Egypt’s First 11 Days Of Protest: A Primer

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photo: christian science monitor
By Tamara Wing
Egyptians are well into their second week of maintaining a strong and continuous presence in cities across Egypt, buffered by massive all-day protests.  The protests, now dated in Egyptian history as the January 25 popular revolution, have grown in number, remained peaceful, and been met with escalating degrees of opposition by the government they oppose.
In the days and weeks before, Egyptians witnessed Tunisian President Ben Ali removed from office by his people before seeking political refuge in Saudi Arabia.  The freedoms and opportunities for the Egyptian people are in many ways similar to those of Tunisians; so too are their tactics of peaceful civil disobedience and unity in people and message. Scheduled and promoted primarily through Facebook, January 25 was quickly designated as the day for people to march in the streets of Egypt. The stated purpose of the protests since their inception has been to see the political removal of President Mubarak, all things being done without violence.
Using Tuesday’s well-attended marches to get the attention of both Mubarak (who announced that he would finish his term but not seek re-election) and their fellow Egyptians, protesters declared that on Friday, Egyptians would show their explicit defiance to Mubarak and send the message that the protests would be continuous until Mubarak resigned and left office. As expected, demonstrators were met by a huge number of Mubarak’s Central Security police forces; police used tear gas multiple times against protesters in Cairo and Alexandria.  Reports of mass arrests and excessive force and brutality by the police were transmitted in spite of the internet/cell-phone black-out.  The widespread protests and assaults continued late into the night beyond the freshly implemented curfew, and by Saturday morning, Egyptian soldiers had been deployed with tanks around the
country.
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photo: guardian (london)
For several days following Friday’s protests, people came and went from demonstrations and tended to their own matters. Police were not seen on the streets for nearly two days and Egyptians established neighborhood watch committees to guard against looting. Cell phone service and some internet service was restored. The Egyptian army released a statement recognizing the protesters’ demands as “legitmate” and vowing that free speech would be protected by soldiers who had been ordered not to use force against peaceful demonstrators.
The following Tueday, January 31, protesters again met together at designated time and were again met with force by the police. Late in the day, journalists began reporting that large numbers of men in civilian clothes were being transported to the protests on buses and official-use personnel carriers. These men rallied as pro-Mubarak demonstrators on Wednesday morning but in the afternoon began attacking protesters with rocks and Molotov cocktails from the rooftops.  Triage clinics were opened in the city’s streets where people sought treatment before being sent home or to a hospital.  Many received first aid and returned to the streets.
Tahrir (in English, “Liberation) Square had served as a central rally point  in Cairo since protests began.  On Wednesday, shocked protesters were attacked with sticks and swords by men riding horses and camels through the square.  Checkpoints were quickly set up at entrances to Tahrir Square where protesters checked the state IDs of anyone entering, and by Wednesday night,
Friday, February 4, was termed the “Day of Departure.”  Millions of Egyptians–between one and two million in Cairo alone–demonstrated across  Egypt calling for Mubarak to resign and vacate the presidential palace immediately.  At the same time, news agencies and human rights organizations began reporting that their employees had been attacked, their offices raided, and their equipment confiscated; the accused are police and unemployed people who had reportedly been promised money or government jobs in exchange for actions taken to intimidate members of the press. More than one hundred of these men known to Egyptians as “thugs” have been arrested by citizens and handed over to army soldiers in the area.  Two senior members of Nile TV have resigned and join the protests, testifying that they are on the side of the people and are no longer willing to contribute to the “propaganda” of the state-run channel.
Resignations are being made from within Egypt’s government today and will be covered in the next update.