Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Revolution Diary

The internet has been out here since last Thursday night...hence my lack of posts.  This might be sporadic...I wanted to write more but I am nearly exhausted from the sheer magnitude of events this past week.  May Allah help us here in Egypt!

Thursday, Jan 27

(I am writing this on Friday morning, after having found the internet taken down in Egypt.)  I left work late afternoon on Thursday.  It had been a long week with me teaching extra periods and keeping full-time hours.  I hadnt had the time or energy to blog and was truly looking forward to the weekend.  I knew I needed to sleep for a few hours once I got home before I would have the energy to do anything else at all. 

The protests in Egypt had started with Police Day on Tuesday, Jan 25.  It was a national holiday so most companies, and all government offices, were closed.  We had read snippets on Facebook and elsewhere online that the Egyptian public was planning protests for that day.  The general tone was why, especially in recent months when prices had skyrocketed and jobs were scarce, should the country celebrate the hated police?  They were seen as ruthless oppressors and murderers, rather than the protectors of society.  There was much corruption among them and they ruled with an iron fist.  They were incredibly arrogant, abusive and used to getting their own way.  They were actually out of control in the general society.  There was little disagreement that over the years, Egypt had become a police state, and the police were charged with enforcing Mubarak's state of emergency law--and more.  Worse, they were above the law, not just the law of the land, but the law of human decency.  While protests were not a new phenomenon here in Egypt, they have generally been small and tightly contained by the police forces.  I assumed Tuesday would be no different.  I admit there were more protestors in the streets than I would have imagined, but still I blew it off, thinking this will end that day and once again everything would return to the status quo. 

On Wednesday the protests continued, and grew larger.  One of my students, from a poor and volatile neighborhood, did not come to school.  He had informed a classmate that it was too dangerous in his neighborhood to leave the house.  While he made it to school on Thursday, another classmate, from another area in Cairo--also poor and filled with protestors, stayed home.  On both Wednesday and Thursday, on the ride home from school, our bus was forced to circumvent the regular route due to police roadblocks in 6 October.  Still, the police presence was not as large as it was in Cairo, and we felt fairly safe out here.   

There had been discussion in the media on Thursday that there were massive protests planned for after communal prayers at noon on Friday.  This was to be expected, and at the time we still had internet access, and could read English language Egyptian newspapers.  Facebook was alight with news, instructions, etc for the protests, although by that time Twitter had been disabled in Egypt.  It didnt take long for the government to realize that social media was a huge aid in planning and carrying out the protests.  From Thursday evening on, I was glued to the television.

Friday, Jan 28

We awoke early in Egypt to find our internet access totally shut down.  In addition all mobile phone services were cut.  Not only couldnt we make phone calls, but SMS messages were disabled as well.  The Egyptian government thought this move would thwart protestors, but it did not.  It only angered the citizens and made them more determined to assemble and get their message across--that Mubarak had to go and nothing else was acceptable.  I should add that it soon became obvious  these protests had been planned well in advance, and very thoroughly.  It was clear alternative means of communication were used to keep all  informed, and I think plans were made well in advance for just such a situation if lines of communication had been cut. 

Friday saw massive numbers of Egyptians protesting after communal noon prayers--the mosques being used as a rallying point, although it has been said that worshippers were tear-gassed as they tried to leave the mosques!  Mohamed Al Baradei, the noble prize winner who had returned to Egypt on Thursday to offer his services to the Egyptian people in any capacity they chose, and with some people thinking he might be a possible president one day but at the very least, was now seen as one public voice of opposition, was placed under house arrest.  But not before he and others suffered from tear gas inhalation while they were still in the mosque.

While Cairo, Alexandria and Suez cities have been the focus of the media, protests took place all over Egypt.  Truly no area was exempt--from the farms, to the Delta to the Upper Egypt area known as Saiyeed and further south, to Porta Said and Fouad and into Sinai in the north.  We learned Friday that protestors were assembled here in 6 October, and the police were obviously still out in force.  Automatic gun fire could be heard, and in some parts of our town, the acrid smell of tear gas filled the air.

I was lucky in that I had gotten an SMS message out to my children in USA--before the mobiles had been cut here, giving them my home phone number.  Only some landlines were working.  My daughter called me as did my son.  I assured them that until then we were OK, but only Allah knew what would be coming on this impending Friday.  They told me they had arranged for service to Egypt on their mobiles and home phones.  Thank Allah they could contact me.

As Friday unfolded, massive numbers of protestors descended to the streets with only ONE message...Mubarak must resign.  Many protestors were killed, particularly in Suez and Alexandria.  By sunset Friday, many police stations across Egypt had been set on fire, as were buildings everywhere.  It was a shocking sight to see a huge skyscraper, the NDP building in Cairo--headquarters of Mubarak's government--set ablaze.  Flames rose up through the building and the black smoke obscured the views.  This was surreal---the literal destruction of the symbol of this corrupt regime.  In addition, the Antiquities Museum, housing mummies and other artifacts from Pharoanic times, was determined by protestors as being in danger--both from fire and looters, and so was ringed by vigilant protestors to protect the priceless contents.  Tens of police vehicles were burned in every city, and on the 6 October bridge near downtown Cairo, protesters tried to rock police box vans over the rail into the Nile.

By Friday evening after sunset, the hated police presence was disappearing and the military moved in.  They were welcomed by the protestors, literally, with open arms.  The army basically has a history of being protectors of the people, unlike the police who are seen as the persecutors of the common person.  I wondered what Saturday would was obvious Friday's protests were successful in getting the message out that the Egyptian people had "broken through the wall of fear" and would not relent on their demands that Mubarak and the entire NDP had to go NOW!  It was also clear that the public would not return to their former state of standing by with hands tied while their corrupt regime profited, getting richer and fatter by raping the country and its people. 

In all this time, from Tuesday until Friday, Mubarak uttered not one word to his people.  In fact until now, no one actually knows where he even is.  Last report he was in the resort city of Sharm al Sheikh.  Must be nice.  Nero fiddles while Rome burns.

Finally late Friday evening, Al Jazeera English, CNN and BBC were all announcing Mubarak would be addressing the nation.  It wasn’t until approximately 12:30 AM the next day that he finally appeared on state TV, defiant as ever and deemed as being “arrogant” (no surprise there) by a western reporter.  A translation of his speech can be read here.  His comments were not surprising, painting his tenure as president and his positions as correct, but ceding that the public had a right to air their grievances and that he was listening to them.  He claimed to be speaking as an “Egyptian” and not as their president.  He offered that there would be some reforms in his rule, starting with the sacking of his cabinet.  He asked for their resignations—not a new move in his history as dictator--and President Obama would later remark that “a shuffling of the deck” was not an answer.  In short, he was not going anywhere, and didn’t even address the issue of that being the only demand of the people.  God knows what tomorrow will bring.

Saturday, Jan 29

Today brought more demonstrators to the streets.  The police had totally disappeared from the scene and the military rolled into cities and towns across the country, still being soundly welcomed by the people.  Friday’s protests had brought many deaths of protestors in Suez and Alexandria in particular. 

News reports featured hysterical relatives of many dead waiting outside the morgue in Alexandria, and gruesome pictures of bloody sheet-draped bodies inside were very disturbing.  It was particularly poignant that most of those relatives demanding entrance to the morgue to claim their relatives were apparently very poor and at the bottom of the economic ladder.  I do understand most were killed by rubber or live ammunition fired by police, and that surely it was a random firing into the crowd, yet as a mother my heart was breaking that these people were obviously from the poorest classes.  Mothers in black slapped their faces and tore at their clothes, and I couldn’t help thinking perhaps the dead children had been their only source of hope—not to mention financial support—for the future.  In any case, these sons are all of our sons, and God willing they have died as martyrs.

Today’s protest was much larger than yesterday.  Each day the number of Egyptians in the streets grows.  There is anger and inspiration in Mubarak’s message to the people…anger that he has not even addressed the demands that he leave office, and inspiration in that his arrogance makes the public even more determined to force him out.

Another day with no internet although mobile phone service has been restored—still no SMS messages in or out though—apparently this is still disabled.  I’m wondering why Mubarak just doesn’t acknowledge the fact that despite no internet and SMS messages, the protestors continue to assemble at key points throughout the country.  Give it up!  Nothing will stop the people now so why not give us back the internet?

My friends and I talk regularly throughout the day.  Most of us are western women and converts to Islam, married to Egyptians.  So far we are all coping well, and there is a strange calm among us.  I think we all feel what will be, will be and that Allah is in charge.  We simply pray for the best.  I’ve gotten phone calls from nearly all the men I work with and also some of my students, asking about me and volunteering to bring me anything I need from outside.  I am touched by their kindness and feel as if I have a real family here among my friends, coworkers and students. 

However as the day wears on, I can honestly say I am becoming a bit scared.  Reports from family and friends here, along with news accounts, have revealed that police masquerading as ordinary citizens have taken to the streets to riot, loot and murder.  Nightly neighborhood watches have been set up by the men in every neighborhood, and women and children are being protected and asked to stay indoors.  Doors and gates are locked day and night, and anyone seeking access to a building must be known to the residents before they are allowed to enter. 

It is interesting that these grassroots security patrols have apprehended many men who, once captured, are found carrying police ID cards and government issued revolvers!  In addition, it has been confirmed that almost simultaneously, many prisons have been broken into and prisoners freed.  Many news comments have indicated these prisoners have been freed on purpose by the government, as has happened often throughout Egypt’s history, when the government decides to squash protests of any kind.  Many thugs—know as “baaltigia” here –are either plain clothes police officers or newly sprung prisoners sent to wreak havoc in the streets, in the hopes that demonstrators themselves will be blamed, giving the powers that be the excuse to turn on their own people.

News reports say the US Embassy has urged no Americans travel to Egypt unless it is absolutely essential.  The aiport is jammed anyway, and many airlines have suspended flights.  Delta, perhaps the worst airline in the world anyway, was the first.

I hear a lot of noise outside close to my house tonight, and gunfire in the distance.  I relaxed when I realized a lot of the close noise is from the neighborhood patrol; they have set up a kind of campsite a few yards from my building, and built a fire to keep warm.  They patrol the area vigilantly and have used dumpsters, concrete slabs and metal poles to block access into our area here.  They are all carrying pipes or sticks—I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them had guns.  My neighborhood is upscale but not finished.  Many buildings are still being constructed, so the number of actual tenants is small but the area is filled with “bowabs”—watchman and guards from Saiyeed who were hired by the building owners to protect their properties in the construction stages.  I used to be mildly annoyed with the noise the bowab children made and also a bit frustrated with their raising chickens, sheeps and goats in the dirt street here.  But now I am glad they are the major inhabitants, because Saiyeedis usually always have a rifle handy, and we may come to need the protections of firearms any time.

The gunfire in the distance scares me a bit and makes my dog go crazy.  She is out in the garden barking loudly which surely will be a deterrent to would be robbers, as most Egyptians—even criminals—are afraid of dogs.  This dog has been my protector and friend for over 9 years now, and I have no doubt she would give up her life to protect me.  I am thankful I have her, and my friends joke that if the neighbors were ever tired of her barking before, surely now she has become a heroine.

Sunday, Jan 30

US Embassy has announced citizens are urged to leave Egypt and flights will begin leaving on Monday.  We have been told to call the Embassy here to arrange.  However, funny thing, the Embassy doesn’t answer, and news has flashed across the screen the US Embassy is now closed!  So, my question is, what are Amereicans here supposed to do now?

Monday, Jan 31

I didn’t blog much yesterday because I usually blog at night and by then I found myself completely exhausted and too tired to do much other than lay on the couch and watch TV. 

I did however, early in the day, have the wonderful opportunity to go outside with an American friend here and her husband.  He had found an ATM machine in the Industrial Zone where she and I work, and he volunteered to take me to get money.  I was able to get 1500 LE which is about $250.  Added to what I have at home, I felt safe that I could weather the next few weeks if things don’t improve.  However the reality is soon there may be nothing to buy anyway as food supplies are dwindling.  We stopped at a Metro market and it was fairly crowded, but calm and orderly.  I got the last bag of flour—in case I have to resort to baking my own bread—and a bag of powdered sugar—there was no regular sugar to be found.  They were also out of eggs and regular milk, and most frozen vegetables.  There was no rice—except some expensive basamati and I already have that at home.  No tomato paste either so it will be hard to make traditional Egyptian foods once I finish my four jars.  I think I could live on the food stores Ihave here for at least a month, maybe longer.  I have plewnty of tea and sugar, and lots of dried beans, rice and macaroni.  I have onions and potatoes and cheese and pita bread in the freezer.  I think we will be ok.  I pray so, insha Allah.

I watch TV—or listen to it all day and most of the night.  Last evening I rearranged the furniture in the living room so that our longer couch is facing the TV.  That way I can sleep in the living room as well and check what’s happening on TV throughout the night.  I also like to be in the living room because my windows face the street, and I can check often to see the neighborhood watchmen patrol the area.  They make me feel so safe thank God.  I would love to offer them some tea and cookies or anything really, but my husband is stuck in Alexandria and I don’t want the people here to know there is an American staying alone here.  So I pray for these men and ask Allah to keep them safe as they protect our neighborhood from the looters and thugs—whoever they may be!

Protestors are calling for a million man march tomorrow in Cairo, from Tahrir Square to the Presidential Palace.  Palace???  I hate to even use that word and it has become a symbol of all the greed and corruption in this country.  The president, the government and the richest businessmen who have made deals with the government live like kings here, while at least 40% of the population lives beneath the poverty level here.  Those considered to be above the poverty line don’t live much better.  I will write more on this tomorrow, as well as my feelings on this whole political mess.

Meantime, I talk to one of my kids everyday—they take turns calling me, and are very, very concerned with events here.  Until now I have to be honest and say things are not so bad here, and we are doing OK, though worried what the future will bring.  My son seems to be mapping out a plan “in case he needs to come to Cairo to get me”—haha—his words, not mine.  I am in no way thinking to leave, and pray I am not forced to by conditions here—this is my home now—and I am more proud than ever of the Egyptian people.  Truly, as FDR once said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  They keep saying on TV that the Egyptian people “have broken the wall of fear” and it is true.  They have determined to not quit this protest or ease up on their demands.  They say they are willing to die in the protests.  What the people had become, under 30 years of oppression, was horrible.  Those were the Egyptians I didn’t know and didn’t love.  But these same Egyptians, have been transformed.  Their true characters are shining through.  I am anxious to see more of the real Egyptian people I once knew and loved.

More tomorrow.

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