Friday, February 4, 2011

The First Week of The Egyptian Revolution

These entries are day by day accounts of the uprising in Egypt that began on the 25th of January. They are select and not comprehensive – and do not include much of an analysis, which will hopefully come later. Since I am based in Cairo and did not have access to Internet for the seven days recorded here (and the entry to be added above), the daily accounts are based on television reports and eyewitness accounts (either of my own, my friends or friends of friends). Therefore, not all of this information can be considered ‘confirmed’ as a report. Please feel free to add to and correct what I have written.

There seems to be a wave in the protest activity – intense demonstrations one day, continued but simmered down demonstrations the next, a resumption of major protest activities the day after, so on and so forth. And the same goes for the emotions – a wave of undulating emotions – fear, hope, anger, elation.

On Friday, the 28th of January, protestors call for a million plus demonstration. And it is massive. The police respond with force and after the nightfall some protestors even died in Tahrir Square. There are clashes between protestors and the police throughout the day and night. Police installations – stations, posts, vehicles – seem to be the main targets of protestors. In our neighborhood major clashes break out between protestors and the police in front of the Dar El Salaam police station, down the street from our building. Protestors attack the police station, using what seems like petrol bombs to set the building on fire and smashing the windows of the station. Protestors charge the station with sticks, glass, stones – and then retreat when police respond. It sounds as if police are responding with tear gas and rubber bullets.

At some point in the night the police are disbanded and the army comes in to take their place. At around 3 in the morning Mubarak gives a public, televised speech stating that he will create a new government. He fires his Cabinet, including the prime minister, and tries to distance himself from the police, stating that he and his army will protect the people.

The next day, Saturday the 29th, in the morning we go down to the streets to see the destruction. There is debris all over, some evidence of blood spilt, some vandalism (an ATM machine, for instance) and four or five tanks stood in front of the battered police station. The station had been burning on both sides of the building, the glass windows in front are all smashed. People stand in front of the soldiers and tanks and take pictures. There is a feeling of anxiety, anticipation, and hope in the air.

Reports throughout the country are that people are embracing the military – giving flowers to soldiers, kissing soldiers. Demonstrators begin to chant that the people and the military are hand-in-hand.

Mubarak signs in a vice president, Omar Suleiman, head of intelligence and key negotiator with Israel, and then appoints a new prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, former air chief. Both are military men. On Saturday reports also surface that eighteen prominent businessmen fled Egypt on private jets. The rumor is that among them was a nineteenth businessman, Ahmed Ezz, the steel magnate and prominent member of the ruling National Democratic Party, who the day before quite the NDP and was not permitted to leave the country. These developments clearly signal a shift from the business elite to the military in decision making ranks – a shift from the (false and failed) promise of neoliberal economic dreams to the (again, false) promise of stability and security by the military.

Fears of looting gangs begin to surface. Reports surface of looters/vandalizers in different parts of Cairo. There is repeated television footage in both the state and international media of the Egyptian Museum after it had supposedly been ransacked, with soldiers ‘performing’ as guards inside the Museum. It was so obviously staged by the Ministry of Antiquities, with the Minister claiming that men came into the Museum through the roof looking for gold. Instead, they randomly destroyed artifacts. There was no evidence that the ‘looters’ had actually looted anything.

A Ministry of Defense spokesperson addresses the public in a televised address, telling them to stay inside and observe the second day of curfew. He assures the public that the military will protect the people from looters, but he urges young people to be vigilant in protecting their families and neighborhoods throughout the night. And that is exactly what neighbors did that night – they set up popular committees to ‘secure the peace’—setting up road blocks with anything they could find, taking shifts throughout the night to keep watch over the streets and securing themselves with sticks.

Apparently 6,000 prisoners ‘escaped’ from a prison just outside of Cairo, and reports later surfaced of prisoners from other jails throughout Egypt escaping or trying to escape. The authorities dismantled the police and then apparently left the prisons ‘unguarded’, although there are mixed reports of how ‘unguarded’ they actually were. Repeatedly television news networks report that prisoners are on the loose and heading into Cairo.

And that night on Al Jazeera English there are ‘confirmed reports’ that a group of neighborhood vigilantes captured ‘would-be looters’ in Heliopolis, an upscale neighborhood of Cairo, and found security service IDs on them. Public suspicion begins to surface that the security services are behind this, as ‘criminal gangs’ and their relations with the police throughout Egypt are not unknown; plus, demonstrators in Tunisia were similarly confronted with a government strategy to vandalize select places and cause panic and fear among the public.

On Sunday, the 30th, the opposition creates a 10-person committee for a ‘transitional government’. The committee is composed of different opposition parties (including El Baradei’s National Coalition for Change, the leftist Nasser Party, the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the youth leading the protests online, among others). The Muslim Brotherhood comes out to publicly support El Baradei as ‘spokesperson’ for the opposition, and El Baradei comes out to join the protestors in Tahrir Square and speaks before them, rallying the cause of the opposition.

Protests continue not just in Cairo but throughout Egypt – in Port Said, Suez, Alexandria, among other smaller cities. The main demand of the protests on Sunday continued to be Mubarak out! إرحل مبارك, mimicking the protestors in Tunisia.

The curfew is extended by one hour, starting at 3pm not 4pm. Demonstrating its control even more, at the time of curfew the military flies fighter jets over downtown Cairo (including Tahrir Square), so low that the entire area shakes. Following the fighter jets is a presidential helicopter, flying even lower over the crowds, only to then fly away.

Mubaraks first directive to the new Prime Minister Shafiq is to cut inflation, cut prices and keep subsidies!

On Sunday the United States government is being more vocal about the need for a new government, and that it prefers any democratic government except one dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood. Obama and Clinton begin to defend the US’s position to Egypt vis-à-vis the regime’s human rights violations.

Fears of a financial crisis – a run on the banks – loom. The banks and stock exchange are closed and will continue to be.

Fears continue of nighttime raids by ‘looters’ and ‘escaped’ prisoners. Television reports show government offices, shops and offices being ransacked. One of the main offices of Ahmed Ezz, the steel magnate and NDP stalwart, is completely dismantled. The commercial heart of Mohandiseen – with its many regional and international food and clothes shops – is also heavily ransacked.

Gunshots are heard throughout the night, into the early morning. In our area, where we were staying, the shots likely came from the nearby, local prison. Accounts from one neighborhood vigilante are that the army and prisoners were clashing; as prisoners tried to escape the prison the army lambasted the prisoners within. Some prisoners who escaped are severely beaten (one to death) by the army, and then taken to the military prison. The vigilante believes that the rest of the prisoners stuck inside were likely killed.

Other (word of mouth) non-television news is of prisoners escaping from prison after being stuck inside with no food for three days. People were helping the prisoners by feeding and clothing them.

We were expecting the police to come back to Cairo on Monday, the 31st, as the Ministry of Interior called for the police to return to their posts the day before, but it appears that only the traffic police returned to key intersections in the downtown area, as they were not spotted in other areas of the city.

Protests in Cairo seem to remain calm throughout the day, but in Alexandria things heat up. Apparently, the army gets involved (‘firing into’ the crowds?), and Marshall Law is imposed in the city. A “million man” march is called for on Tuesday, headed by the youth April the 6th movement. The opposition reject the new Cabinet that has been appointed and is seen on television meeting with President Mubarak.

Israel begins to speak out about events in Egypt, expressing concerns. Netanyahu gives a public address supporting Mubarak. The Israeli government gives the go-ahead for Egypt to move tanks into (North?) Sinai.

There appear to be rumors circulated by the Egyptian state that non-Egyptians are behind the vandalism and looting. US media as well as Egyptian state television are circulating these rumors. One in the US television media is that Iraqis are coming into Egypt to infiltrate the demonstrations. Another in the US internet media was of Bedouins taking over a police installation, stealing weapons, and charging onto Cairo to take over the government. Egyptian state media is pressing that those creating ‘havoc’ are non-Egyptian (possibly tied to Al Qaida, hence the Iraqi rumor?).

Fears of food shortages generate intense momentum on Monday. News reports of food shortages spark fears and fears spark long bread lines, shortages of tomatoes – and yet, prices appear to be relatively stable.

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