Nearly 4 weeks ago I returned to Cairo for a visit. It was just a normal Tuesday. The biggest event happening was a Tweet-Up party with NPR’s Andy Carvin (wonderful to meet him in person, BTW… he’s a down-to-earth, thoughtful, personable guy). After the Tweet-Up my friend Ghazala & I went back to her apartment — she wanted to be in bed by midnight so she could wake rested for her AM Arabic class. But then we checked Twitter. Andy was Tweeting about tear gas, riot police and mobs of protesters. Live. It was impossible not to joke that this unexpected (& violent) clash with police may have been in Andy’s honor.
Ghazala changed her mind: there would be no Arabic class for her tomorrow. Ghazala, her roomie Iba, and I put on clothes that could be trashed, & packed our bags with scarves & coca-cola (to help those that had been tear-gassed) & left for Tahrir. It was 2AM. Iba’s friend Ahmed drove 160 km/hr on the strangely empty streets of Cairo to get us there ASAP. By the time we arrived the scene in Tahrir was what i consider to be dodgy: A nearly all-male crowd, unfriendly glares, sudden shouting, occasional confused running, & tear gas lingering in the air. Way too much testosterone for my tastes. I should’ve known better.
If I wasn’t already feeling uncomfortable enough, I accidentally walked into tear gas which made my eyes sting pretty intensely. Iba & Ahmed poured coca-cola over my eyes… It was amazing how quickly it helped. Afterwards I no longer had to be led around like a blind woman, but Ahmed insisted on driving me home if it would make me feel better. By the time he & Iba returned to Tahrir several protesters asked him if he was crazy bringing girls into the melee of men… that it was not safe. And so they also returned home.
Last time I was in Cairo I couldn’t fly out on my scheduled flight because of an all night clash between army, police, and protesters. This visit I realized, these things don’t happen because I have some sort of strange luck; Cairo is now more often like this than not.
The next days I stayed right above Tahrir. Friday was the normal weekly protest; much of it focused on 12 families that had camped out in the square all week. They were demanding that those responsible for the murder of their children/fathers/brothers in January, be held accountable. The day-time protest reached a crescendo when a few hundred marched to the Ministry of Interior. Ghazala, Iba, myself, & Tweeps including Andy Carvin all went along to observe & document. A few rocks were thrown by young protesters & the army threw them back. Luckily that was as violent as it got.
Having a bird’s eye view of Tahrir normally thrills me, but this time I was weary from my own need to constantly know what was happening in the street below. Add to it I wasn’t getting enough sleep and my mind was still in Tunis, with the guys in hospital. Finally I decided: I can’t be in Cairo & not keep up with everything happening, so if I want any rest, it’s best I go. I went to the Middle Eastern Airlines (MEA) office & bought a ticket to Erbil, Iraq, departing the next morning. (Admittedly, a strange place for R&R, but for the record, in Erbil I could hear the crickets every night, rather than the sounds of honking, shouting and glass breaking.)
After buying my ticket at MEA I grabbed my once a day Egyptian meal: a bowl of Koshary — a thick pile of pasta, chick peas, lentils, hot sauce and lemon juice — and headed home for my last nite in Tahrir. While eating Koshary & skyping with my fave Misratee in Tunis, I heard shouting over the AC. Of course I couldn’t leave Tahrir without one last scuffle down below.
Some thugs had come to the square & tried to destroy the 12 tents of the families of the martyrs; many tents were set on fire. Family members & other protesters fought back. Molotov cocktails, ceramic tiles, stones and even kitchen-ware and chairs were thrown by both sides. Some tried to put the fires out while others chased people with wooden sticks. I couldn’t tell who was with which side. I saw one older round woman in a black abaya with a giant shard of broken mirror. I recognized her from the Friday protest 2 days before: one of the family members of the martyred. She pled with a chubby blond European man with a video camera while waving her hands (& a sharp giant piece of broken mirror) in the air. The blond man slowly backed away and left. It may have been 3 weeks ago, but it could just as well be today. It seems a similar scene keeps repeating itself.