Socialist Worker
Socialist Worker

Egypt in revolt - Judith Orr's Cairo diary

Socialist Worker editor Judith Orr reporting from Cairo as the revolution unfolds


2.40pm, Wednesday 2 Feb:

I am leaving Cairo now.

Yemeni's president isn’t restanding, King Abdullah has dismissed the Jordanian Parliament and Tunisia's Ben Ali is history. The world is being remade. Not by imperialists drawing lines on maps as so much of this region suffered in the past. But by ordinary working people who struggle to live on as little as 2 dollars a day while their ageing leaders recline in opulent palaces.

I will hand over the baton of reports from the streets of Cairo to other comrades.

I hope that we will soon celebrate the victory of the Egyptian revolution. But whatever happens, the people of Egypt have shown they can rise like lions to shake off the chains that have kept them down for so long.


12.45pm, Wednesday 2 Feb

The queues at the petrol stations stretch into the road.

A car covered in people and flags drives around as they shout 'We want Mubarak'. People turn to me and say, 'They are being paid to do that. The Egyptian people don't want him.'

Apparently Coca-Cola and Bechtel are two of several multinationals which have withdrawn investment from Egypt in last two days because of the instability in the country.

Barak Obama sent an envoy yesterday for talks, the US will be anxious to establish allies in any new administration. They want someone they can do business with just like they have with Mubarak for three decades and Egypt's economy is important to them.


12 noon, Wednesday 2 Feb:

Tension is rising across the city. Mubarak supporters are demonstrating outside the TV station.

People feel that their revolution will be painted as violent as they are taunted and attacked.

They don't want to retaliate but they want to defend their revolution.

But a revolutionary socialist here says he fears more blood will be split before this is over.

The photographer Jess Hurd tells me she took a photo of someone's placard last night which simply said 'This is not Chile'. The people here know what is at stake.


11am, Wednesday 2 Feb:

News of pro-Mubarak thugs attacking protesters comes from Alexandria.

In one case live rounds were shot.

Around Cairo in the more middle class wealthier areas there is some open hostilty to the Tahrir protesters.

Heated arguments have taken place with the local security committees. One socialist here described such sections of the middle class as angry and broken.

They say these people are buying into some of the propaganda coming from the regime: Mubarak has said he is going, if he goes immediately there will be chaos and Egypt will fall apart. It is better to have an orderly transition.

But in the working class areas across the country and in Tahrir Square, the epicentre of this revolution, these arguments hold no sway. They have demanded Mubarak go now and they say they will not go home until he is gone. For them this is a fight for their lives. Activists will spend the next 48 hours building for a massive mobilisation on Friday and make the argument that the revolution has to keep going forward if it is to win the freedom that so many desire.


9.30am, Wednesday 2 Feb:

Walking around the area outside Tahrir Square there is a sense of a city in suspension. Shops are shuttered. A few still have one or two people sitting guard outside, with a small neat fire on the pavement.

There is a newspaper stall that is doing a roaring trade. And people promenade along the centre of these wide boulevards usually bustling with traffic.

For the first time I walk though to the Nile, two minutes’ walk from the square at this time of the morning but difficult when packed with protesters.

Along the corniche is the 6 October Bridge – scene of the much viewed tourist footage of an epic battle between protesters and police when the police ran away.

Below by the underpasses the burned out skeletons of police vans have been left where they fell.

Army checkpoints stop the few cars on the road that are mostly taxis desperate for work. They even offer to take you to the protests.

Just below the bridge is a loud protest. I go closer and discover it’s a pro-Mubarak group.

It numbered only 30 or so people.

Back at the main road leading to the square the line of protesters stands. They are still being taunted by a couple of pro Mubarak individuals but they refuse to be provoked.

Mubarak’s people may feel they can raise their heads a little after his statement last night but it still the ordinary people are still in control of the streets and they show immense discipline.


7.30am, Wednesday 2 Feb:

Walk into the main centre of the square and there are huddled groups around the embers of the fires from the previous night. Long queues wait patiently at the only public toilets.

Everywhere there is the steam of boiling water on small stoves as people make tea. Mothers and fathers carry sleepy children and walk around trying to keep warm.

Until the sun comes over the buildings it very cold. On the loudest sound system in the square a man is singing to a large crowd.

Tahrir is an amazing sight. It is now like a small city all to itself. It changes every day.

Now numerous huge banners hang from buildings all around. The centre raised grass area, where its not too muddy, is filled with tents. The road encircling it is dotted with small stalls selling a few cartons of orange and chocolate bars. People trying to earn a little to survive another day without work.

To witness the resilience of the people camped here in Tahrir Square night after night is a truly humbling experience.


7am, Wednesday 2 Feb:

The chanting started at 3.30am. And carried on through the night.

One woman and three men had arrived to taunt the protesters with placards supporting Mubarak:'We love you Mubarak.”

“This is not freedom, it is an insult. We are your children. We will not let you go'.

Convinced these were paid agent provocateurs, volunteers formed a deep human barricade behind a line of a 100 men who stood arms linked facing the pro Mubarak group.

One was Moses who had come from Alexandria to march yesterday. 'We know what Mubarak is doing. He has sent these people to cause trouble. They want us to fight them then the army can be the peacemaker'. He said.

I asked him what he thought about Mubarak's announcement last night. 'I have known him for 30 years. He is telling us lies. We can't trust him. Today we are not Coptic. We are not brotherhood we are not Jewish. We are Egyptians.”

Since the 25 January when the police disappeared, have you heard about a Christian Church being burned? Or a mosque being attacked? We are here in peace'.


1am, Wednesday 2 Feb:

There will not be much sleeping in Tahrir square tonight. It’s electric. Thousands clap along to slogans denouncing Mubarak. Several protesters tell me it isn't good enough. We are fighting for freedom. That means Mubarak has to go.

The dust raised by the constant marches gives the square an erire feel. The stuffed mubaraks swing in the wind from their nooses in front of a crescent of palm trees.

But outside the square there is more tension than previous nights. Everyone is twitchy. Maybe mubarak will use tonight to attack the people. The local security committee is bigger and reinforcements of volunteers have been called to block this entrAnce to the square. They breAk off the brAnches of trees for makeshift weapons. They tell us to clear the street in case the police come back, in case there is shooting. We do.


12 midnight, Tuesday 1 Feb:

There is rage in Tahrir. Many had begun to bed down for the night when news of Mubarak’s statement came out.

People ran to radios, the two TVs on one side and the big screen. Others went to local flats and cafes.

One man said,' The more he tries to defy us, the people, the more we will defy him. If he stays until September he will fill the ministries with his people and spend all our money. He thinks we are stupid. But we have got our confidence now.”

People march around the square with portable speakers on their shoulders. Other do a conga in and out of the crowd. Around the campfires people shout and argue. They have come this far. They have seen people shot dead in front of their eyes. They have seen over a million fellow citizens march in the city today. They didn't go through all this to live under Mubarak

They want him out and they want him out now. He will be gone by Friday they say. They are determined


11pm, Tuesday 1 Feb:

The streets have erupted. Mubarak has just made his statement. The street fell silent to listen. I stood with the local committee who protect the junction near me. They put on a car radio and gathered round to listen.

Mubarak says he won't stand for re-election in September. But he doesn't say he will go now.

As soon as he finished the whole steet gathered and the cafes emptied. I am in the middle of angry march back to Tahrir Square. The chants are, “Mubarak go. An end to Mubarak. An end to this system.”

Mubarak may think he can stem the anger tonight. But People say 'Go now'.

The Tahrir Square is alive with chants and waving flags. The news is now projected on a giant screen of sheets.

“Go, go, go.”. The chants are taken up by thousands and ring round this square. If anything the announcement has enlivened anger. “Go, go, go.”.


8pm, Tuesday 1 Feb:

Rumours that Mubarak is due to make a statement have swept through the crowd. People cram round TV screens. No one knows if it is true. I say to Sameh, a socialist here in Cairo, 'Surely he wouldn't make a statement to say he was going. He would just go?'. 'I don't know,” he replies. “He has always been with us. He has never left before!' Sameh laughs at the absurdity of it all.

He tells me about meetings that have been taking place throughout the day among the coalition of groups that have been instrumental in recent events. He says that political leaflets have been devoured today. Everyone is more radicalised every day. In the end people did not want to leave the square today.

Sameh talked about the scale of events today. Some put the number on the streets as high as eight million – 10 percent of the population.

But alongside the happiness of the day's mighty achievements there is unease.

The revolution has to go forward. People are getting anxious. Small shops are losing income because of the curfew. And there are shrinking supplies.

Many Egyptian workers survive on daily cash wages. They have no savings. So many are now struggling. Many ATMs are running of money and banks are closed, as are most businesses.

There is a plan for mass leafleting tomorrow to say to people: “It’s Mubarak who’s stopping you earning a living. Force him to go.”

State TV is filled with propaganda about the city being overrun with criminality and bandits. But that isn't shaking people.

So security is still in the hands of the people. Where have you ever seen civilians checking ID to check you're not a cop? Where have you see civilians turning you away if you are a cop?

The square is still packed. The streets are in the hands of the people. But Mubarak is still here. How long can this contradiction continue?


7pm, Tuesday 1 Feb:

On the first day I got here here there was barely anyone with a proper megaphone. Now on every side of the square there are massive sprawling sound systems, one with two dozen speakers strapped together.

In front of them, thousands sit and stand. There are no speeches right now. Just constant chanting.

Four young women stop me. One is in high school, the others at college. They ask me what I think about today and ask am I scared – pointing at the swirling crowd around us. I said no I was inspired.

I asked them were they scared. And they said no. Tahrir Square is the safest place in Egypt.


6pm, Tuesday 1 Feb:

The streets are alive with debate. What next? How much longer can Mubarak cling on? The argument has raged all day about marching on the presidential palace.

Some worried about leaving Tahrir square which has become the symbol of the revolution.

But although the city has ground to a halt with numbers protesting there are many who want to move.

Maybe a march on the palace, might be the tipping point. In Tahrir square right now no one looks like they will leave.

More and more gigantic banners hang from the buildings simply saying GO.

The helicopters circle above us.

Darkness is falling but this incredible day is still not over.


5.30pm, Tuesday 1 Feb:

People still keep coming. Some have not even been able to get near the square.

The cafes nearby are rammed. As there are no cars, people are spread out across the roads – drinking tea and smoking shisha pipes and watching al-Jazeera. At one, a man is reciting a poem to an rapt audience.

Next there is music from someone with a mandolin. The atmosphere is celebratory. The curfew is an irrelevance.


5.15pm, Tuesday 1 Feb:

It seems like the whole of Egypt is on the streets. Cairo is one great unstoppable mass of humanity.

Revolutionary socialist Sameh told me he is still trying to get to grips with pace of change. 'It’s like I'm living in a different country. We have loads of younger comrades getting organised.

“We are rushing to see what we can do. This is not a game. Many young people are prepared to die for this revolution.'

The revolution is bringing in new forces every day. Today workers have joined the marches across the city. There are strikes in factories here and across the country.

If this revolution teaches us anything it is that we can change the world—that even the most repressive regimes can be challenged.

As I write, Mubarak is still in office—but people feel it’s not “if” but “when”. They feel victory is in their hands. “Game over,” the posters say.

This whole great city of 20 million people has turned every street corner into a base of resistance.

The regime tries to paint it as chaos. It is the opposite. It is self organised, good natured, respectful of difference and exuberant. One demonstrator said, 'The police don't make order. We make our own order.”

This is what a revolution looks like.


3.30pm, Tuesday 1 Feb:

We’re hearing that more than a million are here on the streets of Cairo.

You can hardly move. Everyone is smiling, greeting each other. It is a day no-one will ever forget.

And it’s not just Cairo. In Suez I hear more than 300,000 are marching. 250,000 in Mansoura. 500,000 in Alexandria.

Protesters are in the streets in every single city and town in Egypt now. Some say four million are out all over the country.

Words can hardly describe the joy and energy and determination on the streets.

One typed sheet I saw held up was translated for me: “They want to scare us. He has ruined our lives. We only live once. This is it.”


2.45pm, Tuesday 1 Feb:

I walk away from the square along the avenues to see the tens of thousands who haven’t even reached the square itself. Some have decided to stop where they are.

They set up banners and pass round food and water. Someone has put a bunch of flowers on the tank surveying the scene. The soldiers have left it there.

It seems like it can’t get any bigger. But it does. One man travelled from Alexandria yesterday. I ask him why he didn’t demonstrate there today instead.

“Because this is the capital,” he replies. “This is where it counts. All my family have come. We came yesterday because all the trains were stopped today. I did not want to miss this.”

Every now and then a wave of sound surges through the crowd: “GO”.

Still the debate about what to do next carries on. But this feels unstoppable.


2.15pm, Tuesday 1 Feb:

A contingent of school students marches by, chanting. Someone is flying a homemade kite painted with “GO”. The sun is beating down and people are folding their newspapers into origami-style sun hats.

One enormous 30 foot banner is being painted on the ground. “People demand removal of the regime” in red and black.

As I squeeze through, the mass of people say “Welcome to Egypt”—or sometimes “Welcome to the Egyptian revolution”.

I sit down to send a text message. The man next to me starts to talk about what it meant to him to see today happen. He says it was both inevitable, but also felt like it might never happen. I asked why this time was different. Why was this possible now?

He said, “Just look at the faces of people around…” He couldn’t finish his sentence—he was overcome with emotion.

Ahdaf Soueif was on the raised grass are at the centre of the square surrouded by a mass of hundreds of thousands of people on every side—cheering, singing, chanting.

I asked her how she felt at this moment. “I feel proud. For so long we have had this image of being supine, divided and passive. But many of us believed that the Egyptian character refused to be bound by these negative images.

“Today we see this in action. It’s not just the revolt. It’s the way its is being made. The humour, the courtesy, the organisation. It’s magnificent. Here are the people in all their inventiveness.”

People still arrive. The army are sitting down, but are now wearing bulletproof vests. But there is no fear in this square.


12.30pm, Tuesday 1 Feb:

In every direction you look in Tahrir Square there are a sea of faces. There are hundreds of thousands here in Tahrir Square. It is a truly magnificent sight.

The road from the Giza district is so full with people they are having difficulty moving towards the square.

Now the debate is. “Should we march or should be stay in Tahrir?” If we march, where to? The Presidential Palace? The TV station? There will not be room for everyone in Tahrir.

In reality there are enough people to both march and stay. Adaf Souif, the Egyptian novelist and activist, told me how proud she felt today.

By our side is the family of a young man. Their only son was shot dead by the police. The role of the police and the state is not an abstract question for them – or all those who have suffered persecution and torture at the police’s hands.

But here they have an historic chance to put an end to the regime. It’s in their hands.


12.15pm, Tuesday 1 Feb:

There are doctors in uniform here. “Let the world see this is the Egyptian people,” they say.

A group of young women chant together – students and graduates. One, an architect, says “I have a job but what about the rest of the youth?” She is interrupted by Amer, a man by my side. “Our issue is not money, poverty or security. Our issue is freedom. Our issue is the system.”

Now, as many kneel to pray, you can begin to see the sheer scale of this day.


12 noon, Tuesday 1 Feb:

Tens of thousands are pouring into the square. I am buoyed along in a moving crowd. Everyone holds their ID cards aloft for teams of volunteer protesters to check.

Once again young women apologetically check my rucksack.

The level of organisation in the midst of a mass movement is astonishing. People display their freshly painted banners along the roadside. People hold up their mobiles to take pictures and video the scene.

Not that they can send them anywhere. The internet has been shut down since Friday. Today cannot be termed a Twitter or Facebook revolution when neither function.

None of the Egyptian mobiles I ring work.

But still people keep coming. There must be several hundred thousand people in the square already.

Its difficult to move around to see. The sound of of the chanting is overwhelming.

This is a movement which has grown and intensified by the day. And now by the hour.


11.05am, Tuesday 1 Feb:

One of the most striking things about the last few days has been the involvement of women.

Women are part of the security teams on the edge of the square today for the first time as everyone is being searched.

Women have camped out in the square in tents, under plastic. Some are there with husbands and children. Gaggles of Young women run around the square having a laugh, painting slogans on their faces and aking hijabs from the Egyptian flags.

But there are many older women too. Some looking tired, sit on low walls talking. They are leaning on sticks surrounded by posters and slogans.

I am reminded of what Martin Luther King wrote about a seventy-two-year-old woman fighting racism in Alabama in 1955. Who when asked about being weary replied, “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.”

It could have been written for these women in Tahrir Square today.


10.30am, Tuesday 1 Feb:

People continue to flow into the square. Not in organised marches at the moment but in waves up the avenues and streets leading to Tahrir Square.

The army have said they won’t shoot and that the demonstrators have legitimate demands.

Everyone you speak to starts by saying that Mubarak has to go. He is the personification of everything that is rotten about the old regime. But they don’t stop there.

They want immediate elections, genuine elections, and the complete clearance of Mubarak’s corrupt cronies from politics. This is a revolution that many say is about human dignity and the word on everyone’s lips is freedom. Dalia, a woman at the airport returning home, told me she felt, “like Mel Gibson in that film – I just want to shout freedom!”

The longer Mubarak clings on, the more radicalised this movement becomes. Perhaps rulers like him have become so complacent over the decades they can’t believe their citizens will ever challenge them.

Yet here they are. Thirty years oppression being shed in a few glorious days. Of course, many of the people now demonstrating didn’t think such a movement was possible either. Certainly not in their lifetimes. There is a sense of disbelief expressed by people all the time. Disbelief and joy. But they know this is still only the beginning. In reality, this all began only a week ago.

Mubarak is still in power. The old guard still surround him. The police could come back and the army still has tanks on the streets. So they walk with their carrier bags of food and water, sometimes for miles, to Tahrir to try and finish the job they started.


9.45am, Tuesday 1 Feb:

Now the nooses have stuffed “Mubaraks” hanging from them.

People crowd round a man who has set up paint pots in cut down water bottles. They request their slogan and he paints their faces/chests/arms in the colours of the Egyptian flag.

Numbers are growing but, unlike say an event in Trafalgar Square in London (Tahrir is much bigger), there is not one single rally. There are constantly several rallies, large and small, while many other people walk and talk among friends and family.

There are no party or campaign placards. The creativity of the home made placards remind me of the students’ demos. Some are cartoons, jokes, and some express pure hatred. There is a multitude of ideas here.


8.30am, Tuesday 1 Feb:

Today is the big day – is this the day a general strike and mass demonstrations bring down Mubarak?

Security is tight. Now to get into the main street to square outside my hotel I am body searched by three young women protesters.

At thee next junction another young woman checks my passport. “We have had so many threats. We want to protect the square” they said.

Once in the now familiar square people are clearing up their camps. Sitting in circles chatting. The volunteer teams have swept this giant city centre spotlessly clean. Small groups of protests march around the centre chanting.

By the televisions, now turned off, music is playing and many hundreds sing and clap along. I am stopped by people who speak English saying “Mubarak must go”.

A large Egyptian flag is held on four corners billowing above an air vent, presumably coming out of the underground station.

Sheets have been sewn together on the side of a building to create a huge screen.

Several nooses have appeared hanging from the overhanging traffic lights.

On the other side speches and chants Are led from two young men on the top of a massive pair of wooden steps.

Groups read and discuss this mornings papers. Other sit quietly reading the koran.

The tanks at each entrance remain. Some of the soldiers chat to the protesters. In one street it is the Soldiers who searching people.

How many will come today? Will the workers mobilise? These are the questions every one is asking.


11:50pm, Monday 31 Jan:

Tensions are running high in anticipation of tomorrow’s mass march.

Incoming roads are blocked. Trains have stopped. Rumour is that mobile networks will be shut down at midnight.

One main avenue running into Tahrir has now got a line of hundreds of protesters sitting in road while soldiers watch. There is definitely more tension with the soldiers now.

Further down in the square thousands continue to chant.


10.15pm, Monday 31 Jan:

The new vice president, Omar Suleiman, has announced on TV that some parliamentary seats will be open to new elections.

People react with cheers – which turns to anger when they realise the elections are so limited.

Rumours of road closures and train services into Cairo being stopped have been confirmed on the news. The prospect of a million marching in the capital tomorrow is clearly unnerving the regime.


10pm, Monday 31 Jan:

A selection of slogans adorn the walls and banners in the square. One reads “Gas for the Egyptian people, not Zionist tanks”.

A big professionally made banner declares: “Egyptian engineers support the Egyptian peoples’ protests and want them to bring this political system down! Together for the sake of Egypt.”

Other slogans include “Game over Mubarak” and “Off with his head”(in English...perhaps they have been watching the students confronting Charles and Camilla).

One family, including an elderly grandmother and young children, sit together around their own poster which simply reads: “Mubarak fuck off”.


9.30pm, Monday 31 Jan:

Back in the square, the atmosphere is electric. In one corner volunteers have rigged up some precarious cables to run two small TVs. They are permanently set on Al Jazeera.

Hundreds watch sitting on the road. There are cheers when an army spokesman states that the army will not fire on the “great Egyptian people”.

On another side someone has rigged up a PA system. There are political speeches and chanting but there is also poetry. For that, the hundreds of women, men and children sitting in a solid mass in front of the speakers are silent.

There are lots of rumours about roads into Cairo being blocked to prevent people coming to march tomorrow.

Many more people will sleep in Tahrir Square tonight because they don’t want to risk being kept out in the morning.


8.30pm, Monday 31 Jan:

The gap in posts was due to long phone call filing copy for this week’s Socialist Worker.

No internet and no email so forced back to old fashioned methods!

The news from outside of Cairo is astounding. There were up to a million people are on the streets of Alexandria today. In Suez hundreds of thousands are marching in the city.

Also three factories are now on indefinite strike until Mubarak falls. One is a steel mill that produces 70 percent of Egypt’s steel.

Also news that workers in two Cairo factories, one textile company another a printing press, have dismissed their bosses.

All eyes are on the workers tomorrow and the call for a general strike.


5.30pm, Monday 31 Jan:

What is amazing about watching events like these is the speed of change in people.

Almost no one I speak to has been a political activist before now. It wasn’t easy for anyone to be politically active under this regime but what has happened this week is that a deep bed of bitterness has been exposed.

People who had struggled to survive and felt powerless to challenge the way they were treated now feel that they are in charge.

They are indignant that Mubarak is still clinging on but are entirely confident that they will win.

And every hour the Tahrir Square is getting fuller. This is the biggest day so far.

Some say 300,000 are on the streets right now – it certainly looks like it.


4pm, Monday 31 Jan:

It’s one hour into curfew now. One of the ironies of the determination to defy the law is that there are far more people on the streets during curfew than at any other time of the day.

There are certainly more than this time yesterday. Small local and noisy marches have fed into square from round the city.

There are now a couple of professionally made banners being held aloft.

Street meetings are being held all around. In some places the crush is such that its hard to pass through.

This time tomorrow there is to be a march on the presidential palace. Each day is being described as critical. As indeed it is.

But despite news of police taking up some duties elsewhere in the city the movement still has the momentum.


3pm, Monday 31 Jan:

The curfew has officially started.

Jon Snow from Channel 4 news just walked by the street cafe where I am having a very sweet tea and asked the men at the table next to me whether any were going home for the curfew. None were.

He said he had just come straight from South Africa covering the story on Mandela. He said he was there in Iran for the Iranian Revolution and this reminds him of that, and what will happen as there seems to be a void where an alternative opposition should be.

Tea drinkers just broken out in cheers as neighbourhood marches and a contingent of people carrying food supplies for square go by.


12 noon, Monday 31 Jan:

There has been a call for a general strike tomorrow and for a million people to march in Cairo.

There is frustration that Mubarak is still hanging on to the presidency.

People are running out of gas and there is not enough bread being baked.

Away from Tahrir Square, some shops are open and there are few cars and taxis on the streets. Soldiers and tanks stand alongside the neighbourhood committees who are directing traffic and organising security. If the organised working class responds tomorrow then there is the potential to accelerate this extraordinary revolutionary process.


9.30am, Monday 31 Jan:

A man stopped me and said, “If you are a reporter tell people what we are doing. We are trying to make a peaceful revolution. Does the world know what is happening here? Do people understand? Nile news says there are only 200 of us here. It lies”.

As I walk around the square the sun is rising and people are clearing up from the camps of last night. I say to a group that they must be exhausted. They reply, “No we will be here for 100 years to get rid of that torturer. For our children and our futures”.


8.30am, Monday 31 Jan:

Soldiers have shot live rounds into the air.

Several protesters reassure me that the army is on the people’s side and will never attack. One man holding the end of a long banner across a wide avenue into the square says, “It may not be the army but they want to get us out of the square, look up on the roof of the museum.”

I look up and clearly poking out above the red dusty walls of this tourist destination is a sniper.

Nearby a cart is giving out free bowls of couscous to hungry and tired protesters.

One the one hand the tremendous determination and solidarity of the revolution and on the other guns. The role of the state, and the different sections of the state here is still critical.


7.45am, Monday 31 Jan:

I wake to the sound of low flying helicopters. I can hear the crowds cheering.

Then a couple of shots. Tear gas or gunfire? The cheers turn into angry shouts and the unmistakable sting of tear gas is in the air.

The nine tanks of last night have shrunk to six but the mood is different. The protesters are shouting at soldiers who are on the ground with guns out. No one is hugging or high fiving.

I rush to get dressed to get back out. This may turn into a battle for the revolution.


1am, Sunday 30 Jan:

The medical care in Tahrir Square is well organised. but they have run out of basic medicines. At night, doctors sleep in a designated area so people know where to get help. Major injuries are taken to the temporary hospital in a nearby mosque.

Around all the homes in the area collections for money and goods are done.

One doctor said “What more can we do. We can look after ourselves but we need to be able to care for the sick and wounded. I want everyone to know what we are up against”


Midnight, Sunday 30 Jan:

Police have been seen in some parts of the city but not in Tahrir Square.

“They wouldn’t dare show their faces here” said one young guy on checkpoint duty on a barricade. They wear white makeshift sashes and are keeping the streets clean as well as providing security.

A woman comes up and asks if the way to her home is safe. Two men are dispatched to make sure she can get through.

In the square, the symbolic centre of this movement is quieter but that still means thousands are sitting on walls chatting. Camps have been set up on every bit of dried up grass there is.

Arguments and debate are breaking out all over: ”What is happening? What can we do next?” And always with the worry that there will be an attempt to take the square in the dead of night.

Many here, me included, feel the situation is on a knife edge.


11pm, Sunday 30 Jan:

Reports are coming in that the police have started taking up positions in the city again. There has been tracer bullet fire from the opposite side of the city to where I am. These shots are warnings from the local defence committees to stay away.

According to Egyptian author Ahdaf Soueif the police are claiming that they will only carry out “normal” policing and will not go near the Tahrir Square. We will see.


9pm, Sunday 30 Jan:

Across Egypt people are still on the street. One activist reported that the town of Mahalla – a strong working class area– was on fire. He said that it is no surprise that areas where there has been an increase in workers’ militancy in recent years, have seem some of the most brutal fighting.

Rumours are spreading that textile workers in Mahalla and lorry drivers across the country are striking against Mubarak.


8pm, Sunday 30 Jan:

I walk down one of the major avenues off Tahrir Square.

Every road running off the square has a barricade and a committee checking cars.

Some people have set up chairs and a fire outside their shoe shop.

Two men sitting on plastic deck chairs stop me to welcome me to Egypt. They say that will be there all night to protect the offices they work in. “We are here until it’s finished”, they say.

People agree that there was widespread looting on Friday, but everyone blames the police. They describe the police going on a rampage.

It seems that the police wanted to create fear and chaos so that people would miss Mubarak’s strong hand. It hasn’t worked.

People have taken their lives into their own hands.

At the edge of the square, the number of tanks has grown to nine. But still they are surrounded by chanting protesters who barely stop to take a breath.

Elsewhere people are bedding down in doorways for the night.


7pm, Sunday 30 Jan:

There is a scrum at one corner of Tahrir Square. The word has gone through the crowd – Mohamed ElBaradei is here and is going to address us.

Many believe ElBaradei is the person who can unite the opposition and force Mubarak out.

TV cameras compete with protesters holding up their mobile phones to catch a glimpse of the man who may be the next president of Egypt.

In the end no one but the TV viewers could hear what he said. But the different groups are gathering into one mass. Will he become the single voice of the movement?

Just met Jack Shenker, the British journalist based here, fresh from his arrest and beating at the hands of the Egyptian police earlier this week.

He said there were some voices in response to ElBaradei shouting, “This is still our revolution”.

But right now everyone is united on one thing: Mubarak must go.


4.30pm, Sunday 30 Jan:

It’s half an hour into the curfew and the square is rammed. British photographer Jess Hurd will have the best photos – she is up on a roof somewhere.

The army is still on every corner and still they are cheered and embraced. Around the square knots of people read leaflets, paint slogans and pass around boxes of dates and sweets.

By being here they are showing they have lost the fear that has kept Mubarak in power for 30 long years.

Whatever happens tonight and in the days to come they have tasted struggle, they have resisted repression and they will never be the same again.

Some say the future of Egypt will be decided tonight. And the future of the whole region will be shaped by what happens in Egypt.

The helicopters swoop and darkness has settled around us. There are chants and songs. And still the army watches.

The stakes are high. But no one here looks like they’re going home.


4pm, Sunday 30 Jan:

I go for tea with a revolutionary socialist who still can’t take in that we don’t have plain clothes cops following us.

We sit openly in a street cafe discussing revolution and exchange remarks about Mubarak’s evils with people at other tables. “It’s like another country,” he said.

Then there is an ear splitting boom. Three or more fighter jets fly over. It seems they are just skimming the tops of the buildings they are so low. “What does this mean?”, everyone asks, “They are just trying to terrorise us,” one tea drinker says.

It’s ten minute to the start of curfew at 4pm and the streets are filled with people. Everyone is talking politics and everyone is heading for the square. If something is going to happen no one wants to miss it.

The numbers in the square are growing. There is no plan. There is no one organisation responsible.

There is just the conviction that if they keep coming Mubarak will fall.

Young and old, women and men. In suits and jeans. This is all Cairo on the streets. Their streets.


3pm, Sunday 30 Jan:

I talk to a doctor still in his scrubs. “I saw so many people die on my shift on Friday,” he told me. “Shot dead and many more wounded. But now the people have opened their eyes. We will finish this. Mubarak must go”.


2pm, Sunday 30 Jan:

All after noon the soldiers have fraternised with the people. Sometimes an officer will make them clear the tank roof, but there is no hostility – not yet anyway.

One soldier let loose some live rounds in the air to clear the crowd – there was a water cannon creeping up behind.

I bumped into Robert Fisk whose reporting on the Middle East is legendary. “See behind you,” he said, “If they start shooting go for the underground entrance”. You can see how he has managed to survive so many war zones.

They didn’t shoot. The water cannon was put into reverse and protesters linked arms with soldiers to move people back.

No one wants to believe the army will turn on them. “We are like family to the army,” says more than one protestor.


Noon, Sunday 30 Jan:

Many people have spent the night in the square, only taking a break for a smoke and a tea in the After Eight cafe which stayed open all night.

They lie exhausted on the grass in the centre of the square. Some have bloody bandages round their heads.

But fresh waves of protesters keep coming to join them.

They arrive from all corners of Cairo and swarm past the soldiers and their desert camouflaged tanks.

The protesters greet the soldiers as old friends. They hug and kiss and give each other high fives.

They clamber up on the tanks to chant and hold up home made placards.

One tank has “Fuck Mubarak” spayed on its side.


10am, Sunday 30 Jan:

A city without police is a sight to behold. Seeing tens of thousands brave bullets and tear gas to fight for a better society is a joy to experience.

In Tahrir Square the evidence of pitched battles is everywhere – burnt out police vans, makeshift barricades, blackened buildings and tanks on every street corner.


9am, Sunday 30 Jan:

I have just arrived in Tahrir Square (Liberation Square) – the equivalent of Trafalgar Square in London.

Tear gas, batons and live bullets have not deterred protesters from coming out on the streets.

Protesters who had spent the night in Cairo’s Tahrir Square awoke to find fresh demonstrators joining them.

There is only one demand: “Mubarak Go”.

Cairo is a city on a knife edge. The mass protests continue. The police have disappeared.

Police stations aross the country have been burnt down.

The prisons have been emptied, shops are shuttered up and local committees are maintaining barricades in 12 hour shifts to protect their communities.


Article information

Features
Sun 30 Jan 2011, 17:19 GMT
Issue No. 2237
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