Recurrent street battles between police and protesters have led the interior ministry to literally wall itself in; Ahram Online maps the growth of these concrete curtains and the transformation of Cairo into a city of walls
24 November – Mohamed Mahmoud Street wall
The five days of grueling clashes, which saw over 40 deaths, started after Egypt’s Central Security Forces (CSF) cleared the remnants of a Tahrir sit-in at 10.30am on 19 November. Angered by the disproportionate use of violence against the small group of protesters, most of whom were families of those martyred in the January 25 Revolution, crowds began to build up on the surrounding downtown streets. The police briefly retreated after minor scuffles, leaving behind a CSF truck which was torched. A few hours later, the CSF returned along Mohamed Mahmoud Street in armoured vehicles and the fighting began.
Tahrir was cleared violently twice, once by the police and again by the army, resulting in many deaths. As a result, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), feeling the pressure to produce problem-free elections, took the drastic action of building a wall between the police and the protesters on the flashpoint street. The wall, which was to become the template of the other seven built later, was a 12ft tall three-block high concrete barricade. Clerics from Al-Ahzar University formed human cordons in front of the wall to stop protesters taking it down.
The area in front of the wall became a danger zone for women on 25 November after French television journalist Caroline Sinz was attacked by a mob, dragged into Tahrir, stripped and sexually assaulted. The wall was eventually pulled down by protesters during the 2 February Ultras-led protests against the Ministry of Interior, police and the SCAF.
17 December – Qasr El-Aini Street wall
At the close of the Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes, protesters began a peaceful sit-in on Magles El-Shaab Street in front of the cabinet building, in protest at the SCAF’s appointment of Kamal El-Ganzouri as prime minister. On the evening of 15 December, security forces kidnapped Aboudi Ibrahim, 19, from the protest because he, reportedly, tried to retrieve a football from the People’s Assembly premises. When Aboudi was freed in the early hours of 16 December, it was clear he had been badly beaten. Angry protesters confronted the army, which resulted in the military clearing the sit-in later that morning, pushing protesters onto Qasr El-Aini Street. Members of the military and local civilians then began hurling large slabs of pavement, office equipment and even urine off the top of the nearby buildings onto the protesters below. The resulting clashes, which saw the military and the CSF use live ammunition and machine guns, lasted until 20 December, resulting in the deaths over 14 protesters.
The wall was built on Qasr El-Aini Street in order to block access to the parliament and cabinet buildings. The security forces started construction after the army violently cleared the square during the afternoon of 17 December – including burning all the tents in Tahrir and chasing protesters as far as Zamalek. Clashes continued despite the wall, with protesters and the army exchanging rocks over the barricade. One protester took to dancing on the wall during the ongoing clashes.
19 December – Sheikh Rehan Street and Youssef El-Guindy walls
Early morning on 19 December, at around 3:30am, army officers and the CSF appeared at the Omar Makram mosque entrance to Tahrir. After storming the square and pulling down any remaining tents, the security forces used heavy gunfire and tear gas to keep protesters at bay whilst the third and fourth walls were built. One was constructed on Sheikh Rehan Street, parallel to Magles El-Shaab Street, and the other was on Youssef El-Guindy Street, just around the corner from Sheikh Rihan. These concrete block walls were built as a barricade between Tahrir and the side-street access to the interior ministry buildings, the home of the CSF, further to the east.
5 February – Fahmy Street, Mansour Street and El-Felaky Street walls
Mass rallies were called for Thursday, 2 February, following the Port Said football disaster which saw over 70 Ahly Ultras die. People blamed Egypt’s security forces for not intervening in the fight between rival supporters. The rallies convened in front of the interior ministry, the government department that controls the police, chanting against the ministry and the ruling military council, which the protesters held ultimately responsible. The police first shot tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowds at around 6:45pm, starting the five days of sporadic battles across the neighbouring streets.
On Sunday, at 3am, the military and police began to build three new walls on the streets leading to the ministry from Mohamed Mahmoud Street, effectively walling in the government building. As protesters attempted to stop the Mansour Street wall being constructed, the police began attacking from armoured vehicles.
By daylight, groups identifying themselves as local residents started to form human cordons in front of the walls, preventing people from getting too close, as the final barricade on El-Felaky Street was finished. In the ensuing fighting, which saw over 12 protesters die, the frontline was pushed west to as far as Bab El-Louq Square and even Hoda Sharaawy, a residential street, due to the walls blocking off exits.
6 February – Noubar Street
The night of 5 February saw some of the fiercest attacks by the CSF. With the three walls on Fahmy, Mansour and Felaky in place, fighting was pushed west onto Bab El-Louq Square and into central downtown. Protesters documented excessive use of birdshot and tear gas as CSF trucks drove up and down the square firing at fleeing demonstrators. By the early hours of 6 February, the CSF had started building a new wall on Noubar Street, parallel to the three other walls, finally sealing in the ministry. That evening an unidentified group of civilians, claiming to be locals from the Abdeen area, turned up at the Noubar Street wall with birdshot guns and, reportedly, a machinegun, and began attacking protesters. Two protesters died during these clashes which continued into the early hours of 7 February.