CAIRO – For some reason, the saddest part was the sidewalks.
violent clashes dragged on into their eighth hour in Tahrir Square on Wednesday
night, both sides had exhausted the available rocks and were tearing up the
sidewalk pavement for ammunition. Standing on a balcony overlooking Tahrir
Square, I was watching Egyptians destroy their ancient city, block by
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The scene felt like warfare from a thousand years ago – angry,
screaming men fighting over a small patch of land, moving forward, then
backward, struggling over every inch of a public square. Everyone at the protest
had his or her own job: Some kept a steady rhythm by beating on a sheet metal
construction fence like a drum corps, others worked at smashing the pavement
into smaller projectiles.
Some used torn canvas to carry the rocks to the
front, others stood on the army tanks and directed the demonstrators, and still
others brought water to the front lines or carried the wounded to the back. This
is how mankind used to fight before we had guns – raw, unbridled anger, using
stones and brute force.
Over the past week, I had been impressed each day
anew with the kindness and warmth of the Egyptian people, many of whom took me
under their wings as I attempted to navigate this complicated city in a time of
For the past five days, and especially on Tuesday during the
“Million Man March,” I was shocked and inspired by the civility of the protests,
as well as the hope and optimism they represented.
In Jerusalem, I live
just six minutes from the Prime Minister’s Residence, and not a week goes by
when I don’t cover at least one protest in front of his home, for affordable
housing or the settlement freeze or Gilad Schalit. After attending so many of
these similar protests, I’ve grown cynical about the power of political
activism. Go on, carry some signs, shout a few clever slogans – but tomorrow,
nothing will change.
Here in Egypt, the cynicism I usually bring to
People were taking to the streets, and they were
creating real, significant change. This was a protest that meant something – the
whole world was looking on as the Egyptians created a momentum to carry them
toward a new and different future.
Watching the people hug and kiss the
military, as they gathered by the hundreds of thousands and patiently waited for
volunteers to check their IDs and pat them down, I felt hope. I came in at the
tail-end of the “Friday of Wrath,” so the protests I witnessed were not only
courteous, but also passionate and hopeful.
Not everything in Cairo was
easy this week. The people in the lower classes whom I spoke to outside of the
city, especially those dependent on tourism to the pyramids, were really
struggling to make ends meet in a country frozen by demonstrations.
community vigilante groups were governed by a mob mentality and sometimes went
after innocent bystanders.
There was righteous anger over a man who has
been in power for three decades and who refuses to leave, as well as righteous
anger that any citizen could speak so hatefully about a man who has been their
leader for three decades.
There was uncertainty, yes, but there was also
hope that I was witnessing a country on the cusp of something
But the scene on Wednesday was absolute chaos. As I walked
around the square in the afternoon and witnessed the bloodied faces, with
makeshift bandages made out of the Egyptian flag, watching the crowd surge
forward and backward, I felt like something had died.
This is what
happens when you strip away dignity, humanity, civility, and find raw hatred
inside. These were the depths that humans can sink to when they are so angry and
yet have no outlet except rage.
Throughout the night, the main
confrontation point moved farther and farther from Tahrir Square, until the
majority disappeared behind the Egyptian Museum. Then all that was left was the
occasional explosion from the military, and the clink, clink, clink as
demonstrators pulled up the pavement to throw at their countrymen.