I maybe seeing history in the making or an attempt by people fed up with their regime taking matters in their own hands. The scenes upon my arrival at Cairo airport were chaotic as you could imagine people fleeing a crumbling regime. They might not have done so as Kahlid told me, but seeing Tunisia they cannot take chances. He rushed towards the exit with lots of suitcases with him. I asked an airport staff how it is like at the airport, and he confided the elite of country is fleeing in numbers, mostly using private jets. He showed me a long queue of private jets on the tarmac and few of them lining up for takeoff.
I was lucky to have a friend in Cairo who was there to pick me up at the airport, so I got on to his car and started my epic journey towards the city centre. Not many taxis in sight but some early signs of disturbance around the road. But the drama started to unfold soon I crossed 6 October Bridge I could smell danger. Police in their armoured cars were filing up on the bridge. I went straight to my hotel, as my hotel was right next to the river so I had a commanding view of the city’s main areas and the river. There was no Internet service and I started the series of phone calls in Pakistan as well as UK to sort out my Internet issue. Finally the Internet issue sorted out and I managed to log in from some pirated proxy servers from different locations.
By that time, Juma prayer was approaching and I joined some protesters who were gathering near my hotel for prayer. I read my Juma prayer on the road in front of police along with many other protestors. It was an experience beyond comprehension. After the prayer the crowed started swelling and I went up to my hotel room sit in its balcony facing the bridge on Nile, and started tweeting. I just came in to witness the historical moment and had no journalistic responsibilities in mind at that specific moment. It was more of a personal urge to witness the history being made from a very close proximity.
Not very long after the Juma prayer, crowed started gathering and with in no time there were thousands of people gathered in front of the bridge and the police left from the first line of defence and moved back to their vehicles without much resistance. But the force of crowd made police retreat even further from the second point of defence, after crossing that point there was no stopping for the protestors who crushed the police blockades, made police escape routes difficult who in panic trampled few protestors under their vehicles. The hotel steward told me that police is the most hated institution in Egypt after the presidency and I thought in my heart “we are on the same page dude”.
The crowd smashed the windscreens of police vehicles parked on the bridge blocking their advances, and started their march towards the other end of the bridge and onwards. The police gave way and assembled at one point where the pitch battles started. There was smoke from tear gas shells everywhere and people were coughing and trying to hide from that. Then the bullets round started and I decided to come down and move somewhere near. It was not a pleasant sight where police and protestors fought ferociously, but protestors held their ground and police vanished from the scene quite quickly. By this time dusk was approaching and crowds were getting thicker and fierce.
During the day when I spoke to people during and after protests, protestors showed me rubber bullets wit steel core. I also saw a guy being hit right in front of me, he was screaming with pain while his friends were desperately trying to stop the blood coming out of his mouth. His injuries were not life threatening and was taken to hospital straight away by his friends. The focus of protestors after all the day’s activity was Tahrir Square so I started moving towards Tahrir Square, which literally means Independence/Liberation Square. There was a huge crowd already present chanting anti Mubarak slogans “down with Mubarak” .
While I was sitting with protestors in Tahrir Square I kept hearing about the pitch battles protestors were fighting with police across Cairo. By this time I get acquainted with a group of students from Cairo University through my friend Hossam, I decided to move out a little bit to get the feeling of Cairo, I heard reports about many injured and wounded taken to hospitals. My new friends made a circle around me providing me cover from adventurers and helping me with interpretation. While we were moving around I asked some questions to some of them and Gamal told me he is not going to sit down until Mubarak leaves Egypt. Another one told me this is about Mubarak his dirty regime running Egypt, not about government, not about military. It is about the corrupt system, which embodies Mubarak and is depriving them of progress. Hosam told me that it is specifically about Mubarak not the Prime Minister or anyone else after I told him about Mubarak’s address on tv.
I went to see some streets around Tahrir Square, met with quite a few people saw some extra ordinary scenes of destruction and aftermath of the day’s protests. Finally we made our way back to Tahrir Square and decided to sit in, my friends received their dinner while sitting there and I was invited in to share the food with them. It was another extra ordinary feeling I get from this closely-knit community fighting for their rights. While sitting there I wrote:
I am seeing thousands of protesters right in front of me in Tahrir Square and many roads around it. The whole area is full of protesters who are shouting the same slogans every time. “Down with Mubarak”, “leave Mubarak” and “Egyptians and military are one”. The area is full of people from all walks, young and old, women and men. There is a huge army presence, army tanks, armoured personal carriers and fire trucks. I tried going towards the parliament and cabinet buildings but failed because of military vehicles blocking the road with tanks.
The specific area in front of the Museum where I was earlier portrays the scene of a war zone, with smoke still coming out of the NDP building. There were missing characters yesterday but now they are present in the shape of tanks and military officers. In the morning it seemed yesterday’s fervour has died down but I have been told the time for protests was 1 PM and soon after 1 people started emerging from various sides, initially they were not more than 500 when I saw them at tahrir square. But it picked up within an hour and now there several thousand people in this area.
The most iconic observations of today were when I saw military vehicles coming into the street with words spray painted at the front saying, “Leave or drop Mubarak”. Another of people hugging military men and a sense of happiness around them. Maybe Mubarak’s gamble played off by taking police off the streets and putting the popular and liked military on the streets. An army officer told me he would not shoot his fellow Egyptians not on the orders of anyone. He seemed confident and confided with me that he has been ordered the same from above in Military.
This article was Published in The News here