Following a deadly standoff in Cairo’s Tahrir Square at sunset, thousands of protesters regained their ground, successfully expelling the military police and soldiers – dressed in riot gear and wielding bludgeons and electroshock weapons – who stood before rows of Central Security Forces (CSF) firing barrage after barrage of tear gas. The streets of downtown Cairo were filled with fleeing protesters, weaving their way through burning trees and thick clouds of the toxic gas.
When the square was finally reclaimed, at least three protesters had been reported killed, with a fourth death later reported from a makeshift field hospital.
Tahrir’s thousands remained in the iconic square throughout Sunday. Fatigued protesters stood their ground, as CSF personnel battled to shore up their position around Egypt’s Cabinet offices and the reviled interior ministry.
A cold peace reigned on Shiekh Rehan Street for most of the day, where the American University in Cairo’s campus lies off of Qasr El-Aini Street. On the adjacent Mohamed Mahmoud Street, however, a hard-fought battle has continued to rage, with waves of protesters being battered back by endless salvoes of tear gas canisters.
Despite the difficulties, however, protesters have continued to march down the overturned blacktop and torn-up pavement, loudly repeating a single refrain in reference to the country’s de factor ruler: “The people demand the ouster of the field marshal [Mohammed Hussein Tantawi]!”
Although numerous political forces have maintained a presence in the square – including the Revolution Youth Coalition, of which the April 6 youth movement is a part, the National Front for Justice and Democracy and the “No to Military Trials” campaign, among others – and while Islamists turned out in force on Saturday night but were conspicuously absent on Sunday, today’s melee was marked by a monolithic, faction-less stand against CSF forces and plain-clothed police.
Several protesters standing at the frontlines were quick to stress their lack of affiliation with any particular political party or group, noting that today’s demonstration was not a political rally.
Weary protesters, many having stayed in Tahrir from the previous evening, expressed their fury over the violent crackdown and the Saturday morning attack on activists injured in the January uprising. Revolutionary demands were drowned out amid the thick smoke and the roar of protesters chanting against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and its head, Tantawi.
Amid the palpable rage directed at the army and the ruling military council, any talk of elections or constitutions was all but inaudible if not completely absent. As of press time, the square's political forces – now two days into the latest violent turn of events – were only beginning the process of formulating their respective statements.
Field hospitals along Mohamed Mahmoud Street, meanwhile, continue to treat an endless stream of injured and traumatised protesters.
“In the past three or four hours, roughly 300 cases have been admitted to the field hospital,” said Ayman Abo Zied, an activist/medic currently treating the wounded. “Of these, roughly 100 – coming five or six at a time – suffered the debilitating effects of tear gas.”
“The CSF’s use of tear gas is as it was in the past – fired at head level,” he added. “The rest of the injuries have been due to buckshot and rubber bullets being fired at chest and head level as well.”
A medical student, Abo Zied was denied his final certificate after taking a political stand deemed “subversive” and taking part in the ongoing revolution. Within the last two days, he himself has sustained a buckshot injury to his jaw, while being struck in the left hand by a rubber bullet.
According to some protesters, the main field hospital itself fell under attack at one point by security personnel.
Another medic at the scene said that buckshot and rubber bullet injuries appeared to increase as the day progressed. Motorcycles were widely used to transport casualties, meanwhile, with many protesters refusing to use ambulances – which seldom ventured into the square – out of fear they would fall into the hands of the CSF.
“Protesters flatly refuse to use ambulances,” said Basel Magdy, another doctor at the scene. “But in very serious cases, the first hospital they’re sent to is Mounira Hospital – not Qasr El-Aini."
Abo Zied noted the difficulties associated with documenting the numerous injuries, given the violence and chaos that has rocked the area over the last two days.
As of press time, the streets of Downtown Cairo were still teeming with protesters, while the square itself – the epicentre of the 18-day uprising that toppled Mubarak – is as fevered as ever. Many activists, for their part, could be heard referring to Saturday as the uprising’s nineteenth day – and today as the twentieth.