The lion and the lion tamer
They say that the relationship between a dictator and the people of his country is like that of a lion tamer and a lion; the lion tamer knows that the lion could eat him at any point. In fact, everyone knows that the lion could eat him at any point, apart from the lion itself. Yesterday, the Egyptian people awoke from a lion’s slumber.
January 25th, officially a public holiday in Egypt to “celebrate” the police, had been named a ‘day of anger’ by Egyptian activists. But no-one could have predicted the day’s events; thousands took to the streets, across the country, and chants of ‘down, down Mubarak!” rang throughout Cairo. Not bad, when you are living in a police state.
I was in Cairo around this time last year, on my way to the Gaza Strip. The friend I was staying with got two house calls from state security forces that week; she didn’t let them in, but was threatened with rape via the intercom nonetheless.
“They have accused me of everything since I travelled to Palestine earlier in the year,” she told me during one conversation, “working for Hamas, then working for Israel, then buying weapons for Hamas…” It is these absurd schools of thought you have to resort to when you consider every one of your citizens to be a potential suspect.
President Hosni Mubarak certainly has reasons to be watching his back; with over $1.5 billion of US aid recieved in 2010, over half the population live in poverty. It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out the facts.
Yesterday, several demonstrations in Cairo converged on the main Tahrir Square. By evening, it had been re-named ‘Liberation Square’ by the thousands of Egyptians who still occupied it. In a country where protests without permission are usually much smaller and quickly crushed by the police, the scenes were truly astounding.
Mubarak and his gang reacted by trying to keep the news suppressed; Twitter was suspended, and several mobile phone networks were reported down. The plan failed, as activists set up proxy servers to keep getting reports out, and protests continued in Alexandria, Mahalia, Port Said and, of course, Cairo.
As the night progressed, the occupation of Tahrir Square continued. At around midnight, reports began to emerge of the police making mass arrests at the Square. In response, demonstrators broke out of the police cordons and began marching around the streets of central Cairo.
Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas, who was present at the protests, claimed during interviews that he had seen police setting fire to cars, perhaps with a view to later blame the damage on demonstrators. It would not be the first time.
Earlier in the day, videos of the police using tear gas and water cannons against protestors were released on the Internet. I hope the videos were posted anonymously; in Alexandria, last June, 28 year-old Khaled Said was beaten to death after posting a video of local police apparently dividing the spoils from a drugs bust. His plight, and the hundreds of activists ‘disappeared’ each year at the hands of Mubarak’s security apparatus, are amongst those the people of Egypt are rising up for.
Two demonstrators were killed in the city of Suez yesterday, and the intermittent reports of mobile phone network and Internet black-outs seems to be an ominous sign of more to come. This year will mark the thirty-first consecutive year since a ‘state of emergency’ was officially declared in Egypt in 1981. Mr. Mubarak, not even that will save you now.Tagged in: Cairo, egypt, gaza, Hosni Mubarak, Wael Abbas
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter