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Remembering the Dead in Cairo

The protesters in Tahrir are tough, but even they need to stop from time to time to mourn.
December 6, 2011, 5:40pm

Everyone says that revolutions begin because of bread, and in Egypt there's a lot of truth in that. The intensity of what's been happening in Cairo since the spring is evidence of the necessity of it. But I'm beginning to think they continue because people have lost so much that they can't let it be for nothing—they need to keep going in the hope that they'll be able to justify their losses.

There was a march on Friday in memory of those killed in the past couple of weeks. This guy walked around slowly holding a photo of his son, Islam Assam Mohammed, who was 20. He was killed by some sort of bullet through the forehead.

A lot of people came to the march carrying pictures of family members and friends, and symbolic coffins for each of the dead. The elections have calmed things down on the streets for now, but a lot of people aren't going to forget what has happened in a hurry.

The activists that I've met here are tough as hell. But dozens of people have been killed, and when the fighting dies down, it can be hard to deal with. Sometimes that's because it's friends who were hurt, and sometimes it's because of feelings of responsibility to always do more.

The march proceeded to Mohammed Mahmoud Street, where almost all the fighting has taken place. There's now a wall at the end which separates demonstrators from the authorities and the hated ministry of the interior. Behind the wall was the army, then the police.

Relatives of the dead place flowers in the wall. The word there means "fall," as in: "the people want the fall of the regime." As if that wasn't enough, after a while a bunch of boring officious types, commanded by people wearing reflective orange bibs (bad sign) decided they'd better push everyone away from the wall back down the street. I don't know who asked them, but a lot of people were pretty pissed off about it.

Then they got some sort of long strap thing to help them stay in line as they pushed people back. Why are the officious always so well-prepared? That said, non-officious people seem to be able to lay their hands on a petrol bomb within about five minutes anywhere in Central Cairo, so maybe it's even.

A lot of people lost their eyes to shotgun pellets, and it's common to meet people in the square with patches such as this over one eye.

The guy whose face is stencilled in the background is Alaa Abd el Fattah, a blogger who is held on remand here on charges that are obviously spurious. I wonder if anyone will ever stencil the guy from Hipster Runoff's face on a wall.

One policeman was caught on video apparently being congratulated by a superior for being good at hitting protesters in the eye. Revolutionaries made a "wanted" poster for him and covered the city in it.

Tempers are running high here, and the “eye hunter” policeman decided he'd rather hand himself in than face vigilante action. Now people are talking about rolling out the approach for other police officers who've been caught on film.

Whether the Brotherhood, the army, or someone else is in power, the police are still the police—officers who've learned their trade in a police state. For Cairo's revolutionaries, finding a way to do something about them is a pretty pressing matter. But when the fighting on the streets has stopped, and the community of the square occupation is slowly drifting away, this march is one way for activists to try to reconcile with what they've seen, and deal with what they have lost.

Interested in more stories about Egypt? Check these out:

Dispatch from Cairo - The Past few Days in Tahrir

Dispatch from Cairo - Navigating the Elections

Last Days of Cairo