The Battle for Tahrir

It’s 11am here in Tahrir. The battle between the Egyptian Central Security forces (CSF) and the protesters has been going on for 24 hours. No one has slept. Over 600 people have been injured, four reportedly killed and at least two journalists arrested for documenting the violence.

It is not yet known how many protesters have been arrested.

The tear gas is so thick, the air across down town Cairo stings. Spontaneous protests have sprung in Alexandria, Suez and Diametta.

Two days ago, several hundred thousand people protested on Tahrir against military trials for civilians, the detention of activist Alaa Abd El Fattah and the Supreme Council of the Security Force’s supra-constitutional document, which would give them powers greater than the president, when the Egyptian constitution is finally written.

“Down with the military regime”, all of the groups chanted, from the Salafis to 6 April Youth Movement. The protest was peaceful. In fact it was a celebration – we even had birthday cake for Alaa, who turned 30 in jail.

Around 200 people stayed on Tahrir over night, mostly the families of the wounded, who have yet to receive any compensation or treatment for their injuries from the government.

I was on Tahrir in the morning, these groups were not blocking the movement of the traffic, they were peaceful.

Just before 11am, the central security forces violently removed the protesters from the square and arrested many of them. Journalists were beaten up. An Al-Masry Al-Youm cameraman was assaulted and had his camera card stolen and deleted. Security forces occupied the square. So protesters returned in full force and took it back.

The CSF have been tear gassing the square since 2.30pm yesterday. By 4pm the violence had escalated. “A lot of the injuries were to the face, we saw rubber bullets and pellets. Yesterday and through the night was very aggressive” explains Yasser, a field hospital doctor who has been working solidly for 14 hours.

This make-shift hospital Yasser is working from has two entrances, both very close to the front line of Mohamed Mahmoud street – a battlefield that is still raging now. “We got teargassed at both ends and as it’s closed, it clouded in the middle”. Doctors had to flee until the gas had dispersed.

“Yesterday afternoon they started shooting directly at people’s faces”, explains Nazli, a protester who was shot in the arm and sustained a leg injury whilst taking medicines to the front line. “One guy who is part of the No To Military Trials for Civilians campaign was shot in the jaw right next to me, his jaw was shattered and spraying blood so we took him out to the ambulances. At that point Malek arrived”. Malek, another activist, had been shot in the face.

“It looked like he had no eye, it was big red circle where it should be”, Nazli tells me. Malek was rushed into surgery but unfortunately they could not save it. Cameraman Ahmed Abdul Fattah, also lost an eye in the same way. Harara, a protester who lost one eye in the 18 days, is still undergoing surgery to see if they can save the other.

The protesters do not take the injured to the state-run hospitals as many get arrested on arrival. However, when the wounds are too serious to be treated in the hastily erected medical centres in the mosques and backstreets, they have no choice.

A plain clothed police officer posing as a concerned friend of Malek, attempted to take his medical records (and so proof of his injury) from the nurses. It was only because an activist and friend of Malek recognised the police officer that Malek’s records are safe. This particular officer had arrest Malek’s friends for protesting in 2005.

By around 6pm, the SCF unleashed an extended spray of long-range tear gas canisters on us.

With little propellers, these canisters spray in a huge arch that is able to reach the backs of crowds, often where the injured are resting. The square was cleared in minutes in a mass stampede. It wasn’t until, bizarrely, the Ultras (a football fan club) turned up in their thousands, that the protesters were again able to take the square back.

“It is no coincidence how many cameramen and journalists have been hit”, adds Nazli, the wounds were unbelievable.”

Certainly I saw stretchers, scooters and pick up trucks bringing the unconscious away from the front line and as the afternoon went on, the wounds got bloodier.

This is the first time since 28 June that the Central Security Forces, controlled by the Ministry of Interior, have come out alone without the backing of the army. People on the square are comparing the last 24 hours to the 28 January battles.

It is also interesting that the chants during these fights with the CSF have been for the end of the military regime and the fall of Field Marshall Tantawi, the head of the army. Very rarely do they shout the other popular slogan: “The Police are the Baltageya (thugs).”

Back in March, I remember the resounding cry being “the Army and the people are one hand.”

As the SCAF has increasingly shown its colours, so the people’s demands and chants have changed. The army, no longer perceived as the protectors but instead the new regime, are being held responsible for all violent action against the protesters.

Last night there were rumours Tantawi would make a speech on state television. The army have, so far, said nothing. They have not turned up this morning. The Security Forces are in full force, still firing long-range tear gas canisters onto Mohamed Mahmoud street.

But the protesters have kept the square over night. “The people are not going to stop and they are not going to leave”, concludes Ziyad, another activist taking a breather from the fight. “They know that the Ministry of Interior is backed by the SCAF. It’s a matter of life or death for us.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s