An account of deadly clashes in Tahrir Square: Alia Allana
This guest post by ALIA ALLANA is a despatch for Kafila from Cairo, the eighth in a series of ground reports from the Arab Spring. Videos and photos by Alia Allana
A peaceful protest with men selling candyfloss and making chai turned into an orgy of violence.
Tahrir Square had been quiet for the earlier part of the day today. The Sunday afternoon saw couples strolling, a mother carried her sleeping child, his face was buried in her bosom, scooters with loud speakers blared music. There was no chanting and very few slogans. Small and sporadic groups of people protested. They called for change.
“Every bullet will make us stronger,” they said.
But there were no bullets in broad daylight. The crowd was tolerated. Clusters of men staged ad hoc protests; each group’s chants were different from the others. This is what Tahrir Square has become, a leaderless movement. The message though was uniform: the revolution was not complete.
Protests were called because the people thought the revolution was being hijacked. Having done away with Mubarak and his cronies, the people expected an overhaul of the system. But a recent decision to amend the constitution, that would allow for continued entrenchment of military power, has brought the people back on the streets. The first protest was planned for Friday; it was peaceful and at the end of the day the protestors even cleaned up Tahrir Square. Matters came to head when the police attempted to clear those camping on Tahrir Square. A scuffle broke out and has mushroomed into the violence we see today.
I saw three boys climb atop a former traffic light. They sat on the narrow pole, some 20 feet high, and tied the Egyptian flag. On the far side of Tahrir Square a young boy waved an Egyptian flag. People stopped to chat, drink tea. Others bought pumpkin seeds and chewed and spit the remains on the street.
This was not the violence I had seen on TV last night; this was a fair. I searched for signs of smoke; a peanut seller in the corner was the culprit. He was roasting nuts. Young boys sold water and for many this was a lucrative moment: all the shops had their shutters drawn, they were all boarded up and still are. The men on the streets had braved the military, for even in a protest, people are hungry, they are thirsty. A fast food joint I remember from my childhood, Hardees, had its shutters drawn and it was under that store I first heard the loud banging on drums. People started walking faster. I stood still. A man nudged me, he said I should run. I didn’t know where to run. Then the stampede came and it took me with it. This was 5:30 pm.
Like a tidal wave, the stampede lunged forward. Vision became tunneled: and the sounds of bullets tore through the air. Then came the tear gas. No protestors in my immediate vision were armed. Before her eyes started sweltering, a lady called out, she said, “We just want to protest.” After the tear gas, after its nauseating intrusion, came the batons. The crowd tried to disperse as the military police grabbed a hold of whoever was within grasp. They raised their batons and hit the faces of children, women and men.
I turned into a lane and stood against the wall. A 60-something year old man stumbled in, fell against the wall. His head was bleeding, he held his jacket against his temple. He didn’t know the back of his head was a bleeding mess too. Maybe the pain was too much, maybe he didn’t want to know. He cried. He refused water. He whimpered.
The military police came inside the alley, they pulled those standing by, the raised their batons and struck each time. They growled and shaped their faces into angry menacing frowns. They struck again and again, indiscriminately. A girl’s eye was swollen; a young boy, no older than seven cried, he held on to his shoe and stood in mud – even he wasn’t spared.
More soldiers came running in: one was brandishing a metal club that looked like a wrench. Despite the abuse, despite the attacks, tear gas canisters continued to be lobbed: even the army men’s eyes watered, but they continued to strike, after they wiped their wet eyes.
The people in the alley were being pushed back; the order was to get the street cleared. Bodies were pulled, people were pushed and in the back a man lay on the floor, his face covered in blood, his lip gashed open — his legs were useless. He probably suffered from concussion, he couldn’t get up.
He was carried inside.
Behind the Hardees is a small mosque. The mosque has been turned into a hospital since yesterday. There are ropes with cloth tied to them, women’s clothing material acts as curtains. There are about 10 doctors and the patients flow in as soon as the sound of drums cuts through the air.
Drums are the people’s sirens, this is how they let the others on the street know the military police is coming.
The drums mean more have been injured, more in pain. A man was rushed in, the men carrying him yelled ICU. His face was covered in blood, his eyes were shut. Space was made for him. In this hospital there is no operating table, all there is a mat on the floor and bloodied rugs. Ten minutes later, the doctor emerged form the crowd that circled him. He raised his hands up and yelled, “Mercy, Mercy”.
Through a gap in the crowd, the man on the floor was seen. He looked dead but the doctor tried to resuscitate him. He died a meter away from me. After his death, people yelled Allah o Akbar! A man kicked the pillar next to him, a girl fell to the floor. Many cried because in this struggle, all are brothers and sisters. A young boy said he would enact revenge.
Even in the hospital the tear gas filters through. It burns, it pierces the lungs and hurts the heart. Why? Why are they doing this? The people are unarmed.
Today the protestors attempted to enter the Interior Ministry building; one protestor tells me that this is why the military police mobilised. Another said it was because of the government’s absolute disdain towards gatherings. This carnage was so that people were kept off the streets. The people on the streets are calling out for the military to leave; to follow the will of the people and reduce their powers. The current stand-off stems from this issue.
It’s 8:30 pm as I write, and it’s clear that this Sunday has made Egypt’s revolution even more messy. Will the election that is scheduled for next week still be held? Will the protestors go home? Will they relinquish control of Tahrir Square?
Today’s events at Tahrir Square happened right in front of the Arab League building, and are in the same league of brutality as Syria and Libya. Yet there is so far silence from those who flew planes over Libya or those who gave Syria the boot from the Arab League.
Is this revolution complete?
(Alia Allana is our lady of the Arab Spring.)
Previously in this Kafila series by Alia Allana:
- Istanbul: Adib Shishakly: The Syrian Rebel in the Hotel Room
- Libya-Tunisia border: Who isn’t a Shabaab these days?
- Jerba, Tunisia: The Synagogue and the Jihadi
- Tunis, Tunisia: “We are not like Iran here”
- Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia: Mickey wants to be the first one to vote
- Damascus, Syria: The Minister for Information maintains that there is no revolution
- Homs, Syria: A day in the rebel stronghold