Tahrir Square transforms into makeshift field hospital

Following another night of violence, doctor says: "It was really a historical drama, like “300” with the Spartans and the Persians.'

By MELANIE LIDMAN, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT
February 4, 2011 01:04
4 minute read.
Protesters throwing stones in Cairo's Tahrir Squar

Throwing rocks stones Tahrir Square Cairo. (photo credit: AP)

CAIRO – Devastation was the word to describe Tahrir Square on Thursday.

Across the cement expanse, men lolled in bloodied shirts with bandaged heads and limbs, trying to regain their strength after a savage 16-hour melee that involved thousands of men lashing out with rocks, metal rods and their bare hands.

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In the aftermath of the vicious battle that broke out on Wednesday and rolled into Thursday morning between anti-Mubarak protesters and the supporters of the Egyptian president, makeshift field hospitals were set up to deal with the thousands of wounded.

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“Everyone that stayed here last night was wounded in one way or another, so we’re talking about thousands of injuries,” said Alaa S., a Cairo pediatrician who normally performs research for a health and environmental development NGO.

He had arrived at the aid station nearest the center of the square, one of three stations, in the early hours of Thursday morning, and was preparing to work through the night.

“We are definitely expecting more violence; we don’t know what they have up their sleeves,” he said.

Tahrir Square was like the eye of a hurricane on Thursday – humming with tension from the side streets and the 6th of October Bridge, which saw scattered skirmishes involving rocks and the occasional live ammunition.

But the square itself was mostly quiet, the men sleeping in crumpled heaps, gingerly supporting injured body parts, or slumped against trees and curbs drinking tea and coffee provided by volunteers.

A mosque in the square provided temporary shelter to hundreds of sleeping men.

Most of the side streets leading to Tahrir were cut off from the rest of Cairo by giant barriers made from sheet metal stolen from a construction site and burned-out vehicles.

As rumors swirled around of possible breaks in the barricades, some men would start beating the metal fences with poles, waving their arms and encouraging people to run toward the side streets where the break was thought to be. Men in soiled business suits bent down to grab stones from huge stockpiles of broken pavement as they ran to the site of the break. This scene was repeated over and over on Thursday.

“I am very happy to have lived to see this day,” Alaa said, as he stood over dirty white canvas on the ground that marked the firstaid area, with bottles of iodine and a mountain of cotton and bandages behind him. “This is the price we have to pay for freedom.

Last night was a heroic battle.

The Egyptian people are being reborn. They’ve always said Egyptians are disorganized, we can’t do anything, we’re lazy.

But this shows our solidarity, our respect for each other and the dissolving of sectarianism.

“All of the sectarian violence is dissolving – Christians, Copts and Muslims are all working together,” he said. “It makes you wonder where all the hatred came from; maybe it was just created by the regime.”

Alaa said he had also treated two “infiltrators,” undercover police officers who were captured by the crowd and savagely beaten.

This was possibly the worst example of the mindless explosion of violence: mobs of 50 or more surrounding and raining down punches on one man caught in the middle. A few foreign journalists were similarly manhandled.

For the medical workers in Tahrir Square, the day was spent dealing with a few people wounded in the skirmishes, as well as continuing to treat yesterday’s injuries and thousands of bandages that needed to be changed.

More moderate Egyptians have shied away from these violent protests.

“Why should I come? I already got what I asked for,” said one blogger, referring to Hosni Mubarak’s announcement on Tuesday that he will not seek reelection.

The mood in the square was no longer optimistic, but one of fatalism. Talk of martyrdom and heroism was rampant as the men revved up for another night of fighting.

“We were quite outnumbered yesterday,” Alaa said, though the opposite seemed true from a vantage point above the square.

“It was really a historical drama, like 300 with the Spartans and the Persians. It’s a day that will always be remembered in our history as a day of heroes, not of martyrs. Yes, there were martyrs, but it was about heroism.

“Egyptians wanted to defend democracy and push for social justice, and they were willing to give their lives for that,” Alaa said. “If people don’t take a stand and we’re massacred, it will be the responsibility of the world.”


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