Uprising on the Nile

Inspired by the popular uprising which began in Tunisia in December 2010, the people of Egypt rose up in protest against the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak in January and February 2011, resulting in Mubarak’s resignation and exile. Bill Barazzuol, an eye-witness to the events, filed this report. Edited by Ray Culos.

January 25th, 2011
The successful Jasmine Revolution of Tunisia ignited The Lotus Revolution of Egypt. I find myself unabashedly smack in the middle of this historic uprising. Although today dawned quietly, it soon became evident that our universe was now centred at Tahrir Square. As the ground swell of protest manifested itself into a full-scale revolutionary movement, I feared that the majority of Egyptians would, as in the past, cower in the face of government intimidation, cruelty and vindictiveness. But not on this day. Inspired and propelled by the magic of social media technology, Egypt’s youth began to mobilize to the chant of “Death or Freedom.” Sensing the gravity of the situation, I prepared for a siege. I bought ample supplies of water, food and candles. I also filled my bathtub and a garbage container with water for domestic use, just in case.

January 30th
Most of the foreigners have been evacuated, but I continue to be resolute. Banks are closed and supplies of food and water are increasingly difficult to acquire as only a few retail stores remain open. Electricity and water are intermittently turned off without notice. Schools and universities are closed; streets are blocked, and a rigid curfew is in force between 3:00 P.M. and 8:00 A.M. The military is ubiquitous while unconscionable thugs stealthily go about looting. Chaos reigns supreme.

Last Friday was the worst day so far. I estimate that security police shot about 300 protesters. A doctor friend reported that his hospital received large numbers of people who were blinded in one or both eyes when indiscriminately fired shotgun pellets pierced the retina of their eyes. If such atrocities persist, the country’s final casualty toll surely will be in the thousands. In a nearby village I witnessed police firing on protesters. In the aftermath, I counted 15 bullet riddled bodies. Shockingly and without warning, a gas canister exploded at my feet. The toxic vapours stung the hell out of my eyes and caused me to convulse violently. Composing myself, I fled to the safety of my home.

Following this harrowing experience, many of the locals began guarding their respective communities. As many as 300 men regularly patrol their areas with clubs and shotguns to protect their families and property from encroaching looters. Many of these despicable characters, purposely released from prison by state security officials, terrorize non-compliant citizens. This intimidating tactic prevails throughout Egypt. Women and children remain locked in their homes while men patrol adjacent streets. With a cobra club at my side, I too have been standing vigil in my neighbourhood. We build fires and huddle around them to stave off the night’s chill. Occasional bursts of shotgun fire serve as a warning to suspected interlopers. Any suspicious behaviour prompts a chorus of whistled signals which bring supporters rushing to the scene.

One night a group of misinformed citizens, supported by a platoon of soldiers, accosted non-Egyptians including myself. Although we protested, we were summarily marched to army headquarters. However, once our I.D. cards were checked, the commanding officer apologized for the inconvenience before letting us go. Having heard of the atrocities often inflicted upon detainees at police and military prisons, I said a quick prayer to God for our release.

February 2nd
The Civil War truly started last night. Many people were killed and upwards to a thousand peaceful protesters injured. Armed with live ammunition, men on horses and camels galloped through the crowd. In some sections firebombs were used to create havoc. With swords and knives drawn, others attacked the Tahrir Square protesters head on. Goon squads, comprised of state security men dressed in plain clothes, roam the city threatening citizens with the prospect of torture should they not support their president. It is now only safe for foreigners to venture out from their homes at night. When I go out, I’m armed. This is the reality of the situation. When on patrol duty with my neighbours I’m ever watchful of marauding goons. Like the majority of the Egyptian people, I know no fear. Although I will exercise caution, I plan to see this epic journey through to the end.

February 6th
Today is “The Day of the Martyrs.” The emblematic cross and crescent are united today. And in many squares throughout Egypt, Coptic priests and Moslem imams hold hands while each prays in his unique manner for the repose of the souls of those killed. The new minister of health has said 11 have died; the U.N. has said up to 300 lives have been taken throughout the land. Other sources claim the figure to be in the thousands. Personally, I have counted 18 bodies, all killed by government bullets or struck down by military trucks.

February 11th
Immediately following Vice-President Omar Suleiman’s announcement that Hosni Mubarak had resigned as president, the scene at Tahrir Square turned cosmic. Shortly before hearing the extraordinary news, around 500 of us found ourselves jammed tight at the entrance to the square. The process of gaining entry soon slowed to a trickle because of the maze of check-point barricades we had to navigate. Protesters and officials searched for weapons and scrutinized our IDs before we could proceed. Excitedly, hundreds of us scrambled over the fence, ran past the seven barricades, and joined the jubilant masses.

When Egypt won the Africa Soccer Cup, millions of Cairenes erupted into joyous celebration in every street and square in Cairo. Tonight was better than winning ten Africa Cups in one evening! Hearing the massive crowd chanting repeatedly “Freedom” and “Horreyia” was truly awe-inspiring. Singing, circle dancing and ululating, defined the ecstatic joy and spontaneous celebration of the people. Fireworks exploded everywhere. Food, candies and drink were passed out to all. A people had been freed; freed at last.

“Egypt is free, God is great!”

Bill Barazzuol is a second-generation Italian Canadian and retired teacher from Vancouver. After an absence of 30 years, he returned to Egypt in 2004 to fulfill his dream of studying Egyptology at the American University of Cairo. Presently, he teaches Ancient and Modern Egyptian History and administrates the education program at the American City College on Gezira, an island in the middle of the Nile River. From this vantage point, Bill became an eyewitness to the recent freedom-charged mass uprising centred in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

First published in Accenti Magazine, Issue 21.

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