Egyptians band together as riots near a week

Demonstrators donate blood, clean up trash and direct traffic as government remains paralyzed.

By MELANIE LIDMAN, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
January 31, 2011 02:35
3 minute read.
Spirit of caring and brotherhood spread in Cairo

egyptian help 311. (photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)

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 still hospitalized.

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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 his friends.

“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 road.

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 past week.

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“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 grassroots level.

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.”


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