Cairo airport is crawling with troops and the east of the city likewise, guns pointing every which way.
Three deaths from sniper fire in Tahrir Square were reported last night. The army has withdrawn, for the time being, with just a few tanks blocking some of the side streets.
In the streets leading to the square, you could cut the tension with a knife. Then, coming down to Tahrir, it suddenly lifts as people converge through the side streets and checkpoints. All the checkpoints today are citizen checkpoints and I was searched by friendly girls and had my ID checked four times at different points before I made it in. The barricades at the square entrances are flimsy, with heaps of stones ready behind them.
Once you are in it’s a different world: everything is shared, including food and blankets and everyone is friendly and helpful beyond imagination. Today, the square is packed with thousands of people and there’s a festive atmosphere, some people who’re recently bereaved of brothers or children are just mixed in with the crowds who are singing, clapping and dancing, and showing photographs of the young men, and one young woman who have died.
The square has a raised plinth in the middle on which there is a ‘tent city’, so it’s not possible to see it all from any one viewpoint. There are a few different points with mikes and platforms and constant meetings and prayers sessions being held. There are a good few men sprawled asleep on the ground after night watch duties.
People there today are of all ages and there are plenty of women, carrying hand written message signs and in groups, chanting and clapping. The signs that people hold up are scrutinised carefully and photos taken of them: mine included. I was drawn into sign-writing duties after a while and there is now a nice line in English translation of some of the favourite arabic slogans. Appreciation for signs is sometimes in the form of food supplies
I was welcomed and thanked for being there about a thousand times, many times ‘from the heart’, which a bit embarrassing, as it is themselves that have been doing it all. There are people in bandages and with very nasty wounds and broken limbs everywhere, from the assaults last Wednesday. Only one man asked why a foreigner should have any views about Mubarak. A couple of people asked me if I knew what the government was saying about foreign spies and was I worried. I asked them if they believed it and they said not at all. This is in contrast with outside the square, where there is a highly strung feeling of wariness and distrust.
It’s very difficult to explain what ‘no more fear’ feels like, in a crowd that’s been under a dictatorship for the last 30 years. I can tell you it’s an awful lot better than the atmosphere we have now in Ireland.
Link to Tahrir Square photogallery and discussion at Politicalworld.org –
Discussion on politicalworld.org
That is a very interesting article and I agree that a frustrated middle class of young graduates with no life prospects is radicalising. Also that communications are far more globalised and faster moving.
What the writer touches on but misses is that the working class is still the critical class partly for the reason he gives – the working class have nothing to lose and nowhere to retreat to. Its the working class – along with youths and students – in the main that’s sleeping overnight inTahrir Square and defending it physically, as its become the symbolic and practical terrain of an attempting revolution. The working class – and that includes salaried workers codded into thinking they are not – not only has nothing to lose, but also makes, produces and runs everything. They really don’t need the kleptocracy, which is completely parasitic.
This leads to a loss of fear among the young radicals of any movement: they can pick and choose; there is no confrontation they can’t retreat from. They can “have a day off” from protesting, occupying: whereas twith he old working-class based movements, their place in the ranks of battle was determined and they couldn’t retreat once things started. You couldn’t “have a day off” from the miners’ strike if you lived in a pit village
Much there that I agree with – but more analysis is needed of the fundamental reasons for the breakdown of apparently “stable” relations across North Africa and the Middle East and to discover what needs to be done. There is a pressing need to link and connect (in a practical way) this wave of resistance and assertion of mass power with the similar recent movements against ‘austerity’ in Greece and France. The predicament of educated youth in Egypt with no work and a corrupt regime of favouritism, graft and corruption is totally familiar from Ireland.
Core ‘structural’ unemployment of large sections of the working class and middle class in the US and Europe is also having the effect of driving down wages and driving up poverty. In ‘dollar a day’ countries, rising food prices has pushed a lot of people in Egypt – about a half, below the bread line. Increasingly there are people in Ireland in really desperate circumstances too.
I had a conversation with a Egyptian woman dentist (she was veiled ), last night, in which she was describing to me the high cost of dentistry in Egypt and how people in serious pain couldn’t afford treatment and offered the clinic watches etc. for payment. Only last week on the PK show there was a man crying in pain, a public sector worker, because he didn’t have the cash to go to the dentist. We really are all in the same boat now.
The cork has come out of the bottle now, and the US, in spite of it’s military preparations, is going to find it very hard to put it back in. A massacre of citizens in Egypt, if it was to happen, would only enrage people further.
The things the leaflet suggests that are within the remit of the working class and youth are being done.
What does not appear to be happening is the building of the type of party you describe.
Leaflets, in English and outside Egypt, are not going to make that happen. Where are the people on the ground ??
I’m staying in the Square, half of which is a tent city at night.
I’ll try getting some pictures up, but most likely it will have to wait until I get back.
The Square was harder work yesterday morning. The Government television station is pumping out propoganda about the revolution being manipulated by the US and Israel through foreign spies – converse of the truth of course as Mubarak is a direct proxy for the US and Israel and has been from day 1. I knew this before I came, so was to some extent prepared for it. There was one situation with about 50 people around me getting more and more heated about whether or not I should be there – majority with me, but a very angry three or four against. The people on the outside of the circle of course can only half hear what is being said, and the whole thing is fairly jumpy. There was a heated debate with kind help of people who translated. I stuck to my ground that Mubarak wanted to isolate the Egyptian revolution from support and that they should face this down. They know it isn’t true, I think but some are anxious, under pressure from Mubarak, to appear more than 100 % + Eygptian. In the end, something, I don’t know what, flipped angry man over and he was suddenly all smiles and thanks and we exchanged Irish for Egyptian flags.
I have to explain why I’m there to people and state my case over and over again each day.It’s made easier as it’s normal here for people to hold up a poster of some kind – a slogan or qu’ran quote or cartoon. Sometimes there are 1-20 people with mobile phones taking pics of my poster at once and recording my explanation. In almost every case, when people have heard and /or read my poster, they’ve welcomed me and thank me for coming. I haven’t needed to buy any food since I came (and have given out the food I brought with me) and have to turn down kind offers of food and help all the time. People are very concerned for my safety in a practical way, and kindly translate or ‘escort’ although so far inside the Square I’ve had no bother at all (apart from the above occasion, when I did wonder for a minute or two if I might get my head ripped off )
The Square is about the size of Clonmel – it takes more than half an hour to walk around it. Youngdan had better get his calculator out.
There was no trouble at all from police or army yesterday although they are there, armed and with tanks the whole time, and there are huge posters of people killed in the protests all around the edges of the Square. Definitely not all the military are on side with Mubarak. There are groups of young men and some older workers who operate on a constant alert for security issues/ attacks. A young Egyptian who grew up in western Europe told me about his early days with the protest – he flew out the day after it started on 25th. A man close by to him was shot in the head and killed on 27th and he was hit on the head ‘fortunately, on the back of my head’ with a rock. He said his whole life had been changed by coming out here, it a positive way, but he has absolutely no idea what he will do when its over.
There’s a big process going on of thrashing out ideas and options, but with no formal co-ordinating body, and a very delicate balance of unity among all the groups based on getting Mubarak out. All around the square there are meetings and debates being held and people writing out their wishes on sheets of paper and arranging them on screens or on the ground, where people read and photograph them. I hope that all of these ideas will be collated to help find some further steps that can be taken without the unity being broken at this crucial stage.
Very few people are buying in to Mubarak’s Fianna Fail style wage increases for public servants and so on…but they are being talked about.
The Wikileaks cable posted by Sean Ryan in the context of Gaza is very useful in understanding the situation in Egypt. The US clearly had its provisional plans in place to replace Mubarak with Soliman and/or Gamal – this is now seriously disrupted by the cross-class consensus in Egypt that the regime itself should be changed.
My sign is very basic but it explains why I have come out to Cairo – it says “Egypt leads the world’s fight against poverty and injustice – Down with Mubarak ! No more fear!” in English and Arabic.
Brilliant stuff, ang – if we read the Egypt, Greek and the next Irish IMF monitoring reports we will find that they use the same one for everywhere.
Things are recovering (the rich are getting richer)
Austerity is working (the poor are getting poorer)
Poverty can be overcome by giving all state assets to the rich.
Mubarak says the people leading the movement are all Israeli and US operatives, who live on Kentucky Fried Chicken….
I had a new sign today which said “Kentucky Fried-eating Israeli / US Spies for the Egyptian Revolution”
It went down a treat.
(Pic from Al J)
Some contrast from last Wednesday, when it looked as though it would be lost –
it just goes to show that sometimes you have to dig in and stand your ground, even when it looks hopeless. My admiration for the young men and women who fought it out (and some of whom died) is unlimited ( The men threw the rocks, women broke up the street surface and supplied them). The deaths, lest anyone was confused by the RTE reports, were the result of being shot by the police or hit in the head by molotov cocktails thrown by the police and their paid thugs. The army hunkered down and did nothing to protect the people.
Since Wednesday, more and more people have moved into the Square at night, so that space is becoming an issue. I’ll be very sorry to go, as duties mean I must, but someone else (or given the increasing numbers, several people ) will use the gap I leave.
(photo- al Jazeera = last Wednesday’s defence of Tahrir Square)
I think this speech should be read along with the wikileak cable which shows that the US State Department/ CIA is directly in touch with Soliman and Co daily and there should be no doubt that the Egyptian government is a US proxy government.
The other background is that the US is putting in place contingency plans for a military intervention (dressed up as ‘evacuation of US residents, which to the best of my recall took place two weeks ago).
The fact that the US has been giving 1.3 billion dollars of military aid to Egypt every year can’t be forgotten, nor can Egypt’s key proxy political role for Israel and the US in relation to the Palestinians.
There is no way that Soliman would risk attempting a coup without US military backing behind him. The military is divided with a lot of the ranks supporting the crowds who are after all their brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers (I’ve chatted with soldiers, some of whom get out of uniform and actively help when they can).
In some ways the most damaging thing done by the Government has been the TV propoganda that the movement is foreign inspired. It both whipped up xenophobia and turned some people against the revolution.
The US State always backs more than one horse (even in its own Presidential elections, lol). As well as Soliman and El Baradei, there are a small number of people – Egyptians, in Tahrir Square, from ‘NGOs’ – that have the smell of Soros/US funding about them – I had the ironic experience of challenging one such ‘Change’ (Colour Revolution) group to say where the funding for their three European offices came from, and if Soros was a funder. No clear answer was given, but I’ll be following up when I get back. There is also the Muslim Brotherhood, from its outset favoured by the US as a buffer against communism.
The movement in Egypt is of all the classes and all ages. At the moment there’s unity, because the demand is very basic, to get rid of Mubarak. If/When he goes, and there is some democratisation, divisions will open up between rich, poor, conservative and radical. The working classes want work and food, the middle classes, employment without corrupt appointment, medical care, the youths want a future – all want dignity and to be full human beings living without fear of favour. The wealthy upper class want to hold on to what they have, but with less corruption and favouritism that cramps their chances.
Within the Mubarak opposition on the Square there are all shades of politics (in very different numbers) from secular radical democrats, Nasserite nationalists, radical islamists, moderate moslems, conservative democrats, communists, maoists and socialists (I asked one guy part of a students group if he was a socialist and he said yes – “we have all been revolutionaries for two weeks” )
There’s great organisational capacity: after 30 years of suppression, development politically now will be very fast.
There is another thing on which there is consensus. People want much more power with the people, much less with the politicians. I can see a future in which politician’s role, wworld wide, is very different and much more subordinate than it is today.
To any Egyptian reading this, who has taken part in the Revolution, a big shout out and my deepest respect and thanks, because what this movement of millions of people is doing will permanently change the world for the better.
There are some funny stories and my photos missing from this diary – I’ll post them when I’m back.
C Flower 09.02.2011