The following journal entries describe my observations and impressions of the recent popular revolution in Egypt as a young woman leading what I consider to be an exceedingly comfortable and fortunate lifestyle in Cairo. They are not intended to reflect the experiences or opinions of the majority of Egyptians. They are merely a compilation of my thoughts and my environment, beginning on the first day of demonstrations, January 25, and ending on February 5, six days before Egypt’ President Hosni Mubarak stepped down after ruling the country for thirty years…
In case you were wondering what happened in Cairo, I regret that I will not be able to give you a full account. I was not one of those passionate demonstrators you watched on TV, nor one of the braver souls defying curfew. And I was not one of the major advocates of change you read about in the papers. I was among those who stayed home with their families, glued to the television unable to watch anything besides the news. I was one of those who contemplated traveling, and leaving their homes after hearing gunshots fired in the street. I was among those who watched in horror while parts of the city, and the country, were set on fire. Here is my best attempt at recording an account of what I remember, and what I have heard thus far.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011, The Day of Wrath
This all started today, January 25th, 2011, Police Day, a national holiday here in Cairo. The demonstrations were peaceful, and while security forces were in Tahrir Square keeping protesters at bay, they were not using force. I knew a few people who went out and demonstrated that day. I was at a friend’s house, following the developments on Twitter. Life was normal; we were watching a movie, until my father called me on my cell phone and urged me to come home, as the demonstrators had increased in numbers. What started out with a few hundred or thousand had become tens of thousands in downtown Cairo. So, I made my way, from my friend’s suburb (incidentally the neighborhood where President Mubarak resides, Heliopolis) to my neighborhood in the south of the city, mostly known for its foreign inhabitants, embassies and relatively upscale residents.
By the time I arrived home (the streets were unusually empty for an evening in Cairo), I could not stop hitting the refresh button on my cell phone, incessantly feeling the need to check Twitter. The protests were not dying down, and demonstrators were vowing to spend the night in Tahrir Square until Mubarak stepped down. There were now other political demands as well: dissolving the current parliament, and putting an end to the state of emergency and martial law that the country has been under for 30 years, since the assassination of the previous president, Anwar El Sadat. Around midnight, when news coverage died down, and people went to sleep in preparation for the resumption of the workweek, security forces began using tear gas on the protesters to remove them from the streets. Several hundreds were detained. Before dawn, downtown Cairo had been emptied of the previous day’s protesters.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
On Wednesday morning, the news of the previous night’s violence spread across the country. Further calls for demonstrations flooded Twitter, Facebook, email accounts, and Blackberry Messenger (BBM). Twitter had been blocked since Tuesday, but we still had access through our mobile phones. Later that day, the movement’s Facebook website was blocked from the web as well. Still, riots took place in Tahrir, with demonstrations spreading to the Giza area (across the Nile bank). Tens of thousands of protestors once more took to the streets. I went to work late, since both my main routes to work were blocked by protests. At around 1:30 pm, the office encouraged us to return home to avoid traffic caused by the protests. I arrived home to images on the television of non-violent protesters being tear gassed, hit by security cars, and targeted with water cannons. It had also become apparent that the port city of Suez and the Mediterranean city of Alexandria were also witnessing protests, though of a more violent nature. My brother, a reporter living in Kenya, arrived in Egypt that day to cover the “revolution”.
Thursday, January 27, 2011
I arrived to work on time. In fact, I was there early since traffic was lighter than usual. Our mobile applications were still working, and I was using Twitter to find out which areas of the city to avoid. At work, everyone shared stories about the protesters. It was expected that Thursday’s protests would be scattered and have less of a turnout than the previous days, in preparation for what was being called the “One Million Man March” to take place on Friday. After days of total silence from the government, at 3:30 pm the secretary general of Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party, Safwat El Sherif, made a statement. The announcement did not address the concerns demonstrators had been expressing since Tuesday; even I, someone who had not participated in the protests, was infuriated by the message. It felt like the voice of an entire population had fallen on deaf ears. Complete oblivion. In response, people took to the streets, chanting again for a change to the system, and the removal of Mubarak. Security forces retaliated with the usual overdose of teargas and water cannons.
At around 10:00 pm, our text messages stopped being delivered. Half an hour later, Facebook and Twitter stopped updating. Blackberry Messenger was getting slower by the minute. Finally, Vodafone Egypt announced that it had been asked to stop its network services for security reasons. My brother, the reporter, said he heard rumors that the military would be dispatched the following day.
Friday, January 28th, 2011, The One Million Man March
The only people I still had contact with were the people whose landline numbers I still had. Since the previous evening, mobile data services had been cut off, and by noon, the Internet, as well as all mobile networks, had been disconnected. On Friday, in preparation for the demonstrations, we stayed home all day and watched the news. We witnessed more and more teargas being fired, as the demonstrations spread to every neighborhood throughout the city, including my own. We received calls about family friends who had been hit by rubber bullets or been tear gassed and about reporters being bludgeoned in the face. By 5:30 pm, a curfew had been ordered for the Greater Cairo area, Suez and Alexandria beginning from 6:00 pm until 7:00 am the next morning. News stations announced that Mubarak would shortly address the nation. However, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton beat him to it, making a relatively neutral statement about the protestors’ most central political demands, while expressing support for the right of the Egyptian people to freedom of expression and reform and urging the government not to use force.
Shortly afterwards, the police forces left the streets, and military tanks took their place, though they refrained from engaging with the crowds. The protests then turned violent. Fires were set in the middle of the street and the police stations across the street from the ruling National Democratic Party headquarters were torched. The curfew was defied, as the looting of malls, police stations, homes and even the Egyptian Museum took place. Around midnight, a group of 20 young men passed by our building chanting and mocking Mubarak and his curfew. Only around midnight did Mubarak finally make his address: He would not step down, but would appoint a new cabinet the following morning. He vowed to use force against those posing a threat to national security and safety – not the soothing words the reformers were seeking, but it is what we had expected.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
I woke up to my friend’s phone call at around 10:00 am on Saturday. Mobile networks were back! My father went to check the streets, buy more food, and take money out of the bank. He had already filled all our gas tanks, and withdrawn cash days earlier in preparation. More news circulated, including details of the looting and other incidents that had occurred the night before. My other brother moved his wife and two children from his neighborhood, Mohandessin, to the neighborhood of Zamalek, as the police had completely abandoned his area. The night before he had watched people ransack the stores on his street. Our family friends who lived across the Nile had to relocate to their cousin’s apartment the night before; people had tried to break into their properties and managed to tear down their gates, but the land workers convinced them that “the owners were honest, God-fearing and not corrupt.”
My boss called saying that our offices were closed until further notice. The government announced that banks and the stock exchange would remain shut for the coming business week starting Sunday the 30th of January. Another announcement of a 4:00 pm curfew until 8:00 am followed. Shortly, news reached us that the head of the Egyptian Intelligence Service, Omar Suleimen, had been sworn in as Vice President. We have not had a VP since… forever! A couple of hours later, a further announcement was made that the Minister of Civil Aviation would become the new prime minister and would be in charge of forming a new cabinet. Both military men, needless to say, have been part of Mubarak’s crew for many years. The protesters were not pleased with the appointments, and continued to defy the curfew. There remained the looming threat of yet another night of looting, with continued police absence despite yesterday’s mass vandalism and looting of the city.
In the afternoon, I saw six tanks passing in front of our building; they seemed to be going in the direction of a prison further south of our neighborhood. In the evening, we heard gunshots. I called my cousin who lives down the road, my friend across town, and my friend in Alexandria. We all heard the gunshots. In a bizarre turn of events, an army official on TV told us to respect the curfew, and encouraged civilians to form groups to protect their “homes, property and honor” (by honor, they mean their women, really). All of my male friends stayed out in the street with army canes, clubs, and guns, if they could find any, protecting our homes.
I could not help but wonder how power hungry a person must be to spread so much fear amongst his people, stripping them of police and security, and leaving his country to fend for itself.
Sunday, January 30, 2011
My friends put together a network on their street block to protect their families: They exchanged numbers with their neighbors, created a phone tree/chain, put up their own barricades, and walked around with special markers in order to recognize one another. Other areas of the city had been organizing in the same way. My reporter brother passed by quickly and showed me footage of a missing mummy from the museum, and I wondered to myself what the rest of our museums would look like after the mass looting. Our building watch was out again in the evening, with all of the neighbors pitching in to make sure everyone had supplies and food for the night. One of my close friends was amongst those who went to Tahrir Square and started collecting the garbage that had been left behind. He, among many, defied the curfew and was in the square when Mohamed El Baradei defied his own house arrest to join the protesters. At the time, it all seemed so normal, though I knew it could change at any minute.
Monday, January 31, 2011
The banks and stock exchange remained closed until further notice. While there were rumors that the police had returned to the streets they say, I did not see any policemen; by the neighborhood police station, there were four tanks, no policemen, only military. The newly formed cabinet was announced, with nearly no changes except for the minister of interior – the former minister had so aroused the people’s rage that many had gone so far as to call for his public execution – in addition to two other appointments, as two previous ministers had declined to take part in the “new” cabinet. Needless to say, people were not happy with this mockery, and they began calling for another “million man” march in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities across Egypt. The government also made preparations for a demonstration for tomorrow in support of Mubarak, though I highly doubted it would attract one million participants.
Rumors were circulating about the many prisoners who had “fled” some of the country’s prisons a few days before. We have heard that they were “released” by police officials, but these are still rumors. Otherwise, there was little change since the previous day. People were still defying the curfew and heading to Tahrir to protest. I was proud to see a sense of community forming amongst Egyptians, since I had never felt such community connectedness in the country before. I hoped and wished for another safe night, and for the situation not to worsen or escalate.