January 25th, a day Egyptians will never forget
January 25th, 2011 began like any normal Tuesday in Egypt except that it was a national holiday (Police Day). I had arrived three days earlier to the news of my mother being ill and in hospital. Everything in Egypt was normal on January 23rd and 24th although we all expected demonstrations on Tuesday the 25th. But, virtually everyone including the security services thought very little would come of it.
On Tuesday January 25th the Imam in our mosque encouraged people to go to Tahrir and join other demonstrators. I hadn’t gone to the prayers, and maybe because I was so preoccupied with family matters, I couldn’t sense the gravity of the situation.
As prayers ended I could see from our window a small group of demonstrators walking down the corniche heading towards Tahrir. The small crowd quickly got bigger, and even bigger still. As one stream of people passed, a few demonstrators stayed behind in front of the larger residential buildings on their way shouting to its occupants “Come down, come down!” Most people were out on their balconies already and come down they did. Men, women, entire families, all began to stream into the streets. Chants began and they got louder. One chant I remember was “Gamal oul la abouk el shaab kola be yekrahuk,” or in literal translation, “Gamal (Mubarak) tell your father all of Egypt’s people hate you.”
As more people gathered to shout down more demonstrators from their homes, the crowds got larger, and cars were now having problems navigating the streets of Maadi where we live. As people on the streets went from the hundreds to the thousands, then the tens of thousands, the only thing on my mind was how I would get to the hospital to see my mother. Intensive care hours were only from 2:00 to 3:00 PM and from 7:00 to 8:00 PM, and afternoon visiting hours were now only a half hour away. I quickly realized that getting to the hospital now was going to be next to impossible. I thought it would be best to wait for evening visiting hours after everything had calmed down. Little did I know leaving home from that point forward was going to be next to impossible.
By late evening Tuesday night, Tahrir had swelled to accommodate over 1 million people. Looking at pictures today from that night I am still taken aback by the size of the crowds and how they deployed so quickly. And, they were going nowhere. Simultaneous demonstrations in the hundreds of thousands also broke out in Alexandria and Suez where violence between security forces and the demonstrators began almost immediately. While the demonstrators still didn’t have an obvious spokesman, the will of the people was clear. It was time for not only Mubarak to go, but for his entire regime to go with him. There was now no mistaking this at all.
In a futile attempt to get people off the streets, and in Cairo out of Tahrir in particular, martial law was declared. But, nobody in Tahrir budged. Nobody went home. In fact, martial law seemed to do the opposite, more people streamed in to join the demonstrators. A day later it got violent, very violent. Security forces started firing into the crowds and the first martyrs fell. This caused public outrage and the police were now being attacked by demonstrators where ever they were. In police stations, on the street, if you were in a police uniform you had to fear for your life. Within days, the police were nowhere to be found and mayhem kicked in.
Next to where I live is Tora prison. Tora is where all the hardened criminals are and somehow all those incarcerated there managed to escape. This followed a speech by President Mubarak which seemed to signal that without him there would be no security and all claim today that the freeing of prisoners from Tora was meant to show people what Egypt without security would be like. Once out of jail, prisoners from Tora started breaking into homes and looted Carrefour, a mall next to our house. Plain clothed security forces were also now looting apparently at the instruction of yet unnamed culprits.
The day after the Torah break out, I ventured out trying to see my mother at the hospital. It was only a 15 minute drive away. Five minutes from the hospital, my sister and I decided to turn back. The military had stopped a car to our right and in it were four men, apparently convicts, being re-arrested. They had weapons of every possible size and shape, but put up no fight as they were arrested. Going further on the corniche did not seem a wise course of action.
From that point forward by day it was crazy, by night crazier still. I was never able to make it back to the hospital again. As soon as it got dark, the gun fire began. Machine gun fire. Thugs on motorcycles in our neighborhood were going from street to street in pairs of two firing into the air. In some parts of Maadi where we live, they were breaking into homes and stealing things from residents at gun point. The next night community policing began. We blocked off our street on both sides and all the men and boys in shifts started standing guard. One street over the families there surrounded one of these motorcycle machine gun firing gangs of two. They threatened to fire at the men and boys that surrounded them, but these families were now armed too. They surrendered. And, who did they turn out to be? Plain clothed police men brandishing their IDs. They were tied up and turned over to the military that was now trying to bring back some remnants of order.
A cautious calm wouldn’t come for several days. Most nights thereafter were riddled with machine gun fire, looting, curfews, people dying or being injured in hoards, and this was 24/7. But, the demonstrations got bigger, there was no stopping the will of the people now.
A few days later, and in a late night speech, President Mubarak finally gave in and after 30 years as President, he resigned. My mother had passed away a short time before with us unable to give her a proper funeral given the unrest. It was all over, the end of an era. For our family, and with the passing of our beloved mother, it was loss like we had never known, but for our country it was the beginning of a new dawn. For me personally, and for all Egyptians, nothing would ever be the same again.