Egypt uprising: Making my way home during the battle for Tahrir
I arrived in Egypt after what appears to have been an attempt to crush dissent at Tahrir Square. I was unaware of the events of the day, but got a flavor of the tension in Cairo as I made my way out of the airport.
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Getting to our driver Wael had its hiccups. The additional computer equipment I brought drew concerned glances from the staff at Cairo airport (who struck me as not run-of-the-mill customs officers), but they waved it through. Less lucky was a group of TV journalists, who were told that their digital cameras were not going to be allowed through on the orders of the state. "No cameras are allowed anymore," the government representative told them. "Until when?" one of the cameramen asked. "Until the situation has changed," they were told.Skip to next paragraph
Dan Murphy is a staff writer for the Monitor's international desk, focused on the Middle East. Murphy, who has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, and more than a dozen other countries, writes and edits Backchannels. The focus? War and international relations, leaning toward things Middle East.
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Out of the airport, we then easily went through 100 checkpoints and took three hours making a journey that, on a traffic-free day, takes 20 minutes. First were the friendly, almost offhand checkpoints run by Egyptian soldiers backed by Abrams tanks around the airport.
Then there were the “popular committees” – the neighborhood watch groups of young men armed with machetes, clubs, and butcher’s hooks – who were jumpy and a little undisciplined, but full of apologies for the “situation,” solicitousness to us, and full of more “welcome to Egypts” (a phrase commonly graced to foreigners here, both in English and Arabic) than I’d heard in my four years living here.
Finally, after a long, jagged route that took us far around Tahrir Square, we found ourselves on Roda – the Nile island just south of Zamalek that is a bastion of support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Here, the popular committees were more switched on, easier to communicate with – and a little better armed. Mixed in among their clubs and knives were a few narrow-gauge shotguns and pistols.
At each stop we were warned to stay away from Tahrir Square. A few times we were almost turned back. We were told of fires burning there (Molotov cocktails were apparently thrown), and the overall impression is that no one’s security could be guaranteed if they made it there.
Endless, redundant inspections of our luggage for weapons were made, only to be stopped at another checkpoint 500 yards away with the same questions and concerns, but we made it.
Along the way, kids and young men were playing football in the deserted streets, small clusters waving Egyptian flags, chanting and making their way in the direction of Tahrir Square. The general feeling was that of a holiday mixed with the portent of revolution.
But make no mistake. Today’s violence has been spun out by forces opposed to change and openness in Egypt. Soldiers stood neutral as thugs went after democracy protesters in Tahrir Square today. The police, hated by the anti-regime protesters, were thin on the ground.
A young Egyptian doctor I just met told me he’s been warned that there will be professional repercussions if he goes to Tahrir tomorrow, something he took as evidence that a major crackdown is in the offing. State television has been warning of the dangers of “chaos.”
Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian intelligence chief named Mubarak’s first ever vice president a few days ago – and so Egypt’s (and the regime’s) de facto president in waiting – issued an ultimatum to the protesters earlier today.
Kristen Chick is now at Tahrir and we should have more from her on the situation there soon.
What will tomorrow bring? I’m excited, and a little apprehensive.