Saturday, 29 January 2011

Momentous day for the Middle East

Friday was a momentous day in and for the Middle East and I won't wrote at length because my part in it was insignificant and the situation is too fluid and there are too many uncertainties for me to draw too many conclusions. Mubarak surprised me with his obstinacy. When I saw some 10,000 people stream across Kasr el-Nil bridge into Tahrir Square at sunset, after a one-hour battle with riot police which made the western edge of the bridge a living hell of tear gas and rubber bullets I felt that the end had come and the revolution had triumphed. But that was premature. I had the same feeling when I ran across publisher and democrat Hesham Kassem in Kasr el-Aini Street about 10 o'clock in the evening. Hesham was ecstatic -- he has been waiting for this moment for years and was as surprised as we we all were. At the time a police truck was burning outside the parliament building up the road and thousands of youngsters were preparing for a final push towards the building (they didn't make it in the end despite four hours of trying). I concur with Issandr that the spirit of solidarity and camaraderie was extraordinary. People shared everything -- water, cigarettes, onions (for tear gas) and information. Largely there was also an amazing discipline and restraint. Whenever violence against public property looked imminent or people were about to throw rocks, others would chant 'silmiya, silmiya' (peaceful, peaceful) or 'No to violence'. I know there has been some looting here and there but in some eight hours on the street yesterday I saw none, despite ample opportunities. The bravery of those who have been on the frontlines has also been extraordinary and I hope they one day they receive the credit they are due. The youngsters really are a very diverse crowd but yesterday evening, on a street corner in the eery halflight, I overheard a well-informed debate between a group of some seven or eight over who should replace Mubarak. Two of them favoured Mohamed ElBaradei as a transitional leader, but the others were less sympathetic. The most assertive man in the crowd said ElBaradei was part of the establishment and the country needed 'new blood'. 

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