The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Kefaya's 1st demo in a month

The Abdeen demo was the first Kefaya sponsored rally in a month. After declining turnouts at recent demos, as Issandr pointed out in his post on the Imbaba demo, last Thursday's protest saw improved turnout and a more charged atmosphere.

The demo was bigger than past demos (Al Misry Al Yom generously estimated turnout at 800 people), and more confrontational. Why? First, the focus of the demonstration was unemployment, a galvanizing issue for the millions of unemployed youth in Egypt. Second, Kefaya reportedly succeeded in bussing in demonstrators from over 20 governorates. And third, perhaps, is the historical significance of Abdeen Square, the site of numerous nationalist demonstrations in the first half of the 20th century.

Penned in by police in front of the Daoud Engineering and Trading Co. in Abdeen Square, protestors charged security forces, broke through their cordons on a number of occasions, and even climbed atop security forces, like a crowd surfer at a punk rock show.

I saw four protestors and one police officer pulled out of the melee unconscious, presumably from heat exhaustion. Another demonstrator had his leg cut open after falling onto a metal fence meant to protect a flower bed. Both the fence and the flowers were crushed by demonstrators and police. Demonstrators hoisted a dwarf in a wheelchair above the crowd. He held a sign reading “Freedom Now! Change Now!� Later the wheelchair-bound dwarf would lead a charge of angry demonstrators into a wall of security.

As things seemed to be spiraling out of control, the head of Cairo security, Nabil Ezzaby, appeared. He paced back and forth on the outskirts of the demo, worry beads in one hand, a cel phone in the other, barking orders at police to alternately box the protestors in, or open up and give them space.

Splinter groups of protestors, recognizing Ezzaby, soon singled him out with a handful of ad-libbed chants. “Down with Nabil Ezzaby� instead of the customary “Down with Hosni Mubarak.� The personal affront seemed to get to him at one point. Ezzaby stopped in his tracks, doubled back to the protestor, and asked him, “Why? Why?�

Striking at all these demos is the presence of Copts, leftists, and religious types. Famed socialist Kamal Khalil will lead a chant followed by a veiled woman, followed by Coptic Kefaya leader Hani Anan.

Standing apart from the masses at Thursday’s demo, was a bearded angry sheikh, the sort of person you’d expect to be heralding the apocalypse in downtown San Francisco. When Ezzaby passed by him, he screamed, “You’re a dog, you just follow orders. If they tell you to beat people, you beat people.�