Thursday, February 03, 2011

blood and fear in cairo streets

The Independent | "President" Hosni Mubarak's counter-revolution smashed into his opponents yesterday in a barrage of stones, cudgels, iron bars and clubs, an all-day battle in the very centre of the capital he claims to rule between tens of thousands of young men, both – and here lies the most dangerous of all weapons – brandishing in each other's faces the banner of Egypt. It was vicious and ruthless and bloody and well planned, a final vindication of all Mubarak's critics and a shameful indictment of the Obamas and Clintons who failed to denounce this faithful ally of America and Israel.

The fighting around me in the square called Tahrir was so terrible that we could smell the blood. The men and women who are demanding the end of Mubarak's 30-year dictatorship – and I saw young women in scarves and long skirts on their knees, breaking up the paving stones as rocks fell around them – fought back with an immense courage which later turned into a kind of terrible cruelty.

Some dragged Mubarak's security men across the square, beating them until blood broke from their heads and splashed down their clothes. The Egyptian Third Army, famous in legend and song for crossing the Suez Canal in 1973, couldn't – or wouldn't – even cross Tahrir Square to help the wounded.

As thousands of Egyptians shrieking abuse – and this was as close to civil war as Egypt has ever come – swarmed towards each other like Roman fighters, they simply overwhelmed the parachute units "guarding" the square, climbing over their tanks and armoured vehicles and then using them for cover.

One Abrams tank commander – and I was only 20 feet away – simply ducked the stones that were bouncing off his tank, jumped into the turret and battened down the hatch. Mubarak's protesters then climbed on top to throw more rocks at their young and crazed antagonists.

I guess it's the same in all battles, even though guns have not (yet) appeared; abuse by both sides provoked a shower of rocks from Mubarak's men – yes, they did start it – and then the protesters who seized the square to demand the old man's overthrow began breaking stones to hurl them back. By the end of the day there were reports of three deaths in Cairo, and widespread accounts that the pro-Mubarak crowds were deliberately targeting Western journalists.