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Wednesday, February 2nd

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

 

Hey guys, thanks for all the support over the past few days.  It was great to see as the internet came back on earlier today.  I’m glad that this blog has been informative and helpful, at least to some of you.  A big thanks to Nellie and my parents for helping me keep it going since the internet kicked out – they’ve been great and supportive, despite the fact that I’m sure they’re not thrilled with me at the moment.

 

I was in Tahrir for most of the day today, and this is what I saw.

 

Around 1:30pm we headed down into the square, following the groups of pro-Mubarak protesters as they made their way towards the encamped anti-Mubarak demonstrators.  As we walked, I have to be honest; I wasn’t really sure what the impact of these opposing demonstrations meeting up would be.  I hoped that nothing would come of them and that the presence of the highly respected Egyptian Army would be a sufficient disincentive for violence, but I was slightly on edge. I’ve heard rumors and seen things in my time here that remind me that the secret police aren’t to be messed with, nor underestimated.  Furthermore, I received calls yesterday about people being planted in the demonstrations in order to incite violence and had that on my mind as I walked into the square.

 

It took a while, and I was cautiously optimistic that things would remain peaceful – albeit tense – but it was simply not to be.  Sometime around 2:30pm and 3:00pm I saw the first of the violence begin across the street.  As I stood on the edge of the square, somewhere between the Egyptian Museum and the square proper, I saw a number of men up on a ledge with sticks and clubs, raining blows down on those beneath them.  Almost immediately afterwards the first stones began to fly.  At this point, they came only from the same area where those men were standing and were thrown only in the direction of the Museum, creating a stampede away from Tahrir.

 

Within moments, however, there came more rock throwing, this time on our side of the street and from the direction of the Egyptian Museum towards the square.  I hate to say it, but I can’t honestly tell you which group started everything.  The panic quickly turned into too much of a melee and the two groups were too interspersed for me to be certain of what I was seeing. There just weren’t any strict lines of division.  However, I did see a number of people throughout the day who simply didn’t look like the protesters I’ve seen in the last week.  Shabbier clothes, a sharper edge, and an overall rougher look seemed to characterize them and, in my mind, substantiate many of the rumors I had heard of criminals and thugs being released amongst the crowds.  I should also point out that I never saw one stone, one club, or one act of violence throughout yesterday’s Million Man March.

 

As we were quickly becoming stuck in a stampede of retreating protesters, we jumped the fence onto the sidewalk and retreated a ways in order to find a better and safer place to film.  Our group was split apart, but we managed to get back together within about thirty minutes.  As a whole we then headed across the street in an attempt to find a calmer location and better view.

Standing on the corner there, looking out on the forward marching pro-Mubarak demonstrators with the Egyptian Museum in the background, we were accosted by a number of men telling us not to shoot footage. After just a few seconds of trying to back up and reason with them, they got angry quickly and began trying to take our cameras from us.  We high-tailed it back and around the next corner where we were helped along by a number of media-friendly Egyptians trying to protect journalists.  This was a common theme throughout the day: many, mostly from the pro-Mubarak seemed to be intent on restricting media coverage while many others, often on the anti-Mubarak side, seemed to be in favor of it.  Of course, as in all tough situations with lots of people on edge, it’s impossible for an entire group to act one way, so I’m sure some of those in favor of the footage were pro-Mubarak and some of those against it were opposed to him.  It seemed to me, however, that things tended to be the other way around.

 

We made it a few dozen yards down this small side road before we noticed another group of protesters up ahead.  Stuck between them as they came forward trying to enter the square and those behind us trying to take our cameras, we ducked into an open doorway with a number of others to wait it out.  Within a few minutes some of the more media-friendly in the crowd helped us backtrack around the corner where we had been and get out of the square for good.

 

From there we made our way around Tahrir, using side roads and alleyways until we reached the hospital which I had been in and photographed on Friday night.  The quantity of injuries was amazing.  Doctors stitched wounds on the street because the mosque was completely packed, and we even ran into an American I know who was volunteering there, helping to treat the wounded.  The way the people had banded together to turn this small mosque into a hospital was inspirational to see, and I’d love to talk more about this, and a number of other things the Egyptian people have impressed me with over the course of the week, at length soon.

 

Most of the injuries we saw here came from rocks or chunks of concrete, but occasionally we would see people brought in, held tightly by groups of others, with numerous injuries to their faces. As we watched, we realized that these were individuals who (to the crowd at least) were guilty of having attacked others or provoked violence.  They were quickly brought in, treated, and then led away by demonstrators, or on occasion the military, with their wrists tied behind their backs.  We saw this more and more throughout the course of the day and I watched with my own eyes as police ids were taken from some of these individuals and paraded around the crowd as though convictions of guilt.

 

Inserting plain-clothed police into crowds of demonstrators in order to incite violence is an age-old tradition of control here, and people are obviously wise to the routine.  As I saw this for the first time, the thought “witch-hunt” crossed my mind but was quickly dismissed.  Many protesters went to great lengths to protect those they suspected of inciting violence, often wrapping their own arms around the heads and necks of the accused and putting their heads next to theirs, taking blows from furious bystanders on behalf of those they were detaining.

 

All-in-all, this situation seems to be deteriorating.  There are glimmers of beauty through the haze – such as the community run and organized hospitals and the demonstrators protecting even those that seem to be inciting violence, at times with their own bodies.  That said, however, after yesterday’s incredibly peaceful protests today’s violence is upsetting to see.  In comparison to yesterday there is most definitely something different going on here now.  Rumors abound of criminals being brought in to insight violence, and I’ve seen a number of people who appear much rougher than those who have composed the crowds I’ve seen in the past week.

 

As I left the square, and as I write this now, the anti-Mubarak demonstrators are surrounded within the square.  All entrances seem to have been blocked with makeshift barriers, and pro-Mubarak demonstrators appear to be trying to get through.  I’ve seen and heard reports of Molotov cocktails being thrown from the pro-Mubarak side, and just recently heard allegations of them coming from the other side as well. The violence was escalating as I left, and I’m hearing intermittent gunshots as I write this.  I can’t tell whether or not they’re coming from the military, or whether they’re being aimed at people or into the air, but they can definitely be heard.

 

The paragraph above seems to be rather intense and I don’t want to be overly dramatic, so I’ve reread it a few times.  I feel pretty comfortable about the accuracy of my description.  Tahrir is unfortunately a huge mess right now and the Defense Ministry has ordered all people out.  Not that that has done anything.  All this said, however, I’ve just walked home from Tahrir.  Along the cornice, across the bridge, and through Zamalek things seem peaceful.  Numbers of neighborhood-watch guys on the outskirts of the neighborhood are slightly larger than last night, and people are a little more on edge, IDing and scrutinizing us a bit more, but things are still safe and secure outside of Tahrir as far as I can tell.

 

Keep the Egyptian people in your thoughts tonight and please remember how peaceful and upbeat yesterday’s demonstrations were as you form your opinions about what is going on over here.

 

T III

 

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Elizabeth Hofstedt
    February 2, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    Hey there cousin,

    I am so happy to hear you are safe at home. Remember if a horse charges you side step them, try to take out their feet: no feet, no horse. Or you can grab the reigns. You have their head, you have control. Always look them in the eye, it intimidates them. I usually hold my ground with kookoos, but they aren’t army trained. It looks like those horses on your video are calvary trained because most horses are terrified by people and loud noises and run the other direction. Horses are instinctively flight animals. Horses have to be trained to work (run)into crowds. A lot of specific training for that them to do that.

    I am so happy to read that everything has worked out with CNN. Can’t wait to hear the details over coffee one day.

    I am so proud of you. I knew you could do it. Keep up the good work and stay safe.

    Big hug,

    Xuchi

    • February 3, 2011 at 12:58 pm

      Thanks for the advice Xuchi, and thanks for the support.

  2. Curtis
    February 3, 2011 at 2:00 am

    Tom,
    Thanks for the ground truth. It is good to know there are still folks willing to step into the breach so the world knwos what is really happening. Have been circulating your blog to a lot of folks on this side. a much clearer picture than what we are seeing on many news channels. Keep your head down. thougths and prayers with you. swing through the Baltimore / washington area and I will guarnatee a fine meal.
    Curtis Pearson
    ’85

    • February 3, 2011 at 11:27 am

      Thanks, Curtis. My buddy Jesse and I will keep doing our best to get word back from the streets here, but the situation is getting increasingly difficult to keep a handle on, particularly with a camera around my neck. Here’s hoping for a quick and peaceful resolution today.

  3. Aunt Joanie
    February 3, 2011 at 2:06 am

    Tommy, whatever you do, just be CAREFUL and come home safe to my little sister.

    Love,
    Aunt Joanie

  4. February 3, 2011 at 4:41 am

    so glad to have you back online! i got really worried this evening when i got off work and heard about anderson cooper getting attacked today. hopefully you are still okay. thinking about you tom!
    also, nellie was kind enough to give your number to my mom’s egyptian friend who is trying to get BACK into egypt (ah!) she’s basically just got a question about ease of traveling to the north and south suburbs after curfew, so if you’d rather deliver the message through email or whatever just shoot me a line.
    -kimbo

    • AFewDaysAbroad
      February 3, 2011 at 11:46 am
    • February 3, 2011 at 11:49 am

      Thanks for the support Kim! I talked to your friend (I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was she wanted at first) and gave her what little information I could. Hopefully I’ll be meeting up with her soon after things calm down over here.

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