Yesterday witnessed an encounter with an Egyptian Jane Fonda on crack, and fun and games with the army.
It being a Friday, Tahrir was again transformed into a fantasia of flag-selling, popcorn-eating and memorabilia-buying, with a spot of protesting every now and again. The mood was relaxed, other than a checkpoint manned by the Jane Fonda individual when I went through it.
I noted her checking bags and frisking their owners with an almost frenetic vim and realised that dark moments lay ahead. Alas I couldn’t switch to another queue manned by someone less enthusiastic because my gender prohibited this.
My turn. She patted me down hysterically with her long, red manicured nails. Her forehead was adorned with a red, white and black headband thing reminiscent of the queen of cardio, as were her 1980s tapered jeans and trainers.
I handed her my ID card. She clasped it with looked at it, at me and back at the card.
“Are you a journalist?” She asked.
“No,” I said. Because actually I was off duty and attending as a citizen.
“Are you Egyptian?” she said, as she held in her hands an ID card produced by the Arab Republic of Egypt with my image on it. This is a situation I currently encounter at least 982 times a week.
“What’s that in your hands?” I asked, possibly somewhat sourly.
“But you’re a journalist? You have a camera with you,” Jane responded in the hysterical tone that was starting to not so much grate on my nerves as food process them. At this point I would have liked to have taken my rings off and settled the issue old-fashioned style, but we were standing in front of tanks.
“There’s no need to get worked up!” she jibbered, before sashaying off in her too tight jeans with my ID card to an army officer. I saw her telling Sir that they had a spy in the classroom, possibly a Trotskyist member of Hezbollah.
The man closed his eyes as Jane talked to him. A good sign. Then he came over and before I could even open my mouth apologised and gave me back my ID card.
The army was in a different mood later on. Around 600 demonstrators assembled outside parliament, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, the Iranian. It was business as usual until a military police general arrived and instructed his troops to form a cordon around us, a move that I had thought were SO 2010.
Then said general instructed one of his minions to enter the cordon and extract a foreign journalist who was taking pictures of events. Sharshar and I went with him to translate. And just in case.
A young soldier politely invited us to enter a side street where two lorries covered in soldiers’ drying laundry and a couple of jeeps stood. A makeshift camp of sorts. The laddish soldier turned out to be possibly the stupidest, and most obnoxious, individual to ever don a uniform.
He requested foreign journalist’s passport and then asked me to point out the entry visa. I did. He then asked why there was no expiry date written on the visa.
The problem with this individual was that he clearly considered himself a master of the debates, and every time he made a point he considered to be an intellectual masterstroke would lean his head to one side an smile a nauseating smug smile. In summary he was a little shit.
I explained that foreigners entering Egypt are permitted to buy tourist visas at the airport and that the whole world apart from him knows they last for a month. He triumphantly pointed to the gentleman’s work visa obtained in another country and noted that this has an expiry date. The head went to one side. The lips were stretched.
Sharshar and I eventually made him understand the concept of a tourist visa by which time he was bored anyway and demanded to search my bag. Then he frisked Sharshar, in the process raising Sharshar’s leg to 90 degrees with such suddenness that the venerable friend almost fell over.
Another soldier appeared on the scene and launched into a monologue about the Current Political Situation in Egypt and the role of the Army. He was tedious but nonetheless provided some mildly interesting insights into at least one current of thought within the armed forces.
The summary is: he thinks that sleeping on Egypt’s streets and directing traffic is beneath the Egyptian army. He wants to go back to his barracks, rather than sleep on the pavement. He regards Mubarak as the leader of the armed forces rather than president and was therefore sad when he went. He was nonetheless extremely happy to see the Egyptian people “so joyful” on February 11th.
The Egyptian people’s demands were legitimate on February 11th because they were backed by a million Tahrir protestors, he said. A few hundred protestors calling for Shafiq’s resignation is not the same. He doesn’t understand why people cannot have faith that remaining demands will be met, nor the opposition to Shafiq. Several time he suggested that “elements” want to use the opportunity of the “turbulence” in the country to “destroy” it. He also thought that it was extremely disrespectful that teenagers are demanding that senior citizens like Shafiq leave.
We were eventually able to extricate ourselves from the man and returned to parliament where the news was bleak. Protestors in Tahrir Square had been dispersed using force by the military police.
And then it was our turn. At around 2 a.m. a general with a loudspeaker appeared demanding that we leave. A protestor hugged him and kissed his head. The general again demanded that we go away, this time like an angry dad, and then suddenly soldiers were deployed and we were all sprinting down Qasr El-Aini street, to a soundtrack of cattle prods.
Abadodo and Moftases say they were both kicked in the jacksys by soldiers. I saw journalist Mohamed Abdel-Fatah get accosted by a soldier and pushed into a store shutter. Malek Mostafa was pushed to the ground and beaten and kicked by five soldiers. The worst bit was seeing Sharshar get set upon by a group of them, after he stopped running. He too was giving a seeing-to but thankfully was not injured.
One protestor was in tears, shouting, “the army is hitting us! The army is hitting us!” There has long been popular adoration of, and respect for the army, reinforced since the tanks rolled in on the 28th. It will be interesting to see whether last night’s episode in any way shakes this, or whether it rallies more people around the demand that Shafiq resigns.
The army has already subjected us to a barrage of statements on Facebook about the incident, like a teenage girl discussing boy problems. Statement no. 22 was particularly odd. Entitled “apology” it then said that the “encounters” between the military police and the great Egyptian people were “unintentional” (“OMG I didn’t mean to hurt you babe!!!! Luv u 4ever xoxoxoxo)
Statement no. 24 meanwhile goes on about how the army has got our back but there exist fears of “infiltrating elements” trying to corrupt the revolution who threw stones and bottles at the armed forces (“How cld u treat me like this I hate u you’ve broken my heart you bastard!! :-((((((”).
This is all very Mubarak and must desist.