Home > Uncategorized > Egyptian Protests, 12:00am – 3:00am Tuesday the 26th

Egyptian Protests, 12:00am – 3:00am Tuesday the 26th

I’m behind the news cycle here, but here is the story of the night of the 25th and the early morning hours, between 12 and 3, of Wednesday the 26th, as I saw it from my vantage points at the Kasr al-Nile and 6th of October bridges.  If you’re unfamiliar with Cairo, you’ll recall from my long post about the 25th that this area represents about a half-mile along the Corniche in Cairo, close to the heart of the city.

After a day following the protests around much of downtown and a brief rest back at home, a friend and I got word from Tahrir Square that the police had issued an ultimatum to the remaining protesters: leave or be cleared out.  We immediately hoofed it back to the Square, crossing the Kasr al-Nile bridge and approaching Tahrir to a cacophony of pops, hisses, and the thud of running feet as tear gas canisters were fired off and fleeing protesters rapidly ran in our direction.

As we stepped off the bridge onto the main road leading into Tahrir, the Arab League Headquarters just a hundred feet ahead of us, an onslaught of protesters running from Tahrir, emerged from the clouds of tear gas ahead.  The gas was so thick we were literally unable to tell what was happening 100, maybe 200, yards ahead of us, until the first of the protesters broke through the smoke.

In stark contrast to earlier in the evening, by this time I saw only one or two women in the crowd.  Having broken through the tear gas, the boys and men who had been caught in it stopped around us, manv of them vomiting and screaming for water.  Behind them, in strict formation and moving with military-like precision, we could just make out the outline of the advancing Egyptian special police.  See the pictures below for this image.  Allegedly, around approximately 12:30am Cairo time, literally as my friend and I were crossing the bridge into Tahrir, the peaceful evening demonstrations I talked about earlier were brought to a grinding halt as the police filled Tahrir Square with tear gas and charged the protesters.  I will reiterate, once again, that even at this point I had seen and heard nothing to indicate that the police had begun using lethal force. Despite the terrible situation, I remained impressed with their restraint.

With the bridge at their backs, the protesters first plan was to cross over to the other side in their retreat, but, as the second image below shows, the other end of the bridge had already been blocked at the far end by another unit of the Special Police.  Fearing they would be cornered and arrested, and with the Special Police advancing and tactically firing tear gas to herd the remaining protesters toward the Corniche, those around us retreated down towards the Nile.  They were, at this point, following the same path of the peaceful demonstrators I had first encountered at 1:30pm that afternoon: from Tahrir to the Corniche, and along the Nile back towards the 6th of October bridge.

There was, at this point, a touch of calm.  The police seemed to have no desire to pursue the protesters once they had been cleared away from Tahrir, and the amounts of tear gas they had used were so great (see picture 3) that even remaining in the remote vicinity was driven from the minds of those who had previously been in Tahrir.  To be honest, I thought at this point, exactly what I had thought many times throughout the course of the day, “Well, I guess that’s the end of this.”

Boy, was I wrong. I am quickly coming to believe that there is a greater resilience amongst this movement than most originally assumed. Although numbers thinned and many protesters seemed to leave, a number of those who had been chased out along the Corniche rallied again under the 6th of October bridge (see pics).  A lesson learned in never underestimating the power of the few, having lost most of their number, those still going inspired the people around them to join in with them, at first chanting and cheering only, then stopping traffic and turning it around, shutting down one of the larger roads in the area.  The contrast between this part of the protest under the 6th of October bridge and the protests in the exact same spot only 12 hours earlier which had been organized, peaceful, and allowed traffic and daily life to continue unhindered, blew me away.

From atop the bridge my friend and I watched the crowd below grow as, behind us, the 4 lane bride turned into a parking lot.  Cabs stopped, people began double and triple parking to watch the protest below. Of course, as they stopped, they prevented others from driving past.  Hundreds if not thousands of people began to gather on the bridge around us, looking down at the protesters, many of them rushing down to join them.

This is when we began to witness first-hand the change in police tactics from what I had previously been impressed with as necessary measures of crowd control in a country with very little practice with this sort of thing, to the elevated level of violence which has characterized successive demonstrations. The secret police and hired thugs brought in from the city’s ghettos and clothed in plain dress in order to blend in with the crowd were now unleashed on the protesters.  This comment may seem to be an assumption, but it comes directly from al-Ghad opposition party Assistant Chairman Shadi Taha, and it’s something which, as you’ll see below, I can personally attest to.

As we were standing along the top of the bridge within a small crowd of observers, taking pictures and watching the demonstrators and advancing police vehicles below, I put my eye to my camera to zoom in for a close up of one of the advancing police vehicles.  As you can see, the picture came out rather poorly because, just as I shot the picture, I was stuck across the front of the head with a police baton wielded by one of these secret policemen. It was only as I reeled from the blow, trying to protect my head and camera and get away, that I took in the details of my attackers.  Young to middle-age, solidly built, dressed in casual black jeans and leather jackets that I later realized had significant padding underneath, these guys had an enraged look in there eyes as they began going to town on me and the guys to me left and right.

I can’t say that I have any idea where they came from.  I had spent the day and night constantly vigilant of my surroundings in order to make sure that, A. I didn’t somehow interfere in the protests – that I remained as much as possible an aloof observer watching from the sidelines – and B. that I didn’t get myself into a situation exactly like the one I had just found myself in. Furthermore, I had been picking out undercover cops throughout the day; it wasn’t exactly difficult.

These guys were an entirely different breed, however, and I hate to admit that I was caught completely unaware.  In a testament to the magnanimity of the Egyptian people, as I struggled to get away, an Egyptian man came running from a few feet away yelling, “Agnabi, Agnabi… Foreigner, Foreigner,” and pushed one of my attackers off of me.  That half second was all it took for me to break the grip the others had on me and hightail it back, further up the bridge.

As I looked for anyone I knew who could tell me what had just happened, Egyptians kept coming up to me with water and tissues, trying to clean my bleeding head and telling me, “Tell the people where you come from what is happening here. Tell them we will not stop!” I can’t tell you how many times during the day things like this occurred, nor how many times during the day Egyptian citizens, concerned for the safety of my friends and I, tried to tell us where we could go if the police charged or, on more than one occasion, symbolically put themselves in front of us and the police lines.

To be honest, a lot of why I’m writing these posts right now has to do with these comments.  I’ve said from the beginning on this blog that I don’t believe we at home really understand this part of the world at all, nor even begin to comprehend the people who live here.  I had hoped when I started writing that I could provide a little insight into Egypt and the Egyptian people via my experiences, and this is an incredible opportunity to do so.  There’s so much going on here, like the peaceful aspect of much of these protests, the unity of the Egyptian people, and the compassion they are showing for each other and others, that will likely be completely ignored by major media sources.

I can’t give a great blow-by-blow account of the thirty minutes that followed that attack.  No worries Mom and Dad, no concussion and I’m perfectly fine now, but as I went further down the makeshift parking lot that was the bridge I found two of my friends and they helped clean me up a bit, insisting that we take a few minutes to collect ourselves before moving back for a better view.

Just as we were talking about moving to get back to a better vantage point, maybe thirty minutes later, the police began moving to take the bridge.  Protesters tore down road signs and guard booths, throwing them into the road in an attempt at stopping police vehicles, but to no avail.  They, and we with them, were forced to run across the glass strewn bridge, cars with broken windows reversing and flying by us as the police advanced.

The last picture I’ve posted shows the view from the other end of the bridge, after the police had dispersed the protesters back on the other side.  My friends and I stayed for quite awhile, taking pictures and talking to people, but given the increase in violence we had just witnessed and rumors (largely unfounded it now appears) of live ammunition being used in other parts of the city, we decided to go home.

I’ll be back with more from the day of the 26th and hopefully some very interesting stuff from last night as time allows.

 

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. January 28, 2011 at 7:24 pm

    WOW tom. can’t believe you are living this right now!! so glad you were able to get word out through nellie that you’re safe. please be careful!

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