Riots for Revolution? 28-31 Jan 2011

Trip Start Sep 09, 2010
Trip End May 28, 2011

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Flag of Egypt  , Nile River Valley,
Sunday, February 6, 2011

Friday 28th January

Went to the Internet Café but all communications are down. It appears the Government, Mubarak, has turned off all social networking outlets because of the protests in Cairo and Alexandria. So facebook, email, twitter and SMS are out of action. Some mobile phone networks are still in action. Being an ex journalist and in the midst of a possible Government coup I have an overwhelming desire to know what is going out but without the internet feel isolated and in the dark. I am supposed to be getting the train to Alexandria tonight to start the TEFL course but the trouble seems to be escalating and who knows how it might turn out.

I am getting pretty anxious about what to do. Yasser, Alaa's friend doesn't think I should go to Alexandria and neither does Mohamed, Alaa’s uncle…and now i'm beginning to have second thoughts. I  was going to take the boys into Luxor with me, as I needed to get some cash, and I also thought if this all escalates then the exchange rate might plumate.  We were hearing through the grapevine  that there might be trouble after Friday prayers so I went to Luxor by myself. It was strange being in Luxor between midday and 1pm on a Friday, prayer time, the only people walking the streets were westerners. There were no locals at all.
Rang Dad to get his advice, in his days of travelling with work he got stuck in Nigeria during a military coup so he suggested I ring the TEFL school. I do but I can’t get through. I go to Uncle Mohamed’s for lunch, he is going to take me to the train station later today in Alaa’s absence.  They have satellite TV so were able to watch all the news channels and things are getting worse by the minut in Cairo and Alexandria.

I called Alaa, he spoke to his friend who lives in Alexandria and by all accounts situation is bad and advises that I don't go, so by late afternoon I had decided that really the TEFL was only a ’nice to have’ and is not an essential career move, also I have not paid for the course in full, only a deposit, so I can postpone for another time when things might calm down. It’s much better to be in the relative safety of Luxor and be with Alaa’s family than travelling into the unknown.

We spend the whole evening flicking from Al Jazeera, BBC World News and CNN to find out what’s going on. Everyone is calling for the head of Mubarak…but he’s seems like a stubborn old man to me and vain too. There are large posters of him all hung over the towns and cities throughout Egypt and every other road is named after him. I didn’t realise that he was 80 years old and has been in power for 30 years. I knew from what Alaa has said in the  past that he was not liked and everyone thinks the Government is corrupt and the police are hated and known for their brutality. The people feel like they have no prospects, the slogan is being hailed as bread, freedom and humanity.

The people have just had enough and after seeing how the protesters managed to overthrow the Government in Tunisia a few weeks back I think they are hoping for the same outcome. However Mubarak is no-where to be seen . We keep hearing he is going to make a speech but by 11pm we have still heard nothing. My friend Jayne, an ex journalist and news junkie like me, calls to see I am ok and my best friend Nick. I expect to get a few messages on FB took, I wonder how long they will keep us locked out of the internet. I am so glad I have not gone to Alex…feel much safer here and so glad that I will hopefully get to spend more time with Alaa who is due back Saturday or Sunday.

Saturday 29th January

I spend all day with Hodda and little Tybe, in the house watching the events unfold in Cairo and Alexandria. Dozens have been killed in fighting with the police who have been forced off the streets. They have disappeared - there  is actually no police presence anywhere in the county and as such there has been looting in places. The army and tanks are now controlling main areas in central Cairo. Most of the activity is in Downtown around Tahrir Square (literal translation is liberation square), near to the Egyptian Museum and where Alaa and I stayed 2 weeks ago.

Listening and looking at the news the protesters are on the whole peaceful but the office of the national ruling party was attacked and set on fire and also the Egyptian Museum was broken into and some treasures looted and mummies damaged - that is just not acceptable in my book whatever their gripe. This is the ugly side of what is basically people trying to get their voice heard. According to CNN the median age of Egyptians is 24-years-old - all they have ever known is Mubarak and they want change. It’s like us still having Maggie Thatcher in charge…unimaginable to most western democracies. Alaa has always complained that there are no jobs in Egypt and little prospects be you poor, young, middle class or educated…all the opportunities and money go to a very select few and apparently Mubarak and his sons, who own hotels in Sharm, are worth millions. It’s the typical story of a despot leader who rules by corruption and force…and becomes a very wealthy man whilst the vast majority of his people, in Egypt that’s 40 million - nearly half of the population (80+ million) live below the poverty line ($2 a day). The unemployment rate is 9.7% but more realistically around 30 to 40% for young people. No wonder they are unhappy.

Mubarak id dfinally speak to the country  - it was late last night. His response it to sack his Government and name, for the first time, a vice president, his chum the chief of intelligence. However surprise, surprise this doesn’t seem to have silenced the crowds and thousands gather on the streets again during the day and into the night. Delta Airlines have said they will start evacuating Americans out of Egypt….honestly they are always the first to run….but so far it seems other airlines are continuing to fly. However there is a curfew in place which is mostly being ignored. It sounds like it’s a nightmare at Cairo airport with people being stranded. Again thankful I am flying from Luxor in a months time. I am in no hurry to leave as long as I can stay here in safety I will, however if I am told I need to leave than I will.

It definitely sounds like Cairo is in chaos. There are gangs of people looting businesses and building, people are arming themselves with baseball bats and pipes anything they can get their hands on to protect their property and family. It sounds like a frightening atmosphere, but it is quiet in El Gazeera, West Bank.

Sunday 30th January.

The internet is still down, I feel like my right arm has been cut off, as I have already admitted I think I am slightly addicted so to have no access is hard….but thankfully we have a couple of 24-hour news in English so I can understand what’s going on. Mohamed and Hodda do speak English so they have translated some of the Egyptian stations for me. But today the Government has switched of Al Gazeera….and the main channels are just showing Nile TV, the state station, that apparently is known as 'Denial TV’! There is little to do as I don’t feel like venturing too far afield from West Bank. Mamood comes and knocks for me at 11am - ah how sweet. I think they were worried about me. Watching the Aussie tennis Open final which Andy Murray. He loses the first set and it looks like he will lose. So Mamood and I leave to go back to Rowayahs for a change of clothing.

I bought the boys a football yesterday so I took Mamood to the playing field again for an hour or so. We then took one of the Nile's water taxis and went to Banana Island. 40 LE for an hour or so and if you want to see an abundance of bananas then a short visit to the Island is a good way to spend some time. We then made our way back to West Bank  and I returned to Uncle Mohamed’s and 24-hour news…

I spoke to Dad, to ask him to update my FB page to let everyone know I am OK.  The latest advice coming out from the UK Government is don’t travel to Cairo, Alexandria or Luxor unless it is essential, doesn’t say about coming home through. Some flights are being cancelled but Easy Jet is running normally. And Hurghada and Sharm are still open for business. But I am not due back until 28th February, by which time I hope things will be resolved. Alaa will hopefully be back tomorrow. He said he was going to try and come back today but the roads were closed. I just want him back here safely with me. And then we can decide what to do. The weather in England is rubbish, well it is still winter, so there is nothing to go back for and I don’t fly out to Oz until 10th March so would far rather stay out here. However if all foreigners are ordered out and they are offering flights or evacuating us then I will have to leave, I just want to see Alaa again before that happens. Watch this space.

100,000 are now crowded into Tahrir Square to hear Mohamed Elbaradei, a leading opposition voice against Mubarak. He has said he doesn’t want to lead Egypt but could be a good transitional option…but there doesn’t seem to be any other suitable alternative to take over the leadership. Elbaradei is an intelligent man, but has been out of Egypt for many years so I don't think the people think he is the right person to run the country. The Muslim Brotherhead is one option, but they have not been involved in the protests, and not sure they are the people Egyptians want to run the country either but what is the alternative to Mubarak?. It also sounds like many more people have been killed than we are being told about, the curfew is being ignored. Prisoners have escaped and there are reports of gun fire in some prisons. Fighter jets have also been flying low over the skies of Cairo.

Just spoken to my brother, the BBC is now saying that everyone should get out of Egypt as it descends into chaos. I’m not sure it’s quite that bad at the moment, well not in Luxor and the West Bank. My main concern is that flights will be cancelled and I get stranded here indefinitely if the situation gets worse. I am happy to stay but need to be out by the end of February.  But we just need Mubarak to go  and then maybe all the trouble will stop, but there is no clear figure to take over.  There has been another curfew imposed this time it will start from 3pm tomorrow. I just hope that Alaa can get out of Hurghada.

Sunday 31st January 2011

I am now back at Rowayahs. Watching Nile TV the state television. It’s in Arabic so  not really sure if the curfew is being adhered to. There has been a call for general strikes and for 1 million to descend on Tahrir Square today to protest. But as I am watching pictures on state television station I’m not sure if these images are the full picture. It looks like Mubarak has just sworn in his new government - there are women in the cabinet. I wonder if this will placate the masses…only time will tell. Maybe it will, but maybe it is too little too late. I suppose at least he is doing something, but whether things will change is another matter. Still no word from Alaa,, I’m just hoping that means that he is driving and on his way home. If the protests stop I would imagine it will be business as usual and things will eventually go back to normal, if protests continue and the army start firing on the crowds well that’s a different story. Fingers crossed it will not get that far. From the pictures I am seeing now it looks very quiet and there are few on the streets, just a few cars so maybe this is the beginning of the end of the revolt?

Been without the internet now since Friday - 4 days. This forced upon censorship of the net is like losing ones limb. I feel bereft and I hate it, I hope it comes back online very soon. I’m not sure I can stand it for much longer. I am also beginning to get a bit of cabin fever. I have not left West Bank since Friday.   Alaa where are you….thank god I bought my netbook with me so that I can write and document what’s going on. Who would ever have thought I’d get embroiled in a revolution on my ‘Year Out’!!!!! It’s quite exciting really….

Alaa has still not been able to get here all the petrol stations seem to have run out of petrol, so he had to turn back to Hurghada. The petrol stations are charging a fortune for fuel. Egypt Airlines is cancelling its flights to Cairo tomorrow as well as train services.  Ordinary people are mobilising together again the lawlessness and bands of people that are causing in trouble. I was speaking to one local who said that mobsters tried to break into Karnak Temple in Luxor last night. In Cairo hotels have been burnt and businesses looted so it is far worse. West Bank is probably one of the safest places to be but if we start running out of food, hot water disappears just say then this is not exactly the holiday that I’d expected!

So what will happen if Mubarak still refuses to step down….there are now food shortages, bread is coming increasing hard to find, banks and gas stations are closed  - thankfully I withdrew 2000LE on Friday in anticipation that this might happen. And we are ok here, food seems to be in supply, I thinks that’s because most people are pretty self sufficient here in the country, rather than being in the city and relying on supermarkets which are running out of food. But that won’t last forever.
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