Another Sleepless Night in Cairo
Dec 18 2011
The latest trouble in Cairo began, as these things often do, with the security services brutalising a young person.
This time it was torture. The young person in question was part of a group of revolutionaries who have been maintaining a small sit-in outside the parliament building near Tahrir Square since late November. They want to prevent the Prime Minister – who was in fact appointed by the head of the military – from taking up office there. The military have announced that they are not going to let elected officials decide the new constitution; and the secret police are still kidnapping pro-democracy activists at will.
This time, it was the turn of a young man named Aboudi to spark the pitched street battles between pro-democracy protesters and the various factions struggling for power in Cairo. He was snatched from the sit-in by soldiers in the early hours of Friday morning, kept for an hour, and beaten so badly he couldn't physically open his eyes.
When the occupiers saw what had happened to Aboudi, they confronted the soldiers, and the violence escalated from around 3AM.
Throughout Friday morning, this elderly woman camped out next to her wheelchair in a cardboard fort in the middle of the fighting. She didn't seem too worried about what was going on around her.
Soldiers and plain-clothes thugs drove revolutionaries onto nearby Kasr al Aini Street, and spent the day lobbing projectiles down at them from the eleventh floor of a building. They threw rocks, ceramic, glass, paving slabs, petrol bombs and at least one step ladder. In fact, they're still doing so as I write, more than 36 hours after this all began.
It's hard to describe how terrifying it is to be surrounded by chunks of concrete flying from that height, and shattering when they hit the ground. I saw dozens carried off unconscious and bloodied, and one guy hit by a paving slab thrown from the eleventh floor. When I tried to get to sleep that night, I kept waking up over and over again to that image. I'm sure I'm not the only one.
It's also hard to describe how “disorganised, unhinged and violent” the army is, as a friend of mine put it. I'm used to the Met's particular form of forcefulness, but it has a certain discipline and ruthless logic to it (it's probably also more effective). But these guys are throwing rocks and petrol bombs, lashing out with huge clubs and taking personal decisions to chase and beat individual members of the public. They're working alongside plain-clothes thugs, swapping equipment with them.
They've also been using live ammunition.
I got a taste of the army's wild violence, shortly after revolutionaries tried to break into the parliament building. You can see the protesters getting close to the gates here:
When they did, the army broke out in a pincer movement. They arrested and beat many people. I was lucky to escape with just a whack across the head.
This woman was captured by the army. This is what she looked like when they released her. She had blood splattered on her jeans.
But the revolutionaries reformed, regrouped, and attacked again. By one in the morning, the Ministry of Transport was on fire. Somehow, it didn't burn down entirely.
On Saturday morning, the army launched a fresh attack, rampaging across Tahrir beating and arresting revolutionaries and passers-by, and smashing stalls and cars. They burned the few remaining tents; threw rocks and – again and again – beat defenceless people lying on the ground.
Then, the army raided the media office I was working in above the square. They confiscated several cameras, but didn't manage to get them all. I think they wanted to stop photos like this getting out.
In relative terms, our raid was pretty chilled out. But Adam Akary of Al Jazeera English tweeted from the Ismailia hotel, used by several journalists, describing his experience of the raid there. “I managed to find a cabinet used for storage. Climbed a ladder to get to it when the time was right and in the dark heard the beating sounds.”
At the time of writing, nine are dead, and hundreds wounded. The fighting continues.