The choice to commit to a sit-in was not much of a choice. When the dissenting army officers came to Tahrir, their fates were pretty much sealed, and we knew that if they went home, they would pretty much be dead. So whether or not we ‘wanted’ to spend the night in Tahrir, we pretty much realized we had to. The officers had basically thrust their neck out, and unless we were there with them, we might as well have hung them dead ourselves.
So we decided to stay. At the end of the night, there were around 2000 of us at the most, I figure. Unfortunately, our numbers had been dented because some protesters decided to protest at the Israeli embassy. I UNDERSTAND why they wanted to do so – because, on principle, I agree with them completely – however, KNOWING that the army officers were in Tahrir and that things could escalate, I tweeted some of the embassy protesters, pleading with them that they join us in Tahrir instead since we KNEW things could escalate in Tahrir…
Anyway. So here we were, around 2,000 of us in Tahrir. I had been to Tahrir earlier in the day, and by the time I went again (cause I’d heard the numbers were down), it must’ve been around 9 or 10 o’clock. By then, the officers had been set up in a tent in the middle of the square’s garden, and they were surrounded by volunteer protesters keeping them safe and unhassled. As always, we were a pretty peaceful crowd, although a bit stressed cause of the extra responsibility and the knowledge that the situation could be unpredictable. At around 12-1 am we all saw 3 or 4 Central Security Forces trucks drive into the Egyptian Museums’ parking lot. We couldn’t tell if they were empty or full but assumed them to be full. Some of us (me included) took it as a sign that the army/police are preparing for an attack, and others just figured they’re here to secure the Museum. If only. To be safe, we went around and started checking all the inlets into the square, making sure we had look-outs on all of them and that we were relatively prepared for attacks, whether from thugs or whatever. At around 2:30 am, around 200-300 ARMED military police officers came out of the museum and stood in front of our security cordon on that side of the square. They intimidated, but for now – nothing happened.
Then – about 15-20 minutes later, things started happening. We saw Central Security forces marching in from Kasr El Einy street and the Omar Makram side…around 400 here and 400 there. They came and started drafting a cordon around us. Drawing a half-circle arc from the Kasr El Nile side to the exit leading into Talaat Harb street. THEN we saw ARMY troops advance, and people who would know identified them as ‘Sa3qa’ – or basically army commandos, others might have been what are called Mazallat – I have no idea what the English for that is. Anyway, as they formed a cordon around us, we formed an equal cordon just opposite them, and all started crying out ‘selmeya, selmeya’ (peaceful, peaceful) and the now well-worn out ‘eid wahda’ (we’re both one (hand)) – and we were hoping it would be peacefully resolved. This looked unrealistic, honestly, because as we were doing so – we saw a few armored army vehicles approach the square from Kasr El Einy – behind the advancing army and central security force – then a few more, and then, incredibly enough – a few more – armored vehicles were pouring in against us – at least 15 or so. After the two cordons (ours and theirs) were stalemated for a few minutes, two things happened – first, the army started firing their weapons – tons and tons of gunfire erupted throughout the square. Some were blanks, but some most certainly were not. Secondly, along with the gunfire and taking advantage of the confusion it caused, another group of army people wedged themselves through our cordon. Again, more gunfire, more gunfire, and yet more gunfire. The first line of protesters started disassembling and retreating towards the Kasr El Nile bridge. However, the group around the officers’ tent remained firm and would not run away. By this time, the military police groups had broken through from the side of the Egyptian Museum, and they were closing in on the square. Now the square was surrounded, most of the protesters dispersed to some of the side streets, and the text was surrounded. It looked like a war zone. Central Security Forces mixed in with Military Police, mixed in with Army Commandos, mixed in with plain-clothes men who materialized (some from a white 4×4) and looked suspiciously like members of the supposedly defunct Amn Dawla – or State Security Apparatus. We were unarmed men, women, and some children. They broke through to the tent in the middle. They broke it down, pulled it apart, beat up the protectors, as well as the officers inside. They stormed the tent and took the officers by force. Some escaped. One died. Some they captured. Meanwhile, the protesters who had gone down the side streets (Talaat Harb, etc.) were beginning to regroup there, and came back with rocks and started throwing them towards the armed forces occupying the square, all the time getting hit with sticks and shot at with guns, pistols, etc. The rate of gunfire is something I’ve never, ever, ever, heard in my life before – not during the heydeys of the revolution and certainly not even in the wildest of Hollywood action movies. Just fire, fire, fire, fire, fire, firefirefire, firefire, fire, firefirefirefire, fire, fire, etc.
Now, while the street combat was happening – we saw the armed forces in Tahrir doing something quite weird – one or two of them would grab anything in the square, like a chair they found, and they would dutifully break it – and then – one of them (after the others step AWAY from it) would take a picture of it. We realized that this is probably the army preparing a few ‘proof’ photographs to SPIN a story of how were broke things to fashion weapons – that we were not peaceful – or that we were simply vandals. Another aspect to this is the now ruined KFC in the square, which they will no doubtless try to blame on the protesters despite the laws of physics and a basic knowledge of ballistics. When protesters threw rocks at the army, it was after they had retreated to the side streets AROUND THE CORNER from KFC – meaning that for the protesters to have damaged KFC, they would have needed BOOMERANG rocks that not only curved in mid-air but then flew BACKWARDS.
Anyway, the battle in the street went back and forth a few times and for quite some time. Things to note during this: The army started firing shotguns at the ground for splash damage as the security forces had done to us on the 28th of January as we approached Tahrir. Also – people gathered at a building entrance started to shout at the army as they ran past the building – whether advancing or retreating – they kept saying, “Here are the Zionists” – and after a while of doing that, a whole bunch of military police attacked them (men, women, and children) and forced them back deep inside the building – as old women shouted at them and scolded them to no avail. Now the soldiers/armed forces back in the square moved in a truck carrying loads of barbed wire and surrounded the square circle-wise with their armored vehicles. Then, for no apparent reason other than sunrise – the army started leaving the square, all the forces on foot left, leaving behind only the armored vehicles, the truck and the bus (and as I found later, another truck near the museum) – the protesters, coming back to the square, found it empty save for those. They surrounded the armored cars, which led to them quickly scurrying off, and they captured the bus and the truck – the drivers simply ran off. Only then were these vehicles set on fire (and only after the barbed wire was taken down from the truck – to be currently used as part of the new barricades…)…
For those who somehow wish to believe the army did not use live fire – please watch this here – http://yfrog.com/6cvobz – and my testimony that a bullet barely missed me and struck an object I was standing right next to.
I was forced to remember the words that Mamdouh Shaheen – one of the members of the Supreme Military Council had SHOUTED on a tv show – at a couple of guests who were unhappy about the constitutional declaration – when he complained that nothing would satisfy them – that we don’t simply ‘thank god’ for what we’ve been ‘given’ and that ‘look at what’s going on in Libya’ – when he first said it – I considered it an implicit threat – not to mention that it was rude and arrogant and absolutely delusional not to mention self-contradictory – since the SMC had themselves stated that the Egyptian people OWNED the Egyptian Army and that the SMC had derived whatever legitimacy it had from the Egyptian Revolution. Well, now – it seems quite clear that it was in FACT – a not-so-veiled threat – and now the SMC were making good on it.
In my previous note – The Two Histories of Egypt – written ten days after Mubarak was ousted and located here at the Daily News Egypt site – I had suggested that the army had basically ‘played’ us to get rid of Mubarak, not a unique insight, but now one that seems to have proven itself absolutely. What we’ve had so far has been a joke. A joke played for their benefit. A joke for THEM that has cost US over 800 lives and caused injuries to thousands of peaceful protesters.
They have laughed away our losses, and they have obviously chosen to look with ridicule at the Egyptian populations’ real desire for Freedom, Justice, and Democracy.