Saturday, February 12, 2011

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.


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