Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Update on Egyptian protests

It's 10.30 pm in Cairo and I'm just back from Tahrir Square, the heart of the day's protests. About a thousand people, mostly young and many middle-class, are hanging out, chatting and lying in the streets, which are closed off to traffic. An embryonic 'organisation' is trying to muster support around the slogan 'mu3tasimin hatta al-rahiil' (sitting in until (Mubarak) goes), but it's not obviously not clear what the position will be at daybreak, when the police will want to get the traffic moving. Many are using the word 'unpredecented' and it is unprecedented in the sense that many of the participants are first-time protestors and they come from quite a wide cross-section of society. But at least this evening, the proportion of women in hijab was far lower than average (maybe 50 percent v. 80/85 percent in society as a whole), which suggests a bias towards the upper strata of society. The mobile network has been seriously disrupted for hours, but I'm not in a position to say if that's the outcome of official action, rather than mere congestion. I suspect congestion, because several people in Tahrir Square were making phone calls. I spoke to several activists, who were euphoric about the turnout and the atmosphere. On the way home, I noticed a group of about 50 men in plain clothes sitting on the pavement near the US and British embassies, quite clearly 'baltagiya' (the thugs the police use for beating up protesters when all else fails, sometimes violent criminals on day-release from prison!). When I asked them what they were doing, their boss (also in plain clothes) told me to mind my own buisness and move on. But it's interesting that the police did not call them in today, as far as I have seen or heard.

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