I want to focus on what I saw behind ‘enemy’ lines in #Abaseyya. I spent the majority of the time there behind the military line and in the alleyways of Abaseyya behind the lines that were clashing with the procession. My conversations with others have illustrated to me how different my experience and perceptions were and so I will share them here. I will try to give as much detail as possible, particularly as relating to timing, in the hopes that this narrative can be linked up to the stories from the other side of the events.
A quick word on the procession, first. My sister and I caught up with the procession as it passed the Gomhoreyya building around 1730. As we moved forward in the procession, it became increasingly clear that there were thousands of people and that it was somehow gaining momentum. Hossam also reports the gathering mass after they left tahrir. The size is evident in my photos, particularly when i stopped before Ghamra, starting at the front of the procession and photographed the entire procession as it passed this point. There have been estimates as high as 50,000, but those seem a little over the top. But, as i tweeted, it was easily a kilometer long and many thousands strong.
The procession arrived at Game3 il Noor around 18:30 to find the entrance to #Abaseyya blocked by barbed wire and a row of military Fahd armored vehicles. I took a few pictures then wandered down an alley, wondering if there was a way around the barricade. I spent the next 2.5 hours behind them in abaseyya square or in the alleyways behind ‘enemy’ lines.
As i turned left back towards the square, there was a bit of commotion (will get right back to that). I kept going towards the square and emerged with the back of the military barricade less than 20 meters to my left and the upramp in front of me. Frankly, for the first half hour or so, with noone really aware of where i was, i was pretty anxious. With my backpack and camera slung over my shoulder, i kind of stuck out.
Anyway, the commotion: Civilians were running into the alley. I stepped to the side and pushed on. A group of soldiers were coming around to block the entrance from the alley. I’m sure i’m not the only one that had thought to investigate the sidestreets and at this point and , no doubt, local residents and passersby were gathering to watch. The soldiers were later followed by an APC that stood moved in to the entrance of the alley. As i emerged into the space, there was a woman holding a red-white-and-black banner that was being turned away and shut up by plainclothed people that didnt have that malicious and organized feel of the security apparatuses. I think she had a guy with her and they walked up the bridge and away.
However, a few minutes later i did tweet about plainclothed thugs working with the military. I immediately regretted the terminology, because if there’s one thing i’ve learnt over my summer in Egypt, is that everyone can seem like a baltagy. Right before seven i could see commotion. I caught sight of something falling from the tall building on the left (across from the mosque) and there was clearly some sort of clash between the protesters and somebody to the left. At this point, there were also a couple of projectiles thrown from behind the military line into the protesters. I can say that they military tried to stop them, albeit halfheartedly. At some point, a big-looking plainclothed guy in a reddish polo shirt was dragged from my right (at the mosque side) and stuffed into one of the APCs on the front line. I dont know what if anything happened to him later as I was distracted by the immediacy of unfolding events. By 19:00 i was reporting the military shooting into the air. I have no idea if they were live or not. But they were shooting upwards. This is also when I started to hear the crackling of tasers.
A couple of minutes later i saw an MP being carried back, his body unresponsive and stuffed into an ambulance that was waiting in the square. I took a picture of another MP whose leg seemed to be injured. They sat him on the sidewalk right under where i was standing on the upramp. At this point there were a couple of #CSF lines behind the military line, guarding the road that leads into the square. As the sun was setting it became increasingly difficult for me to see what was going on with the protesters. Around 19:00, a jeep parked under where i was standing out of which a dozen MPS armed their guns with ammo. I dont know whether or not this was live ammo nor if they subsequently used it.
A few minutes later, around the maghreb adhan and prayer, another 6 or 7 #CSF trucks rolled in from Abaseyya. I saw soldiers disembark and line up in several rows from at least a couple of trucks before i decided to see if i could get a better view of the clashes.
I subsequently wandered around the backstreets, essentially on the other side of the battle. I must confess i did not see all of the multiple fronts as a few were inaccessible. I did not see any of the CSF forces. And I did not see what i would call plainclothed police thugs. I’m not refuting that there may have been instigators or thugs; just saying that I did not see them.
What I did see, and this is what i want to emphasize in this post, is local residents organizing to defend their neighborhood from what they perceived as a violent assault. I saw young teens running around with cases to collect glass bottles for the front. I saw youth searching for and finding gas to make molotov cocktails. I saw the same youth guiding passersby, asking them where they wanted to go and telling them whether and how they could get there safely or hiding them in buildings and shopfronts until the violence calmed down. I saw the local shop owners and residents hanging out around building entryways and in balconies supporting these youth, morally and materially, as they protected their neighborhood. I also saw a burning vehicle in the first side street that led opened onto the front of the military barricade. My impression is that youth (excitable as they may have been), bystanders and local residents were unhappy that this was happening. My impression, however, was that everyone was in support of the youth that, as far as i can tell, were fighting against the mass of protesters in front of the mosque whom all the locals perceived to be attacking them.
I went back and forth a couple of times from the alleys to the square. I watched and engaged in many conversations among civilians and with the military officers. In general, almost everyone was against the procession and the situation. Some thought the protesters were there to attack them for the second time (after the 22nd) and were ready to fuck them till they stopped coming back and stayed in #tahrir. These voices were usually moderated by the rest of the spectrum. Outright opposition to the #tahrir sit-ins was a minority, if vocal view. Most others were in support of the #jul8 demands. Some thought it was time to see what new cabinet will do. Some were in support of the sit-ins but against the people that came to #abaseyya and/or the Ministry of Defense (#MOD). There was a lot of the army-support that is prevalent in Egypt and may people just didnt like the idea of be against the military. Some, were in support of the procession but thought that there were bad seeds in the midst of the procession and that they were the cause of all of this.
Two last notable incidents: First, there was a lot of commotion and action regarding some female. I never saw her. Apparently they had suspected her because of camera and had somehow found dollars on her. This plainclothed person on the top of the APC is the only non-army person allowed near the vehicles (even a CSF cop that wandered too close had his ass handed to him).
Second, not long after and not long before 21:00, the cilivians behind the military broke out into “il geish wil sha3b eed wa7da” for a few minutes before their chanting petered out.
In any case,some time around 9pm I was back at the corner of the mosque and the barricade. I smelled teargas and looked around to find everyone’s eyes tearing, soldiers and citizens. The military guard that was in the mosques’s courtyard had moved back away from the gas. I jumped the fence and rejoined the rest of the mass at this point. I investigated the aftermath of the battle. A little later, I had gone back to the front to begin to gather people so we could head to tahrir with safety in numbers. Some stupid kid threw a rock and suddenly there was a shower of projectiles in both directions between the abaseyya residents and the protesters. I spent the next half hour or so trying, with others among both protesters and locals, to quiet it down. Finally, I left #abaseyya with the last people (as far as we know). The Nour mosque corridor was shut behind us as we turned back to #tahrir in the moonshadow of the 6th of October bridge.
Overall, I was very saddened by the way that events panned out. It saddens me that people were fighting each other for no good reason. Each side was of the perception that they were (nobly, if deeds are to be judged by intentions) defending themselves from the attacks of thugs. It saddens me that there is so much anger and still so much pent up dissatisfaction and a sense of no recourse but oneself, that people will become violent in an instant. It saddens me to see the willful manipulation of public thought by the military junta and at the very best their standing idly by as their people fight each other over nothing. It saddens me to see confirmation of my fear that there will much more violence than that of the 18 days before, and if, this revolution is to be carried through to its denouement.
For the whole set of my pics, CLICK HERE