In Cairo, Egypt, a street-eye view on a day of 'revolution' and high hopes
Cairo witnessed extraordinary scenes of protest today. One Egyptian demonstrator consoled a sobbing young policeman, saying, 'You are one of us now.'
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The demonstrators passed around onions, which decreased the effects of the gas, and one man ran from person to person as they stumbled out of the gas, pressing the end of his red scarf – which was covered in vinegar, another salve – to their noses.Skip to next paragraph
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With a final surge, the people forced the police to retreat.
Protester consoles sobbing young policeman
Then the protesters stopped to form orderly rows facing east to perform afternoon prayers, their voices echoing off nearby buildings.
As they finished, another group of thousands that had marched from Giza arrived, and the air was filled with exuberant cheers as the two groups embraced.
Reinforced, the crowd marched onto the bridge, gathering around two troop carriers the police had been forced to leave behind, along with several of their members. A crowd surrounded the policemen angrily, but some protesters pushed them back.
“This is a peaceful protest,” they yelled. “Don’t hurt them!”
A young policeman walked past, sobbing uncontrollably on the shoulder of a protester.
“It’s OK, you are our brother, you are with us now,” said the protester.
Tear gas canisters 'Made in USA'
The crowd surged once again toward its goal, meeting its final obstacle in the form of another row of police blocking the last stretch of Qasr el-Nil bridge. Another battle ensued.
Young men began to pick up rocks and tear down municipal signs, but protesters gathered around them, forcing them to stop, and yelling, “Peaceful! Peaceful!”
As the tear gas canisters fell around the crowd, young men picked them up with bare hands, throwing them back toward the police.
As the battle raged, the protesters picked up some of the spent canisters. One after the other, they saw the words, “Made in USA” in blue.
“Is this American democracy?” demanded Mohamed Hassan El-Hussein, a middle-aged man in a brown sweater as he held up the canister. “America supports Mubarak with bombs against us. Clinton says on television that Egypt shouldn’t hurt its people, and at the same time they send bombs to Egypt to be used against us.”
“Where’s the American pressure on the Egyptian government for democracy? Why does Obama support Mubarak when he kills his people?”
Protester after protester pointed out the words “Made in USA” on the canisters, expressing their anger at decades of American support for the Egyptian regime.
The US had placed its bets on the regime, wagering that though oppressive, Mubarak would be able to guarantee stability.
It ignored warnings that Egypt’s growing youth population and increasing repression of the regime could upend that stability, and now those warnings were coming to life.
'Now is the time'
Now the crowd began to run. Pressing forward with cries of Allahu Akbar! – God is great – the unarmed protesters were overwhelming the police who have cowed them for decades.
In an extraordinary scene, thousands pushed onto the bridge, pushing the riot police and armored vehicles backward. The crowd was euphoric as it marched across – mothers and sons, men and women, young and old.
“Finally, the Egyptian people begin to feel,” said furniture salesman Shadi Mohamed, as he marched triumphantly over the bridge. “Finally, they’re feeling that they have no rights and they must demand them. Injustice has a loud voice, but the voice of justice is even greater.”
He might have been speaking about himself – today was the first time he has participated in his entire life. “Now is the time.”
'It's a revolution'
As darkness fell, the thousands of people entered Tahrir Square after five hours of marching. They banged on metal signs and fences, the deafening rhythmic beat punctured by volleys of tear gas and bullets.
They cheered as Army vehicles entered the square. “The Army is with the people,” they shouted.
It is unclear whether that is true, but the protesters believed Friday night that just as they had been able to overwhelm the police and make it to Tahrir, they would also be able to change the nation.
“It’s a revolution,” said Motaz Fouad. “I think Hosni Mubarak has to step down after this. We won’t stop. It’s gone too far now. I think we will never stop.”