The tear gas came fast and often. Eyes were watering; injured were sped away on motorcycles or on the arms of fellow protesters and the Egyptian security forces sent barrage upon barrage of tear gas and rubber bullets flying toward the thousands of demonstrators who had gathered on Qasr el-Aini street leading to Tahrir Square.
One child hid behind a burned out car as wave of gas flew towards the crowd. No older than 10-years-old, he was quickly shuttled away from the front lines by older, more experienced protesters. The vehicle was then pushed by around one dozen protesters toward Qasr el-Aini, making, for a period of time, a barrier that forced the armored vehicles firing at the protesters stay put.
But it was only a band-aid that gave the protesters some reprieve. Shortly after the car was in place, the armored vehicles stationed some 40 meters away from the frontline of protesters moved forward, with pace and firing unending tear gas forward. They were then followed and ultimately passed, by hundreds of black clad, baton wielding riot police who attempted to chase down the slower protesters.
Once again, Cairo was under siege with tear gas and rubber bullets. The “Friday of Rage” was, in many ways, a return to the revolutionary spirit that saw a country throw off the yoke of dictatorship in January 2011.
Across the world, people were watching the events unfold in Egypt, where anger had supplanted any apathy that many had thought had crept into the Egyptian psyche. In many ways, the determination that was across Tahrir and the frontlines on Friday, were a remembrance of the 18 days that saw Egyptians band together and force from power Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled the country for over three decades.
“I am not going anywhere. We will stay until we have change. Egypt will not be a dictatorship again,” said one protester to another as we stood near the protesters, many of whom were struggling for breath after having faced the latest wave of tear gas.
The tens of thousands of Egyptians, who joined others in Tahrir Square and the nearby streets, are angry and frustrated. Listening to the protesters, it became apparent that this was not the same as previous clashes. There was a fierce and stalwart conviction in their eyes that President Mursi had taken too much power and as one protester told me, “must not be allowed to be the next Mubarak.”
All of Friday’s events, its violence and police brutality – let us not forget that a police force should be the one to protect citizens, not attack them – stemmed from Mursi decree the night before, when he ostensibly put himself above the rule of law in Egypt, granting himself arguably equal, or more power, than his predecessors; the military and Mubarak.
As I sit at home, a stone’s throw from the frontline, the smell and burning of tear gas has entered our flat. We hear the resounding boom after boom of each canister being fired at the protesters.
For hours, we watched and snapped photos of what was unfolding on Egypt’s streets. It was hard not to be inspired by the young Egyptians who were risking their lives to protect those who are demanding change in the square behind them. They are, in many ways, ensuring a massacre of civilians does not take place.
Right now, past midnight on Friday night, one has to wonder what happens next. Is this the beginning of what could very well be known as the Nov. 23 Revolution? Potentially. Unlike any other time since the January uprising, there is a unity in Tahrir, one that has seen groups band together to show they will not go quietly into the night. They have spoken, with their feet and their voices: Morsi must not overstep his democratic boundaries.
The future of Egypt is teetering on chaos, but anyone who walked through Tahrir and Qasr el-Aini Street on Friday could not be anything but amazed once again at the Egyptian spirit and desire for freedom, justice and democracy.
(Joseph Mayton is Editor-in-chief of Bikyamasr.com. @jmayton)