Anna Therese Day is a freelance journalist covering the Arab Spring. Day was covering Egyptian opposition demonstrations when the clashes with the Egyptian police escalated into one of the largest uprisings since the Egyptian Revolution. Day describes the experience. You can follow her on the ground via Twitter.
It felt like #Jan28 all over again, only exactly five months later. In downtown Cairo, tear gas clouds billowed over thousands of demonstrators, as sirens and the sound of gunshots rang out through the now infamous Tahrir Square. Cairo’s busiest downtown boulevards had been transformed, yet again, into an urban battlefield, and, for all those present during the early days of the Egyptian Revolution, the sight of blood and the stinging of teargas revived memories of Egypt’s remarkable but painful “Day of Rage.”
It had been five months to the day since Egyptian activists called for a “Day of Anger,” following the eruption of unprecedented protests (and violent repression) on Jan. 25. This day of mass demonstrations, which became known as “Anger Friday,” marked yet another escalation in the number of protesters as well as in the severity of police brutality; the total number of deaths on #Jan28 is still unknown. After seemingly endless day-long street fights between demonstrators and the regime’s police apparatus, Egyptian dictator, President Hosni Mubarak, replaced his police force with the Egyptian army, a neutral security force and a beloved intermediary for many.
On #Jun28, however, the police were back on the streets, with clashes resuming between demonstrators and the Central Security Forces. The usual suspects were also present: the baltagiya, plainclothes officers, had graced the scene with their presence to the outrage of many activists and to the deep insult to the families of “martyrs,” those who died during the 18-day uprisings earlier this year. The only player missing was the Egyptian Army, nowhere to be found for a considerable part of the night, as frantic tweets buzzed with calls for their intervention.
Much had changed in five months. The dictator had been toppled, and the army, the once-neutral security force, had been tasked with the challenging role of transitional authority. In that transition, the image of the once beloved army had been tainted by power, as they failed and even abused many of their supporters.
Despite several clashes and simmering frustrations with the lumbering pace of the transitional authorities, momentum among demonstrators seemed to be waning by the end of May. Organizers explained that one of its largest constituencies, students, had been busy with exams and several have joked, “besides, it’s hot as hell here in Egypt in the summer!” Activists had planned for a few larger events throughout the summer, including a mass demonstration on July 8, in addition to more localized memorial demonstrations; however, when violence erupted between protesters and police during demonstrations with the families of Egyptian martyrs, hundreds of Egyptians joined in on protests in downtown Cairo.
As the numbers increased, so did the tension and the violence. Both demonstrators and police officers were injured. The combination of blanketing tear gas and short range attacks with rubber bullets and tear gas canisters left over 1,000 demonstrators injured and in desperate need of medical care.
Protestors quickly mobilized — activists circulated neutralizing concoctions to combat the teargas, cyber-organizers tweeted updates to media outlets and supporters, young men built barricades and guarded entryways, and a makeshift first aid “Kentucky clinic” was even established at Tahrir’s KFC. Tahrir was occupied “by the people, not the government” by dawn and was held throughout the day despite sporadic run-ins with the government. A sit-in was held even through the Al-Ahly vs. Zamalek soccer game (two rival Cairo clubs), and after 24 hours of occupation the Tahrir protest turned into a victory party by sunrise on Thursday in Egypt.
Many activists in Tahrir had planned to trek to Alexandria today for the trial of two Egyptian officers accused of beating and murdering 28-year-old Egyptian citizen Khaled Said, whose story and life became an iconic symbol of the revolution and human rights in Egypt. However, new developments have led to the postponement of the trial until September. With calls for a continuation of the sit-in on Tahrir persisting, tension in Cairo may continue as activists prepare for the highly anticipated demonstrations of July 8. Stay tuned.
Photo Credit: Anna Therese Day