Saturday, February 5, 2011

Cairo continued

I left off previously commenting about the reception that the army received when they came out onto the streets of Cairo.

With the army assuming their posts throughout Cairo, it's easy to imagine that order would be restored shortly. Seeing as how this is over a week ago now, this is obviously not the case.

My first night in Cairo was a sleepless one. Because the police disappeared from the streets, individual Caireans took it upon themselves to protect their families and homes. Let me give you a little geography lesson. I was staying on the Kornish, on the end of Maadi. About 10 km up the road is the area of Hilwan, known as an impoverished and primarily industrial area. The majority of the people living in Hilwan live under, or hover around the poverty line. Next to where I was staying was a prison.

To continue...

Friday the 28th, Egypt's day of unrest, ended up becoming much more than just protests. Violence racked the cities of Cairo and Alexandria, stories of looting and escaped convicts were spread like wild fire. The overall atmosphere was one of tension; I doubt that people who remained inside their homes left their televisions sets for prolonged periods of time. I know I myself did not.

The building that I was staying in, being next to a prison, was obviously on high alert. At one point in the early evening, as gunfire outside commenced, I ventured up to the roof to take a look and see what I could. I was met with noises of people shouting and banging, and was later informed that this was the sounds of prisoners clanging on their cell doors. Fires had broken out in the prison, however whether these were a result of arson or other sources remained unclear.
Impromptu road block in an attempt to close off the Kornish

The men from our building took to the streets with sticks, rocks, knives, anything they could find to defend their neighbourhood. At one point I saw a truck full of about 15 men trying to drive by the street we were on, and the car was swarmed within seconds by no less than 25 men from the building. Heated discussions ensued, and eventually it was shown that this car full of men actually lived in the neighbourhood, and posed no threat. It was just an indication of how tense things really were getting.

Throughout the night, our phones were ringing with messages and incoming phone calls from other friends and family in the city. We heard many stories, some of looters, some of people who had watched buildings next to them set on fire, some who claimed that cars outside their building were being stolen. Perhaps the most intimidating report was one that came from New Cairo, where we were told that "thugs and looters" were allegedly entering into buildings and demanding that the inhabitants hand over money or jewelry, or face being
shot and/or beaten. The rumours kept coming in, without any ability to verify or refute them. Knowing that we were close to a poorer area, where many of the looters were reportedly coming from, definitely heightened everyones alert status.

Despite a few suspicious occurrences, and gun fire throughout the night, our first night in Cairo passed without incident.

When dawn came, and the curfew was lifted, the streets emptied for a few hours. Men, exhausted from their night patrolling, were trying to get any little sleep that they could. With no Internet, and only having the news as my source of information, I could only imagine what my family were thinking at that time.

Saturday itself held an entirely new bag of "firsts" for me.

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