When the demonstrations began in Cairo last week, communication with the staff at our newest distribution partner, American University in Cairo Press was immediately disrupted. As most of our readers know, the Egyptian government suspended internet and cell phone service in Cairo, and the only way the AUCP representative in New York could contact the home office was via a spotty land line connection. Fortunately, we’ve since learned that all AUCP staff are safe and sound, and communication has improved somewhat in recent days. But as you’ll see from AUCP editorial director Neil Hewison’s harrowing account below, the Press itself – which is situated close to Tahrir Square – was directly affected by the unrest. We continue to wish our colleagues in Cairo well, and hope to have periodic updates from Neil in the days ahead.
We are all fine. Many dramatic events over the last few days. Particularly disturbing was the battle for the Interior Ministry just up the road from my house, which went on for eight hours on Saturday: we heard and watched the police firing tear gas and live fire (including automatic weapons) and the protesters ducking into back alleys to make and throw Molotov cocktails. Also very disturbing the violent clashes that are happening right now on Tahrir Square, while the army stand and watch.
I’ve been out each morning since Sunday, seen the destruction, the tanks on the streets, the neighborhood watch groups armed with sticks and knives, the civilians directing traffic rather more efficiently than the police ever did, and the protesters in Tahrir Square of all social hues, well organized, with their own food, drink, garbage, and security services in place, and with some very imaginative, witty placards: “Just go! My arms ache!” – held up by a 10-year old boy, “Talk to him in Hebrew, he might understand.” One man cradled a cat that carried its own mini-placard in English: “No Mubarak.” Another man sported a banner with the crescent and the cross and the simple statement “I am Egyptian.” They renamed the square Martyrs’ Square and painted the name in giant letters on the tarmac for the constantly circling helicopter to see. They set up a display of placards discarded as people went home at night, all set out on the pavement under the sign “Revolution Museum.”
Our AUC Press offices were trashed on Friday. The police had broken into the AUC to use the roof of our wing to fire on protesters at the junction of Sheikh Rihan and Qasr al-Aini (we found empty CS canisters and shotgun cartridges up there). And persons unknown ransacked our rooms. Drawers and files emptied, windows broken, cupboards and computers smashed. But it could have been much worse. Meanwhile, the violence may get worse before it gets better.
I’m well stocked with food and water, and there’s a good gang of neighborhood lads downstairs with makeshift weapons to keep our building and other buildings safe. Now that we have internet again I can communicate better and even do some work!