SPECIAL FEATURE: Egyptian Journals from Dalia Basiouny

From: Dalia Basiouny

These are some of my notes on my experiences in Cairo, today Feb 3rd, the 10th day of the revolution.

After a very turbulent in Egypt, the morning finally came. The attack on the demonstrators in Tahrir Square seems to stop, leaving so many casualties. I got a couple of phone calls from friends saying they are heading to the square with supplies. I called the friends who live by the square to see what the injured needs are, and to find out if I can get into the square. The images of Tahrir on TV are showing the aftermath of the battle that took place there overnight. It looks like a war zone. No news if they are allowing people to enter. Rumors about thugs blocking the entrances.
After a couple of phone calls, I got a list of medical supplies needed. I called a medical student I know he gave me some suggestions on the kind of medicines, etc. I headed to the pharmacy and got all the anti-biotech they have (thankfully in Egypt it’s over the counter), and passed by a number of other pharmacies to get “neck support”. I drove to downtown.
I usually park a mile away, and walk across the bridge. Today, I was carrying medicine and water (even a few bottles are rather heavy) I parked as close as possible to the check point at the entrance of Kasr El Nil bridge.. Signs of destruction.. Piles of Garbage.. People were gathered. It’s not clear who is who. I saw a familiar face; a journalist who came from New York to cover the uprising. We walked to the entrance together, but we were separated as men and women enter from different places for inspection.
The inspection of bags and ID by the people committees was more vigilant. They were very polite. They apologized profusely before checking us to make sure we are not carrying sharp objects. I was carrying sharp objects. My medical student friend said take medical scissors. I bought two small ones that I fit into a side pocket in my bag. I know they will not find them. They didn’t. I passed the first check point operated by the people, guarded by the military tanks. There was another inspection. I saw Samah, one of the graduates of the theatre department. She was very happy to see one of her teachers there. She said she’s been coming everyday since Jan 25th. She was entering the square with other friends who were also bringing medical supplies. When we passed the check point area we were taken aback seeing the broken parts of the pavement and the garbage. Samah was especially disturbed by the sight. She was one of many who created daily patrols to clean the square. It’s really the cleanest demonstration I have ever been to. People are careful not to litter, and there are so many people who volunteer to clean and sweep the square, throughout the day. Some use the activity to express their political views. Walking with large garbage bags, instead of saying drop your garbage here, they call out “Donate to the National Party” (Mubarak’s party which abused Egyptians for decades.)
We make our way across the square to the make-shift hospital. I am surprised that there are many people there. A whole night of violent attacks did not stop so many of the demonstrators from continuing to demonstrate, peacefully. And many people were flocking to the square in support.
The “hospital” is a tiny corner street mosque, in a back alley. A few square meters. There are a few injured people, resting on blankets on the floor, under cardboard signs designating areas for the different departments. Bone injuries are the most obvious as they have casts. A number of other head injuries with bandages over their eyes, or foreheads, possibly from all the rocks thrown at them by government thugs.
The volunteers in the hospital are very grateful. They are sorting out the supplies. There are many plastic bags with supplies. I apologized for not finding any “surgical thread” at the pharmacy. The doctors said they don’t need any more. Good! That means they sewed up the big wounds. As I drop the few supplies I got, I look around the small busy space. The pigeon holes, where people leave their shoes as they enter the mosque, are filled with different medicines, and supplies. Piles more are gathering in front of the volunteers to sort. It’s so heartwarming to see that so many people came throughout the night and the morning to donate, and to help, and many more were flocking in. While I was there, one of the doctors climbed on a plastic stool and said. “What we currently need is two laptops and two people to enter data about the injured.” I call a friend to inform her about what’s needed. She finds people who can donate a laptop, but needs more information. I go back to the hospital and ask for details. One of the young doctors explain that they don’t want a donation of a laptop, just one they can use to enter data about the people they are treating, and other patients that were taken to other locations in case people are looking for them. They also wanted someone to start a facebook page for the hospital, so that they can share the info of the people they have been treating since the beginning of the uprising. I want to volunteer for the job. I can type fast, but I am not an expert with Excel program. A few minutes after I get back on the square I hear on the microphone that they found two volunteers to do the data entry, and they are still waiting for the laptops.
The guy on the microphone, I couldn’t see his face because of the thick crowds, repeated a few times that under no circumstance people should collect money. Whatever they need, they announce and people provide it. No money collection. The crowd cheered and clapped.
It’s close to noon, and the square is filling up with people. Definitely more than the number present at the same hour the day before.
I walk around the square many of the pavements on the far side, where the major attacks happened, are gone. The street tiles were pulled out and used by the demonstrator to defend themselves in their night fight.
While I stand near the Egyptian National Museum that the demonstrators protected from the petroleum bombs of the thugs last night, I hear a loud banging sound. A young man is using a stick to bang on the metal street fence. Another man picks up a metal bar and starts to bang. It takes me a moment to realize what’s going on. The watchmen on the rooftops of the surrounding buildings saw pro-government crowds trying to enter the square. They warn the watchmen on the ground, who bang the fence to alert the demonstrators. Flocks of men come to that area, to stop the thugs from infiltrating the square. Impressive! The young demonstrators are protecting the National Museum, the square and our future.
Seeing these enduring, well-organized demonstrators, still hanging in there with faith in change, even after a horrific night of defending themselves gives me so much hope for Egypt and the Egyptians.
This is dampened by the news about the thugs circling the square, intimidating people and preventing them from getting in, and confiscating the food and medical supplies. I was waiting to hear from a friend who was driving in with a car full of food and supplies, so I can gather people and go pick it up from him. He called to say the thugs took everything from them!
One of my students called to say that they weren’t letting her into the square and were telling her that there are gunshots and people are being arrested inside. Another had to walk three miles to find an easier place to enter. He was intimidated by a guy who is carrying a sword. Yes, as sword. Yesterday they attacked on horseback and camelback, today swords. Which century do they belong to?
Another friend who lives nearby comes to the square in the morning and in the evening. Today he couldn’t enter in the evening. The thugs stopped him and accused him of being Israeli. They took him to an Army officer, who “advised” him to go back home.
I made it home safely. Tired. More hopeful than in the morning, but worried about tomorrow. The eleventh day. The Friday of Departure. It’s going to be a turning point. Please direct your prayers to Egypt and to Peace on Friday. I know the people defending their rights in a decent life will be triumphant. I deeply hope their path to change will be peaceful.
(Sorry if my sentences are incoherent or unclear. It’s been a very long week, with little sleep.)
Dalia Basiouny
Cairo, 3 Feb 2011

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