More protests erupted in Cairo yesterday, which gave Egyptian security forces a further opportunity to demonstrate the riot policing skills they apparently learnt while in a pub brawl.
A small protest of around 30 people began outside the 3adra el-Masarra church, Shubra, and continued despite vocal objections by a priest who emerged and encouraged demonstrators to leave. A huge group of large men in overcoats watched from the other side. Earlier on we had stood opposite the church and been moved on by one of them who informed a young man that standing there (in front of his house) is verboten and that we should all stand on the same pavement “so that they [the police] can see us”. He forgot to add that this tactic would allow the police to kettle and viciously assault protestors. Eight protestors were arrested and remain in police custody.
Having refuelled on Koshary in a restaurant full of fasting people Sharshar, Faltas and I were all set to bugger off when the oracle, Twitter, informed us that thousands were protesting in Shubra. Sharshar went to pick up his parents from the train station, Faltas and I stayed. We encountered a small group of protestors in Dawaran Shubra. Friend Liam Stack meanwhile texted me that he was in the middle of a riot. More wandering about through Shoubra’s streets and we ended up back in Dawaran Shubra where this time a large group had assembled and were facing off with the boys in black.
The crowd was predominately young men holding aloft crosses and posters bearing Christian images. One sign called for the resignation of the interior minister, the governor of Alexandria and the city’s head of security. All the chants were directed against the government and interior ministry or expressed religious sentiments.
There was a bus caught in between the protestors and the riot police, and angry demonstrators began pounding it as passengers watched in horror. The exchange of rocks began. A startled cat ran between them. There were calls for calm by some protestors that were mostly ignored before riot police charged.
Protestors left down a side alley and were left to roam Shubra’s street without the presence of a single uniformed officer. By this time the demonstration had swelled to something between 600 and 1,000 people. Protestors stopped periodically to lie on the ground in the shape of the cross.
Chants got louder when the march passed a row of riot police stationed at the entrance to a church. The direction the march took was decided as it went along and en masse, via a voting system that used whistling.
As the march went on and whistling negotiations continued about which direction to take Sharshar – who had by this time returned, and who is always on 24/7 Egyptian Sense of Humour duty no matter what the gravity of the situation – adapted the chants from “wa7ed…etneen…dam el 2ebty fein?” [1…2…where is the Copt’s blood?] to “wa7ed…etneen…el meseera ray7a fein??” [1…2…where is this march going??]
Many bystanders remained blasé, although one woman passionately exclaimed, “God give you strength, my children!” Some onlookers joined the march.
Things were lovely jubly until the march turned into a side street leading to a church. They pushed through one useless security cordon before running at another row of soldiers who met them with violence. More stone throwing ensued before the protestors were beaten back.
The protestors returned a second time and, pissed off at being caught off guard earlier, the riot police put that call from human rights groups on hold and launched into a full rock-throwing attack. One barefoot man was thrown to the ground and kicked and punched by a group of riot police and non-uniformed police men before being let go, a policemen giving him a kick in his back for good measure as he walked away. The man clenched his jaw and his fists and closed his eyes as the kick landed. I saw one man being carried away, inert, by a group of protestors.
Before any fucker suggests that this is work of lone, rogue elements in the police, the head of Cairo security was apparently supervising the scene yesterday and would have been very bloody aware of what was happening.
By this time my mobile phone battery was dying and I couldn’t get the rest of the night’s events on camera.
I took shelter in a shop doorway but by this time the riot police were in a frenzy and had started targeting individuals at close range. A group of us ran inside a building lobby. A riot police soldier stood outside, rock in hand, undecided, staring at us. Luckily at that moment an officer arrived and instructed us to close the door. Sharshar by this time had told me that Faltas had been hit in the head with a rock and needed stitches. I pushed my way out and ran, noting that riot police soldiers who were making their way back to the cordon stopped whenever one of the few protestors remaining chanted and went for them.
The scene in the main road outside was alarming. Riot police trucks were coming under fire from protestors who were attacking them with rocks. As each truck drove by rocks flew. The riot police were themselves also launching missiles, as were a separate group of protestors. The air was thick with dust and rocks and I pegged it to find that priests had been brought in to calm the situation, unsuccessfully.
I joined Sharshar and a bloody Faltas and we went to a local hospital where Faltas received five stitches to his forehead. As we walked we noted a street called “Share3 2otta” [Cat Street] and Sharshar stopped to take a photo of it. In an incident of classic Egyptian irony he was challenged by a three police officers, inexplicably parked in the middle of this alley, as to whether he had a photography permit – to take a photo of a sign reading Cat Street, five minutes after he had been photographing a street intifada.
Sharshar by this time had already began referring to him as “the Martyr”. The nurses and doctors in the hospital had no idea about the war taking place 10 minutes away.
Walking back to Sharshar’s car the protestors were still there, surrounding and climbing over police vans. An onlooker told me that they were refusing to let the vans leave without first checking that for arrested protestors inside. As far as I know no protestors were arrested other than the 8 detained activists. The interior ministry remains aware that arrests would be a grave mistake but yesterday demonstrated that it is struggling to contain its natural instincts.
* Ordinarily I would have put this in an article but I quit my newspaper last week and so put it here. I will write for money, or just for fun. Make me an offer.