protests in cairo

I know, this post is long overdue. With so much going on over the past couple of weeks, I haven’t had much time to sit down and write it all out, and I wanted to be able to recap it fully. I really don’t think my personal story is very exciting- I didn’t throw rocks or save any lives. Nonetheless, I think I happened to be in the right place at the right time, and got a pretty cool experience out of it. For a recap of the evacuation process after these protests, I posted a blog about that a few days ago. Here goes!

The first I had heard of the protests was actually the 24th of January, only a day before the first demonstration. I had returned to Cairo from Morocco on the 22nd, and had taken the bus to the AUC new campus in New Cairo on the 24th for my folklore dance practice. We had a performance scheduled for February 11th, and I had already missed a bunch of practice because of my travel plans. There was actually another study abroad student there who had just arrived in Cairo, and was interested in joining the group. She mentioned that the residence halls were planning on taking a field trip to Islamic Cairo the next day- the 25th. A few of the Egyptian folklore girls immediately turned to look at her, and told her that the field trip would probably be a bad idea. I had no idea what they were referring to. One of the girls quickly explained that a Facebook page had been organizing protests for the very next day, and tens of thousands of people had clicked “attending” on the page. She continued to explain that even if the protests did not end up affecting the trip directly, the traffic would.

We had dance practice as usual, and I didn’t think much about what she had said. I took the 5:15 PM bus back to the AUC Downtown campus (in the heart of Tahrir Square), hopped on the Metro at the Sadat stop, and returned home to my flat in Dokki. People aren’t kidding when they say that this came out of nowhere. Yes, the oppression and corruption of Mubarak’s regime had been building up for decades, but the political demonstrations were a shot out of the dark. Egyptians are notoriously apathetic when it comes to politics, perhaps because they’ve become used to the fact that their voices will not be heard. I’ve heard that there’s only a 16% voter turnout rate, on top of (or perhaps a result of) the fact that it’s completely rigged. So, when I heard something about protests, I expected maybe a few dozen people to show up for a day. At most. The fact that tens of thousands of people had said that they planned to attend the Facebook event also didn’t mean too much to me- it’s much easier to click an option on your computer than to get people to actually show up. I made dinner that night as usual, and went to bed with no plans for the next day.

On Tuesday the 25th, I slept in and cooked an early lunch. It wasn’t until I turned on my computer that I saw what was actually going on. Protesters had turned out in shockingly big numbers over the course of the day, and the police were not prepared for it. I logged into Facebook and saw that it was swamped with updates from the protests. Some Egyptian friends and study abroads were posting photos and locations, while others encouraged everyone to join in the demonstration. It was pretty exhilarating just refreshing the page every few minutes to see where people were headed and what was going on, and so true that social pages like Facebook were a big part of the beginning of the movement. I was able to communicate with other international students who were at Tahrir, and stay updated instantly. On the other hand, the Egyptian State TV station chose to ignore the protests completely. Al Jazeera often showed what the State station was broadcasting alongside what other news stations were showing- the State channel stuck to peaceful images of the Nile and old films.

For awhile, I considered going out to watch that first day of protests. It was something that I had never imagined happening in a million years, especially during my study abroad experience. It would have been nice to be able to watch from a hotel balcony, or somewhere separated from the action on the ground. But honestly, I felt as though it just wasn’t my place. I’m not Egyptian (although I loved being in Egypt), I haven’t been suppressed by the regime, and I’m paid normal wages when I work. It’s not my battle to fight. And while it’s exciting to see it with your own eyes, I didn’t want to be one of those foreigners who just went to say that they had been there, and to take a few photos. I could learn more about the demonstrations through my friends’ internet postings and get a more general view from the news. I’m also an American woman, which represents much more than me individually. The US was put under close watch, and each of the Obama administration’s statements were analyzed piece by piece. My presence would speak more than I was ready to take responsibility for. While I side with the Egyptian people 100%, and absolutely agree that Mubarak needed to step down, I would rather show my support in different ways than putting myself in the midst of the protests.

So, Alex and I stayed around Dokki that day. I was amazed that the protests had gotten that big in one day, and were nationwide- Suez and Alexandria were holding demonstrations as well. It was a huge step for Egyptians. Nonetheless, I thought that it had climaxed there, and had only heard of vague plans for more protests that Friday. I even sent messages to a couple of friends who had planned on visiting me in Egypt (two had even already purchased tickets), telling them that things would probably calm down from there, and not to worry. My mom, Mark, and Anna were going to visit me at the end of February, and I had planned on going to buy sightseeing train tickets for us in advance that day, but just figured that I would be able to go buy them in the next day or two instead.

The next day, Wednesday, things had legitimately calmed down in Cairo, at least in Tahrir Square. I wanted to go see the aftermath of the first day of protests, and grab some food while we were there. Alex and I walked to the Metro right near our flat, but while we were boarding the compartment, we kept on hearing an announcement in Arabic. All I could decipher was “Today…(something something)… will not stop…(something) … Sadat”. I took it to mean that the Metro would not be stopping at the Sadat station, which was the Downtown Tahrir Square location. So, we got off at the Opera stop in Zamalek and started walking towards the Qasr al-Nil bridge, which leads right by the Semiramis Intercontinental Hotel, and into Tahrir Square. On our way there, we got our first glimpse of riot police in full gear. Five officers stood in a line on the sidewalk before the bridge began, and we could see at least three armoured police vans parked on a side street, filled with officers waiting to be called to action. Huge groups of them stood along the entrance to the bridge, sat in the shade nearby, and stood at attention on walkways. We got stared at as we approached the bridge, but were not stopped or questioned.

It was a nice, clear day out. As we walked across the bridge over the Nile, we could see blue sky amongst the few patchy clouds. Feluccas still lazily sailed across the water, and young Egyptian couples walked along beside us. Once we crossed the bridge on the Downtown side, officers in plain clothes (also referred to as “thugs” in many news reports, interviews, and opinions) prevented most cars from entering Tahrir Square, but pedestrians were allowed to come and go as they pleased. It was surprisingly normal looking, but much emptier than usual. And there were riot police everywhere. The thing is, there are tons of them, but none are very capable of handling situations or enforcing the law in any sense of the word. That day in Tahrir, they congregated in the corners of streets, stood in fives along walls, and marched back and forth around the square. Some rested their shields against the ground and fidgeted with their uniforms out of boredom. Protests continued in other areas of Egypt, and started up again in Tahrir later that day, but we seemed to have found the eye of the storm.

Alex and I walked towards the AUC Downtown campus, and decided to eat at the McDonald’s across the street. We maneuvered through a crowd of about twenty riot police, in between five or six armoured police vans, and promptly ran into a fellow AUC-ian outside the restaurant. We chatted for a few minutes until one of the policemen came up to us and encouraged us to wrap up our conversation and hurry inside. Apparently, we were in the way of the security team. Inside McDonald’s, we ran into four more AUC international students. We recapped the events of the previous day for a bit, and learned that a few of them had ventured out into the protests to watch, take photos and video, and even throw a few rocks. They went on their way to go shopping at Khan al-Khalili, and Alex and I decided to do one more lap around the square before heading back to Dokki. Riot police arranged and rearranged themselves in tight lines, waiting for developments. Restaurants functioned normally, tourists took photos from their hotel lobbies, and I figured that this would be the first of a few days to go until things were fully back to normal. As we walked back towards the Metro, I looked across the Nile towards another bridge and saw a small crowd of people walking towards Downtown. They would be stopped almost immediately by the police lined up there, and I figured that there wouldn’t be much to come of it. Small protests continued through the night, mostly outside of Downtown Tahrir, but it was nothing like the first day of protests.

The next day, Thursday the 27th, I woke up and took the Metro back to the AUC Downtown campus in Tahrir in order to go to another Folklore dance group practice. Things were about the same as they had been the day before- lots of riot police, not too many protesters in sight. The Metro had even been restored to normal scheduling, and I was able to get off at the Sadat stop right outside of the AUC campus. Normally, the AUC buses are parked right adjacent to the campus on the street, but due to security concerns, they now stopped on the opposite side of the street, and on this day, the bus was hidden behind a couple of armoured police vans. I squeezed past the crowd of policemen that had formed around the bus and got on board. The journey to, and time at AUC New Campus was completely normal. I was able to work on the internet for a few hours before going to practice. The dance coaches even had the group do the dance that I was in, called Luxor, one extra time at the very end of practice, just for me. I got back on the 5:15 bus and was home in Dokki shortly, with no disruptions.

Friday was when things got really wild. Demonstrations had continued in other parts of the country, but Tahrir had remained pretty calm for the past couple of days. I had heard that another round of protests was planned in Cairo for Friday right after afternoon prayer (at around 2 PM), but I still wanted to try and buy train tickets for my family that day, so Alex and I decided to go to the Ramses train station early that morning to get it done in time. I stopped by a currency exchange place in Dokki (advance train tickets had to be paid for in US dollars or Euros) before we hopped on the Metro and immediately noticed that the same announcement was back- they would not be stopping at Sadat today. Luckily, the train station was a couple of stops past Sadat, so that didn’t directly affect us. It was pretty eerie when we went past the stop, though- all of the lights were on, but it was completely silent and empty except for one lone police officer on guard. Sadat is usually the busiest stop, with people bustling on and off the Metro there at all times of the day and night.

My attempt to buy train tickets ended up being a bust. We walked up to the right window, only to find that nobody was there. Another attendant told us that the cashier was praying at that moment, and that they would pray for longer today because of the protests. So, we waited for about ten minutes before being approached by another man hoping to help us. He lead us to the “Tourist Information Office,” which ended up being a small wooden shack all the way down the other side of the platform. Of course, the door was locked and nobody was there. The man told us that train tickets would still be available for another week or so, and that I would be fine if I just came back later. I had been hoping to take care of the tickets before school started on the 31st, but it wasn’t a huge issue.

Alex and I got back on the Metro and passed the ghost town Sadat stop once again. We decided to get off at Opera once again to see if anything had changed in Tahrir. This time, the amount of riot police had increased tenfold. We walked back across the bridge into Downtown and decided to see if we could get to the AUC Downtown campus, or better yet, to some food. Police blocked every single entrance to Tahrir Square. Literally, rows upon rows of them. We tried to get into the square from the bridge, and were questioned and directed to go around the entire perimeter of the square to get to the other side. We walked a couple of blocks to the right before attempting to continue our foray into Tahrir. We only ran into more barricades. At one point, we asked one of the commanders whether or not we would be able to get to the AUC campus. He sneered at us and made a comment about how there was no way any of “us” would be getting into Tahrir today, because the police had it under their control. I thought of this conversation later that night, when protesters conquered Tahrir and the police disappeared from sight.

So, Alex and I decided to give up and just head back towards the Opera Metro stop to go home. We crossed the bridge and walked a couple of feet until a man came up to us and excitedly motioned for us to walk in the other direction. We shook our heads and tried to explain that we wanted to get to the Metro. He exclaimed “mafish metro,” which means that the Metro is no more, and hurried in the other direction. Confused, we hurried to the Opera stop, only to find that it had in fact been closed as well. We had been away from news sources for the entire morning, so we had no idea what was going on until we kept walking along the length of the street. Rows upon rows of riot police had lined up, their backs to us, supported by armoured cars behind them. At first, I thought that it was just another road block, and we continued towards the officers to try to ask them how we could get home. As Alex and I got closer and closer, we realized what was actually going on and stared in shock. The police were clashing with protesters right in front of our eyes.

We were standing near the Opera House in Zamalek, the island in the middle of the Nile. Protesters were attempting to cross the bridge from the Dokki/Mohandiseen area into Zamalek, and then across another bridge into Tahrir Square. At that moment, they were blocking our path home. A couple more men approached us, looking for the Metro as well, until the message spread that it was closed. Alex and I followed a small group of onlookers (all of whom had been trapped because of the “mafish Metro” situation) off to a small side street to the right, where we would be out of the direct line of action. We all stood watching in a mixture of amazement and horror. Protesters stood to the right, in Dokki, while police attempted to hold their lines at the beginning of the bridge into Zamalek. Tear gas canisters flew through the air every few seconds, and white smoke billowed behind them. Some were thrown back towards the police. It was complete chaos. Near the back of the riot police, every once in a while a couple of officers would run towards the police vans, carrying or supporting an injured officer. Some had fainted from the tear gas, while others were bleeding from rock wounds.

As we watched, some of the Egyptians sternly encouraged us to step back and just wait for things to die down. They tried to block our view, and did not like seeing me take pictures. Others yelled words of support to the protesters, and argued amongst themselves. We eventually noticed that an apartment in one of the surrounding buildings, about ten floors up, was completely ablaze. Fire poured out of two separate windows, and seemed to be spreading. Nobody seemed to notice, or care to try to put it out. After about fifteen minutes, a fire truck tried to approach the scene, but could not get close enough to the apartment because of the protesters and tear gas. So, the fire continued to burn.

At one point, the protesters managed to get the riot police to retreat, which was a pretty amazing thing to see. The riot police were armed with shields, helmets, sturdy uniforms, vans, tear gas, and batons. The people only had rocks. Still, the police broke their lines and hurried backward across the bridge as the people rushed towards them. They had made a great advancement, and were almost completely across the bridge. Tear gas started wafting closer to the group of stranded Metro riders, and Alex and I looked at each other and agreed that we didn’t want to just stand here and watch this. We were doing absolutely nothing to help the situation, and were actually just distracting Egyptians while they told us to go home. So, we tried to find a different way to get to Dokki. We had no way of knowing what was going on in the demonstrations while we were just standing there, or where people were gathering. Earlier that day, we discovered that mobile service had been cut off completely, and the internet was blocked as well.

We quickly started walking along the Nile in the opposite direction of the protesters, towards another bridge. The streets were almost empty. As we walked, the wind swept tear gas in our direction, and our eyes started to water and throats began to burn. We covered our mouths and noses with our sleeves and kept walking. A few taxis drove by, but all of them were already full of people. Eventually, we got to a second bridge and marched up the on-ramp. The entire bridge was empty except for us, a couple of other people trying to cross into Dokki, and a squadron of riot police on the other side. We walked along the side of the bridge, peering across the Nile to the conflict between protesters and police just a few hundred feet away. White smoke still billowed into the air, and that apartment continued to burn. Once we got to the Dokki side of the bridge, we tried to figure out how exactly we would get home from here. Riot police watched our every move as we walked past them, between a couple of rows of officers in order to descend down the off-ramp. I kept my eyes on the ground and hurriedly passed by them to avoid any questions or confrontation. Soon enough, Alex and I were standing on the opposite side of the Nile. We were still quite a few blocks away from our flat, and our normal route was being swarmed with hundreds of protesters. We could still see the fire truck and a crowd of people just a few blocks down from where we were standing.

After crossing the street, we set about trying to flag down a taxi to get us home. The first two our three asked where we wanted to go and immediately shook their heads and drove off once they heard that we lived past the crowd of protesters. Finally, an old black taxi nodded and agreed to get us to our house. His car had no center console, a bare metal stick where the stick-shift should have been, and a gas meter that wavered dramatically between full and empty as we drove. But, the roof of the cab was decorated with an Arsenal football team banner, which Alex took to be a good sign. The driver maneuvered through small side streets and snaked across neighborhoods, attempting to avoid the protesters altogether. We had never seen these areas of Dokki before. But before we knew it, we had made it back to good old Zahraa street, leaving the driver with a hearty tip in thanks.

I was exhausted- we hadn’t even been involved in the action, but the adrenaline from watching and worrying about getting home had really taken a toll on me. I cooked dinner (we hadn’t eaten all day), got into comfortable clothes, and parked myself in front of the TV for the rest of the night. Alex and I literally sat mesmerized by the reports coming out of BBC World and Al-Jazeera English for hours- we didn’t turn off the news until two or three in the morning. I was so consumed with what was going on that an hour or two would pass without even realizing it. The news reported a series of major events- the police had completely vanished from the streets by 6 PM. The army appeared in a caravan of tanks, welcomed by the open arms of the people. The National Democratic Party (the ruling party)’s headquarters had been looted and completely torched, and continued to burn throughout the night and next day. The NDP building was right across the street from the Ramses Hilton, the hotel that my parents had booked rooms to stay in when they had planned to visit me in February. The National Museum was put in a very dangerous position- it was terrifyingly close to the blazing NDP building, and protesters had formed a human chain around it to protect it from looters. Nonetheless, a couple of people still got inside and destroyed mummies, ancient statues, and priceless relics. Theories unfolded as to the identity of these looters, and many accused them of being government employees hired to loot the museum in order to scare protesters into going home to protect their own valuables. Many claimed that everyday Egyptians respected their own pharaonic heritage (and tourist business) enough to refrain from damaging the museum. Nonetheless, damage was done, and the protests continued through the night.

Throughout the afternoon, different news sources had been reporting that Mubarak was due to give a speech “shortly”. It wasn’t until past midnight that he decided to grace the media with his presence. As he spoke, I found myself arguing back at him and may or may not have yelled at my TV a couple of times. He was completely delusional. He claimed to be listening to his people, and would fire his cabinet as a concession. But the protesters were not asking for a reshuffling of the same people who had been in power for the past few decades. They wanted Mubarak himself gone. He also claimed that the protests had only continued to happen because he had allowed the people to express themselves in this way. I muttered that the protests had happened because the police force was unable to restrain it- I had just seen the forces being pushed back by protesters with my own eyes earlier that day. This is not to mention the fact that internet and mobile services were still blocked- so much for those freedoms.

It had been a very long, exciting, historic day in Egypt. I had trouble falling asleep because I couldn’t wait to see what the next day would bring. Just a few hours later, I woke up and immediately began watching Al-Jazeera and BBC World once again. The complete lack of a police presence had also resulted in rumors of looters taking to the streets of Cairo- the NDP building and National Museum had already been hit, and wealthy suburbs like Maadi were targeted next. Alex and I eventually decided to go outside to grab some food to eat, but were shocked to see that this looting fiasco had directly affected our small residential area in Dokki. As we walked down Mossadak and El-Ezz street, we began noticing that most of the shops were completely shut down, with large locks on their doors. A good number of them had even taken the extra step of covering their windows with wood, newspaper, and even white paint to ensure that looters wouldn’t be able to see the valuables inside. By the early afternoon, McDonalds, Hardees, Pizza Hut, Cinnabon, and KFC were all shut down and boarded up with wooden planks over the windows and black garbage bags over their neon signs. We literally couldn’t find a single place to grab lunch. ATMs were either overwhelmed by long lines of people waiting to pull out reserves of cash, or completely empty. At this point, I fully realized the implications of these demonstrations on our small residential area of Cairo. We decided to take the next step and stock up on food, just in case supplies ran low.

The closest large grocery store to our flat was Metro Market in Dokki, which is still around twenty minutes away from home. We quickly walked over to the area, hoping that it would still be open and stocked with the essentials. Curfew had been moved up to 3 PM that day, which wasn’t exactly being enforced (given the fact that police were still out of the picture), but cabs and businesses tended to follow it, so we were on a time limit. It seemed as though half of Cairo had the exact same idea as we had. Men, women, and children young and old swarmed the market, and even a few other foreigners had found their way into the area. I grabbed some essentials- pasta, rice, veggies, juice, and spices, while Alex loaded up on meat. Given how long the check-out lines were, and how late in the day it was, I was impressed that the store still offered so much to choose from. Lines of people snaked through the reception area and back into the hallways of the market. At one point, a couple of men at the cash register got in a heated verbal argument in Arabic- all I could decipher was that it involved money. Some of the customers and cashiers ended up having to step in to diffuse the situation.

Once we finally reached the cashier, our goods were priced and bagged in a matter of seconds. It seemed as though everybody wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible, and were well aware of the approaching curfew. We grabbed our bags and started walking down the street back towards our flat- we had a good ten blocks or so to go. Only a few blocks later, my fingers had grown numb, and my arms were burning. The thin plastic bags felt as though they would soon break. Alex and I agreed that a short taxi ride would make our lives a whole lot easier at this point, and decided to walk along Mossadak, a larger street that runs throughout Dokki, in hopes of finding a stray cab. We happened to grab a taxi that had just dropped off a couple near us, jumped in, and arrived at our place just a few minutes later. As I walked into the kitchen to unload our new stockpile of food, I checked my watch and found that we had arrived only five minutes before curfew. Success!

The rest of the night was dedicated to hours upon hours of watching the news. That night, we watched as protesters were shot while trying to infiltrate the Ministry of Interior building, and demonstrations turned into public funerals, with the bodies of the dead carried overhead through crowds. Prisoners were also shot at as they attempted to escape, and the military maintained their presence throughout Cairo. Omar Suliman, the former head of Egyptian Intelligence, became the first Vice President in the history of Mubarak’s regime. Mobile service resumed, but the internet was still completely blocked. This meant that I was finally able to receive a call from Fadi, my program organizer, who informed me that school had been cancelled at AUC for the next week. Classes had originally been scheduled to start the next day (Sunday the 30th), but obviously wouldn’t take place until at least a week later.

This entire time, I had no way of contacting my parents to let them know that I was safe. Internet service was blocked, my cell phone didn’t have enough credit to make outgoing calls, phone credit was sold out in most stores, and our landlines couldn’t make international calls. Fadi ended up letting me know that my mom had contacted the study abroad program’s office to ensure that I was okay, and I had to ask him to relay messages to her for me. Later that day, Alex’s mom managed to call his cell phone, and I asked her to call my mom for me. She was extremely helpful, and was able to teach my mom how to make international calls to my Egyptian cell phone so that we had some way to communicate. Only a few minutes later, I received a call from my family, and was able to discuss the situation with them. I insisted that we were safe and sound in our flat, and that I would be able to start school again soon.

Ironically enough, that night ended up being the first and only night that I felt unsafe in my flat. This was the result of a few things: there was no police presence in Cairo, the military had not made it to Dokki yet, my phone didn’t work, and according to the news, looters had taken to the streets. As night fell, I realized that the demonstrations had taken on an entirely new aspect: up until this point, you could completely separate yourself from the protests by just remaining home. Now, there were no promises. Anybody could be a looter, and they could show up anywhere. Nobody was entirely safe. So that night, Alex and I started planning for the worst case scenario. We talked about possible weapons to use in case looters entered the building (our options were a little pathetic, now that I think about it- he had a tennis racket, and I had kitchen knives and a broken bottle). At one point, we heard what sounded like gunshots and heated voices out on the street. This prompted us to pack “go bags” just in case we had to leave the apartment quickly. I threw my most valued and necessary possessions into a backpack, which basically consisted of my passport, laptop, camera, and a spare change of clothes. We luckily never had to resort to either of these plans.

Soon enough, the men on our street formed a type of “neighborhood watch” group to protect their families, property, and community. This comforted me a great deal, and made me look at our little neighborhood in a new light- everybody came together for the sake of our street. It was one of my favorite parts of the protests. By forming their own local militia, and having citizens to step into roles of authority, the locals managed to create some semblance of safety amongst the chaos. Alex and I watched from our balcony as men, aged 10 to 80, paced along the street with makeshift weapons. Some had wooden sticks, while others had metal scraps and knives. They built roadblocks out of old tires, tree branches, and road signs, and made small bonfires to keep themselves warm. These men stood outside all night, just to keep watch over our small neighborhood.

The next day, Sunday the 30th, ended up being my last full day in Dokki, although I wouldn’t know it until 3 AM the next morning. It was actually pretty uneventful, which lead me to believe that the protests were reaching a more stable point. I woke up and watched the news for a bit as usual, and then headed off to a different market down the street to buy a little bit more food- Alex felt as though we needed to continue stocking up, just to be on the safe side. The roads were pretty empty. This market was no different from the one that we had visited the day before. Long lines of people wavered through half the length of the place, so we grabbed some meat, pasta, and sauce before taking our place amongst the masses. After checking out and heading back towards our place,  I stopped at a small hookah store to ask if they sold phone credit. They were sold out (just like every other store in Cairo), but one of the salesmen still offered to transfer some of his credit to my phone. I was sure that he wouldn’t be able to find more credit anytime soon, and turned down the offer, but it was still a really nice gesture.

We literally just watched the news for the vast majority of that evening. BBC World and Al Jazeera English were only interrupted by a short break for dinner, and one essential backgammon match between me and Alex (in which I won 2 games to 0, thank you very much!). From my perspective, the protests were really reaching a stalemate. There wasn’t much else for the protestors to do, except to wait. Our “neighborhood watch” squad was also back in action that night, and more prepared than ever. Hani, our bowab (a.k.a. doorman), had built a small bonfire in front of our building, and was sitting around it with about ten other men from our street. Younger boys ran in and out of the building to refresh their cups of tea, and a hookah was set up nearby. Roadblocks were set back up for the night. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw all that they had done to prepare for the long night ahead of them- there was no question that they would stand by their posts until the sun came up. I really appreciated their presence, and decided that we had to bring them something in thanks. So, Alex and I popped a few bags of popcorn and gathered some bars of chocolate in a bag to bring down to the boys. None of them spoke English, but they still went to great lengths to return our favor- Hani insisted that Alex and I sit around the bonfire with them and have a cup of tea before returning upstairs to our flat. We couldn’t understand a word that they were saying, but I was glad to see that they scarfed down the popcorn and chocolate happily.

Unfortunately, my parents were not so impressed with the experience. I got a call from my mom while sitting around the bonfire, who was seriously asking why I was not on a plane home yet- apparently CNN wasn’t covering the protests in quite the same way that we had been experiencing them. Even though things seemed to have calmed down in our area, a number of news outlets were stressing the violence of the protests, and its effects on the larger region. I still ended up arguing for awhile, even after my mom informed me that the US Embassy had just suggested that all US citizens leave Egypt as soon as possible. I insisted that I was perfectly fine just waiting it out. We had food, shelter, and local protection- even if school didn’t start for a week or two, we would be okay. But apparently, my opinion didn’t matter very much.

So, after going to bed that night, I received the fateful phone call at 2:30 AM. We were being evacuated, and there was nothing that I could do about it. Everything that I had built up over the course of my last 5 months in Egypt would have to be left behind, and we only had a few hours left to put our lives in order. I was extremely upset about having to leave like this, but eventually understood that the issue was much bigger than me. I had been lucky enough to be there to witness the beginning of a revolution, and in the future, I would be returning to a completely new Egypt. The people had already made huge strides in the first few days, and would continue to do so from this point on. It would change both their lives and my immediate future dramatically. In the next week, Mubarak would finally step down as President, and I would be shipped off to the Cairo Airport, Barcelona, and finally, Israel. What a start to the new year!

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1 Comment

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One response to “protests in cairo

  1. Katie

    Amazing post Sophie! It made everything happening in Egypt a lot more real to me. Also, your neighborhood watchmen make me very happy 🙂 haha. Glad you’re safe!

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