I heard all the commotion and went to see – when I got there, camels and horses and flags were streaming by on this elevated highway, that runs through Zamalek. I ran to get my camera, change to a telephoto lens and then shoot, but by then the camels had all passed by. Still, not knowing what it was, I thought it was a beautiful sight.
It had been camels trotting on a similar road that had brought me to this city in the first place. I’d been to Tahrir Square with a friend (Tarek Alarian), and then before my very own eyes, all the traffic was stopped and hundreds of camels came over the old bridge. It was glorious – the sun going down, the camels trotting against a modern landscape. I decided right then and there, this was my city.
Thursday, all the elements were the same but the story different. The camels were leading a parade past my window that would last 15 minutes, a parade of pro government supporters going to do an unpleasant chore.
Now I must step back one more day – Tuesday. It was the day of the so called Million Strong Demonstration in Tahrir Square. I went and photographed like crazy – I’ve still not posted that blog as I’ve been so busy with unfolding drama elsewhere. On the way to that demonstration, I walked along the Corniche where the tanks were positioned. I ran into a pro government demonstration. It’s character was different than the other demonstrations – harder, meaner more business like. The demonstrators would follow my camera – if I was shooting film, went through the motions. When I stopped, so did they. When I moved, they followed me. When I lost interest, they were furious.
Later that night, as I returned from the Tahrir Square demonstrations, I once again had to pass by those tanks. Barriers had been put up the day before creating a narrow passage from which you went through the barriers, where they separated. The first set I passed without issue. The second set, was a different matter. I noticed many people were jumping over the cement and not going through the little passage way – I was tired and thought I’d save my energy for something else so I walked through. Big mistake.
On the other side, was a crowd of protestors. All men, maybe fifty or so. They had created a path through themselves for us to go, facing us. They were pro government protestors and they were roughing up all who passed through. I didn’t really understand this until I got jabbed in the side (with a club) and pushed around. Then I felt strong hands grab my arms from the back, I broke lose on the right side and elbowed whoever it was behind me. Only thing is, that my elbow hit something hard, really hard – as I looked around I saw a large solder with a bullet proof vest. The two solders had come to my rescue and were getting me through the crowd.
Whoever the pro government protestors were, it was clear they were of a different character than the anti government ones. The Tahrir Square protests tend to be more like rock concerts without music than hard political events. Everyone seems cast in a spell, just seconds from sitting around a campfire and singing.
Who are the pro government protestors? Many here believe that there is an organizing core built up from off duty police officers. They are the leaders. Then there are the hired hands – rumor has it at the early Corniche demonstration they paid civilians 150 le – about 30 bucks. Camels and horses got close to a grand. And, of course, there are the real believers – those who just think it’s better to have a strong central government. I would guess it’s a mixture of things and not just this or that.
In fact, just to make matters more confusing, a great many people here, probably the majority, would like to see the demonstrators go home. If you took a poll and asked if the government was behind the nastiness you would get overwhelming agreement that it was. That same poll would also give overwhelming support for the protestors to leave Tahrir Square. Or so I would guess.
So, this apparent contradiction is really not so at all and the people seem clever enough to make the distinction. The anti government protestors are the good guys. But the people want them to go home.
What happened Thursday evening in Tahrir Square, while I and the boys on the bridge were freezing our butts off, was not at all pleasant. The anti government forces were armed with the usual projectiles, flammable and otherwise as well as guns. The Army was not pleased – the anti government protestors did not have any weaponry and were vigilant about keeping it out of the protest. The numbers were with the anit govs – there were thousands, including some women. But, the pro govs did use the guns – snipers up high in the buildings were caught by the crowd and handed over to the army. Many civilians were killed and over a thousand injured.
I went to see the site today and was pleasantly surprised. Below, on the bridge going to Tahrir Square, we see people going to offer support, many bringing food, medicine and water to those who are now living in the square. This, by the way, is the same bridge where I saw hundreds of trotting camels, all those years ago.
The baracade you must pass to get in – you must show an id and get frisked.
The line of people, waiting to get in.
The man holding his passport MIGHT have intended to harm me. I was standing in line, looking ahead, some anti govs ran to me, past me and surrounded this fella. They berated him, shaming him, claiming he was about to strike me. He cried and claimed innocence. Here he is no longer weeping but getting angry.
Inside the barricade is another line for ids and frisking.
Inside view of the square, just after the entrance. Notice how clean!
Resting after a tough night.
Three tanks in the middle. On the left is the corner of the museum. For a good map of the square, check out the NYTimes, which also has an excellent article by a reporter named Mona. Note that after that article ran, two NYTimes reporters were arrested.
Past the tanks, near the end of the museum. Now we are headed for the action. You can see the second line of defense.
Between the tanks and the second line of defense, another id and frisk.
At the second line.
Ammunition everywhere! The first line of defense is under the overpass.
View from the first line. On top and on bottom, those are the pro government supporters. They come forward to taunt, as do the others from the anti govs.
The anti govs at the first line.
Interesting to me, this pro gov group has made a temporary truce and is AT the first line of defense. What trust!
Anit govs talking with pro govs at the first line.
This man – the one in orange, facing us with mouth open, is a pro gov caught.
The first line running near the overpass. Those on the overpass above are anti govs. All this, the night before, was in the hands of the pro govs – they had pushed the anti govs all the way back to the second line.
Here’s the second line from above.
Army uses tank to move pro govs from bridge but they will return.
Anti govs push back pro govs.
Woman giving away water.