CAIRO – As throngs of people headed towards downtown Cairo throughout the day on
Sunday, another area of the city was experiencing an influx of people: the Cairo
University Hospital, the city’s largest hospital. The people were not patients
wounded in the six days of violent protests, but came by the hundreds to donate
blood – more than 1,000 people in six hours, according to estimates from the
volunteers on duty.
“It’s a very Egyptian habit to be beside each other
at acute or hard times,” said Dr. Gehad El-Ata, the deputy director of Cairo
University Hospital, the self-proclaimed largest hospital in North Africa.
El-Ata added that over the past six days, the hospital had treated 500 people
wounded in the demonstrations, though 90 percent had been injured lightly and
were quickly released. The remainder, including dozens of gunshot victims, were
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“This is blood for the country, because this is our
country,” said Khalil Lefayoumy, sitting on a blood-spattered wooden bench with
a bag collecting his blood laying on the ground near his feet. Lefayoumy is from
a village outside of Cairo who was donating blood for the first time along with
“This is not normal; many hundreds of people are coming,”
said Dr. Ahmed Hemba, an internist at the hospital who was volunteering his time
at the donor clinic. He said that when people understood that the police was
using live ammunition and there were many victims with gunshot wounds, they
started showing up at the hospital in droves to donate. “This is the true
Egyptian people,” he said.
As Cairo struggled into its sixth day of
protests that have choked the city, regular Cairo residents attempted to restore
order in a way that the paralyzed government could not. With traffic
lights still not in order, at least a dozen men directed traffic at every
intersection. Some were equipped with whistles, others had orange batons,
but they were all unorganized volunteers who had simply shown up. The
volunteers kept the traffic flowing relatively smoothly, which is no small feat
in congested Cairo, though this was also due to a much smaller volume of cars on
The military tanks were another popular place for
volunteers. Many civilians were helping the army with crowd control,
directing demonstrators to stay on one side of the street or creating orderly
lines so the military could check IDs and do a brief pat-down before
demonstrators entered the main downtown square.
The military’s presence
in the city was a continued cause for celebration, with demonstrators hugging
and kissing the soldiers, and showering them with free snacks and drinks. The
Egyptian police, which are more closely associated with Mubarak, are widely
feared for their brutality. But the demonstrators welcomed the military, who
they perceive as more impartial.
Other demonstrators grabbed trash bags
and started cleaning up the downtown area, which has been ransacked over the
“There are no people to clean up and no cleaning company, so
the Egyptian people do it,” said Said Ibrahaim, a manager of a software company
in the capitol. “This is a great day for freedom,” he said as he was sweeping
the road leading to the main square, fighting off other people who tried to take
the broom away from him and help clean themselves.
The popular desire to
help restore order is inspired by the same motivation for the riots – a
welling-up of popular sentiment capitalizing on a moment for the people to take
charge and inflict the change they want to see in the government from a
On Saturday, the civilian volunteers banded together to
provide a volunteer security force at the Egyptian Museum, home to some of
Egypt’s most famous treasures and mummies.
“We made a human wall
yesterday in front of the museum,” said Yassir S, a 40-year-old chemist who said
he spent three years as a political prisoner from 1993-1996 for alleged
membership in Islamic Jihad. “It’s our gold, and we’re not selling our
civilization for any amount of money.”