Sunday, January 30, 2011

Socialist Worker covers Egypt

Great Britain's Socialist Worker reports on Egypt.

This article should be read after: Tunisian trade unionist: ‘Our revolt inspires hope across the Arab states’

Judith Orr reporting live from Cairo

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Socialist Worker editor Judith Orr is reporting live from Cairo as the revolution unfolds

1am: The medical care in Tahrir Square is well organised. but they have run out of basic medicines. At night, doctors sleep in a designated area so people know where to get help. Major injuries are taken to the temporary hospital in a nearby mosque.

Around all the homes in the area collections for money and goods are done.

One doctor said "What more can we do. We can look after ourselves but we need to be able to care for the sick and wounded. I want everyone to know what we are up against"

Midnight: Police have been seen in some parts of the city but not in Tahrir Square.

"They wouldn't dare show their faces here" said one young guy on checkpoint duty on a barricade. They wear white makeshift sashes and are keeping the streets clean as well as providing security.

A woman comes up and asks if the way to her home is safe. Two men are dispatched to make sure she can get through.

In the square, the symbolic centre of this movement is quieter but that still means thousands are sitting on walls chatting. Camps have been set up on every bit of dried up grass there is.

Arguments and debate are breaking out all over: ”What is happening? What can we do next?” And always with the worry that there will be an attempt to take the square in the dead of night.

Many here, me included, feel the situation is on a knife edge.

11pm: Reports are coming in that the police have started taking up positions in the city again. There has been tracer bullet fire from the opposite side of the city to where I am. These shots are warnings from the local defence committees to stay away.

According to Egyptian author Ahdaf Soueif the police are claiming that they will only carry out “normal” policing and will not go near the Tahrir Square. We will see.

9pm: Across Egypt people are still on the street. One activist reported that the town of Mahalla – a strong working class area– was on fire. He said that it is no surprise that areas where there has been an increase in workers’ militancy in recent years, have seem some of the most brutal fighting.

Rumours are spreading that textile workers in Mahalla and lorry drivers across the country are striking against Mubarak.

8pm: I walk down one of the major avenues off Tahrir Square.

Every road running off the square has a barricade and a committee checking cars.

Some people have set up chairs and a fire outside their shoe shop.

Two men sitting on plastic deck chairs stop me to welcome me to Egypt. They say that will be there all night to protect the offices they work in. “We are here until it’s finished”, they say.

People agree that there was widespread looting on Friday, but everyone blames the police. They describe the police going on a rampage.

It seems that the police wanted to create fear and chaos so that people would miss Mubarak's strong hand. It hasn’t worked.

People have taken their lives into their own hands.

At the edge of the square, the number of tanks has grown to nine. But still they are surrounded by chanting protesters who barely stop to take a breath.

Elsewhere people are bedding down in doorways for the night.

7pm: There is a scrum at one corner of Tahrir Square. The word has gone through the crowd – Mohamed ElBaradei is here and is going to address us.

Many believe ElBaradei is the person who can unite the opposition and force Mubarak out.

TV cameras compete with protesters holding up their mobile phones to catch a glimpse of the man who may be the next president of Egypt.

In the end no one but the TV viewers could hear what he said. But the different groups are gathering into one mass. Will he become the single voice of the movement?

Just met Jack Shenker, the British journalist based here, fresh from his arrest and beating at the hands of the Egyptian police earlier this week.

He said there were some voices in response to ElBaradei shouting, "This is still our revolution".

But right now everyone is united on one thing: Mubarak must go.

4:30pm: It's half an hour into the curfew and the square is rammed. British photographer Jess Hurd will have the best photos – she is up on a roof somewhere.

The army is still on every corner and still they are cheered and embraced. Around the square knots of people read leaflets, paint slogans and pass around boxes of dates and sweets.

By being here they are showing they have lost the fear that has kept Mubarak in power for 30 long years.

Whatever happens tonight and in the days to come they have tasted struggle, they have resisted repression and they will never be the same again.

Some say the future of Egypt will be decided tonight. And the future of the whole region will be shaped by what happens in Egypt.

The helicopters swoop and darkness has settled around us. There are chants and songs. And still the army watches.

The stakes are high. But no one here looks like they're going home.

4pm: I go for tea with a revolutionary socialist who still can't take in that we don't have plain clothes cops following us.

We sit openly in a street cafe discussing revolution and exchange remarks about Mubarak's evils with people at other tables. "It's like another country," he said.

Then there is an ear splitting boom. Three or more fighter jets fly over. It seems they are just skimming the tops of the buildings they are so low. "What does this mean?", everyone asks, "They are just trying to terrorise us," one tea drinker says.

It's ten minute to the start of curfew at 4pm and the streets are filled with people. Everyone is talking politics and everyone is heading for the square. If something is going to happen no one wants to miss it.

The numbers in the square are growing. There is no plan. There is no one organisation responsible.

There is just the conviction that if they keep coming Mubarak will fall.

Young and old, women and men. In suits and jeans. This is all Cairo on the streets. Their streets.

3pm: I talk to a doctor still in his scrubs. "I saw so many people die on my shift on Friday," he told me. "Shot dead and many more wounded. But now the people have opened their eyes. We will finish this. Mubarak must go".

2pm: All afternoon the soldiers have fraternised with the people. Sometimes an officer will make them clear the tank roof, but there is no hostility – not yet anyway.

One soldier let loose some live rounds in the air to clear the crowd – there was a water cannon creeping up behind.

I bumped into Robert Fisk whose reporting on the Middle East is legendary. "See behind you," he said, "If they start shooting go for the underground entrance". You can see how he has managed to survive so many war zones.

They didn't shoot. The water cannon was put into reverse and protesters linked arms with soldiers to move people back.

No one wants to believe the army will turn on them. "We are like family to the army," says more than one protestor.

Noon: Many people have spent the night in the square, only taking a break for a smoke and a tea in the After Eight cafe which stayed open all night.

They lie exhausted on the grass in the centre of the square. Some have bloody bandages round their heads.

But fresh waves of protesters keep coming to join them.

They arrive from all corners of Cairo and swarm past the soldiers and their desert camouflaged tanks.

The protesters greet the soldiers as old friends. They hug and kiss and give each other high fives.

They clamber up on the tanks to chant and hold up home made placards.

One tank has "Fuck Mubarak" spayed on its side.

10am: A city without police is a sight to behold. Seeing tens of thousands brave bullets and tear gas to fight for a better society is a joy to experience.

In Tahrir Square the evidence of pitched battles is everywhere – burnt out police vans, makeshift barricades, blackened buildings and tanks on every street corner.

9am: I have just arrived in Tahrir Square (Liberation Square) – the equivalent of Trafalgar Square in London.

Tear gas, batons and live bullets have not deterred protesters from coming out on the streets.

Protesters who had spent the night in Cairo's Tahrir Square awoke to find fresh demonstrators joining them.

There is only one demand: "Mubarak Go".

Cairo is a city on a knife edge. The mass protests continue. The police have disappeared.

Police stations aross the country have been burnt down.

The prisons have been emptied, shops are shuttered up and local committees are maintaining barricades in 12 hour shifts to protect their communities.

The following should be read alongside this article:

Tunisian trade unionist: ‘Our revolt inspires hope across the Arab states’

‘People are discussing politics and poetry’

Dictators everywhere are living in fear of Tunisian example

Tunisia: patterns of revolt

Egypt's protests rock the regime

Statement on the Tunisian revolution

Mass protests across Egypt threaten Mubarak's dictatorship

Egyptian socialist: 'We can make Mubarak run like Ben Ali'

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