Egypt protests: Eyewitness account from Cairo

(The following is an eyewitness account of the events of the night of January 25th in Cairo. The email was sent by a foreign national living in Egypt to friends and family, describing the protests and the crackdown in Cairo. Canary Trap thanks Lara for sharing the details with us.)

I am in complete awe by the bravery and resilience of the Egyptian people. We are being careful and are keeping an hourly watch on News updates from the BBC, Al Jazeera, arabist.net, Facebook, our embassies, etc.

There is a lot to be said about these protests and why we think it’s a good thing. I will try to keep this to the basics of what we experienced Jan 25th into the early morning of the 26th.

The first of the marches began Tuesday around noon. We received news from twitter and Facebook about where exactly protesters were marching in Cairo.

We decided to head downtown to participate (with caution, from a distance) and see history-in-the-making. Cairo hasn’t experienced protesting this large since 1977. A few hours downtown lagging behind the marches, taking videos/photos, we ended up in the central square called Tahrir- which means “Liberation square”.

Here are some photos from our mobile: http://www.flickr.com/photos/forestparks/sets/72157625910170852/

It was about 16:30. There were approximately 2000 people in Tahrir, mostly young men. But we also saw families, children, the elderly, and some colleagues and friends there.  Some were setting up picnics, picking up litter, and some chanting things like: “Enough of Mubarak’s regime”; “Gamal, tell your father he’s not wanted” and “Police, how much money do you make- 50 pounds per month?”  (which is the equivalent of 10$).

At this point, Twitter was completely shut down, but we still received updates from facebook and a warning that the police were preparing to use water cannons and tear gas.

We decided to get a view from above and were escorted by an Egyptian friend to a nearby high rise. From there we took this video:  http://vimeo.com/19211496.

In the video you can hear/see that just as the call to prayer began, police started shooting tear gas canisters, chasing and beating people down Qasr al-Aini Street (which parliament and a host of other govt buildings are located).

A close look and you can see 8 police barricades spanning about a mile down the street. The people regrouped and forced the police past their water cannons!  Protesters chanted “Allah Akbah” and then warning sirens went off to signal an upcoming tear gas attack.

Once the tear gas hit, we went inside the building.

Come 22:00, we were ready to go home, but decided to stop by the square again to see if activists were still around.

Considering the excessive use of tear gas we honestly thought it was all over. It wasn’t.  A little less people than last time, but still in the thousands, and still with high and peaceful spirits.  Another friend we came across told us the police will be using rubber bullets soon.

So, we went back up to the same roof as before. The doorman saw us, but was busy controlling the crowd at the elevator. We took the stairs. There were a handful of journalists up there. We all watched together as the police beefed up their barricades and closed in all 6 streets to the square. The people were completely blocked in.  We also saw a line of men in plain clothing march out from the protesters’ side and line up in rows of 10 behind the riot police (an Egyptian journalist told us that those were the “hired thugs” and “undercovers”).

The warning sirens went off again. It was midnight. Water trucks and police trucks equipped with sound guns rolled up to the front of the barricade.

From there, we saw the police initiate the attack by driving the trucks slowly into the protesters, followed by police with swinging batons, electric guns, and tear gas. By 1:00am the square was empty of protesters and full of police. We waited an hour for them to clear out.

Because of Egypt’s “state of emergency law”, which makes any assembly without government permission illegal, police can arrest anyone suspect of protesting. When we decided it was safe, we all headed down the stairs together only to find that there were police at the bottom floor talking to the doorman.

Foreigners like us, and some others who were there, were not to be at any risk. But the Egyptians with us were.  So we headed back up the stairs. One person in our group, owned a space in the building. He herded us all into the classrooms (we were 21 people at this point). The doorman came by and warned that friend of ours that the police will be searching the building and that we must stay quiet. As we sat whispering and sipping tea, we could hear police going up and down the hall stairs. Meanwhile, some of the journalists were on the classroom computers writing up articles and posting videos.

Four hours go by. The doorman then came up and told our friend that it was safe to leave, but that we must go in pairs of two. One of the Egyptians in the group lived in our district and had a car; we left with him.

When I walked through the square at 5am, it was completely silent, but also, what struck me was how clean it was. Not a speck of trash on the ground. Not a single trace of the thousands who gathered there.  We got home safely at 6am.

Sorry this took a while to get to you, but Gmail has been in and out as the company Vodafone is compliant to government pressures. I will keep on updating as much as I can. And I will let you know as soon as I get that other video up. Please keep informed (not via Fox News) about the events. The Facebook group “We are all Khaled Said” has leading updates across Egypt.

Much love and peace

Lara

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