Leaving Egypt

Eyptair flight 799 from Cairo to Paris, 23 november 2011.

I have this incredible weight on my heart for leaving Egypt today.

To imagine that at this precise moment, in a place not far, hundreds of thousands are giving everything they have to fight a system; to break a status quo. In a quest for change, Egyptians are ready.

According to men and women I spoke to, they “have learned from previous fights” of this ongoing battle. And this time, they say, they will not “leave Tahrir”.

The symbolic crossroad is slightly larger in area than Place de la Concorde in Paris, or Trafalgar Square in London, but in the last days it felt small for so many of the people there.

And we were there when it all started (once again). The conservative muslim group Salafis called for a demonstration on Friday, the 18th of November – 10 days ahead of the start of the country’s legislative elections. Other groups and parties decided to join. And thousands turned up.

On that Friday, Tahrir Square looked like a big community fair: foods stalls were found everywhere, as well as large podiums where candidates gave their speeches and other groups called for the end of military trials for civilians, or talked about the importance of elections…. All the messages rang loud and clear. With many groups of interest represented, Tahrir was an orderly mess.

But it was a chilly friday evening, and many protesters returned home.

Saturday morning, when we went back to the square, very few tents remained (a sit-in that apparently had been there for quite a while) – I would guess there were less than 100 demonstrators.

At around 10.30 am, two trucks of riot police arrived at the square to remove those camped… a common site the day following demonstrations according to one of our journalists.

But people refused to leave.

And the police response was muscular.

Everything that followed happened so fast: more and more riot police arrived, followed by more and more demonstrators. As the number of people increased in Tahrir, the riot police was pushed back to Mohammed Mahmoud street – the street that leads to the Interior Ministry building.

And there remained the ‘front line’ of this battle that saw rubber bullets and teargas coming one way; stones and Molotov cocktails thrown back.

The wounded started to appear on Saturday 19th, the first day of the clashes. They were either wounded by bullets (live ammunition or rubber slugs) or asphyxiating from teargas. And a number perished.

For a brief moment on Sunday, riot police managed to regain Tahrir square and set fire to anything in its way: tents, banners and the motorcycles used to remove wounded. In a period of about 15 minutes, they cleared the square, and then withdrew.

Shortly after demonstrators returned to quickly outnumber the police.

Since then the square has been covered by an incredible mass of people that organizes itself like a well-oiled machine with field hospitals appearing in the four corners of the place, human corridors making way for ambulances to come and go with wounded, and food and tea stalls providing the fuel for the Egyptian revolution to continue.

There is a sense that the time has come for Egypt – their fight might has take longer then Tunisia’s, but as a giant of 80 million, with gigantic social and economic problems, the pharaonic country knew it would not be fast, nor easy… But is now ready stay put in Tahrir Square no matter the consequence.

While their fight continues, I ask myself where their strength comes from?

I was impressed by the determination of Egyptians. And this time, that determination may just lead them to victory.

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