5th day of upheaval in Cairo tinged with hopes of change

'JPost' special report: Protesters satisfied after Mubarak announces gov't changes; Egyptians: "We have been angry for 30 years!"

By BY MELANIE LIDMAN, JPOST CORRESPONDENT IN CAIRO
January 30, 2011 01:39
4 minute read.
Egyptians protest in Cairo on Saturday.

happy Egyptian protestors_311. (photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)

CAIRO – “Last night it was beautiful, it was a miracle,” said Haneen, a drama and translation student at Cairo University, of the demonstrations that rocked the city on Friday’s “Day of Rage.”

A government-imposed curfew of 6 p.m. was widely ignored as tens of thousands of Cairenes took to the streets to shout for a change in their government.

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Friday was a tipping point in the capital, and on Saturday the optimism was hard to contain. Across the city there is a glowing satisfaction in knowing that they have made their point loud and clear – the army was listening, the world was listening and most of all, Hosni Mubarak was forced to start listening to the people. Now, the demonstrators feel, if they can keep the momentum going, it will carry them forward to change in the next few days.

A communications blackout was partially lifted on Saturday morning, when cellphones started working at 11 a.m. Internet was still down on Saturday night.

“We don’t know what the world is saying, or even what’s going on in the country; it’s like we’re blind,” said Tarek Muhammad, a second-year communications student at Cairo University, located in the Giza suburb, 15 kilometers from the pyramids.

There is a great fear in Egypt that because of the communications blackout, the world will not see what is happening in their country and therefore will fail to put pressure on Mubarak.



On Friday, police targeted the international media. BBC photographers had their cameras smashed, a journalist from the Guardian was severely beaten and other journalists shared stories on CNN of police violence directed at destroying their communications.

Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt

Every time I brought out my camera during the demonstrations and said I was from America, dozens of people would crowd around me and try to get their message out. They were clear – they like Americans, but they blame the American government for their situation today, for supporting the Egyptian government with over a billion dollars a year in military aid.

Protesters filmed by Al-Jazeera held up some of the shells from live ammunition that has been fired at the crowd and chanted, “America! America!”

“We want America not to be involved, and not to conflict in our business,” said Ahmed al-Masri, a Giza resident. “We can manage our business ourselves, we can do it! America is just looking out for its own interests. We have a lot of young Egyptians, and people in general, who want Egypt to be better; we don’t want interference from Israel or America or any other foreign country. We will continue our struggle for a good Egyptian future.”

The message from the streets is getting out – to America, to Europe and especially in the Arab world. The popular protests rocking the region may not have started in Egypt, but here they have been the largest and the most violent. As Egypt is the most populous Arab country, with more than 80 million citizens, these demonstrations are something of a barometer for public sentiment in the other Arab countries.

“We Muslims are all brothers,” Masri said. “We are happy about what happened in Tunis and we want it to happen in every Arab country; we want freedom.”

But he warned that Egypt needs to concentrate on its own goals before worrying about the example it is setting.

The military’s presence in the streets signals an important change, that the police have given up and have ceded their role to restore order.

“[Last night], we were chanting, ‘Where is the army, we want the army,’ and then the army came!” said Haneen, the drama student, as she pointed out a tank that was covered with cheering people of all ages.

The protests are a wave of humanity – young, old, religious, secular. Some come in wheelchairs, others carry toddlers on their shoulders. The tear gas is strong and many people have blood-spattered shirts and freshly bandaged wounds. A few times a day large swathes of Tahrir Square are cleared so that men can kneel down and pray, hundreds at a time.

The anger is real, as is the optimism, that finally, the people have been loud enough to make their opinions heard.

“We have been angry for 30 years!” one man shouts at me as we are swept across a bridge over the Nile toward the huge square.

But there is hope that finally something will change.

“We are making a point, and it is a good point,” Haneen said.


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