I cry for Cairo, my city

I WAS there at Tahrir Square that Tuesday afternoon when the first demonstration was held. It was more like an outing, something to feel part of and show we cared for our country. It wasn’t just students. It was everyone. Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets to make a peaceful protest.

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Published: Mon 31 Jan 2011, 1:20 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 2:31 AM

It was like a stream that became a river that became an ocean, people just came pouring out, it was elevating, exciting, you felt history was being made.

We only wanted to focus attention on the facts of our lives and the years of failure to keep their promises by those who lead us. The media dubbed it the “Day of Anger” and a protest against corruption, poverty, unemployment and other social and political grievances. The label stuck but all we wanted to do was show the government that all of us, from different walks of life were united and needed to send a strong message that this beautiful country of mine wanted to save itself from the mire into which it had fallen.

On that Tuesday, major streets in downtown Cairo saw a heavy presence of police and security forces, ironically a holiday because it was the country’s National Police Day. The police held off for a while and our 4-point agenda was all we wanted to broadcast. These four demands including the stepping down of Hosni Mubarak, the resignation of the cabinet led by Prime Minister Ahmed Mahmoud Mohamed Nazef, dissolving the People’s Assembly and rescheduling elections, and establishing a new government supported by the people. January 25, 2011 will go down in our history as the day things changed forever, it does not matter how this round ends, things can never be the same again.

At that moment we were still a little shaken at the sudden heightening of conflict and the riot police arrived suddenly as the throng swelled to over 10,000 strong. We all intended it to be peaceful. Clashes began sporadically then increased in intensity.

We swiftly disbanded and rushed to safety, the euphoria replaced by fear... there had been no provocation from our side, only slogans and calls for an end to the present situation. On Friday the second demonstration began to grow spontaneously regenerating itself in other cities. We were enthusiastic and full of hope and we noticed the police had largely disappeared.

There was nothing untoward, the Egyptian voice was being heard as one and that filled us with a certain sense of conviction. In the time it took for the army to step in the breach the police had left behind and maintain law and order the unruly elements had begun their parallel looting and arson and this is where things began to fall apart. I saw scenes I would not have believed could happen in Cairo. Never. But they did. People were stealing stuff openly, breaking down shop windows, it was like some slow motion surreal film. Supermarkets were wiped clean, electronic shops were broken into, now the very people who had marched so bravely for their beliefs and their nation had become victims. It is amazing how fast it happens, like a blur, one minute it is a passion and a faith, the next you are running from your own countrymen and the mob mentality takes over. It is a frenzy and it feeds on its own madness.

I sit here this Sunday morning, looking at plumes of smoke rising from the city, sad and wounded to the core. We are cut off from the Net which has been blocked these past 48 hours, afraid to go out and unable to sleep at night. We are getting through on the mobiles occasionally and all of us share the same fears… family, friends, eager to contact loved ones and make sure they are safe, relatives abroad trying to get through, not afraid so much the army as the anti-social elements, their numbers now swollen by escaped convicts. How did that happen, what were the authorities of the Prison Demu in Fayoum doing, how could they do this, let 1,000 prisoners get out, do you know how much damage a thousand convicts can do in a city, they could have 10,000 gang members. Yes, we are tense, stressed, there is an air of insecurity and rumours of these urban assaults are circulating wildly. There are no cars on the road, scores of people are not in their homes but seeking shelter elsewhere, afraid to go out. They say the airport is functioning but I don’t know how anyone can get there. Also, it is not true that people are leaving the city. There are no long traffic lines. For now, the water and electricity are working but I don’t know when that will go. Food is becoming scarce because supplies are not entering the city, we are being fed by rumours only. Schools are closed, children are not allowed outside and offices show little attendance. My beautiful country is at a standstill. I believe in other cities the story is the same. It is again like a tinderbox, with very dry powder, anything can ignite anger at this moment because people are feeling insecure, no one seems to be in charge. If the unruly elements take over the whole point of the demonstration will be lost. We are not on the roads to destroy property or burn buses or rob homes, that is not the Egyptian method, we want justice and a new system of government where people are accountable. Do not give us chaos when we want commitment, do not give us criminals when we want confidence. We have shown patience, great patience, men, women, the young, and we want to be heard from the heart.

(M.A. R. is a senior student in Cairo University and she spoke poignantly to KT’s Editorial Advisor Bikram Vohra over the telephone from Cairo on the present situation.)

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