The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.


I don't have much time to post thoughts here. I landed in Cairo around 4pm and had to pay a lot to get a driver to go a roundabout way to get home in Garden City. My street was full of rocks and cars bashed in. I saw the NDP office a block from my house get looted and then burned. Some shops were looted and destroyed nearby too. The NDP HQ building has burned down, many were horrified that the fire could spread to the Egyptian Museum next door, which protesters and later the army protected from looting. Central Cairo is a mess, with barricades made out of burned out cars blocking major streets.

Crowds were out until late despite the curfew, I got tear-gassed (it's not pleasant). Some people are getting mugged - it is not safe late at night in some places, although most of the protesters are extremely nice. There's a lot of solidarity among the people, helping those who are wounded and tear-gassed, and so on, and an amazing sense of exhilaration.

You know the situation: we may be in the process of a revolution in Egypt, but it hasn't happened quite yet. No one is sure where Mubarak is, although most assume Sharm al-Sheikh. In his speech last night he appeared resolute to remain president, but the situation can change rapidly. Everyone I spoke to on the street this morning said this speech would not satisfy their demands and that the problem is him, and therefore he must step down.

Last night there was some confusion about who would speak - when the name Fathi Surour, the speaker of parliament, came up many assumed he would take over as interim president, as constitutionally mandated in the event of the president's permanent incapacity. We have army and republican guard units in central Cairo, but I am not sure what the current military chain of command is. Last night Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces Sami Enan flew back from Washington, it's not clear whether his role is the same. As expected, coup-proofing measures are in place.

The hyper-caution and concern of the Americans was evident in the statements last night. They are potential kingmakers but appear terrified of acting before having a better understanding of the situation on the ground. I thought Mubarak's speech was in large part directed at them, touching on all State's and White House's talking points: freedom of expression but responsibility not to use violence, making still uncertain concessions. At this point there will be a natural tension among Egyptians between those who are terrified (my middle class Egyptian neighbors are panicking) and those who are angry Mubarak is still there. More protests expected later today, situation may turn violent again. We just don't know at this point, and having just experienced the uncertainty of post-revolutionary moments in Tunisia, I expect the situation and public mood will be extremely volatile, changing hour to hour between the desire to restore order and the realization that they may be tantalizingly close to the regime change they were clamoring for.

I dread to think what the death toll might be, especially in the provinces (and most of all the Canal cities). There is no overall picture of the national situation yet.

More later, internet access permitting (I am at a five-star hotel, they have limited access). The mobile phones just came back on, but not mobile internet yet.