Mona Prince’s diary from eighteen days in Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring.
Protests erupted in Egypt over the weekend after Hosni Mubarak was cleared of conspiring to murder 846 protesters during the 25 January Revolution, 2011. Though small, and in spite of a law banning unauthorised demonstrations, a protest soon gathered close to Tahrir Square – the symbolic heart of the 2011 revolt – with both liberals and Islamists calling for freedom. Two people were killed and nine were wounded on Saturday evening when security forces fired teargas and birdshot to disperse about 1,000 protesters who attempted to enter the Square. An echo of revolution could be heard.
Out now in the UK, Mona Prince’s Revolution is My Name (translated by Samia Mehrez) chronicles first-hand the iconic 18 days that eventually toppled Mubarak. A testament to the moments of triumph over the status quo, Prince discusses all the important issues with which Egypt and Egyptians of different class, gender, generation, ethnicity and political orientation continue to struggle with.
The edited extract below relays the events of February 2 when Mubarak supporters confronted protesters in Tahrir Square.
Hosni Mubarak Speech: February 1, 2011
I have never been in pursuit of power or fortune… The people know the difficult circumstances under which I shouldered the responsibility… and what I have given to the homeland in war and in peace. I am a military man and would never betray what I have been entrusted with nor would I abandon my sense of duty and responsibility. Hosni Mubarak, the man who is addressing you today, is proud of the years he spent in the service of Egypt and its people. This dear country is my homeland, just as it is the homeland of every other Egyptian. I have lived in it and have gone to war for it; I have defended its land, its sovereignty, and its interests. It is on this land that I will die. History will judge me and others, for better or worse.
Afternoon: February 2, 2011
On my way back to Tahrir, one of my girlfriends called me and told me not to come back, ‘Tahrir is full of shooting, glass, and stone throwing.’ But I wanted to go back. I wanted to take part and help. I could see that the thugs were on all the streets in Downtown. They really looked like paid thugs, straight out of the slums. Some young men were marching with a badly written sign that said: ‘The Youth of Duwiqa are Loyal to Mubarak, the Faithful Leader.’ They were chanting for Mubarak. I was scared of them, but I didn’t know what else to do but go back to Tahrir. I got to the tank and stood by it for protection. The thugs also stood by the tank and started to insult the protestors in Tahrir. One of the soldiers said to me, ‘Get out of here. Don’t go to Tahrir.’ So I held on to his arm and said, ‘I want to go in. Help me go in.’
I was standing in the middle of the midan, talking to people and to my friends. The numbers were not very big and people were scattered. One of my girlfriends called me and said, ‘They’re coming to get you on camelback.’ So I laughed and said, ‘What camels?’ She said, ‘Now, seriously, there’s a lot of camels.’ I kept on laughing. Then my sister arrived, looking terrified because she had seen them in Mohandiseen near the Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque. They had knives and swords and had surrounded her and her friends and started insulting them. As I stood there, I suddenly saw large groups of people entering the midan on foot from almost all the entry points until they got to Hardee’s. They kept swearing at the protestors and started ripping the posters and the signs that we had hung up. Then, in came the camels.
I was standing by the museum. I suddenly saw the camels arriving. I couldn’t believe my eyes. And I crossed over to the other side to take photographs of the show. But suddenly, I was face to face with a camel and the guy riding it started brandishing his sword at me. I ran away as fast as I could.
In the beginning, people didn’t understand what was happening, but once they did, they started jumping on top of the camels and the horses, forcing their riders off and then arresting them. They searched one of them in front of me and discovered that he was a police sergeant. Then they handed them over to the army and people tied the camels to the tanks that were stationed in Tahrir Street.
The soldier helped me into Tahrir. I saw a shower of stones raining down on people. I saw a friend of mine collecting stones. She said, ‘Help the demonstrators and start collecting stones.’ I hesitated for a moment and said, ‘But we are peaceful demonstrators.’ She said, ‘They’re killing us.’ So I started collecting stones in empty boxes of bottled water and in plastic bags. We handed them over from one group to another until the stones reached the frontlines. After a while, a man told us, ‘The women should stay in the back.’ So we said, ‘It’s none of your business. We are your equals in this country.’ Other men also answered him saying, ‘Yes, they are just like us. Let them help collect the stones.’ Another man kept insisting that we retreat, ‘No, they go to the back. We die first.’ My friend and I started laughing despite ourselves. My friend replied, ‘We either live together or die together.’ And we continued collecting stones. The older women and children began pounding the stones against the metal railing, just like drums of war. A man sitting beside us was in the process of making something that we initially couldn’t quite discern. We discovered that he was creating strange helmets with empty cardboard boxes and plastic water bottles. He then tied them at ear level with a rope and gave them to people to wear on their heads.
At first, many people were injured because no one really understood what was happening. Then the tanks by the museum and Midan Abdel Moneim Riyad moved a bit to make way for the thugs and the soldiers disappeared inside the tanks. We found ourselves face to face with the thugs. Intuitively, people began organizing themselves. We found ourselves holding each other’s hands to create lines and move forward together. Some people were making roadblocks with the railings and the charred parts of the vehicles left in the midan since Friday. Those at the frontlines were throwing stones. When people were injured, they retreated, and others carried them to the makeshift clinic, while others still replaced them. Sometimes even the injured went back after the doctors in the clinic had treated their injuries. All those who were there, whether simple people, ordinary youth, or Ultras, all were saying that this was our final battle and that we had to hold on to the midan. If we withstood the attack, we would prevail.
I came early with two of my friends from Zamalek and we stayed in the midan for a while. Our numbers were less than the million-man march of the day before. Some people were sitting in the garden, kids were playing, others were chatting as they strolled around the midan. We decided to go to see Pierre in his ninth-floor apartment. Many people of different ages were there. Suddenly, we heard a lot of noise. We went to the balcony and saw Mubarak’s thugs arriving in great numbers through Talaat Harb and Tahrir streets, and other entry points as well. They were smashing cars on their way. I was nailed to the ground and was petrified. I started to scream. Suddenly, an officer started shooting in the air, so the thugs retreated and began throwing stones from a distance. He shot another two bullets in the air. People started chanting, ‘The army and the people are one hand,’ and they got on top of the tanks and started hugging the soldiers and the officer. People then started collecting stones and pressed forward and were able to chase the thugs all the way to Midan Talaat Harb. But they tried to come back. People continued to collect stones to throw at the thugs. These skirmishes went on for a while until the thugs finally went elsewhere. Then people started chanting ‘The people demand the removal of the regime.’ We chanted along with them as we stood on the balcony. They attacked again on other streets and on Qasr al-Nil Bridge. Whenever people at the entry points saw groups of thugs, they would pound on the metal railings to alert those inside the midan so that they could get ready. I wanted to go home, but I was too scared to go out. A group of young people went out to help the injured—there were many. Another group was making lentil soup in a huge pot in the kitchen for the people in the midan.
Mubarak really has gone mad. ■