- Published on Sunday, 20 November 2011 00:00
- Category: Letters From Egypt
9:30pm Local Time, Cairo, Egypt 11/20/2011
Right now, the crowd in Tahrir Square is in the tens of thousands and growing quickly. The square itself has a very safe, communal feel to it, and many observers have likened the crowd to the crowds last January.
A couple of streets away, however, a battle between crowds of Egyptian youth and armed security forces is going on its 48th hour. According to the latest official count from the Health Ministry, six protesters have been killed and more 1300 injured over the last 24 hours alone. There are widespread reports that security forces are firing live ammunition along with tear gas, while protestors are throwing Molotov cocktails and rocks in response.
In the heart of downtown, storefronts are locked up; there is little light, and demonstrators cycle in and out of the violence, walking and stumbling with their masks, faces puffed up and dirty from the tear gas that has been fired on a continuous basis for the last 48 hours.
Based on the fact that a steady stream of people – along with the food vendors that necessarily follow – keep on coming into Tahrir and setting up camp, this episode has about a 0% chance of cooling off by tomorrow. On the flip side, it has a terrific chance of impacting the parliamentary elections that are scheduled to begin on the 28th.
But how did we get here, and what does tonight mean for the immediate future?
After Friday’s protest, which was the largest in months – and dominated by religiously oriented group such as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party and the Salafi Hizb al-Nour Party – a couple hundred protesters remained for a sit-in to demand a timely handover of power to civilian control. When security forces moved in to forcibly break up the demonstration early Saturday morning, violence erupted. Cars were set on fire and scuffles broke out between riot police and civilians.
Since then, the violence employed by the security forces has slowly inspired more and more public sympathy for the resistance in Tahrir, and two days later, here we are.
What sets tonight apart is its direct connection to the kinds of activity that was taking place in the early days of the Egyptian Revolution. Since then, we’ve seen targeted violence, such as Maspero, and massive protests, like those over the summer; now we have both at the same time. Meanwhile, many of the same protestors crowd the frontlines of confrontation with the police. Ahmed Shahara, who lost the vision in his right eye on January 29th, was hit with a rubber bullet in his left eye this afternoon.
The demands of the crowd in Tahrir are also straightforward and clear. They want the resignation of the interim military leadership and to have presidential elections by the spring of 2012.
Only time will tell how this plays out. In the meantime, looks like the government traded a sit-in for a standoff.
*As of 12:30am Cairo time (11/21), the death toll rose from 6, to 11.By Will Roth, Aslan Media ContributorYou can see all of Will's reporting and media on YearinCairo.com, and follow him on twitter @wilroth