Video: The people want the fall of the Field Marshall

Protestors on Mohammed Mahmoud St., just off Tahrir Square, chant against military ruler Field Marshall Mohammed Hussein Tantawi as clashes take place further down the street.

 

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Podcast: Back to Tahrir

After the last two days' exceptional events in Tahrir Square, Egypt seems to teeter on the brink of another revolution or political chaos. We discuss the recent violence and the scenarios the country faces: more violence and authoritarianism from SCAF, or a new political direction for the transition. Or will Egypt judt muddle through again — if it can?

Podcast #18

Video: Tahrir this evening, after the raid

I shot the video above in Tahrir Square just after the raid by the army and police. In it protestors say they captured an army officer — he was later released.

Some reflections on today's events in Tahrir

It didn’t have to be this way. On Friday, a large peaceful protest was held against the military’s attempt to impose itself into Egypt’s future constitution. The generals had tried to ensure that the military budget would be above parliamentary scrutiny and other measures. The funny thing is that it was tacitly understood for a while now that the military would remain powerful in the background. But they had to put the issue on the table, and therefore make it a public contestation point.

Most participants in Friday’s protests left that same evening, and a few stayed overnight. By the next day only a few dozen protestors who wanted to reoccupy Tahrir remained. The police was sent to clear them, using excessive violence and firing rubber bullets into the heads of protestors, killing at least two and blinding several in one eye. The protests escalated as a result, and after an attempt to take back the square in the early morning, there were many more protestors this morning (Sunday) than the previous one. The attempt to dislodge them during the day, culminating in a combined army-police assault at around 5pm — apparently to clear the tents that had appeared in the square’s central island — will probably only draw more people. Once again, the SCAF’s and interior ministry’s decisions have probably landed them in more trouble.

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Video: Impressions from Tahrir, the morning after

I have been sick for the last few days and stayed at home yesterday as Tahrir Square, among other places, descended into violence. I headed out this morning to survey the damage — arriving from Qasr al-Aini, getting tear-gassed on Mohammed Mahmoud St, then circling around behind the police line from Bab al-Luk to take a look at the damage on the opposite side of Mohammed Mahmoud, near the American University in Cairo. Finally I headed back to Tahrir Square to listen to some of the chants and the hypnotic banging on railings protestors tap, just like last January. Sorry for the shaky camera, the idea is just to give readers an idea of what things are like today.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Revolution 2.0?

After the police violently  cleared 100 or so demonstrators (including a group of the relatives of revolutionary martyrs and injured) from Tahrir Square today, thousands more poured into the square and began clashing with the security forces, burning one police truck and trying to reach the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Interior denies using any bullets, pellets or bird shot, but witnesses have widely documented their use. Hundreds are injured, and one dead confirmed so far. Tens of thousands have streamed into Downtown Cairo and are demonstrating in Alexandria, Suez and Mansoura. The fighting goes on, and people are saying that it feels like January 28 all over again. 

These clashes feel almost unavoidable, given the military council's terrible performance, the increasing vocal criticism it is facing, the rising tensions of all kinds surrounding the upcoming (poorly planned, utterly confusing) elections -- given the terribly unclear transition process that has been put in place, and the fact that none of the revolution's demands, including the reform of the security forces and real transitional justice, have been met. 

Islamist leaders -- the Salafist sheikh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail and the Islamist presidential candidate Mohammed Selim El Awwa -- have gone to Tahrir. Mohammed El Baradei is once again calling for the creation of a "national salvation" government. 

This is a huge escalation, and it's not clear whether it may lead to something good (an accelerated transition to civilian government, and a better articulated plan for that transition built on a real consensus between all political forces) or to something even worse (a further army crack-down, the cancellation of elections without proposing an alternative). 

On TV tonight, there was plenty of criticism for SCAF, the government and the police and of lamenting of the fact that there is no governing body with legitimacy in the country today. But of course there were also the usual conspiracy theories and condenmations of "chaos." 

A chant in the square used to be "The People and the Army are One Hand." Today people chanted (with their usual wit) "The People and the People are One Hand." 

Tahrir and the Islamist-secularist-SCAF triangle

Up front, signs calling for the fall of military government, in the back, a large poster calling for freedom for Alaa Abdel Fattah

I have a rather nasty flu at the moment, but I braved the elements and headed to Tahrir this afternoon not quite sure what to expect. It remains unclear where the dispute over the super-constitutional principles — the main cause of the protest — is at right now.

For a week, after the SCAF (via Deputy Prime Minister Ali al-Selmi) tried to impose exceptional measures for the military, rules for the formation of the constituent assembly and make the principles legally binding, there seemed to clear opposition from the Muslim Brothers, Salafists (who had never even participated in talks) and part of the liberal/progressive parties and revolutionary movements. Talks were ongoing until late last night to secure some kind of compromise — either on the content, or on the principles being binding, or both — but to no avail.

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Multiple Tahrirs

Very cool super-imposition of pictures of Midan Tahrir during protests, by Moftasa

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Tahrir, the movie

At Ferrara's international journalism festival (put on by the excellent Italian paper Internazionale) I saw the film Tahrir this afternoon. I was afraid it might be too familiar, or sentimental, or iconographic, but it was lovely. Italian film-maker Stefano Savona spent days in Tahrir Square and got some amazing footage. Here for example is a clip of the protesters fighting to defend the square from pro-Mubarak thugs:

And here is a completely different side of Tahrir: the funny, moving, poeting chants that inspired protesters came up with on the spot:

What's just as interesting are the long conversations between the young Egyptias the film-maker followed around the square, discussing (with remarkably clarity and insight) all the questions and difficulties of the coming transitional period. It was quite emotional for me to watch this film, at this moment, when the revolution's promises are so far from realized and when the aims and sacrifices of those involved in it have been (despite official lip service paid to the "glorious revolution") distorted and disparaged by the army, the security services, former regime elements and a disturbing number of media outlets. It's a good reminder of all the outrage, courage, and optimism on display during those 18 days, and of their continued potential. The film is playing in New York on October 2 and 4. And I really hope it will be showing in Egypt soon. 

Tahrir tomorrow

The July 8 demo is looking like it could be big. Originally scheduled to deliver a "constitution first" message, tomorrow's demo is now as much about demands for justice, outrage over recent acquittals of Mubarak-era ministers and the mistreatment of martyrs' families (with officers accused of shooting protesters let out on bail and their cases postponed recently). 

The Muslim Brotherhood -- which has avoided recent protests, even going so far as to call protesters "traitors" -- has apparently had to fall in line with the popular mood (and its younger cadres' demands, most probably), and announced it will officially be participating. So will a lot of others, despite the tension and anxiety in the air these days. On twitter, at the fokakmenahlak ("split from your family") tag, young revolutionaries are sharing advice on how to get around over-protective parents and make it to Tahrir. 

Fighting again in Tahrir

A stencil of the martyr Mustafa Al Sawy. The 25-year-old lab technician was shot in the chest by police on Kasr El Nil bridge on January 28

Violent clashes between protesters (including families of martyrs) and the police broke last night in and around Tahrir Square and have continued into this morning, leaving dozens injured. 

The spark appears to have been a memorial service for the families of martyr's at the Baloon Theatre in Agouza. People disrupted the ceremony (either the relatives of other martyrs, or people posing as them); a group marched to Tahrir, where they were met by riot police, tear gas and rubber bullets. Word spread, and activists and others joined the clashes with the police. 

This violence is the inevitable result of the lack of transparency and of momentum in the judicial proceedings against former regime figures and especially the police (something we talked about on the last Arabist podcast). The families of martyrs' were shut out of the last session of the Habib Al Adly (the former Minister of Interior) trial; they went wild when the trial was postponed again. Everyday I read and hear stories about police officers who are on trial (or should be) going back to work at their old posts; and about families being bribed or threatened ("We'll arrest your other son on drug charges") if they don't drop their cases. 

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Tahrir's rebel officers

A former army officer gathers crowds with slogans against army leaders Hussein Tantawi and Sami Enan on morning after army crackdown on Tahrir Square protest that left at least two dead.

(I shot this on April 9, around 11am). Obviously not all former officers have been arrested, activists say some managed to change out of their uniforms and run away before the army attacked.

If you want to see videos of the April 8 protests, see here.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

An account of the army crackdown on Tahrir

I received this email about last night's events in Cairo's Tahrir Square, when army and security forces crackdown down on protestors who had set up camp in the square. There is still a lot of confusion about what happened, with the army claiming that thugs from the NDP had attacked the square and claiming it intervened to disband them. Activists say this is untrue. Reuters reported (and here's an updated version of that same article) that the army intervened against the protestors after curfew, firing shots in the air. The videos at the bottom of this post have the sound of a lot of gunfire, but there have been no reports of wounded or casualties to my knowledge (Update: Reuters says 2 dead, 15 wounded @11am). David Dietz also has an eyewitness account of the night, including brutality, in this post.

Another night of army brutality, nearly 1500 protesters were spending the night in Tahrir square tonight including 30 army officers that joined the demonstrations today and remained with the demonstrators throughout the night.

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Tahrir from space

Tahrir seen by a satellite, Feb 11 2011, around 11am local time

Via The Daily.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Dispatch from Tahrir

I spent most of the day today walking around Downtown Cairo and Midan Tahrir. There are still tens of thousands of people in the square. A definite rhythm has established itself, with Tuesday and Fridays the serious turn-out days; the rest of the week a moulid-like atmosphere pervades the area, with families visiting it, taking pictures next to tanks and the various memorials and displays set up in the square--out on the fun excursion. Some genius has started making hundreds of laminated مصر فوق الجميع ("Egypt Above Us All") tags that you can wear around your neck (they sell for 2 pounds, about 30 cents). Sellers are also doing a brisk business in Egyptian flags, snacks and drinks. Opposition newspapers are taped to walls so everyone can read them; and some enterprising local restaurateur has set up shop in the demolished Hardee's. 
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