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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Hijabs, track suits, Nikes, and cheap sandals
The protests today started quietly at Friday prayers. After a day of unprecedented protests Tuesday, activists had called for another demonstration Friday. Despite the government’s attempts to stop it by cutting off Internet and cellphone service throughout the country, thousands gathered at Mustafa Mahmoud mosque in the middle-class neighborhood of Mohandiseen.Skip to next paragraph
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They spilled out onto the sidewalk as they performed their prayers, the eerie silence filled with anticipation.
As soon as the prayer ended, they jumped to their feet and erupted into shouts of, “The people want the fall of the regime.” They broke through a police cordon that had formed around the mosque and began marching toward Tahrir Square where the demonstrators had gathered Tuesday.
At the entrance to a bridge across the Nile River, they met their first obstacle: a row of security forces several men deep blocked their path with armored vehicles. As the crowd of thousands surged forward, the police fired barrage after barrage of tear gas.
The people fell back, then surged forward determinedly, battling the police for more than an hour on the bridge. Women in hijabs stood alongside men in track suits, people wearing Nikes stood next to people in cheap sandals: None gave up.
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.
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.
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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!”