Sunday started with a dead body and ended up with a tiring long string of check points.
Again the days have merged and there was no telling which was today and which was the day before. But sometime early morning, we got a tip through twitter that a dead body was thrown out by a police car in Mounira.
I woke up Ian Lee, my colleague and DNE video journalist and we headed out. We drove, parked in Zamalek and walked to Tahrir. People who set up barricades on the street leading from Qasr El-Nil Bridge to Tahrir were checking IDs of the few who wanted to get into the now-iconic site of mass demonstrations in central Cairo.
At 8 am, thousands were still there chanting, calling for Mubarak to step down, under the watchful eyes of the army. From the looks of it, they had all camped in Tahrir overnight.
The street between Al-Mogamma and The American University in Cairo was flooded with water. Further up on Al-Qasr Al-Aini Street, army had a forceful presence. Tanks and soldiers lined the once busy street that houses the Parliament, the cabinet and leads to many ministries including the Interior. A couple of burnt down security trucks on the side were a reminder of the clashes between civilians and the police.
In a side street following that of the parliament, a group of three men in their 40s and 50s were standing as part of the neighborhood watch. At the time we were there, civilians policed all the side and back streets, with army nowhere to be found except on Qasr Al-Aini and the area surrounding the Ministry of Interior.
Cars coming out of the ministry that morning had shot at the neighborhood watch, wounding one of them, the men told us. Their theory was that top police officers who had been hiding there since Friday evening or even before wanted to flee but were scared of the now-empowered citizens. The unspoken feeling was that the days of corruption, torture and intimidation were over.
One of the tree men, who identified himself as a top executive in a multinational bank (details removed upon his request), told us about the dead body. A sliver Toyota without registration plates threw it at checkpoint and ran. At the following check point, neighborhood watch checked the driver who presented them with a police ID, state security. The men assure me they saw the ID. After letting him pass, they found the men manning the earlier checkpoints running after the car, telling them they shouldn’t have let the car passed.
The body had a gunshot wound in the abdomen. It wasn’t bleeding, the men stressed. The man must have died earlier and was later shot to cover up the cause of death, they theorized.
The body that was thrown outside the Mounira Police Station was left there for 3-4 hours. The Mounira Hospital refused to come collect it, saying it was the responsibility of the Morgue. Their hands were already full treating the wounded. A resident in the area told us later that a car from the hospital took it.
Residents had covered it in a bed sheet, in a sign of respect for the dead.
The Trip Home
After spending two nights at the office, it was time to go back home. My mother has been home alone (my father has been stranded in Alexandria and my brother has been helping me over the past couple of days). We couldn’t print the paper on Friday, after the 6 pm curfew was imposed at 5.30. The mobile networks and the internet were down. We wanted to print it on Sunday. We did.
This meant we had to be done by 3.30 so we can deliver our content on CD by hand to the printer. For someone who constantly works under tight deadline, Sunday’s was one of the most challenging.
We did put the paper up and managed to restore our website and update it from reporters based in the office and spread across the city. But it was after 5 when we left the office. Civil checkpoints were already set up more than an hour ago. Men from our street walked in front of two cars carrying reporters and editors to clear our way to the main road. There, the man heading the neighborhood watch, a physician, rode in our car to take us through.
The area was the most organized neighborhood watch I had seen that day. As we stopped at a checkpoint on every corner, he gave instructions to the men manning it. A new system and a new color of identifying headbands were being used that night. Systems had to be changed to avoid infiltrators.
The 6 October Bridge was eerily empty. We were advised to speed through. Salah Salem Road was manned by army and republic guards. Checkpoints and detours. Checkpoints, search and detours. Checkpoints and detours. It seemed never ending.
The area leading to and surrounding the presidential palace was completely sealed off by tanks. Once inside Heliopolis, civil checkpoints reigned.
I’m not easily scared, but the unexpectedness of the process left us tense. There was no way of knowing who is manning the next checkpoints. Each area had its own set of codes and systems and we had to adapt to their requests. The most important thing is to keep car saloon light on and drive slowly.
And some men, who were standing there for the second or third night in a row, were understandably tense too. One man thought he had the right to rebuke us for staying out this late, it was 7 pm.
We finally made it home. Our friends in the other car, who had ventured further in Heliopolis took an extra hour of civil and army checkpoints.
Once home, I was glad that the demonstrations in Tahrir were oblivious to the curfew that has paralyzed the city that never slept. The chants for Mubarak to step down were still loud. Our reporter there was heading to the office to put together a video report.
Thoughts & analysis
Now the curfew has been moved to 3 pm. This means that people have to empty the streets earlier and civil protection have a longer period of time to cover. The army made it clear on Sunday that it was serious about imposing the curfew, unlike the two previous days. But contrary to what State TV had suggested –that the armed forced would firmly deal with violators – the army didn’t arrest anyone; it was merely checking cars/pedestrians, albeit rigorously.
In addition to reports that citizens have been arresting thugs that turn out to be police, other factors led me to believe that the state of fear spread across the capital is a government tactic. The looting that happened on Friday after police disappeared with the curfew was somewhat plausible. People needed money and it was sitting there unguarded. According to TV interviews, some men with no criminal background found others looting and joined.
But it doesn’t make any sense for a thief, who is by nature a coward, to see all the men armed with batons, knifes, guns and other professional and makeshift weapons and yet tries to engage. Many of the areas guarded are mainly residential, which means that looting would be difficult and money and valuables aren’t guaranteed to be there, unlike stores.
Looters were surprisingly aware of all store locations in all areas as if they have studied them and planned for the thefts for months before that. Also implausible.
Someone suggested that many people are now concerned with protecting their homes than they are with protesting. It’s true for many people, even though demonstrations haven’t waned. But they definitely could’ve been stronger.
Police is said to be deploying back in the country after three days of complete absence. Whether it’ll re-engage with protesters is yet to be seen. Clashes with police, especially with those left near the ministry of interior have already left at least a hundred dead. And people are not backing down.
(I didn’t even have time to give this a second read. Sorry for any mistakes)