| || |
Revolution in Egypt, a firsthand account
March 5, 2011 - Bill Ackerbauer
I may have mentioned in previous posts that in my teenage years I was involved in the AFS international student exchange program. During my senior year at Johnstown High School, my family hosted Amgad M. Hussein, a student from Egypt. He lived with us and attended JHS for a year. After that year, he returned to Cairo and I went on a similar exchange to Jamaica before going to college. Amgad and I lost touch during that time, and we only recently reconnected through Facebook. A few weeks ago, he told me was involved in his country's popular uprising, which eventually resulted in the ouster of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak. I asked Amgad if he would be willing to share some of his experiences with my readers. I am thrilled to be able to present his firsthand account of the uprising, which I will post as a series of journal entries along with photos he took during the protests. In this first entry, he describes his first foray into Tahrir Square, where it was rumored in late January that people would be gathering to demonstrate against the regime.
Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011
I got up around 9:20 a.m. My friend Mostafa B. picked me up at 11 a.m. so that we could head down from Mokattam Hill, located inside Cairo, going to Tahrir Square to join the protestors.
We arrived at Tahrir square At 11:30 a.m. and found nothing at all: The traffic was normal, no protestors, no signs, nothing. We started driving around the streets of downtown Cairo and we started thinking it was all just Internet chat, no one will really do anything. We saw several individuals and small groups of twos or threes who did not know each other and didn’t seem like they had a direction in mind, holding the Egyptian flag and heading in different directions. We drove around in circles and returned to Tahrir at about 2 p.m. to find a huge number of people had arrived. All entrances to the square were blocked, so we had to park about 3 blocks away … We met with my best friend from elementary school, Waseem, with whom I got back in touch recently through Facebook. We also met with Ali and Mohamed, neighborhood friends, and my twin brother, Ayman, who lives downtown near Tahrir Square.
Most of us had just decided to meet only the day before. “Let’s go to Tahrir tomorrow and take part supporting the demands” was about all we had in mind. All of us believed change was essential. When we arrived at the Tahrir checkpoint, we showed our IDs and we had to be searched by a committee set by some of the protestors to make sure no one had weapons of any sort. We weren’t at all offended for being searched, and the people searching us were apologizing over and over, and telling us it was for our own good.
Inside the square, there were around 500,000 people in separate groups. There was no telling who was Christian or Muslim, no color differences, no social levels -- we all looked the same and felt the same. Some started cheers which were mostly related to the love of the country and the demand for a better life. “Change, freedom and social justice” were the demands shouted by all.
During our time there, we kept on going around looking at people and having political discussions with different individuals and groups we were meeting for the first time. Time passed quickly, and people were going around collecting money to buy food. We didn’t know the people, but still everyone was chipping in happily; others were giving away food and drinks; others started cleaning around the square. People here and there were singing some songs for the country, songs that we heard a million times before, but never before had we felt the love of the country in the lyrics till this day, never did the feeling was so genuine and true as this time.
Things were under control. All through the day, you might see one of the protestors throwing a stone at the troops, but then you would see someone else stopping him then you would hear the shouts: “peaceful protests.” Although there was almost no mobile phone access, no internet connection what so ever, we didn’t realize that we were being cut out from the outside world. All reporters were taken out of Tahrir, no live feed was allowed for any TV channel, reporters’ cameras and video tapes were taken away from them, but still we didn’t feel endangered by the police, yet.
The protestors facing the police barricades were shouting in Arabic, “Hey, officer, are we your fellow citizens or are we stray dogs?” Things carried on like this for some time until midnight, when suddenly the sirens on the armored trucks started screaming, the troopers started closing in, and then tear gas bombs rained all over the square. Never in my life had I been involved in any protesting action or been thought of as a rebel in action other than just participating with my personal opinion, but that day I felt something changed inside me, inside everyone in the square.
The attack with the tear gas was massive. There was nothing but smoke all around us. Everyone scattered throughout the streets surrounding Tahrir Square. I was separated from most of my group. Most of the protestors stood their ground, so the troopers started shooting rubber bullets. We started running, and everywhere we went police would attack us and try to arrest anyone they could catch. Most often, when the police bullies caught someone, the rest would try to get him/her out of the bully’s grasp; they usually succeeded, but not always.
The worst thing done that day by the police was something I had heard about before I saw it with my own eyes: The troopers’ ranks opened up, and out came some bullies and gangsters armed with swords and big knifes. They started running toward us, screaming, and we turned around and started running. Then we realized that we outnumbered them by far, so we turned back around and started screaming and running toward them. They dropped their weapons and ran off, and we chased them for a while but couldn’t catch any of them.
By that time, we realized it was 2 a.m. now, so we decided to go back home and call it a night. One thing really surprised me at first: There was a sweet English, blonde girl in her mid-20s hanging around with us, running with us and throwing rocks at the police and the bullies, doing about everything we were doing. I felt she really believed in our cause, but I told her that she should go home because things were getting really rough and she might get hurt. Smiling, she said that she’s old enough to know what she’s doing. I realized that she didn’t look Egyptian so the police wouldn’t dare touch her. Maybe she realized that or maybe not. Although I never got her name, I still remember her smiling face and brave attitude that night.
In the next two days, every one decided that the next protesting will be on Friday, January 28 -- the “Friday of Wrath,” as it was called by everyone. On the 26th and the 27th, people still gathered in Tahrir, but not as many as on the 25th. We went down to Tahrir on both days, protesting against the regime, but nothing much happened.
The really irritating thing was watching the national TV. Despite what happened, on TV all you saw was people cheering for Mubarak and saying that all those who protested in Tahrir were foreigners getting bribes from abroad to destroy the country, to help either Western or Iranian agendas. What a pile of (pardon my language) bullshit.
No comments posted for this article.
Post a Comment
News, Blogs & Events Web
A view of the action in Tahrir Square during the protests in late January. (Photo courtesy of Amgad Hussein)