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Story Publication logo June 29, 2011

Fighting Breaks Out As Protests in Tahrir Square Continue


Image by Thomas Francis. Egypt, 2011.

In scenes reminiscent of the protests on January 25, demonstrators squared off against security forces in downtown Cairo late Tuesday night. Thousands of ordinary Egyptians, many of whom were caught by surprise at the events, converged on Tahrir Square, where pitched battles ensued between stone-throwing youths and the security forces of the interim military government.

Tear gas canisters flew through the air as the amn markazi, or central security services, attempted to clear the square of protesters, first from Mohamed Mahmoud Street, and then from adjacent Qasr el-Ainy Street. For at least an hour, from 11 p.m. until midnight, waves of stone-throwing youths, many bare-chested with their shirts covering their mouths, seemingly kept the security forces at bay. Large crowds within the square beat sticks on metal railings and chanted slogans calling for the resignation of Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the current head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, as the military transitional government is called.

The protests had begun when families of the approximately 850 people who died during battles with black-clad riot police earlier this year had demonstrated against the lack of police convictions at the Balloon Theater in Agouza district. Fifteen arrests were made, prompting the protesters to march on Tahrir. In the square, a further twenty arrests were made, causing the demonstration to swell and gather force.

In the small hours of Wednesday morning, exhausted or injured youths were periodically helped back from the frontlines by groups of men and women who hoisted the injured onto their shoulders before laying them down on the grassy reservoir at the center of the square. Doctors and at least one ambulance were in attendance, and doctors' telephone numbers were live-tweeted from the square for people to call in case of emergency.

Just before 1 a.m., the amn markazi succeeded in driving many from the square, as the painful residue from tear gas canisters caused disorientation and led many to retreat either in the direction of the nearby Egyptian Museum, or up neighboring streets. As of this writing—2 a.m.—the protests are ongoing—Egyptians across the city gather wind of the events in Tahrir and rush to the square in the largest protests since May 27, and the first nighttime pitched battles since the revolution that brought down the previous regime.

From at least 11 p. m. onwards, protesters prevented traffic from entering Tahrir, re-routing cars in the direction of the nearby riverside corniche. Upon entering the square, a few hundred predominantly male youths were chanting slogans in the direction of a central security services convoy about one hundred meters further up al-Tahrir Street. At the same time, demonstrators dashed pieces of cobblestone against the ground, breaking them up into projectile-sized rocks.

As the crowds swelled, so too did the number of cameras. Hundreds of amateur photojournalists missed no chance to capture the agony on faces as the injured limped or were dragged back to the relative sanctuary of the central square itself. Those suffering from the tear gas were quickly seen to by volunteers who applied Pepsi-soaked rags to the eyes of those in pain. Fights broke out among the protesters as individuals were accused of taking advantage of the moment to grope the many women, young and old, who gathered in the square. And people encircled spent tear gas canisters as soon as they ceased spewing gas in order to inspect the casings for incriminating source or origin markings.

As the central security forces fired volleys of gas canisters, the body of protesters repeatedly broke, turned and ran, before re-assembling ten or twenty meters away to stand its ground again. As word of the demonstrations spread, Egyptians from elsewhere in the city quickly gathered in the square to witness events.

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