The January 25 Revolution: lest we forget - Day 4: rebirth



Friday, January 28th, 2011 

The country wakes up to a total digital blackout; mobile networks follow the Internet, leaving hundreds of thousands of families not knowing what the fate of their loved ones will be in hours to come. I'm not able to overcome my fear, but my family and I decide it won't be possible not to be part of this. We join the rally leaving from Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque in Mohandeseen...

People say the moment you join a protest fear dies, they lie. The moment I join the Rage Friday protest my fear dissolves in a much bigger and deeper awe, one that overcomes all other feelings. It's a collective dread that screams out of every heart, deep with worry that this revolution won't make history...

On our way to the mosque following the prayers we see CSF trucks and personnel everywhere, helpless, but ready to kill. We reach the mosque and people start to gather, CSF leave us be, for now. Tens gather, someone starts to chant, numbers grow, chants become louder. The tens turn into hundreds, we start to move and it feels like a dream, we become thousands.  Soon it becomes impossible to see the beginning or end of the demonstration. Chants are so loud "bread...freedom...social justice", voices seem as confident as can be, but if you listen closely you'd hear the fear. I chant for the first time in my life, sometimes as loudly as my voice can get, other times my it is locked in my throat behind the tears that are not of happiness or of fear. I'm so torn between being unable to believe that this is finally happening, and trying to breathe every moment of it. I look around to take in all the faces around me, the diversity is striking. But quickly the faces fade, and we're all reborn, turning into one big entity with one voice, walking to the one destination, to Tahrir - liberty.

As our chants get louder "people demand the downfall of the regime", and the trace of trembling in our voice fades away, more people start to look out their windows, from behind their shades. Our rally is joined by the one coming from Boulaq, turning us into an unstoppable stream of power. We reach Tahrir Street and the rally stops, I'm not very far from Gala'a Bridge, I can see what's happening there clearly. Without a prior plan, everyone takes their place; families go to the back and youth to the frontline. In the square before the bridge, sits an ugly CSF truck like a Nile Crocodile preventing everyone and anyone from crossing the stream to the prosperous land. CSF soldiers stand next to the truck like dark hyenas waiting for their prey. They're used to dispersing protests of a few hundreds, but this time they're drastically outnumbered.

We suddenly hear shots and we see people running, then the tear gas reaches us. An ambulance parks next to us and aids our injured. Then another shot, and another, yet another, and the tear gas fills the air. On the backlines we decide to keep chanting to let them feel how powerful we are, we shout to the top of our lungs. But gets worst, other shots join in, bird-shots, more injuries come to the ambulance. Then a tear gas canister is thrown on the truck and it catches fire, another reaches a balcony and it too is set on fire. Back where I stand people are waiting, everyone is praying silently, except for one woman in her late 70s. She's here alone and she shouts her prayers, hoping they'd reach those at the frontline.

After quite some time the fighting stops, three protesters climb the truck with a flag, and we continue walking. This time in small groups, we reach the square and the CSF have disappeared, but as soon as we reach Gala'a Bridge the tear gas becomes horrible, people run in all directions and we're stuck between two CSF groups. At this moment and many moments afterwards, groups disperse, families and friends are separated, some for now and others forever. I leave....

This protest continues to fight and succeeds to cross Gala'a Bridge soon after I leave. On Kasr El Nil Bridge they stop to pray, and are shot while praying.....

On the other side of the Nile* the fight continues; protests coming from El Hussein, El Azhar and Shubra meet in Downtown. Tens of thousands fight with CSF in side streets, tear gas reaches unbearable levels, leaving everyone unable to breathe or see. Some suffocate and fall, and quickly they stand again to continue the fight. Others fall, never to get up, but the cause is no gas. Snipers are above buildings, they shoot to kill. The cloud of tear gas keeps increasing, but then another, darker cloud joins in, fire. In the digital blackout, news travels through word of mouth; minutes later it's known that the National Democratic Party's building was set on fire. The fighting continues and gets fiercer, but protesters don't give up. They spread in side streets and take shortcuts away from CSF.

Land telephone lines are so congested that no one is able to call their homes. Two protesters decide to go check on their families, on their way they're stopped by a police officer. They're about to get arrested, but at last minute a colleague calls the officer. He tells him "we got the order", the officer without a word turns and leaves the two men. He gets into a car and leaves. Before the two protesters are able to figure out what happened, they see minibuses coming from Tahrir Square filled with police officers. The panicking buses and their riders go into the interior ministry and stay there. Still not getting what happened,  the two protesters keep walking until they are met by a dark cloud,  a police department is set on fire, personnel are running, and people are watching. A few streets further, they are met by another cloud, and another police department is on fire. When they reach their homes they will realize that the security forces have fled and are hiding in their ministry. They will also realize that many police departments in Cairo and elsewhere are on fire...

It's just after 5:30 pm and I'm finally near a television, I now know the revolution is finally happening on the Good Land. Before Then an announcement comes on, a curfew is imposed all over Egypt as of 6:00 pm, and army personnel will be deployed to secure the country. We're in Mohandeseen, at least 30 minutes away from home in Heliopolis. We take October Bridge and are met by cars with panicking drivers going the wrong way, and tires set on fire thrown hear and there. We continue, until we're met by an army tank blocking the bridge, this is how I know that the NDP building is on fire. We go to Zamalek and see protesters running to Tahrir. We decide to go back to Mohandeseen and spend the night at my grandmother's. On our way, we have to go through Imbaba, and we find ourselves in the middle, between CSF personnel shooting their last shots before they flee, and protesters throwing rocks at them....

As the police flees, protests finally reach Tahrir Square and a sit-in is started. Every person under the age of thirty has either never witnessed a curfew be imposed, or was too young to understand what was going on, this is probably one of the reasons why the curfew was completely defied....

On television, the army is on the streets; reactions vary, some are unwelcoming and others chant "the army and the people are one hand". On television, this revolution is not centralized, protests take place all over the Good Land. On television, someone calls upon people to go guard the Egyptian Museum because its security has fled. On television, the president speaks; he sacks his government, gives some threats, and is completely ignored...


I don't sleep at all, I lie awake hearing gunfire every few minutes....


This part of the post was made possible  by @IbnGamalDin, who generously shared the story from his vantage point and allowed me to write about it.

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