Cairo riots: eye witness account
I dont usually use this blog for other people's words. But I have just had an email from the son in Cairo, who has seen and been in today's demonstrations. This is some of what he has to say:
"What follows is my personal and not very well informed view on the situation. The only benefit I have is that I have just returned from the protests so can at least offer my view as a Briton living in Cairo. I can never be quite part of the protest. People tell themselves that this is because it is the Egyptians' struggle but also, in my case, it is due in small part to fear. Getting arrested in Egypt is something almost all foreigners are afraid of and being deported would do nothing good for my Arabic studies.
I woke up late and was not particularly interested in the protests since all Egyptians I had spoken to said that nothing would ever happen. However, one of my friends said that they were going to Cairo University because Facebook had told them that was the place to go. We went on the Metro but found that there was very little going on. Apparently, the venue had been changed to surprise the police and we had not been informed. Someone said that the Egyptian government had shut down Facebook, which was not in fact the case to my knowledge, but there are rumours that they will and Twitter is out for the foreseeable future (sorry mum!).
Nothing happened at Cairo University and the French seemed disappointed there would be no ’68 style occupations. We decided to go back to Tahrir square (Cairo’s main hub), where we live and saw hordes of security in the morning but only an eerie silence in place of any protest. On the way back in a taxi we found our protest. The police had blocked them from crossing the bridge from one side of the river on to an island in the river that would eventually lead to Tahrir Square.
It also blocked our return home so we were in the protest whether we liked it or not. We got to the next bridge to find more riot police. The number of police at the government’s disposal is simply astonishing; there are talks of similar protests all over Cairo and the rest of Egypt. Without boring you with the details we made it back to Tahrir Square to see protest in full force. We went to get shisha and consider our next move. At the café we were later met by a friend who had just been tear-gassed and said that things were hotting up.
We went back and decided to go for our evening stroll around Tahrir, but without all the annoying traffic, it was an old fashioned sit in, and seemed like it could have been in the UK (without the copious marijuana consumption). There are huge numbers of people there, mostly chanting and just sitting out. We ran into a nice schoolboy who couldn’t stay the night because he had a French exam the next day. There was also an eccentric old gentleman shouting anti-governmental slogans (Down with Mubarak, Egypt will be free, etc.) mixed with pro-Nasser ones. The protesters are certainly very brave, numerous times there were people running to back up their friends in battles with the police as I was skulking away.
Perhaps it is due to my cowardice but I have seen few examples of police brutality (unless you count tear-gas). I have seen people sporting injuries and bloody faces, even a man with a riot helmet, but no cast-iron evidence of police beatings. They seem to rely mostly on their fiercesome reputation and enormous man power to keep control.
What is going to happen now is just as unpredictable as the protests themselves. At the moment it is non-violent but things could easily change. What is certainly sure is that people are preparing to stay the night. When I was picking up my dinner I was in a 30 minute queue behind the policemen doing the dinner-run, so they certainly expect a late one. Maybe after today the protests will just die down, maybe not. However, the Egyptian government has the added bonus of being a staunch western ally, and defence against Islamic extremism.
The Muslim Brotherhood has not officially supported the protest but they are appealing to similar economic concerns that were at least part of the reasoning for the protests. One imagines there are many in the West very concerned about the Muslim Brotherhood taking power. The US, earlier on today, were reported as saying that the Egyptian government remains strong in the face of these protests. Perhaps this will be a decisive obstacle for the Egyptian Protesters. It is hard for experts, let alone me, to predict; perhaps everything will simply fizzle out or perhaps not but for now I can still hear chants and sporadic tear-gas canisters going off above What It’s Worth by Buffalo Springfield from my stereo (sorry for the cliché)."
Can't do better than that.
PS: an update from the son in his apartment near Tahrir Square:
"The police have began unrelenting volleys of tear gas from Tahrir Square. Concerted effort to get people out of the square. Pretty powerful stuff. Still chanting but who knows when they'll use more than tear gas. Feels like revolution"