Have you ever been alone in a house at night and thought you heard someone breaking in, and laid, awake and immobilised by fear watching moving shadows until day breaks and the ordinary objects of your home are no longer monsters? That is how I felt walking around the streets of downtown Cairo yesterday.
We arrived in Tahrir Square around 3 p.m. to find an army checkpoint at the entrance to the square from Qasr El-Aini Bridge formed by two tanks. Someone had scrawled Fuck Mubarak on the back of one. Soldiers checked bags and patted people down for weapons.
Beyond this a man stood holding a piece of paper above his head reading, “have some respect for yourself Mubarak and leave”. To the side of him men sweeped the ground and picked up litter, a sight I have witnessed numerous times in Tahrir Square and which never fails to move me; Cairo is a notoriously filthy city and littering is a huge problem; now here was one man picking up tiny bits of paper off the ground – he has reclaimed ownership and now he and the thousands of others sleeping, eating, singing and resisting in the square feel a duty to look after it and surrounding streets in a way the government never did.
Shortly after I arrived two jet fighters started circling overhead, flying so low that it hurt my ears. Some people cheered, others began chanting mesh meshyeen, mesh meshyeen [“we’re not moving”]. The message these jets were sending is unclear. Mubarak is an air forces man; were they expressing loyalty to him? Were they air forces jets or did they belong to the Presidential Guard? (a force composed of around 22,000 men which is reportedly fiercely loyal to Mubarak).
If the intention was to frighten people it didn’t work, nobody moved – and in fact most people ignored them – because they were too busy being amazing. Small groups have formed all over the square, some people have erected tents, some are standing on top of street signs waving flags, at night there are small fires around which people sit and discuss events. Waves of chants come from all directions and a sense of freedom and possibility pervades everything.
As soon as I arrived I realised why state media has ramped up the looting and pillaging rumours which on Saturday prompted protestors to leave Tahrir Square; it is a desperate effort to break spirits and get them out. People are not frightened of tear gas or bullets any more; the old tactics no longer work because they have discovered the strength of numbers, and of camaraderie. If this is in any doubt watch protestors force riot police to retreat in this incredible video. I hope Western leaders have seen it. This is how the supposedly politically moribund Arab street frees itself, Mr Bush.
There are no cars on the streets leading off Tahrir Square and everywhere there is anti-government graffiti. My favourite was “your last flight will be to Saudi, Mubarak” and “I want to see a new president before I die”. Most shops are still closed. Families and groups investigate the area, revelling in the open streets and clean air (another by-product of the uprising, less traffic). People are running the city with oversight from tanks and army jeeps stand guard on some street corners. The soldiers I have interacted with have all been incredibly polite and efficient, but alas some of them are a bit funny about people photographing their tanks.
The streets leading to the Interior Ministry are a scorched mess of twisted metal and broken glass. Protestors destroyed anything police they could get their hands on. Meanwhile police snipers and riot police shot protestors using live ammunition. People were still scared to approach the Interior Ministry a day after the battle because of the sniper issue.
Seeing these burnt out shells has been extremely gratifying. For three years I reported on cases of torture, disappearances and brutality at the hands of this institution. My heart sank every time I was with a male friend and we had to deal with a police officer on any level because I knew the outcome of that encounter would be decided by a million factors other than justice and rule of law.
We ran into a labour lawyer in Downtown who said hello and then left us saying, “I’m going to go and breathe in freedom”. For the first time in my life I walked down an Egyptian street yesterday and didn’t see a single policemen, not a single man in plain clothes with the crackling walkie talkie and the ability to casually change your life forever in a second. I was free.
Originally published at inanities.org
The night was pleasant, even though reports of gun fire and danger were delivered consistently throughout the night. The early hours of the evening seemed like the middle of the night, a scene very uncharacteristic of Cairo where heavy traffic doesn’t stop till an hour or two past midnight. The atmosphere is very communal, young men and old around camp fires, others playing football in the blocked off street. The streets are ours minus the menacing cars that were always stuck in traffic. It was like going to a cafe to meet people without the service.
In the distance, gun shots could be heard and rumors of ongoing battles and such. Still, the people armed with sticks and stones prepared for the worst and hoped for the best.
People stuck together and worked together. Some went to protest, others guarded the neighborhood. There’s no one on our side but ourselves. The whole regime is against us without sympathy for the rights we ask for. The police are certainly the most venomous, but there are others. The army so far has not harmed the people, which is something people may have expected anyway from a treacherous ruler. The people look thankfully upon the army for doing its job, something which all other government bodies have failed to do for years and years. But the army still follows the order of one man who puts his interests above all others. I’ve wondered how so much control can be exerted over honorable men without question.
The internet is still amiss, and it will not be up again till the revolution is quelled. The US continues its hypocrisy with very weak responses to a villainous regime. The people, like prisoners out of control, are being herded in, intimidated and conspired against.
I always thought this revolution was about loyalties. The turning of loyalty is key to victory. Some people will choose to betray their brethren to serve a dictator, others will betray the dictator to serve their brethren. Some people will betray their values, others may find them.
That’s the funny thing about people, they’re unpredictable, some of them anyway. Who knows what a person wants, and why they want it, but those who find themselves wanting a better future for their children will give people what’s rightfully theirs.
more photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sarahcarr/
After 5 days of unprecedented popular dissent in Egypt, protestors are still on the main square in downtown Cairo demanding the resignation of President Mubarak and his entire government, and saying they will not settle for anything less. After 30 years of brutal police oppression the people have finally risen and do not seem to be backing down.
Downtown Cairo was an incredible scene tonight. Tahrir Square was filled with 1000s of protestors, some of whom erected tents on the square’s grassy central island. Roads leading off the square were filled with people strolling about streets empty of traffic, filled with anti-regime graffiti. The road next to the Interior Ministry was a warzone of burnt out cars and smashed windows. Above all there was a sense of joy, of freedom and the possibility of change.