The Three Hundred Stooges (and the Yellow Journalists)

One would have to be a fresh-off-the-boat international correspondent to be fooled by the pitiful attempts to stage “pro-Mubarak protests” on the streets of Egypt today.  Egyptians know these people too well. It’s always the same middle-aged men with death in their eyes. Most of them dress casual; not too shabby, but nothing fancy either, for their Interior Ministry paychecks are nothing to brag about. If any of them ever believed in what they were doing then the look in their eyes shows that such illusions have long vanished. They always arrive in coordinated groups just in the nick of time to stage a “pro-government protest” wherever an actual protest has been planned. They are often armed with sticks, and sometimes stones, and their usual role is to beat people with impunity.

Today these state security thugs (Baltagayyah) were ordered to appear on cue to cheer Mubarak’s pre-recorded speech on the streets of Alexandria, Suez and Cairo. In Alexandria they attacked the crowds who had amassed in Mahatit Masr Square with stones, and the crowd fought back. To break up the fight two army tanks drove between the groups and fired shots in the air. The “pro-Mubrarak protestors”, outnumbered and fearful of the army, withdrew. We have not yet had confirmation, but it appears that something similar occurred in Suez.

However, contrary to reports in the international media, the goon squad never got to Tahrir square in Cairo today. The estimated three hundred of them, many arriving on motorcycles, were no match for the thousands who had remained in the square following this morning’s two million strong rally. Nonetheless they tried to access the square twice, once coming from Talat Harb, just as the speech began, and once from Qasr El Ainy street. Both times they were successfully stopped by blockades of soldiers and citizens.

Meanwhile Mubarak’s speech, which people watched on a giant screen that had been set up in the square, was greeted with fury by the crowds, who hurled projectiles at the dictator’s face. In addition people from all around the neighborhood who had seen the speech on TV came flooding back to the square in earnest, chanting “leave, leave” and “get out”. Mubarak’s desperate attempt at derailing the movement by tempting people with his future retirement has only hardened the resolve of protestors and reinforced the numbers who are camping out here. People now say they are refusing to leave until the whole government resigns.

source: The Three Hundred Stooges (and the Yellow Journalists) |


Almost dawn

Have you ever been alone in a house at night and thought you heard someone breaking in, and laid, awake and immobilised by fear watching moving shadows until day breaks and the ordinary objects of your home are no longer monsters? That is how I felt walking around the streets of downtown Cairo yesterday.

We arrived in Tahrir Square around 3 p.m. to find an army checkpoint at the entrance to the square from Qasr El-Aini Bridge formed by two tanks. Someone had scrawled Fuck Mubarak on the back of one. Soldiers checked bags and patted people down for weapons.

Beyond this a man stood holding a piece of paper above his head reading, “have some respect for yourself Mubarak and leave”. To the side of him men sweeped the ground and picked up litter, a sight I have witnessed numerous times in Tahrir Square and which never fails to move me; Cairo is a notoriously filthy city and littering is a huge problem; now here was one man picking up tiny bits of paper off the ground – he has reclaimed ownership and now he and the thousands of others sleeping, eating, singing and resisting in the square feel a duty to look after it and surrounding streets in a way the government never did.

Shortly after I arrived two jet fighters started circling overhead, flying so low that it hurt my ears. Some people cheered, others began chanting mesh meshyeen, mesh meshyeen [“we’re not moving”]. The message these jets were sending is unclear. Mubarak is an air forces man; were they expressing loyalty to him? Were they air forces jets or did they belong to the Presidential Guard? (a force composed of around 22,000 men which is reportedly fiercely loyal to Mubarak).

If the intention was to frighten people it didn’t work, nobody moved – and in fact most people ignored them – because they were too busy being amazing. Small groups have formed all over the square, some people have erected tents, some are standing on top of street signs waving flags, at night there are small fires around which people sit and discuss events. Waves of chants come from all directions and a sense of freedom and possibility pervades everything.

As soon as I arrived I realised why state media has ramped up the looting and pillaging rumours which on Saturday prompted protestors to leave Tahrir Square; it is a desperate effort to break spirits and get them out. People are not frightened of tear gas or bullets any more; the old tactics no longer work because they have discovered the strength of numbers, and of camaraderie. If this is in any doubt watch protestors force riot police to retreat in this incredible video. I hope Western leaders have seen it. This is how the supposedly politically moribund Arab street frees itself, Mr Bush.

There are no cars on the streets leading off Tahrir Square and everywhere there is anti-government graffiti. My favourite was “your last flight will be to Saudi, Mubarak” and “I want to see a new president before I die”. Most shops are still closed. Families and groups investigate the area, revelling in the open streets and clean air (another by-product of the uprising, less traffic). People are running the city with oversight from tanks and army jeeps stand guard on some street corners. The soldiers I have interacted with have all been incredibly polite and efficient, but alas some of them are a bit funny about people photographing their tanks.

The streets leading to the Interior Ministry are a scorched mess of twisted metal and broken glass. Protestors destroyed anything police they could get their hands on. Meanwhile police snipers and riot police shot protestors using live ammunition. People were still scared to approach the Interior Ministry a day after the battle because of the sniper issue.

Seeing these burnt out shells has been extremely gratifying. For three years I reported on cases of torture, disappearances and brutality at the hands of this institution. My heart sank every time I was with a male friend and we had to deal with a police officer on any level because I knew the outcome of that encounter would be decided by a million factors other than justice and rule of law.

We ran into a labour lawyer in Downtown who said hello and then left us saying, “I’m going to go and breathe in freedom”. For the first time in my life I walked down an Egyptian street yesterday and didn’t see a single policemen, not a single man in plain clothes with the crackling walkie talkie and the ability to casually change your life forever in a second. I was free.

Originally published at

source: Almost dawn |


Sunday night in Cairo

After 5 days of unprecedented popular dissent in Egypt, protestors are still on the main square in downtown Cairo demanding the resignation of President Mubarak and his entire government, and saying they will not settle for anything less. After 30 years of brutal police oppression the people have finally risen and do not seem to be backing down.

Downtown Cairo was an incredible scene tonight. Tahrir Square was filled with 1000s of protestors, some of whom erected tents on the square’s grassy central island. Roads leading off the square were filled with people strolling about streets empty of traffic, filled with anti-regime graffiti. The road next to the Interior Ministry was a warzone of burnt out cars and smashed windows. Above all there was a sense of joy, of freedom and the possibility of change.

source: Sunday night in Cairo |