The people are out in bigger numbers than ever before; the protesters will not be able to fit into Tahrir Square, and are targeting the State TV building and possibly the Presidential Palace. The army is showing signs of fracture, with reports of some officers defecting to the protestors. My head says Mubarak will be gone by tonight – all the signs point that way. But after last night’s defiant speech, where the stubborn leader didn’t give an inch, I wonder if he’s just going to tough it out. And if he does, expect it to get bloody.
Tag Archives: Protest
The area around Tahrir Square is in lockdown today. The violence has shifted from the square itself to the streets leading to it. Most entrances to the downtown area are sealed off by groups of pro-Mubarak supporters, and the one entrance allowing vehicles in that my nervous taxi driver (though not as nervous as me) could find was manned by the president’s men. They were immediately hostile when they saw a foreigner in the car, and demanded my passport and bag. They found the cameras immediately. “Sahafi, sahafi,” (journalist, journalist), they shouted. Fortunately I’d already fed the taxi driver, pro-Mubarak himself, my cover story. “No, no, he’s a teacher. And he’s African. Look at his passport.” It was the African argument that really swayed them, and they returned my passport and cameras with smiles and apologies. I breathed a sigh of relief and held a brief moment of thanks for the African Union and its spineless inaction on the Egypt issue. If I’d been American, I don’t think I would have got the cameras back. Or Qatari – Qataris are enormously unpopular at the moment because of the role that Al-Jazeera has played in televising the revolution. The line being peddled by the government’s supporters – and there are a lot more of them than I expected – is that the protests are a plot conceived by the US, Qatar and Israel. Despite the smiles, I am still denied entry to downtown Cairo, and I decide it’s not worth pushing it; things are still too unpredictable, tensions too high. Not everyone will buy the African argument.
The situation is very fluid at the moment. The TV coverage is providing perhaps a distorted picture of events. All the major networks have corralled themselves in apartments in Tahrir Square, and aren’t showing anything else. The attention that Egypt has received has been remarkable, but Egypt is bigger than Tahrir Square; and what I don’t know, and what Egyptians don’t know either, is how extensive the anti-Mubarak protests are across the rest of the country. I think that may be because support for the protestors is beginning to dry up; many people are happy to accept the President’s promise to retire in September, and just want their daily lives to return to normal. It seems to me that outside Tahrir Square, you’re more likely to see large crowds outside of functioning ATMS than in protest against the government. And without genuine popular support, the protestors in Tahrir are unlikely to get what they ask for. I hope that’s not true, but I’ve seen and heard nothing today that persuades me otherwise.
For a more extensive account of my day in the square yesterday:
It is nine thirty in Cairo, and I am in an internet cafe with bright lights, foreigners, cold drinks on demand and some flamenco music in the background. My head can’t really cope with the sheer normalcy of it all. Half an hour ago, I was pretending to be a teacher, and to be really quite fond of Mr Mubarak, to escape from the pro-Mubarak throngs/thugs who’d set themselves up outside my hostel and who were quite keen to beat up anything foreign on the assumption (reasonable, as it turns out), that all foreigners must be journalists. Half an hour before that, I was watching the Cairo sound and light show in Tahrir Square – the sound of tens of thousands of angry people chanting and banging things, and the light, somewhat beautiful in a grim sort of way, of molotov cocktails arcing their way gently through the night sky. Both sides were throwing them liberally; it looked a bit like a game of fire badminton (I don’t think that’s a sport. But it should be). Half an hour before that I was running alongside an angry mob after they’d got hold of one of the pro-Mubarak supporters who, bleeding profusely from his ear and with most of his clothes torn off, was pleading desperately for his life; a plea granted by the sensible majority of the demonstrators, who carted him off to one of the army checkpoints where he had to step around a dead body to get to where he was supposed to go. The big photo at the top is the one I took of him; apologies that it’s a little graphic.
I’m working on some analysis of today’s events and a better account of the day, which I’ll link to here when they’re up. In the meantime, I actually managed to get something published:
(Yes, I know they both link to the same story; I’m just pleased to have featured in two of my favourite publications.)
VERDICT: Cairo internet cafes, with cold drinks and internet, go forth; Hosni Mubarak’s paid thugs (apparently 50 Egyptian pounds a day is the going rate) go fourth.