Sunday, April 10, 2011

Revolution, all over again..

Two long days, crowds of few thousands, sit-in in Tahrir sq., no sleep, attacks with batons and live ammunition, setting up barracks, injuries and death; it's a Revolution all over again. 

Friday April 8 was a successful Million March in Tahrir. Echoing those staged in the period before Mubarak stepped down. Tahrir square, the epicenter of the Egyptian Revolution, was once again witness to the unity and power of the people. Hundreds of thousands clustered together in the square in a show of solidarity towards achieving the Jan25 Revolution demands. The demands they feel are being neglected by the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The people's main target was the trial of ousted Mubarak, his family, and his posse. 

The atmosphere was so familiar, filled with enthusiasm and freedom-induced ecstasy. There was this new additional feeling, though. The feeling of a worrying anticipation, at least among a few. Anticipation of some sort of action, beyond just vigorous chants, reflecting the growing feeling of dissent towards SCAF and their lackluster attitude when it comes to the trial of Mubarak and co. The moment a group of army uniformed men stepped up to the central stage, it was anticipation no more. 

Recently, there has been a somewhat marginal wave of outspoken army personnel who claimed they are holding their own revolution-like campaign to cleanse the army from corruption. A couple of facebook groups and twitter accounts were anonymously created in an attempt to draw light to their case. Days before April 8, as the calls for the Million March intensified, these anonymous online outlets declared some of them would attend the planned March in their army uniforms and reveal themselves publicly. It's worth mentioning that Ahmad Shouman, an army officer, was charged but then pardoned of defection during the early days of the Revolution. A move, I'm sure all SCAF members are regretting now.

For army men to join the march was one thing, but for them to join in their army uniforms was a completely different and foolish move. They were received with a mixture of feelings predominantly composed of alarm and confusion, but then as time passed, those feelings gradually turned into a naive patriotic sense of duty and responsibility of protecting them against a sealed fate of military trial on mutiny charges. A sit-in, that was never planned, was by then inevitable. 

Night fell, bringing with it an understandable but tense sense of anxiety to what might unfold when curfew hours start at 2am. Protesters in the square knew their numbers were little to stage such an unplanned curfew-defying sit-in. They amounted to roughly a thousand individuals only. The first sign of trouble stirred long before curfew hours started though. At about 11pm, a large group of military police started appearing at the entrances to the square. Few minutes later, a military police officer along with a group of soldiers and a jeep tried to approach the center of the square. That is where the defected army officers, about 20 of them, were being guarded inside 2 large tents. Protesters gathered around and huddled together to prevent the intruding military police soldiers from entering, chanting 'go back, go back'. That small military police batch was too small to force their way in, so they retreated.    

The army was obviously determined to capture these so called 'rogue' elements, but they needed to prepare for a snap attack to force their way in. They took their time to gather forces and started a full scale attack at around 3am. Security forces amounting in the hundreds, started the first phase of assault encircling the center of the square from all directions. Protesters formed an arm-to-arm human chain right by the border of the round central garden. Special army forces, in full gear, commenced with phase two of the attack by forcefully charging through the crowds under heavy machine gun fire. Protesters had no other way but to run in retreat, although a few brave group stayed around the tents in the middle in a last gasp attempt to prevent the capture of the defectors. 

The swift attack was successful and the special forces teared down the 2 tents and captured the defected army officers, although there were several eyewitness account of at least 6 of them escaping the clamp down. Things were in complete chaos by then. Hundreds of protesters who were scattered all over the entrances to the square, formed smaller groups and tried to venture inside the square again. Their aim was probably to recapture the central garden, or may be just to fight back. They didn't manage to achieve that though. The security forces continued with its attack and machine gun firing, chasing them down the streets. This resulted in sporadic retaliation attempts by the protesters throwing stones and molotov cocktails right back at them.

The security forces assault moved into side streets, where protesters were further scattered into fewer numbers and started taking refuge in near by building entrances and garages. These side-street battles raged for about an hour or so. It started to look dramatically chaotic and the army officers probably feared things would get out of their hands, specially with curfew hours approaching it's 5am stop. All of a sudden, they started retreating back to the square and regrouping in formations. Protesters went fast after them, in a fury of false victory. As the protesters reached the square, the army had already begun it's evacuation, although it seemed it was a bit hasty as they had abandoned a large carryall truck with a full load of barbed wire still on board. 

Other small groups of protesters started gathering back in the square, which was empty of any army presence in a matter of minutes. They took hold of the barbed wire and started erecting barracks along the eastern entrance towards the Egyptian Museum. Curfew had already ended and news of the attack had spread all over near neighborhoods as a result of the huge amount of fire power used during the army attacks. Protesters grew in numbers by the minute, and completely controlled Tahrir square, in reminisce to the very early days of the revolution.

There were several accounts of injuries that appears to be the result of beating and cuts. There were several stories of fatalities, but it none was recorded or captured on tape. Later reports according to reuters, put the numbers at 2 death from gun shot wounds and over 70 various injuries.         

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