BREAKING NEWS: Tahrir Square Engulfed by Clashes with the Police

Note: Contributing Writer David Dietz is based in Cairo and doing freelance reporting. For more of his opinions and coverage of Middle East politics, see his blog, TheMidEaster.com. This story is adapted from there. 

A few hours ago, I was about to sit down to write an article talking about the sense of desperation among the protesters. People in today’s earlier demonstration (arguably the largest since the revolution) were pouring into the square to demand faster reform. 500,000 plus shouted their demands. They even released a herd of turtles to mock the Supreme Military Council’s lack of speed.

The desperation turned to delight when 15 army officers joined one of the many stages set up around the square to protest against their own organization.

A few hours later delight turned to sheer panic. Not long after the 15 rogue army officers took the podium, the military moved in to arrest the ‘defectors.’

Worried for their safety, the crowd sprang to action. Linked arm-to-arm, the protesters formed a human wall to defend their compatriots. Human might, however, was no match for the guns and tasers of the army.

Shortly after nightfall, the military encircled Tahrir Square, systematically dispersing the crowd. According to several protesters who acted more like bodyguards, they where able to save six of the soldiers. The others were not as lucky. They were captured and taken away, their fate unknown.

Enraged by the military’s aggression, but unable to protest in their usual forum, the demonstrators took to the streets surrounding Tahrir Square.

Twitter began to heat up. By 1:00am reports were surfacing that live fire was ringing out in the surrounding area.

I never finished my original article. It no longer was germane.

By 2:00am we were at Tahrir Square. The place was eerily quiet and the military was out in full force at check points along the way. Metal bullets littered the ground. As ‘uninformed’ Americans ‘coming home after a long night partying’ we were allowed to pass through the square, the only non-military presence inside the cordoned area.

Heading past Tahrir, we began to hear the deep groan of the protests. We arrived just in time for the action. What was said to have been relatively peaceful until that point spiraled out of control. The crowd became agitated and burned tires and chairs in the streets and turned to face the military, screaming at them in anger.

The military beat back some of the protesters in response, leaving deep raw wounds across one man’s back.

The crowd again roared in anger and then out of nowhere, a young protestor appeared beside me hurling a molotov cocktail towards the wall of riot police. The incident sparked a violent retaliation. The police again unleashed a round of fire, this time targeting the protesters. One young man was hit, dropping beside me as I ran. The stampede of the crowd made it impossible to know what happened to him.

We fled from the spray of bullets only to regroup and press forward moments later. Again the military responded, this time clashing with the people using batons and and riot shields as weapons.

Another police battalion from the opposite direction appeared, charging forward and pinning the protesters in the crossfire. Surprised by their sudden appearance, the demonstrators ducked into alleyways, scrambling towards the relative safety of the side streets. Soon the whole neighborhood seemed to be engulfed with constant gunshots ringing throughout the night.

Able to take refuge in a backalley we realized that we had no more charge to our cameras. Unable to capture the fight, we found a taxi to take us home.

Since then, reports from Twitter indicate that the protests are only growing. According to one account, gun fire lasted 10 minutes straight, while another Tweet indicated that an army vehicle (possibly a tank) had been lit ablaze by a molotov cocktail dropped from the roof.

The protests were certainly an alarming indication of a government crackdown and indicate that the Supreme Military Council may not be so reform-minded after all.

What’s worse for many protesters (who were always quick to provide any assistance) is that the hated police were back in force, this time supported by the army, which no longer seems to side with the protests.

As one man who was beaten by police said, “Habib el-Adly [the loathed and feared head of security] is back! It is the Egypt of old.”

If that is the case, one can only suspect that the shabab (people) of Egypt will be back tomorrow as well. Anger is palpable and the demonstrators don’t appear to be backing down.

Is today the start of Revolution 2.0?

We are about to find out.

Photo Credit: David Dietz