Please note that this is a personal log of the events in Cairo starting Jan.28th. The events mentioned are eyewitness reports and from news networks and this is not intended as an official report.
Friday Jan 28th: The day of the massive after prayer demonstrations.
Egyptians woke today to a complete communications shutdown. All mobile phone networks and internet service providers were down on orders of the government. This is because the majority of organization of the demonstrations was conducted via Twitter and Facebook. This is the first time that the internet has been completely shutdown in a specific location.
I spent the day glued to the coverage on the television in particular Al Jazeera International which had daylong coverage from the three major cities, Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. In Cairo, the main live feed was being broadcast from next to the Ramses Hilton and The 6th of October Bridge opposite. This bridge is a main road of the city linking the suburbs on either side of the Nile and is often called the city’s spine.
The images were both heartwarming and infuriating. There was a definite sense of pride in the protestors, especially when they confronted the police and security forces informing them that they would be praying. The images of them praying while the police stood and watched was amazing, especially when you realize that the protestors standing around the prayers were Christians, watching out for their Muslim compatriots. That’s the Egypt I know. However, as these things invariably do, the situation soon turned violent. As prayer was nearing its end, a tear gas canister was hurled at the worshippers. Say what you will, that was an act of cowardice.
From then on, things seemed to get worse, especially as far as the security forces were concerned. Following more attacks on the demonstrators, mostly involving the shooting of tear gas canisters (from the bridge, which seemed to be blocked to traffic at the time) that were lobbed back by the protesters who had taken position outside the hotel.
This continued for several hours until the protestors were eventually able to overwhelm the security forces and managed to reclaim the bridge, despite a curfew being announced from 6pm to 7am. Several armored vehicles were set alight as were several buildings including the N.D.P’s headquarters. These were scenes repeated in cities around the country, my friend told me her family in Alexandria was trapped in their own home by the tear gas that was in the air and the vehicles and various other items that had been set on fire nearby.
There were reports that at one point the protestors made a human shield around the Museum of Antiquities.
By the end of the evening, the police and security services had retreated and the army had begun to roll onto the streets to be greeted by jubilant crowds. I counted at least 8 go by my house, one of which is still parked by my building, probably due to our proximity to the sensitive government buildings. There was also the unmistakable smell of smoke in the air that evening, similar to what can be smelt after a bonfire.
At midnight, the President made his first address since the nationwide protests began. He did not comply with the people’s demands to stand down and instead announced that the government would resign and new ministers would be appointed.
Inevitably there were casualties many of which did not become known until the following day.
Saturday Jan 29th: When the looters came.
Angered by the President’s address in the early hours of the morning the people of Egypt took to the streets again, this time in their 10s if not 100s of thousands. Cairo alone saw approximately 50,000 congregate on Tahrir Square in the centre of the city. The police were conspicuous by their absence and the army was being hailed by the people whenever they came into contact, with the protestors frequently seen shaking hands with the soldiers. Many of the live images show people climbing on to the tanks and armored vehicles to greet the soldiers, chant, and wave the Egyptian flag.
The army is not and never has been seen as the repressive force that the police are. This is evidenced by the fact that despite being deployed by the same government that ordered the police onto the streets, the army has remained mostly hands off with regards to the protestors.
The brutality of the police forces was made apparent today when the bodies of those killed in clashes yesterday were shown on television with the grieving relatives waiting outside the morgues. These were images repeated around the country with reports that in areas where there were no news cameras, the police had not used water cannons and tear gas but had moved straight on to live ammunition.
The first side effect of the situation started to reveal itself today once darkness fell. Reports of looters invading homes around the city soon spread and neighbourhoods started taking matters into their own hands to secure their properties. People are being advised to stay indoors and not open the door to anyone unless they know them. In my area, locals (mainly the men and youths) have organized themselves into shifts to watch over the buildings throughout the night. They are armed with whatever they can find; sticks, knives, pipes, strips of rubber tires, guns if they have them. One neighbour has been patrolling with his mastiff and I could swear I’ve seen one person with what looked like a sword. This being repeated all over the country, everyone I have called have said the same about their street.
Sunday Jan 30th: My 26th birthday!
It will be a memorable birthday anyway! There is still no-or extremely minimal- internet access in Egypt today, however my friend in England has been in touch and has been able to pass on my number on Facebook. It was lovely having a call from an online friend I’ve never met before who has promised to pass along messages to my online community.
Reports also began to come through late last night and today of the people who have fled the country. These are mostly high ranking business men who have links to the ruling party. The message to leave is obviously getting through to some people!
Everything is still tense; there is a sense of lawlessness, with people arming up to protect their homes come nightfall. The army is patrolling main streets and areas but around the suburbs and residential areas of the city, it’s the citizens in charge of security. A friend and work colleague with family and friends in Alexandria told me that her friends there actually managed to capture looters.
On a personal level, I know how nervous I am as I’ve started cleaning! We now have lovely clean sparkly windows and I’ve cleaned out some kitchen drawers, believe me, this is not normal behaviour for me!
Some countries have begun to urge their nationals to leave Egypt, with Turkey and sending planes to evacuate their expatriates and the US has advised its citizens to leave.
Al Jazeera- the Arabic language news channel- has been taken off the air, presumably due to their daylong ongoing live coverage of the events. However, Al Jazeera International is still available as are other news networks. But in a change from previous days, the journalists on the ground are no longer being named or giving their locations (beyond which city they’re in) as the Cairo bureau has been closed.
People are gathering once again, hoping to get into Tahrir Square. The main major roads are being closed off and patrolled by the military but the protestors are being allowed into the square, but from smaller streets and through checkpoints. These seem to have been set up to allow the soldiers to check the protestors for weapons or to ensure they are not plain-clothes police trying to enter the square and cause riots. There were reports of gunfire in the square when a fire engine attempted to enter and was attacked by protestors fearing that it would be used as water cannon.
The army has announced that they will come down hard with regards to the curfew and there are reports that they have been ordered to use live ammunition against the protestors. I’m writing this at 3:20 pm which is 40 minutes before the curfew comes into effect.
It’s now 4:06 and the curfew is officially in effect. The sky over Cairo has been filled with the sounds of fighter planes (F15) as the circle over Tahrir Square. From my balcony we can see in the direction of Tahrir and the planes as well as the occasional helicopter can be seen.
6:00 pm: Mr. Mohamed El-Baradie, the former head IAEA has just been elected by the opposition parties (The Muslim Brotherhood, the April 6th movement and the Kefaya party among others) as a figurehead president to negotiate with the government on behalf of the opposition. He is now heading towards Tahrir Square to join the protestors.
9:15 pm: Listening to an NDP member talk to Al Jazeera, saying that “millions and millions of Egyptians want Mubarak to stay!” What a load of crap! It has also been announced that the curfew has been extended to 3pm to 8am starting tomorrow (Monday) and that the police force will return to the streets. Time will show whether or not this is a good thing.
A silver lining to today’s cloud; my best friend called me to tell me that her sister had given birth to a baby boy in the early hours of the morning.
Monday Jan. 31st:
This morning my brother and I ventured out in an attempt to find an ATM that has some money. The first two had no cash and at the last there was a queue and I was only able to withdraw 100 pounds which turned out to be the last of the money in the machine. While we’re lucky that money isn’t actually running low at the moment at home, we were hoping to get most of our salaries out of the bank.
It was interesting to see what the streets were like, I haven’t actually been further away than the local shops since Friday, all the shops on the way to the nearest square and shopping district (Roxy) were shuttered up. The road leading to my old primary school is partially blocked by an abandoned police van which had obviously been attacked as the windshield was smashed and the tyres slashed. The police are supposed to be back on the streets today, but I only saw 4 traffic wardens. Traffic in Cairo is normally chaotic and bumper-to-bumper whatever time of day, today there were significantly fewer cars on the road and pedestrians were also at a minimum. Our taxi driver on the way home said that he was giving up and going home for the day, we had been his first fare in over 2 hours.
We are also beginning to see the start of shortages of some basic foodstuffs as people have begun to panic buy and stockpile. The local bakery hasn’t been making baladi or traditional bread and is limiting its production of rolls and completely stopped non-essential things like breadsticks, biscuits and cakes; once his supply of flour runs out, chances are he’s not going to be able to get anymore.
Watching the ‘new’ government being sworn in. What a joke! All the major ministerial posts are the same; no one has changes apart from the interior minister, culture minister and prime minister. That is NOT a change in government! The man is delusional. I just hope that this will spur foreign especially Western governments to start to call for his removal. What he has done is fan the flames even more.
5 Al Jazeera journalists have been detained, although it’s not clear whether they are from the Arabic or the International channel. The Arabic language channel was taken off the air here in Egypt yesterday and all the licences were revoked. Again, banning the free press and trying to control all media is not the actions of a rational stable government. Hoping for more widespread condemnation of the President and his government following these actions.*The journalists were later released.*
Some more bad news today, my friend’s little nephew didn’t survive the night. He had been born almost 6 weeks prematurely but it seems he was too weak despite being in an incubator.
The new Vice President Omar Suliman has reported that the President has delegated the responsibility of negotiating with the opposition to him. Obviously, this is something the President feels incapable of doing, or even announcing himself.
Tuesday Feb.1st: The Million Man March
Today over a million Cairians made their way to Tahrir Square to continue the eighth day of protests. Although the original plan was to march from there to the Presidential Palace in Heliopolis (a distance of about 3-4 Km), this was changed to instead remain in the square and continue the protest there instead of running the risk of losing their position there.
The streets have been eerily quiet all day today and a friend who lives near the palace has said that the entire street (it’s one of the main roads here in Heliopolis) is full of security forces and barbed wire is everywhere.
At the moment we are waiting for the President to make a statement, whether it will be what we want to hear or not and what will happen if it isn’t, is yet to be seen.
Just listened to the speech. Too angry to write a reasonable response. I think the protestors are saying it best; “Irhal!” “Get Out!”