting with security forces. He specifically mentioned those from shotguns. At that time (before the events of the afternoon) they were monitoring headaches and heat stroke. He mentioned that many of the doctors have not slept for four days. He went on to say that there have been no major health problems forming in the square itself (contrary to the official government media reports). As we were talking, a man came up for an examination and the interview ended.
As I walked around observing, I was happy to see that the square was filling with people. I was hoping to see a soccer tournament, which was going to happen in the square, according to an activist al-Jazeera last night. This would not be the case after the events that would start soon after my interview with the doctor.