Egypt, Revolutionary Dispatches

27 January, 2011 – Eve of the Day of Anger

An uneasy calm has settled over Cairo this evening. Police presence is concentrated around the most sensitive and likely demonstration locations and abandoned the barricades across the side streets of downtown in all likelihood to rest and prepare for tomorrow’s protest actions. I have developed a small band of friends and colleagues with a common disposition toward the events of these days. Our nature is to seek out the action, not merely as gawking bystanders but because we feel we need to contribute in any way we can to the cause; for us this means gathering and disseminating as much information as possible, as quickly as possible. Tonight, three days since the call for revolution was issued, we walked the streets of Cairo, searching for demonstrations and monitoring the situations that are locked down. The Syndicate of Journalists, the origin of yesterday’s explosive events, has been cordoned off by riot police standing shoulder to shoulder in the street. While yesterday the authorities were allowing people to gather directly in front and join as long as they were not adding to the occupied space, today they have a strangle hold which seems to be impermeable.
Thursday evening is the Friday night of Egypt, the end of the work week and when Egyptians typically pour out onto the streets to window shop, eat ice cream, and sit in cafes. Tonight was much like a normal night in Cairo, except the plastic lawn chairs in the outdoor cafes were sparsely filled and one could stay on the sidewalk with out having to wind between the usual crowds of families and teenagers. People went about there normal business, there were just far fewer of them. As our hope of stumbling upon a spontaneous protest waned we walked toward home up Talat Harb street, the center avenue of the downtown shopping district.  Nearing Tahrir square, the site of Tuesday’s opening protest when 20,000 people supplanted  the maze of traffic to call for reform, there was a dramatic change in ambiance as we passed four police trucks full of the young foot soldiers who comprise this force. Drinking tea, smoking cigarettes, and chatting with passersby, the are an unassuming yet foreboding presence. The blocks surrounding the square resembled a shadow of themselves: every other store closed, sidewalks nearly empty of pedestrians, no street vendors save the permanent newsstands.
Arriving home eager to read the press and check for updates online I found no internet connection, checking connections, quitting, reopening, restarting, rebooting the router, only to confirm that the sneaking suspicion was a disturbing reality: the internet had been completely shut down. Not facebook or twitter now, not even Al Jazeera or other international news outlets, but all access had been blocked. Egyptians journalists have been arrested away from the scene of protests. We are consulting demonstration guides, learning how to combat tear gas and making contingency plans. The police have vanished from the streets and the night is eerily quiet. I am writing this not knowing when or how I will be able to communicate it to the outside world. Sms has also been disrupted and the strange feeling of normalcy that I had maintained to this point has vacated my being.


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