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2011-02-04

Video Report on the Battle for Tahrir: An Inside Look at How Pro-Democracy Activists Reclaimed Tahrir Square After Attacks by Mubarak Forces

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On Thursday, pro-democracy activists ventured back to Tahrir Square, to reclaim the downtown Cairo public space, which had become a battleground in the effort to oust President Hosni Mubarak. Democracy Now! producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Hany Massoud walked through the streets, talking with Cairo residents—many who were injured from the attacks the day before—and witnessed the efforts to clean up the trash and rock-filled square while also organizing a system of grassroots resistance and community care programs to defend the square from pro-Mubarak forces who threatened to return. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to a report produced by Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Hany Massoud about the events that unfolded Wednesday night in Cairo after the "Battle of Tahrir."

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: It’s 10:00 a.m. on Thursday. We’re heading to Tahrir Square right now. Last night saw a coordinated campaign of violence by the Mubarak regime to try and remove the pro-democracy protesters from Tahrir Square. They attacked them with rocks. They attacked them on horseback and camel. They attacked them with Molotov cocktails. There’s reports between 1,200 and — between 600 and 1,200 injured. At least five have been killed. The Mubarakites have blocked several entrances to Tahrir. We’re going to try and get in and speak with some of those who are there, speak with the wounded and survivors. They’re vowing to stay until Mubarak leaves. Unclear what’s going to happen now, but we’re going to go and try and find out.

There are still a large number of people left. We’ve heard them speaking on channels like Al Jazeera. They’ve been tweeting out. Apparently, the scene is quite — a lot of people are wounded. They’re trying to tend to them in the square. They’re vowing to stay. And they are still coming under attack.

We’ve heard that the most likely way of getting in is across the Kasr al-Nile Bridge, which leads directly into Tahrir. Yesterday we tried to get in by that entrance, but it was blocked by a very hostile and intimidating crowd of pro-Mubarak thugs. And we’re going to see if we can make it through this time.

We’re just at the barrier from Kasr al-Nile, entering into Tahrir Square. As you can see on the ground here, it’s covered in rocks and stones. What one person just pointed out, he said, "Look, the sidewalk isn’t broken up. The street is not broken up. All of the rocks came from the other side." They were under siege yesterday by just a shower of rock fire. They’re trying to clean it up. They’re trying to create some sense of order now. People are bringing in food, water and medical supplies. And it really looks like a battlefield. This is not the same Tahrir that we were walking in every day since. This is different Tahrir, one that came under attack by Mubarak’s thugs. And we’re going to go see what happened.

Over here, you can see there’s these blue corrugated iron that was blocking off a construction area. Nearly a quarter of it is gone. And what the pro-democracy demonstrators have done is taken them to use as shields. They are using them as shields against the rock throwing and against the Molotov cocktails and all the attack that they were forced to come under.

PRO-DEMOCRACY PROTESTER: They used — actually, they used guns. They used many tools. They used rocks, stones, [inaudible]. Anything they use, actually. We had a very, very dark night for all the Egyptians. As I’ve told you previously, that President Mubarak doesn’t want to leave, unless he ruin all the Egyptians. He only is interested in his authority.

SELMA AL-TARZI: I’m Selma al-Tarzi. I’m just an Egyptian citizen coming to protest against Mubarak. And I would very much like to tell the world what happened here yesterday. It started off that around this time of the day, we started catching many, many people that got infiltrated, that were starting to talk to people against protesting. So we were — when we caught one, we would take him and kick him out peacefully. And then there came — they said there were pro-Mubarak demonstrators coming. So we said, OK, we’re not going to clash with them. They came here. We managed to push them out. Also, there was yet no violence. OK? And then we started getting calls that there were armed thugs coming. There were armed thugs coming, approaching the Kasr al-Nile Bridge and from the side of the museum. So we decided to secure all the entrances. But they came in thousands of thugs throwing stones and Molotov bombs at us, burning the trees and throwing big huge pieces of rocks. They were breaking the pavements and throwing pieces of the pavement at us.

And there were so many injured people that you cannot imagine. There was not a single ambulance here in the square, not a single ambulance. All we had was bottles of Betadine and some kleenex. And all what we could do is just pour some Betadine on the wounds, take them there over to our improvised hospital, and just hope for the best. We kept on calling whoever had a link with any international channel or satellite. We kept on calling them, telling them what’s happening, that there are no ambulances. Around 6:00 or 8:00 p.m., we started getting ambulance cars.

But meanwhile, the beating kept on going here, and they were throwing so much at us that the guys could not — we had to throw back the rocks. We had to throw rocks. And they got even more violent. And over there, this was a massacre, because over there, the museum, near the museum, they were also using firearms, like live bullets. And at the beginning, they were shooting down at the people and their legs. A lot of people had gunshots in their legs. But near the evening — I mean, at night, they started being obvious with their guns. There were machine guns. And they started shooting at people. And they were on top of the bridge. So they could basically — they were basically like snipers, because they were on top of the bridge, so they can aim at the people’s heads.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: So, he’s showing us a bullet that was fired last night, one of many. He says this is what was being fired on them all night yesterday. He’s saying they fired live ammunition from over on that side. They were on the rooftops firing down.

DAROOD SHARIF HAZIN: My name is Darood Sharif Hazin phon.. I’m here in this place from 10 days until now. I saw everything. I saw democracy and everything. These people, they are peaceful. They want democracy. They want to be free. The only way, the only things that they want, that they said, "Please, Mubarak, go out."

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And there’s blood on your jacket.

DAROOD SHARIF HAZIN: Yes, this is blood of these people.

UNIDENTIFIED: From the victims, many victims yesterday.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: How many?

DAROOD SHARIF HAZIN: Until now, 6,000. Until now.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Six thousand.

DAROOD SHARIF HAZIN: Yes, about 50 percent. [inaudible]

UNIDENTIFIED: And six died. Six died.

DAROOD SHARIF HAZIN: And six died.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And six are dead.

DAROOD SHARIF HAZIN: Six died, yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED: Six died by gunshot.

DAROOD SHARIF HAZIN: This is one of them.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And where — you have set up a makeshift hospital here?

DAROOD SHARIF HAZIN: No, this is —

UNIDENTIFIED: It’s just a small one.

DAROOD SHARIF HAZIN: Small center, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED: Yeah, just a small medical center, not very equipped, not good-equipped, not equipped enough. The bad victims and the bad injured victims, we transfer them to bigger hospitals, like Ain Shams Hospital or Kasralainy Hospital. But we — here, we do the best of our job — the best we can, we do it.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Can you take us to the hospital?

DAROOD SHARIF HAZIN: Yes, I can take you.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We’re on the edge of Tahrir Square. There are many rocks and stones that have littered the ground here. Army tanks are stationed, but they just stood by as Mubarak’s thugs came in on horseback and camel and attacked crowds. There’s many wounded here in slings. They are bandaged.

Here’s a child. He’s about five or six years old. He’s being fed yogurt by his mother. He’s bruised on the side of his face. I asked his mother what happened to him, and she said, "He’s a revolutionary. He’s fighting for his future."

So we’re walking now to the makeshift hospital that’s been set up inside a mosque, just around the corner around here. We’re in an alleyway around the corner from Tahrir. And right over here is the hospital where many wounded are being cared for.

This is the makeshift hospital that’s been set up. Inside this hospital, we see many wounded, different kinds of injuries — broken bones, broken hands, broken legs, many head injuries from rock throwing. And over here there’s a whole section for medical supplies that have been brought in. Some have been — many have been donated from people coming in to support this movement and support the struggle against Mubarak’s regime. It is quite a well-functioning clinic, but many, many have been wounded.

Here’s a man with a broken leg, broken arm. He’s casted. He’s wrapped up. He’s also got a bandage on his head. Blood is on his scarf.

And what kind of injuries are you seeing, Doctor Al-Roubi?

DR. AL-ROUBI: Many kinds of injuries: cut wounds, stab wounds and blunt wounds by piece of rocks. And also gunshots — yesterday, not today, ’til now. I don’t know. But ’til now, there is no gunshots.

SUZANNE EZMAT: My name is Suzanne Ezmat. I’m an Egyptology tour guide, by the way; I’m not a doctor. But I’m participating in helping doctors over here, as you can see, with physicians. And I’m a demonstrator. I started with the movement ever since it started. It started with tear gas, bombs and bullets, and now it’s ending with this massacre that you can see outside. But after participating in the intifada, the stone intifada, for two or three hours, we found that they needed our help here, so we came here.

We started around 3:00 in the afternoon until 3:00 in the morning. We saw every kind of wounds in these casualties — ruptured eye globe, stitches, people stabbed with knives, with swords, fractured skull, fractured arms, legs. Some of them was already unconscious. Some of them were dying. Some of them needing — were in need for respiration. And we couldn’t have any ambulances. And each time we called an ambulance, they came 40 to 45 minutes after, afterwards. They were already too late. And when they took the wounded to hospitals, we heard that orders were given by the Egyptian Ministry of Health not to receive wounded people from the demonstrators. So doctors had to go, using the cars of the demonstrators, to take the wounded people in critical cases to hospitals. And for myself, I saw around three to five which were already most probably dead, and others which were wounded, around 300 to 400.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We’re standing in the streets leading to Tahrir. They’ve formed three lines of defense. They called over an army, two soldiers, and it seems they have arrested a police officer — they’ve arrested a police officer in uniform. They’re bringing him over. Everyone is clapping and cheering. The officer looks very afraid. The army has now arrested him. Local civilian security grabbed him, and they called over an officer. They’re not beating him. They have arrested him very calmly. And they’re bringing him over, taking him into custody. Here on the streets, after the tanks, protecting the street, the citizens have formed three lines of defense about 20 yards apart.

What happened to you on the way in?

PRO-DEMOCRACY PROTESTER: Protesters are quite organized. They bang on the metal bars over there to alert their colleagues if the thugs approach, in any sense. The situation is quite tense, but I believe we are winning. We are not losing. Everybody thought that yesterday we were going to get defeated and overrun by the thugs, who were armed with sticks, knives, and they were riding camels and horse, as if we were like in some medieval Braveheart, you know, I mean, kind of like movie. But everybody here is steadfast.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: People are banging on metal, sounding the alarm. They think that Mubarak’s thugs are trying to get in again. One of the outskirts of Tahrir, there’s army tanks. It’s next to the museum. And just over in the distance, there are — some of Mubarak’s thugs are waving flags, and they are apparently throwing rocks. This was the major flashpoint yesterday, where a lot of the attacks happened. A lot of people were wounded here. As we continue to walk through Tahrir, there are many people bandaged. They’re standing strong, forming lines and getting ready for the next assault.

BEN HAMID: My name is Ben Hamid. The situation there, they hit us.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: He says, "I can’t talk right now. It’s hard for me to comprehend. They sent thugs to hit us. We’re peaceful.”

BEN HAMID: Peaceful. We are peaceful.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: This happened now?

BEN HAMID: Yes.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The attacks are continuing right now. It’s about midday on Thursday.

BEN HAMID: We are here from yesterday.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: There are many rocks on the ground here, a lot garbage. This was spotless just yesterday. People had cleaned up Tahrir. Now it’s filthy. It’s a battle zone. Here, they formed makeshift barricades with burnt-out cars. They’re continuing to build them. They’re building shields to protect them from rocks. We’re walking over past the barricade right now.

Over here, we can see about five or six trucks that have been pushed or driven into this area to create yet another line of defense. And they’re using corrugated metal, parts of couches or chairs, to build another line of defense here on another outskirt closer to the edge of one of the alleyways, the main streets into Tahrir.

We’ve passed a second line of defense here. You can see the ground is much dirtier. There’s burnt-out spots, a lot of rocks, a lot of garbage. People are sitting around waiting, ready to defend Tahrir Square, that they have occupied.

And this seems to be the front lines right here. People are standing on the edge, over the corrugated metal, and they’re waving and looking at the people on the other side. We’ll try and get a look and see what is on the other side.

There are a number of army soldiers here. They seem to have grabbed someone, and they’re holding them. The street is just a sea of rocks. I mean, there’s hardly any street anymore. It’s just rocks everywhere. There are rocks being thrown by both sides. The clashes are continuing. People here are gathering to — a rock just came flying right at us, hit the barricade right next to us. People are saying here they should not throw any rocks towards the crowds. They want to remain peaceful. They are chanting, "Peacefully! Peacefully!"

Watch out! Rocks are coming flying in sporadically here, just one or two at a time. The man throwing is over on the right side. It’s dangerous to be here.

He’s saying that these people — these people have been paid money to be here and to make violence. He’s saying they’re thugs of the National Democratic Party. These are people who stole the country or robbed the country. They’re trying to protect over their loot, they say.

There are just dozens, hundreds of rocks being thrown. They’re saying say the Egyptians don’t hit their own brothers. He’s saying, "Don’t do as they do. Don’t do as they do. They don’t understand anything. They’ve been given money and told to go kill their brothers. They don’t understand anything. We don’t do as they do. We don’t do as they do."

We’re walking right now. A young man, Azzim, is taking us up to the top of a building here, right on the edge, to give us a better viewpoint.

[inaudible] New York, Democracy Now!

SECURITY: We are very sorry.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: No, no, no, please. Right now we’re being frisked as we enter this building.

SECURITY: ID. ID, please? OK, we’re very sorry.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: No, no. He’s just checking my ID to check for any state security forces, who may try and infiltrate this area, and they’re trying to protect — they’re trying to protect the border.

We’re walking up the stairs now to the rooftop, which is right on the border between the clashes here. We got frisked coming in. You can hear the sounds outside.

Here we are on the rooftop. The rooftop is littered with rocks. The most intense side is over here, on this side that faces the dead zone. And beyond that are just hordes of — mobs of Mubarak thugs. They’ve apparently pushed back a lot of the pro-Mubarak mobs. And they’ve taken the line all the way up to the bridge now. The Mubarak hordes seem to have backed off. The military has retreated somewhat, and they’re on the bridge now.

The people downstairs, the people on the — the people on the ground floor — there is the sound of gunfire in the air. He’s trying to — the military has fired shots apparently in the air. It’s unclear where they’re firing at. They’re saying live rounds they’re firing.

We are in the heart of downtown Cairo. This is not the outskirts of Cairo. We are in the heart of downtown Cairo here. It has turned into a battlefield. The pro-democracy movement has managed to hold off Mubarak’s forces. It’s really surreal to see this part of Cairo look like this. I’ve been through here many times, and it’s just — it’s strange to see it this way.

Behind me, in the distance, you see the Hilton Ramses. We spent a couple of nights there. Just two buildings down is the studio where we broadcast from the other day, not possible to get to now. The distance between Tahrir and the area where the studio was has really turned into a war zone. And we just simply cannot get across.

There’s a tank that just rolled in under the 6 October Bridge. It’s pointing its turrets at people very threateningly.

People are cheering. They’re cheering as they retreat. They’re retreating over there. The Mubarak forces seem to be pulling back. They’re running back. People are cheering. They seem to have driven them away. The Mubarak forces seem to have significantly dwindled, and the forces holding Tahrir Square seem to be holding the square very strongly. It’s unclear what’s going happen tonight. It’s unclear what’s going to happen in a few hours, but for now, they have held Tahrir.

SELMA AL-TARZI: I’ve been here since the 25th. And I think at this point, we’re not going — I, personally, am not going back until I get what I want.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And what is that?

SELMA AL-TARZI: I want him out. I want him tried. I want the whole world to convict him as a criminal of war. And not only him, him, Habib El Adly, [inaudible], the whole parliament, Ahmad Ezz, and even Omar Suleiman, the chief of intelligence, because they have been using military tactics on us. And it’s not — and it’s not a coincidence that the person he’s having to be his — I don’t know how you call it — Omar Suleiman, he’s the chief of intelligence. I mean, they are using military tactics amongst us. They are sending spies in the middle of us.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Just before we met you, you were hugging someone, and he appeared very emotional, crying. Can you describe that scene?

SELMA AL-TARZI: This is a friend of ours who could not get in yesterday, because yesterday all the entrances were blocked. So a lot of people who wanted to come could not get in. And, A, he was crying because he was very worried for the people that were inside. And he was crying because they managed to make us destroy the place that we’ve been keeping, destroy our country in order to protect ourselves, and make Egyptians kill Egyptians, basically, because at the end of the day, the thugs, the thugs that were being paid 50 pounds to come and beat at us, at the end of the day, they are a part of the Egyptian people. And if they managed to poison us some much that this is the outcome, that he’s creating a war, a war zone, this is sad. This is very sad for all of us.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: The sun is setting here on Tahrir Square. It’s Thursday night. This is the night after the Mubarak regime launched a coordinated campaign of violence to try and take back the streets of Cairo from the pro-democracy uprising that claimed them one week ago, over nine days ago. We’re here in Tahrir. They remain defiant. They have held onto Tahrir, but they suffered terribly. We’ve seen many wounded. And the battle still rages on the periphery. Rocks are being thrown. There are army tanks. Shots are being fired. Unclear what’s going to happen tonight, but we will continue to follow developments here. It’s still a tense situation. But the people are proud and defiant. And Friday will be a decisive day, regardless of what happens.

I’m Sharif Abdel Kouddous, with Hany Massoud, for Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN: That piece produced by Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Hany Massoud in Cairo. Over the past couple of days, at least 13 people have died, and some 1,200 people have been injured. And we’ve just received word that Al Jazeera’s Cairo office has been raided. This comes as over a million people peacefully rally across Egypt in a protest billed as D-Day, the Day of Departure, calling on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to resign.

We’ll be posting updates from Egypt throughout the day on our website, as well as Sharif’s twitters, tweets, at democracynow.org, also on Twitter. On Saturday, Democracy Now! will be doing a two-hour special that will be aired on Free Speech TV, Link TV and any TV or radio station that would like to broadcast us. We’ll be broadcasting from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Eastern time. We’ll also stream the special at democracynow.org. Tell your friends. That’s Saturday, February 5th from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., with Sharif Abdel Kouddous in Cairo, Egypt. For stations, details about the special broadcast will be available later today at democracynow.org.

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