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Billet de blog 5 févr. 2011

Day 11: The Day of Departure

fredbowie
Journaliste indépendent et bilingue (FR/EN)
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Despite the countless acts of violence committed by the pro-Mubarak militias over the last days, Egyptians r

Despite the countless acts of violence committed by the pro-Mubarak militias over the last days, Egyptians responded en masse to the call from the young insurrectionaries to transform Friday into their President's "Day of Departure", reports Sylvie Nony

As early as 10 in the morning, it was clear that the day was a success. People brought their families, or arrived with groups of friends and neighbours, despite the continuing threats and dangers. Once you are at Tahrir Square there is no problem, thanks to the security barriers set up by the protesters, and the army whose tanks are still there: the dangers lie along the routes that lead there. And the influence of the anti-foreigner campaign being conducted by Egyptian state TV is also making itself felt, spurring the President's partisans on to further acts of violence, and wearing on the nerves of the neighbourhood committes who are permanently on guard duty. Even though these committees are generally sympathetic to the revolution, the lack of food, the xenophobic discourse of the authorities and the permanent risk of violence have set their nerves on edge.

11h00 : It is Friday, the day when midday prayers are preceded by a sermon. So there are sermons on Tahrir square, too (see video). First up is a high-profile media-friendly sheikh, Mohammad Hussein Yakub, who delivers a fiery speech in support of the revolution. Next to me, a young man shows his irritation: "Before he always preached submission and obedience to our leaders, and today he is supporting the revolution. What a hypocrite!" You can easily check this on Youtube and elsewhere: in the past, Yakub's sermons were far less "open-minded" than the one he gave today...

Yakub is followed by a second preacher, from Al-Azhar University, who is at least much less hypocritical: after having appealed to every possible patriotic and nationalistic emotion, he concluded by calling on the crowd to respect the President. He may be a sheikh, but the crowd doesn't hesitate to shout him down, and someone gently takes the microphone away from him. In the circumstances, to come to Tahrir Square and deliver such a message in front of hundreds of thousands of people, certainly requires a certain courage - or some would say, fool-hardiness!

The third preacher is Hafez Salâma. The people around me tell me he is a very popular figure in Suez, and he has traveled to Cairo today to preach at Tahrir. He is warmly applauded by the crowd, both for what he has to say, and as an emblem of the resistance his city has shown over the last days.

I head over to the Mosque Ibâd al-Rahmân that has now been converted into a field hospital. One of the young volunteers working there phoned me to come. He wants the whole world to see what is going on here: the many wounded and dead, and also the extraordinary solidarity between the people, Muslims and Christians without distinction, who come to donate medicines and first aid material.

Since I was last here on 29 January, the organisation of the hospital has advanced by leaps and bounds: doctors are now working shifts, there is a desk at the entrance to receive aid in kind, a pharmacy has been set up using the racks which are normally used for people to leave their shoes when they go into pray. The young volunteers who are running the place have set up a Facebook group. They only sleep 2 or 3 hours a night. They deal with the most horrific wounds without flinching, and cannot go home at all, because the way back to their own neighbourhoods is too risky. Their dedication knows no bounds.Dr Naguib (see video) takes a moment out of this maelstrom to talk to me about their work, the different kinds of injury they are dealing with: burns from Molotov cocktails, head wounds of people struck by stones, fractures for those beaten with metal bars. And there also psychological traumas to be dealt with. Just next to it, a man is sleeping under sedative, after having been scared senseless during an attack. He also tells me about two young people who died the previous day.

When I go back out onto the square, it is 14h00. The crowd is constantly swelling, the mood more and more joyful. I walk across towards the Museum to see what is happening. The pro-Mubarak hoodlums are not far away, on the Sixth October flyover, but also on Ramses Street. There are only 300m to cross to get to my flat, but the path is now interrupted by a dozen checkpoints manned by the insurrectionaries. Each time, one or two of them accompanies me as far as the next checkpoint, having first checked that the way is safe. Peaceful demonstrators are marching along Talaat Harb street. An hour later, they will be attacked by a mob throwing stones. From my balcony, at around 15h00, I can see a pro-Mubarak gang at the other end of my street, the Ramses end, trying to force their way through the checkpoint set up by the neighbourhood committee (see video). But then some soldiers fire into the air, then take up position beside the checkpoint, and this seems to frighten the thugs away.

This report was first published in French on Mediapart. Translation by Fred Bowie.

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