Wednesday, February 2, 2011

January 28 & 29 2011

Friday morning was tense. The Internet and phone services were completely off. The police were blocking many streets to prevent a mass transportation of people. Beth and I walked across Kobri el-Gama’a, which was open to only pedestrian traffic. There was a lot of security personnel and their vehicles on the way to Qasr el-Aini st. On Qasr el-Aini there was a group of protesters rallying and skirmishing with the Security Personnel. The protesters were pushed down an intersecting street with tear gas and awater cannon, but regrouped and continued their rally. Egyptians in apartments above the street dropped down supplies of water, Cola, and vinegar to combat the effects of the tear gas. After a bit, tear gas started being shot with greater intensity and the group started running, needing to run through the salvo of canisters landing in front of the retreat. As people reached Saad Zughlul Square, those who were hit with tear gas had Pepsi thrown on their face, and vinegar put on their hand to breath in, then they would continue running with the group. Later I would be told by man I met named Mohammed that, “our friends in Tunisia told us to use Pepsi to combat tear gas.” Each canister of gas just seemed to make the Egyptians more determined to regroup and fight on.

We then headed to Falaki Sq. to the protests going on there. There Beth and I saw women calling people back to the police line after each temporary retreat from the gas and rubber bullets. On a few occasions there were retreats into the meat and vegetable market. There I had one man tell me “I am Michael, I am Coptic Christian, and I am here,” as he showed me his wounds. The church said earlier this week that it would not take part in the rallies, but make no mistake; this was a rally of all the sectors of Egyptian society regardless of religious affiliation. People also kept telling us that the tear gas was made in the US and given to Mubarak to use on the people. Quickly, however, people went back into the streets, where the Asr prayer was held in the streets.

In the market I met Mohammed who is going to be studying for an MBA at AUC in the Fall. He told me about the problems with trying to finance going to school in Egypt. He also talked about how there has been no sexual harassment during the rallies and that women were taking leading roles. He also said that Central Security has was skipping their protocols and going straight to live rounds. This would be confirmed later in the night with bullets and shells that protesters held up. From the square we could see the tear gas on the other side of Tahrir Square where protesters were attempting to enter from the bridges that go across the Nile. This would be the second time in recent history that the Egyptian people were able to break through the police barricades blocking the square during protests (Tuesday was the first). Mohammed told me the security forces were told to hold it at all costs. These costs would be apparent by the end of the night.

There was a momentary calm in Falaki as prayer was performed. Everyone quieted down and allowed it to take place. Afterwards there more skirmishes the crowd left the square. We walked with Mohammed to the nearest Metro station. He wanted to go take a nap and go back on the street later. As he said as he left, “It’s going to be a long day.” On our way there, he pointed out a group of police sitting on the street, completely exhausted. Beth and I sat on the curb and watched people getting food from the few shops that were open. People we joking around on the street and it seemed like everyone was taking a break. Soon, however, the Security Personnel suited up again and moved out. We walked up to the Middle East News Agency. There, there were protesters trying to move up to Tala’at Harb Square. In the streets, like elsewhere, there was a diverse crowd. I saw parents out with their children watching the skirmishes. Like with the other groups, there were large amounts of tear gas shot along with live ammunition. After one retreat into the alleyways I was grabbed by the arm and rushed into a building where a killed man was moved to. There, next to the crowd that surrounded the dead man, I was told to photograph a man who was shot in the head with what appeared to be a rubber bullet or gas canister.

Tala’at Harb Square was soon taken by the protesters. There were tires set on fire and police blocking 4 out of 5 of the streets coming in. Huge plumes of black smoke were rising from behind one of the buildings, emanating from tire fires further down one of the adjoining streets. The Evening Prayer was said in the street, with the same quieting down of the fellow protesters on the square, as the one on Falaki. Soon after the prayer, Beth and I left and tried to get back across the river to our apartment in Dokki, through the Sayyeda Zeinab, in an attempt to get to a bridge that was open. This would not be successful. As we walked through alleyways in the fading sunlight to try to avoid the barricades, we say police chasing Egyptians at gun point. I witnessed one man retreating, with a tear gas cannon pointed at his head.

It was soon apparent that he choice to go through Sayyeda Zeinab was the wrong choice. We ended up at a dead end of barricades. We had Egyptian Youths stopping us and telling us to go back Downtown and check into a hotel. Two of the youths, Tareq and Mahmoud, took us through the neighborhood; at one point talking to Security Personnel, who had the red eyes of people who had been gassed all day. They were blocking off the street and Tareq asked them if it was possible to get to Dokki. It was only possible to go back to the Downtown area. Tareq and Mahmoud refused to leave us, as we walked through residual teargas, until we were at a hostel. Their generosity was beyond any thanks I could ever give.

By the time we got to the hostel, the protesters had taken Tahrir. I headed to the square with a few of the hostel staff members. There we found burning security force vehicles. National Democratic Party headquarters behind the Egyptian Museum was burning. At this time people had heard reports of looting at the museum so they made a human chain to prevent more theft and vandalism. At one point, a light armored tank drove around the square causing some people to retreat, only to return to the square a few seconds later. Soon, however, the only police attempting to enter the square were from Qasr el-Aini st. I saw youths on motorbikes riding up to the police line and throwing Molotov cocktails at the police and in front of the Mugama’a office building next to them. Behind the police were vehicles that had been set on fire.

I talked to people who had stolen helmets and other items from vehicles, personnel, and buildings. A personal asked me if the police in the US kill people during protests. This was because just 5 minutes earlier a man was killed as he left a mosque near AUC. People in the square were rallied to go and push back the police. I left once the police started advancing again and people started moving back slowly. Gas was once again entering the square with greater frequency.

I returned to the hostel and talked with staff members and people staying there for a short while, until Mubarak spoke about firing his government. Maybe for dramatic sensation he saved his announcement of firing the government until the end, but preferred talking about how he feels the pain of the people and how he has been with the people in the streets all along. As I went back into the streets, people were on tanks celebrating with the troops. The police force was nowhere to be seen. Among the burnt out vehicles there was a tank like the one that had scared people on the street earlier. As I took a picture of it and was told it was part of the Central Security, not the military, and that “these men [military] are the real Egyptians.” Soon after this, people rushed to the mosque on the square because a fire had sparked up and they were rushing to extinguish it before it spread. People came up and showed us wounds and the remnants of the ammunition that caused them. Other people on the square ran up to us with a box of used canisters and ammunition and told us that this stuff comes from the USA, as they should us the label. While talking to these people a barrage of tear gas landed near us and we ran with the crowd around the Mugama’a, which had flames coming out of a ground floor window. Beth and I ran, partially blind and having trouble breathing, to the bridge to get out of the fray. The bridge was empty so we walked home, passing the smoldering shells of security trucks.

Jan 29

There were no police out today and still no internet. The day was peaceful for the most part. The main opposition paper El-Masry El-Yom was sold out everywhere. Tahrir Square was peaceful except for a fire set near AUC and tear gas fired at those setting the fires. 99% of the scene was peaceful. It was part celebration and part continuation of the protests. It was obvious that the new government is not enough.

As we approached 6th of October overpass the NDP Headquarters was still having sporadic fires flaring up. People were on the bridge watching the rally below. People had written slogans on the tanks like “The Egyptian people want the collapse of the regime.” A march headed to the TV and radio station. There, people where chanting on tanks. Soon though, a man was killed there and was taken to the street for a prayer and a procession down the street. During the prayer, a young man told me that he wanted me to “tell the truth of what is happening because so many Americans come here and say they love Egypt and then go home and talk about all of the bad things here. They called it the third world and the news tells lies about the people. They call us animals. Tell the truth. Allah.” As for that promise I want to make these points.

1. The people are 99% peaceful. Government thugs in plain clothes, but armed, are the reason for escalation. The same goes for the use of tear gas, water cannons, clubs, rubber bullets, and live ammunition. The people have worked to save the antiquities in the Egyptian Museum. Pamphlets put out by activists have called to protected shops, banks, and homes. Currently (Saturday night) people are defending their friends and family, their neighborhoods, from looting and thugs while there is a lack of police and military in the cities. This violence is due to the lack of rights allowed by the government and its failing to provide for and listen to its citizens.

2. The American government needs to change its priorities. It must stop providing the tools of repression and put it support behind the people. It cannot just support a dictator because he has peace with Israel and is tough on Islamist. Most importantly, the U.S. must allow the Egyptian people decide its path forward from this historical time.

3. This is a popular uprising from all sectors of Egyptian society because of poverty, lack of education, a lack of job opportunities, government corruption, and government brutality. It is not an Islamic revolution. It is not wonton acts of vagary. It is a popular uprising for a brighter future.

4. Because this is a popular revolution, there is a plethora of ideas about the future. No one story is the story of the protest. No one person speaks for them.

5. Mubarak must leave. This is what everyone on the streets is saying. As I stood in front of a burnt out patty wagon with “This is the end of the regime,” a man told me, “they have stolen everything from us.”

I am happy for every person I know in Egypt and met in the streets and I hope for a peaceful end to the regime in the immediate future.

Qasr El-Aini St.
Falaki Square
Middle East News Agency
Tala'at Harb Square
Tahrir Square
Tahrir after the army arrives

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