Long Time Coming


Damn, its been a long time since I posted.  I apologize for that — school has kind of hit me like a sack of bricks over the past few weeks.  Anyway, this is going to be a short post.  There’s so much going on all over the Middle East that I don’t even know where to begin.

So, I’ll say this: The United States is not at war with Libya.  Full stop. Done. Nothing else to it.  At this point, there is absolutely no need to start talking about “Quagmires,” “Obama’s Vietnam,” or the even the long-term ratifications the multilateral UN bombing that has been going on for approximately the past 24 hours will have on the US.  Those who are doing so are silly, ‘nough said.

In Egypt I’ve been witness to a pretty incredible thing this weekend; what could be the first fair and free national vote in 20, if not 40, years.  People spent all week and weekend talking about voting and debating the merits of the Constitutional Amendments.  Friends are posting pictures on Facebook of them and their families with ink from the voting station on their hands, and in general it seems that people are happy with how the vote was run, if not necessarily with the outcome.

As of right now, it looks as though the Referendum will pass, accepting the Amendments and hopefully allowing Parliamentary Elections to take place this fall. Many argue that such a result would be in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood, and arguably it will be, but this is the price of democracy.  It is important to realize that even if that is true, this Referendum can in no way be seen as a referendum on the Brotherhood simply because they took a political stance in asking their supporters to vote yes.  I repeat, IN NO WAY was this even arguably a referendum on the Brotherhood and their popularity within the country.

As one of my teachers brought up this evening, the demographics of the vote are going to be extremely interesting to see.  I’m really hoping to see demographics comparing the votes in the cities with those in the villages and think that the breakdown of votes in Cairo may surprise people.  I think the country’s capital is going to turn out to be much more opposed to the Referendum than many expected. Also as, you may well already be doing if you follow politics anywhere, expect for Egypt to have many more liberal votes (and candidates in the future) coming from the large cities like Cairo and Alexandria than from surrounding areas.

Bahrain has Saudi Troops in deployed to protect the King and other key locations, the Yemeni Prime Minister has just dismissed his cabinet, serious protests have occurred in Daraa, Syria, and of course, Qaddafi forces claim to be under an immediate cease-fire in Libya.  The structure of the Middle East is changing rapidly, much more so than most, if any, can follow.

Categories: Uncategorized

Lara Logan Account


Some of you may recall the attack on Lara Logan in Tahrir back in February.  You may also recall me saying that the details hadn’t really been released by anyone, and it was too early to start making accusations of exactly what had happened, particularly of a “gang rape” that occurred while the army watched.

I have no idea what happened there, personally.  I wasn’t in Tahrir at the time.  But, as always, I think it’s important to take all accounts into consideration, so here is one account of what occurred from a foreign journalist who was present at the time: http://temorisblog.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/rape-women-stripped-what-really-happened-to-lara-logan/.

The comments on his post are also very enlightening.

Categories: Uncategorized

An Article of Mine on ForeignPolicyDigest.org


Check it out.  Rate it, comment on it, and if you like it, share it with friends.

http://www.foreignpolicydigest.org/2011/03/01/special-feature-18-days-that-may-have-changed-the-world/

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Mapping Libyan Violence by the Minute

February 25, 2011 Leave a comment

Read the disclaimer on the link – these reports are not all independently confirmed.  However, this is still an incredibly useful map if you’re trying to get a grasp on what is going on in Libya today.

http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&aq=&ie=UTF8&msa=0&msid=215454646984933465708.00049c59184ae1136341a&z=6

– Tom

Categories: Uncategorized

The Night Tahrir Fell

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment

I’m working on an article about the uprisings around the region for an online foreign policy journal called ForeignPolicyDigest.org.  In doing so, I’ve been going over my notes from the past month and decided that the blow-by-blow journal I kept while holed up in Tahrir Square on January 28th-29th actually makes for pretty interesting reading.  I’m attaching a link below from BBC which will give you idea of where I was and what I was seeing.

Find the words “anti-government” on the map: I was in the corner building where the “t” in government is located.  The road directly in front of where I was, running lengthwise across your screen, is Qasr al Aini, where AUC’s downtown campus is located (in the right-hand corner of the picture with the splash of green).  The road running perpendicular to Qasr al Aini, right below my building, is Tahrir Street. The mosque I mention a few times is slightly to the left of the word “Mogamma,” you can just make out the minaret, but I don’t know the name of that road, unfortunately.

Everything I’m about to put up is un-edited.  I’ve read it through to try to make sure it is clear, but I haven’t changed typos or grammatical errors, or deleted or added any sections based on what I’ve seen since then.  It is really just the notes I was typing as my friends and I watched history unfold below. I’ve left it as is in order to make it as direct a first-hand account as I can provide.

If you’re an American reading this, it might be easy to focus on the two occasions where I speak about anti-American sentiment. Don’t.  That’s not the story, and to be perfectly honest, from an Egyptian perspective, the frustration and anger with America I encountered is understandable as the tear gas being used on the people was produced by American companies which make weapons and crowd control tools.  It does not persist today as I can tell, even though American involvement has been hugely influential in supporting the Mubarak regime (often by guaranteeing them such tools and weapons which many countries in the world can’t buy) over the years.

You may want to open the map and the post side-by-side.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12340082

January 28th 2011

Dozens of family vans packed full of young, hard looking Egyptians dressed in plain clothes.  Small clubs in hand.

Numbers of them off the side streets and a few parked every block or so around the square.

11:50am:  We’ve just checked in to our place in Tahrir, on the third floor overlooking the square.  Call to prayer came just a short while ago.   Numbers of plain clothed cops and hired thugs are increasing.  We’ve just walked past approximately 100 of them outside of the side street entrance to the American University in Cairo.  They were not even attempting to hide their clubs from us or anyone around as they ate, kept out of direct view from those in the square by the police trucks parked in front of them.

We’re heading down to grab a bite, water and maybe some extra food in anticipation of being hold up here in the hostel for the remainder of the day.

12:20pm: We’re back in the hostel.  The sermon is being broadcast from the mosque across the street, ____________, where Dr. Ayman Nour is praying.   The crowd of hired hands and secret police has grown in the past 30 minutes, and my friend says he saw clubs wrapped in newspapers in the hands of many.  Vans are parked around the square with nearly 20 of the thugs in them.  I’ve counted between 10 and 12 so far, not including the men we saw on the side entrance to the American University.  The numbers of riot police and road blocks are rapidly increasing, with 4 personel carriers parked directly below my window.

12:30  From the other windows in the hostel – I have a complete view of the square if I count the views from all the rooms here – I count at least another 20 personel carriers around the square.  Directly below the window closest to the center of the square I count nearly 100 addittional hired thugs, now lined up receiving instruction from a uniformed police officer.  I’m going to try to take some pictures but am hesitant to draw the attention of the police below.  I’ve seen them take cameras from Egyptians on the street already.

1:50pm  The police have begun pumping themselves up, going through facing movements and calls to attention with yells and shouts.  Immediately outside one of the other windows here is the repetitive ominous noise “Huh, Huh, Huh,” as the police chant themselves into the mood to fight.

1:00pm  The first group of protesters have just arrived outside our window on Tahrir Street.  Chanting “Al shab ureed iskat al-nizaam — The People want the regime to fall,” they’ve just been rushed by riot police despite the fact that they were stationary, and many of them on the front lines were actually sitting down.  The protesters offered no resistance, but many of them were hit anyway.  I’ve stepped away from the window to write this but the police are remobilizing back here directly beneath us.  Their chants are getting louder and louder.  No sign of the dispersed protesters.  The plain clothed group I mentioned stood to the side to watch at this point and have yet to join.

1:15pm  I’ve made it up to the roof where I had a panoramic view of the square, though the people who live up there wouldn’t let me bring my camera.  I was able to take the whole scene in a bit better though.  The police are deploying across the square in brigades of 40, rows of 10, 4 deep.  No sign of more protesters.  The ________ mosque has not let out yet.  I don’t know quite what to expect from them over there.  The original group of plain clothed thugs pictured have not yet moved.

1;18pm  4 brigades of police just took off up the main entrance to Tahrir with a number, maybe 50, of the plain clothed people behind them, openly brandishing clubs and slabs of wood similar to what I was hit with on the morning of the 26th.  I have numerous photos of them.  The police are running road barriers up in front of the Egyptian Musuem, the police I just described as marching up that way are in front of these barriers, now out of view.  From the anticipatory action I’ve seen on their part, I think the goal of the police – in contrast to their actions Tuesday – is to completely prevent protesters from entering the Square.

1:28 pm tear gas canisters fired in square to the right of hostel, few protesters present

1:37pm The brigades of police which had remained in the center of the square until now have just departed, hurrying to their trucks and driving down, past the _______ mosque. The road along which the American University in Cairo is situated, Qasr al Aini, probably has the second largest force at the moment, immediately behind the street which ________ mosque sits on.  Can hear pops of something from down Qasr al Aini, past AUC, but very few and very faint.  Just found out the manager of the hostel is a police officer scheduled to work tomorrow.  Some plain-clothed guys came up here not long ago asking about pictures being taken.  He handled them well and seems to be comfortable with us here.  All the same, we are trying to keep our cameras low key.

1:50pm  The square is largely quiet.  The brigades that had been kept in reserve in the middle of the square have now all left, roughly seven of their personnel carriers taking them up the  street in front of the Egyptian Museum only a moment ago.  I’m speculating, but I would think that most of the protesters, if there are any, are coming together in other places around the city where there isn’t such a show of force.  I’m putting my stuff together to head out that way but will take my notebook with me to keep up the timeline.

2:05pm  Found around 1000 protesters down the side street our hostel sits on (Tahrir street).  Very passionate, very excited, but also very hesitant once confronted by the police.

2:13pm Tear gas was deployed and the police mock rushed the protesters, driving them back.

2:20pm Assuming that the crowds are still trying to force their way back here to Tahrir, and watching BBC coverage of only a few blocks away in front of the Egyptian Museum, just out of our view, we’ve gone back to the hostel.  The tear gas is being brought this way through the windows though, so I slightly regret that decision at the moment.

2:30pm  Can see tear gas being fired at the protesters we were just following.  They’ve retreated back a few blocks but the police are moving to disperse them.

2:31pm sound of disturbance past AUC, too distant to see

2:34pm BBC has live film of thousands coming from Martyr Square up past the Museum, the area I noted the reserve police brigades leaving towards about an hour ago.  Can’t tell from the footage whether or not they’ve broken through the police lines.

2:40pm Loud percussions are coming from Talat Harb Street, one entrance to the square down from us.  Midan Babalou (sp), the square at the end of our street, Tahrir, has tear gas rising up from it.

2:42pm I’m on the roof of our building now and can see tear gas being fired onto the Kasr al-Nile bridge where many of my photos from last night were taken. I’ve just heard a report attributed to al-Jazeera saying that the police and people in Alexandria are “together.” Admittedly, I’m not sure exactly, but that’s the best my Arabic can get for me now.  There are four more police brigades standing in reserve in the center of the square.

I am watching them arrest a number of Egyptian protesters from the roof.  They are being clubbed by two men as they are pulled back to the center of the square.

3:00pm Just got taken down to the secret police for taking photos of the arrests below.  The younger guys, the ones who escorted me down were nice and calm, as were the uniformed police officers I first talked to.  A larger, plain-clothed officer, grabbed my arm a few times and yelled at me, insisting that I wasn’t an American despite my passport. He was the same one I had been taking pictures of grabbing and arresting people a moment earlier.  He tried to direct me forward towards one of the containment cars, but I pulled my arm away and directed my arguments to a uniformed officer nearby.  The plain-clothed officer asked if I was taking pictures because I “was against them,” to which I immediately replied of course not.  When I pulled away from him again, the other officers made to let me leave with the younger, plain clothed officer I had been with.  My new enemy made a point to yell “fuck you” and tell me to “go to hell” as I walked away, being taken to a plain-clothed officer back amongst the common-dressed hired-hands-crowd I shot earlier.  This guy then erased my photos.

The percussion sounds are getting steadily getting louder and the afternoon call to prayer has just come on.  We’re seeing a plume of black smoke on the other side of the Egyptian Museum; not exactly sure what’s going on over there.  There is definitely something on fire though.

3:20pm Relative quiet in our immediate vicinity, but percussion noises and the sounds of tear gas being fired can still be heard from Talat Harb street.  The police have advanced onto Kasr al-Nile bridge and tear gas can be seen in great quantity.   It’s too far away to get a good view of, however.

3:37pm Directly below our window a young woman has wrapped herself around the light post with two English speaking girls next to her.  While the same large, plain-clothed officer who got in my face a half-hour ago yells at her and tries to get her to leave, she is chanting, “Tahrir, Houreaya… Liberation, Freedom!”  It seems they are hesitant to put their hands on her and take her away, probably due to the fact that she’s a woman.  She’s now appealing directly to us, “Come down here, you see a woman.”

One of the Americans with her has just had her phone taken.  After clutching it to her chest to protect it, an officer has ripped it from her and gone off with it.  The three woman are now standing together around the pole and the plain-clothed officers have left them alone.

Down Tahrir street we’ve just seen a young man beaten down by the uniformed police.  He’s lying on the street, not moving.  The roughly 3-400 protesters who have regrouped there sat down and continued their chants but, as I look back now, have been dispersed yet again by tear gas.

Directly below us, two young men have just been taken into a detention van by the same plain-clothed man I’ve been writing about.  I’m watching the officer continually hit the young man on the back of the head as he forces him ahead.  This guy is the epitome of police brutality.

3:50pm Literally just like that, the square is calm again.  The women below us walked off a moment ago after the plain-clothed officers left them alone.  We are watching live feed from BBC showing the movement of protesters back near the museum again.  They can’t be more than 100 yards outside of our line of sight, but we can’t see anything.  The protesters in Midan Babalou and along Tahrir street below us have been driven back.  I can’t see any of them at this point.  Personnel carriers with water hoses equipped have just been moved under our window, facing Tahrir street and, in the distance, Midan Babalou.

4:15pm From our balcony, we’ve just witnessed a number of police officers pulling buckets full of stones from the back of a civilian car and taking them down Talat Harb street.  This adds validity, in my opinion, to the claim by Shadi Taha that the police are bringing their own stones to the protest in order to either frame the protesters as instigators or incite violence so they can justify excessive use of force in putting it down.

5:22pm  Just back from the streets after finding and taking pictures of fired shotgun shells.  Can’t add any thing else to this other than to say that I did see them.  I will also say that the protesters seem much more angry and much more willing to fight than before.  We were just accosted on the street by two angry men who spotted us as Americans. They probably don’t represent the whole of the people below, but the tear gas being fired on the crowds says, “made in America” right on it, and that’s pissing people off.  Gets you to thinking a bit.

The protesters who had previously been in Talat Harb just outside our window have been pushed farther back from Tahrir but now have grown in numbers.  I would estimate that this group alone is between 2 and 3 thousand.  From our balcony we can now see protesters breaking through the road along the Museum, where BBC has been covering that there are some of the worst protests in the city going on.  Right now, if these groups are able to get together to push towards the square, we could be about to witness some incredibly trying moments.  Numbers are growing in front of the museum as I write this and the police at the Kasr al-Nile bridge are retreating, using their own tear gas as a rearguard.  We can’t see how many people are coming from any direction, but the sounds of percussion are growing rapidly.  We can now see protesters running through the smoke on the bridge.

5:30pm  The police have pushed the small group in front of the museum back, but the Tahrir of 5:30pm is a much more hectic and emotional one than the calm square I wrote of not two hours ago.

5:46pm  Out of nowhere the protesters have now taken the bridge.  They are still being held from entering the square by the sheer quantity of tear gas.  Below our window, on the opposite end of the square, we’ve just witnessed four brigades of police enter their personnel carriers only to come back out moments later.  We can’t determine what exactly happened within, but we believe they may have been re-equipped. Things are getting serious throughout the square and the thousands of protesters we saw just an hour ago are still nowhere to be seen.

From the road on which the museum is located we are now witnessing over 20 new personnel carriers and 8 small vans careening into the square.  Reinforcements, obviously, but they’ve now launched past and through the square.

5:56pm More people are now beginning to break through along the museum side in small numbers.  We’ve also just witnessed approximately 10 people escape from within one of the holding trucks.

6:00pm Small numbers of protesters have now entered the square from the Museum street. The police are retreating throughout the square as the numbers of protesters grows continuously larger.  The group we encountered not an hour ago has begun to make their way here.  I can see a small vehicle on fire from directly next to the Mosque.  Is Dr. Ayman Nour still there?

6:03pm I’ve just witnessed projectiles of some sort being fired at the crowd directly beneath me by the remaining police.  It looks like rubber bullets in a scatter formation like from a shotgun.  A young protester below our window just took a hit nearly point blank.  He is on the ground unresponsive.. wait, other protesters are picking him up and carrying him away.  The police are targeting those around them, but are ignoring those helping the injured man. It appears that the projectiles have driven most of the protesters back at the moment.

6:07pm Protesters fleeing the incoming smoke have fled up to our 3rd floor hostel.  They’re banging on the front door asking for water as I write this.  The manager is giving it to them to clear their eyes, but is not excited about it.

6:10pm The remnants of the police are reforming below. I’d estimate approximately 100 just ran down the road towards the museum, where I can no longer see protesters.  Under our balcony on Tahrir Street, a group of protesters is charging the square.  Personnel carriers are being deployed as road blocks along that road……..  No, they are now in a forced and havoc strewn retreat.

6:13pm The protesters have finally completely broken through the bridge.  This group does not look as though they can be stopped.

6:22pm The police below our window have been driven back again. Once more we have a number of protesters below.  The protesters have torn road blocks and guard booths from the ground and are rolling them in front as protection from the shots of the police.

6:28pm The protesters have completely taken the square.  The remnants of the police are using tear gas to cover their retreat down Qasr al Aini street.  BBC is for some reason still showing coverage of the bridge, though those protesters have now reached the square.

6:36pm Protesters’ numbers are growing rapidly, the square is filling.

6:43pm Protesters’ chants of “al shab ureed iskat al-nizam” are echoing throughout the square as the police make a tactical attempt to retake Qasr al Aini using tear gas.  I literally cannot see out of that corner window because the gas is so thick.

6:47 The call to prayer just sounded, prompting a surge of yells from the protesters below my window.  They rushed forward against the police, but were immediately driven back by the tear gas. In the middle of the square I can see some of the more brave protesters ripping hoses used to water the grass from the ground, using them to put out the gas canisters.

6:53pm A thought has just struck me:  At this point this is no longer a protest, this is an uprising; an Intifadah.

Approximately 7:10pm

The square is entirely in the control of thousands of protesters.  Although some police remain, firing tear gas from somewhere – where I can’t tell – they have been driven from the square entirely.

7:24pm We’ve just confirmed that a number of policemen have climbed the wall into AUC’s downtown campus and are firing tear gas on the protesters from within.

7:49pm The square is filled with the harmonious chants of thousands, “Al-shab ureed iskat al-nizaam!”  This has become the mantra of the protest; it’s everywhere, and now not stopping at all.  A few minutes ago, roughly 7:40, we saw three personnel carriers with hoses on top drive through the square, driven and manned on top by protesters. Applause thundered through the square at their arrival.

7:53pm There are now competing chants coming from below: “Al-shab ureed iskat al-nizaam,” and “allah akbar, allah akbar!”  This may be a result of the increased presence of Muslim Brotherhood supporters here today, in comparison to Tuesday.  Even as I write this though, the first chant has overwhelmed the second.   A building behind the Museum – I can’t tell which one from here, is going up in flames.  I’m only speculating, but it is in the vicinity of the National Democratic Party headquarters.

8:18pm No new updates.  The cars lit on fire around the Square are now burning faster.

8:32pm We just got the news Mubarak has given control to the military; debating whether or not to try to make it through the crowd and back to Zamalek.

8:35pm We’ve just seen three army vehicles with guns mounted on top come through the square – the people immediately parted – they continued through the square, down Sharia Tahrir.

8:45pm I’ve decided to stay here rather than try to make it back to Zamalek, talked into it by more experienced minds and considering the facts that we can’t see a thing outside of the square and Egyptian history puts the army on the side of the people, never acting violently.  As a group, we’ve just settled on that decision.

8:52pm We’re now seeing footage on BBC of army vehicles being greeted with cheers, the soldiers on top of the tanks waving to the people in the streets.  I’m maintaining that staying was the right decision.  With Mubarak authorizing the military to take the streets he relies on his force of character with and amongst the Army’s generals to keep his grip on power.  His generals face the allure of taking control themselves or giving control to some sort of group of the people.  I think the first of these options is the most likely, but we can’t be sure.  What I do believe, however, is that the Mubarak regime is done.

8:59pm We’re now getting official confirmation from al-Jazeera Arabic of the rumors I heard earlier that Alexandria and Suez were under the control of the people.  As I understand it, with translation help, the people literally control both Suez and Alexandria without the army, but I can’t be sure at the moment.  Al-Jazeera is breaking in-and-out over here now as well.

9:20 pm I’ve just heard that an army soldier has been taken prisoner one floor beneath us.  Allegedly there was a debate to kill him (don’t really trust the source), but they decided against that.

9:30pm Can now see a burning Army armored vehicle near the center of the square.  My friend reports seeing the protesters through a Molatov cocktail at it.

9:40pm We’ve now been told, yet again, that the tear gas being used was made in the States.  This is the cause of a lot of anger right now.  Obviously that doesn’t bode well for us.  I’m not looking to suffer the wrath of an angry mob.

10:08pm I’ve just had a conversation with two Egyptian media personnel on the roof about ElBaradei and Dr. Ayman Nour.  They’ve both said that they don’t want either of these two men as the next President of Egypt.  They believe that if either of them were to come to power there would be a repeat of the Mubarak regime.

10:14pm We’re talking with a new Egyptian friend about whether or not we would be able to make it into Zamalek tonight.  He is acting as a guide for a free-lance camera man we’ve seen a few times today and is now telling us that he has spoken with many people while he was down on the ground and believes that it is not safe for us to go.  I’m inclined to agree with him, despite the fact that it is not as hectic or rough down in front of us right now as before.  The experience I had with the anger towards America has forced me into caution mode, and I’m not thrilled with the idea of putting myself in an emotionally charged crowd at the middle of the night when they may have something against me.

Our new friend has also told us that there is live fire in the Mosque across the square, but I’m skeptical to immediately believe that.

10:45pm From the corner window I’ve just taken pictures of the burning construction site directly across the square from us.  Down the street that AUC is on (Qasr al Aini) – to my left -the police (maybe the army) are moving forward trying to retake the square and shooting live rounds.  I can almost definitively say that I’ve been hearing shotguns fired, and everyone I’m with, including a former air force guy, agrees.  The people are not backing down in response, trying to find things to hide behind and holding their ground.  Behind them, a contingency of protesters have taken sticks to metal, banging out a beat to encourage nerves.  The “Clang! Clang! Clang!” of this protest presents an eerie backdrop to the sounds of shots being fired.

11:02pm  I can guarantee that they are firing projectiles, at the least, though I still think we are seeing live rounds.  I’ve spotted more than a few injured people being carried away from the front by fellow protesters. Only a small, token force of police equipped with whatever the weapon below is have driven the entire crowd of protesters back from the American University and onto the far side of Tahrir, the side which our balcony directly looks down on.  Additionally, many of the protesters have headed away from this area of conflict, towards the Museum where it seems to be much quieter and much safer.  They are congregating there but seem hesitant to return to the center of the Square where they have been for the last few hours

11:07  It looks as though a number of the protesters below us are preparing to fight for the ability to stay in the square.  They are picking up rocks, tearing down signs that may act as shields, and communicating together with a common purpose.

11:12 Don’t believe these are live rounds anymore; I think they would be causing much more damage if they were.  However, I am hearing shots being fired from more directions now, including down Talat Harb street, one block away from our hostel here.

11:21pm I’ve just gotten our hostel manager’s take on the events here.  Remember, he is a member of the police force.  He believes that the Mubarak regime needs to change, but that the protests below are not the way for it to happen.  He also believes that the people will be dispersed shortly and will not return, that the military will take and hold the city.  He believes, however, that a change in the Mubarak regime is near, but not inevitable because of this, and even not likely to happen.  He does not believe that Army Chief of Staff (?) Tantawi will betray President Mubarak.

11:41pm  The smoke of the tear gas from the advancing police to the left (down Qasr al Aini) is now directly below our balcony.  Large numbers of protesters are retreating from the square rapidly as I write this, with the only significant group remaining holding near the museum.  Even their numbers are thinning, however.

11:52pm With the exception of a small group of protesters in the middle of the square, the police have completely retaken the surrounding area.  They’re making some sort of announcement from loudspeakers but we can’t make out what exactly is being said.  Down Talat Harb street, protesters are now trying to reenter the square.  Molatov cocktails are still abundant, but I can only see them as they land. The protesters, those throwing the Molatov cocktails anyway, are just beyond my point of view.

12:06am The police have officially retaken the square.

12:30am Mubarak has just announced the complete dissolution of the government. [Retrospect 2/24 – more of a declaration of martial law]  Can’t get anymore out of that with my Arabic, but tanks have just rolled into the square. Some of the protesters are back and are using the tanks as shields behind which to hide from the police as they throw rocks, etc at them.

12:35am The protesters are now cheering with the army, “al-shab, al-Gaesh, maabaud!”  The People, the Army, together!”  This division of the army has sided, it appears, with the Egyptian people.  I count 24 personnel carriers and 15 tanks parked directly outside our window. We’re going down for some one-on-one interviews.

1:31am I got back up here about ten minutes ago after speaking with and photographing a number of protesters and army members, including a Professor at Cairo University.  One thing seems to be for sure: the people want Mubarak out as well, not just his government.  A common theme repeated throughout our hour down there was that this is the people’s movement.  As the Professor at Cairo University said, this movement is about all of the people, together.

1:36 am From the street in front of the American University in Cairo a brigade of police have begun to advance on the Square, firing tear gas and making a rush at the protesters.  In response, 3 army tanks have repositioned themselves down that road, their turrets facing away from the police.  What we are seeing is aid, albeit unofficial and potentially unintended aid, to the protesters on the part of the Army.  This is truly incredible to see right now.

2:05am Just shared the news of the military taking Tahrir Square to CNN using a satellite phone borrowed from Xinhua news agency in China.  You all should be getting it soon, if some other American news agency hasn’t already picked it up.  Apparently most Western journalists had concerns about leaving their locations due to the curfew in place and were completely in the dark on this event.

2:15am We began to see movement amongst the tanks and Army forces below.

2:35am Called CNN back to go with a live feed of the events here in Tahrir, but was told they now had their own sources chasing the lead and, “thanks for the tip.” Bummer, can’t get all the breaks I suppose.

2:40am The Army forces have now repositioned themselves throughout the square, a number of the tanks heading down Qasr al Aini and a number of others moving back towards the Egyptian Museum.  The protesters are with them, riding on the tops of the tanks and trucks, as this occurs.  I can’t help but wonder, what exactly does the military’s action here indicate? Are we witnessing the Army, or at least this division, side with the protesters? Or, are we simply witnessing them following orders and maintaining stability in the city?

2:55am I’m absolutely exhausted and, as things seem to be at a fairly stagnant point, I’m going to try to catch a few minutes of sleep while some of the other guys in our group are awake.

3:05am No way I can sleep here.  Too much going on. We just had a slight sprinkle of rain which aroused a chorus of cheers from the Egyptian protesters below.  In a place where rain is incredibly rare (it has only rained here once since August, and even then for only a minute or so) rain is highly celebrated.  The protesters are claiming it is a sign of God’s approval of their movement.

3:35am There are now only 7 tanks and 6 personnel carriers within Tahrir as I can see, though it is quite possible that even more of them are stationed along Qasr al Aini, as I can’t make that out very well and that is the last place from which I’ve seen a police presence.  Tanks and armored pcs are now moving in the square, protesters still riding on top of them.

3:45am It’s funny, I suppose even protesters need to sleep.  You don’t really think of that when you hear about continuous weeks of protests in places like Tunisia, do you?  A young man has just come up from below and is sleeping on a couch in the hostel foyer.  There are also almost no people watching the square from the surrounding apartment balconies anymore either.  That isn’t to say the protests have died out. From Shar’a Talat Harb I’ve just witnessed one, maybe two police officers who have been captured by the protesters.  Army soldiers are trying to protect them, pulling them through the crowd and covering their heads as they go, but people are swarming around yelling at them and trying to hit them.  As the night progresses, it looks as though I’m watching an increasingly motley crew of protesters.

I’m also reminded just now that many of the tanks have had people writing on them for the past few hours.  Large black markers are being used to write slogans such as “Down with Mubarak” along the sides of the vehicles, like a decal on a car door.

3:57am  Some sort of television camera crew has finally arrived down on the ground.  Directly below the front of the hostel, what sounds like a young woman has gained the attention of the camera and is leading the protesters in a series of cheers, none of which I am able to make out effectively.  There are roughly 300 people with her there, but they also seem to be some of the only protesters left here in Tahrir Square.  The army’s presence certainly has calmed things down.

4:15am The group of protesters chanting has both grown and moved.  They are probably around 1000 strong and have moved to the center of the square where their chants are being led by a number of young men.  4:15 now; what happens if protesters hold the square until morning?  The army has shown that it will not fire on protesters, at least not here, so if the protesters’ numbers grow rapidly in the next few hours we could be on the verge of day II.

4:21am They’ve just sang an almost solemn verse of the National Anthem, which has been greeted with whistles and claps from everyone.

5:15am Call to prayer has just sounded.  The protesters’ numbers remain at about 1000.  There is a slight repositioning of the tanks in the square.  There is now a tank directly under our window, and one looking down Talat Harb street.  Cat nap till sunrise – can’t keep my eyes open.

6:15am  had to sleep, for my own sanity.  Crowd progress is roughly the same as before. Sun is beginning to rise and the numbers seem slightly swelled, but still nowhere near as many people as last night.

7:15am No change

8:15am Tanks have repositioned, but still, no significant change

9:00am We’re making a break for the Kasr al-Nile bridge and back into Zamalek.  The crowd remains thin and attention from Qasr al Aini (tear gas is being fired again) distracting the protesters makes this the time to move.

10:42am Back in the apartment after a brief stop at the AP Press Agency here.   Apparently I have a number of good photos from the day, but the ones from the night (which they have from nowhere else) are not of a high enough quality to publish.  The ones from this morning are good as well, but nothing they don’t already have in mass.  Phones are back up and I’ve just called my parents to let them know that I’m ok.

Categories: Uncategorized

Washington Times: Great Paper…

February 22, 2011 5 comments

Do me a favor and read this.  It’ll only take a few minutes.

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/feb/21/al-qaedas-sputnik-moment/

Pretty angry?  I hope so, they’ve certainly assumed we’re all pretty stupid thinking we’d buy this line.  If not, let me highlight a few phrases and why they should bother you:

– “The situation in the Middle East today is as different as the vast cultural divide that separates their civilization from our own.”  Why it should bother you: A classic, defeatist and ignorant argument that Middle Eastern and Western societies have fundamental differences that can’t be reconciled.  Reminiscent of pro-segregation arguments from the mid 20th century American South when you think of it.

– When speaking of “the Mideast” as a whole: “Still others, like freedom of worship, are considered heresy.”  Why it should bother you: Another classic ignorant argument, that there is absolutely no religious pluralism in the Middle East.  There are roughly 8 million Christians living here in Egypt, by the way.  Yes, there are problems of religious division, but they are not and should not be considered insurmountable.

– “There is nothing wrong with the United States helping the people of the region realize a future free of oppression from either mosque or state.”   Why it should bother you:  A not-so-subtle insinuation that Islam world-wide is an oppressive religion.  Without getting into the details of why this is wrong, I’ll simply say that generalizations of any sort (particularly without any evidence to support them) completely misrepresent the people they talk about.  Not all Christians hate homosexuals, by the way, and not all Spanish speaking people in the US are from Mexico.

– “The president of the United States has a duty to promote the principles of an open society dedicated to the prosperity of its people, especially when it means standing against the erection of Islamist states dominated by hard-line Shariah law.”  Why it should bother you: Another not-so-subtle insinuation, this time that any regime change in the Middle East will inevitably lead to an Islamist (not a real word) government in that nation.  Again, where is any semblance of an argument?  Evidence?  Support?  Yes, it’s an editorial, but well-written editorials still defend their points.

– And, to top it all off, the very title of the article, “Al Qaeda’s Sputnik Moment.”  Why it should bother you:  Al Qaeda had nothing to do with any of these movements.  Nothing more to say.

If this article pissed you off too, I’d encourage you to email the editors of the Washington Times at: yourletters@washingtontimes.com

If you like, feel free to copy and paste the email I sent them (below) and sign your own name at the end.

21 February, 2011

To the Editor:

Your article published today titled “Al Qaeda’s Sputnik Moment” is
almost criminally negligent in both its insinuations and stereotypes
about the peoples of the Middle East and the composition of the
movements we have seen arise throughout that region in the past two
months.  That the countries of the Middle East are all the same and
are all guaranteed to be governed by “hard-line Shariah law” as a
result of the popular uprisings we’ve recently been witness to is not
only factually wrong but also morally reprehensible as aggressive
sensationalism and fear-mongering.  From my view here on the ground in
Cairo, and in direct contrast to your claim that “the rights that
Americans regard as sacred are of little importance in the Mideast,”
these protests have proven undeniably that the people of this region,
despite their differences from country-to-country, value the same
rights of freedom, self-determination, and self-governance which we as
Americans treasure.

This piece is not journalism, its propaganda. It offers absolutely no
basis for its conclusions or insinuations, and your failure to
attribute it to the writers responsible fails to show any sort of
experience or expertise from which to speak with such an
attitude of authority.  As a D.C. – Metro area resident and long-time
reader of your paper I resent your attempt to take advantage of your
readerships’ presumed ignorance about the Middle East to push
uneducated stereotypes and assumptions about a number of diverse
cultures and peoples on your public. I challenge you to retract this
article.  Failing that, I challenge you to publish this critique and
open your paper to a debate on the merits of the piece you published,
using your authors’ names and experiences in and around the countries
and cultures of the Middle East, not to mention the religion of Islam,
to attempt to authenticate this sensational and factually incorrect piece.

Sincerely Disappointed in Cairo,

Tom Plofchan

On another note, I just picked this up off of twitter.  NOT for the faint of heart.  I can’t attest to its legitimacy, but this is allegedly footage from hospitals in Libya.  Even the fear that it is has me wondering where the international community is on the Libyan protests.  In response to her comments today, for once I’d like to see Hilary Clinton actually say something of substance when she talks to the press.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xc3K-2YUubc

Categories: Uncategorized

From Cairo, An Opportunity for a Better Understanding

February 19, 2011 2 comments

The political transformation that Egypt is undergoing today is an incredibly beautiful, exciting, and perhaps unprecedented opportunity for growth and understanding between the West and the Middle East.  The Middle East of 2011 faces a legacy of more than 200 years of colonization benefiting Europeans and Americans at the expense of the peoples who have historically lived there.  French and British flags in the region no longer fly anywhere other than above their respective embassies, yet many Middle Eastern countries remain economically and militarily reliant on Europe and America in a manner largely reminiscent of the colonial period.  In Egypt, the Mubarak Regime has been an embodiment of this reliance for 30 years.  In the past few weeks however, through public demonstrations and protests which have enthralled the international community and terrified totalitarian regimes throughout the region, the Egyptian people have freed themselves from the burden of that particular domestic oppression and simultaneously told the world that they, the people of Egypt, have taken control of their future.

From a legacy of colonization, and entirely unsupported by foreign powers, a peoples’ movement has arisen in Egypt to force their will on the government and reform the nation to fit their dream of what it should be.   The Obama Administration’s soft and often confusing stance on the issue has emphasized this lack of Western interference and highlighted that this has truly been a movement of the Egyptian people.  In fact, the Egyptians have roundly dismissed Western regime building in their country by ousting the American backed and supported Mubarak, striking a blow for a more legitimate form of Self-Determination and Self-Governance in Egypt, one which in both its basic demands and national pride echoes the ideologies of the American and French Revolutions.

Given this background, the beauty of these protests and their potential to help build relationships of understanding between the United States and the Arab world becomes more apparent.  Freedom and Democracy are things worth fighting for, as popular protester and Google Executive Wael Ghonim famously said upon his release from State Security early last week.  Those who have fought that fight, no matter their country or ethnicity, have a common ground on which to stand in relating to and understanding each other.

As Americans remember every Memorial Day, freedom and liberty come at a heavy cost and are not easily won.  However, when earned through the struggle of Self-Determination, by throwing off outside influences and internal oppression, the value of true freedom is fully appreciated.  A country that has done this successfully knows itself, and therefore knows to a much greater degree what it wants of the world around it.  This movement has been a proud declaration from the Egyptian youth and people to the Western world that they treasure the same values as the West, are willing to fight for them, and demand to be recognized on the world stage as such.

Egypt will reach its own status-quo from this struggle.  It may not happen tomorrow, but it will happen.  What form it takes and when the end result is realized depends largely on the military now, but the Egyptian military’s close relationship and history with the people, based on its compulsory composition and perceived heroic role in the 1952 revolution, indicates that the new Egyptian government will be secular, will protect the rights of the people, and will be inclusive.

The movement of the past weeks has never been Islamic, nor will it become so.  There is no political party both strong and experienced enough to take control of Egypt alone, so dialogue and cooperation, which have already begun, will inevitably be necessary for governance.  In short, should the relationship between the Egyptian military and people remain as it has for the past 60 years, the new Egyptian government will be a government by, of and for the Egyptian people; just as they have demanded, proudly and without fear, since January 25th.  All that said, it will remain important for the Egyptian people to continue to take to the streets as they did yesterday to reinforce their presence and remind the military that it is accountable to the citizenry.

In demanding their rights so fiercely the Egyptian people have opened the door to a better understanding and dialog between themselves, other Arab nations and the peoples of the West.  Unlike the revolution of 1952, Egypt’s present uprising shares a common secular ideology with the uprisings, revolutions and movements of Western independence.  Over the past few weeks there has been no antagonistic Pan-Arabism on the streets to scare the West away from relating to the passions and ideals of the movement.  Furthermore, notions that this has been an Islamic revolution are almost criminally negligent.  The Egyptian people are demanding the same rights and representations demanded by the citizens of Western governments; if Western societies can manage to recognize this, moving past allegations and fear mongering about the nonexistent rise of Islam or an aggressive Pan-Arabism in the Middle East, the potential for unprecedented exchanges and growth between these cultures is undeniable.   In the West, actions could be taken to move public perception of Arab peoples from one of distrust, which assumes an inherent dissimilarity, to one of recognition and understanding based on the common values this Revolution has championed.

Egypt has taken a giant stride in advancing the potential for cooperation and understanding between the Middle East and the West.  They’ve definitively shown their critics that Arabs are often just like Westerners; that they have many of the same values and demands and are willing to fight for the same results.  Hopefully the West can get past its own stereotypes and take advantage of this opportunity to build better relations, and the promise of a better future, with the peoples of this region.