Chronicles of a sit-in: Tuesday 19 July
Yassin Gaber, Thursday 21 Jul 2011

In anticipation of the morning march, I anxiously searched for any source of caffeine after a mere hour and a half worth of sleep. A breakfast street vendor was being questioned at the Qasr El-Nil Street checkpoint. The committee manning the entrance asked him were he had received the document, supposedly allowing him access to the square which had been almost completely emptied of its sellers. Walking back to the traffic island, I encountered a small squabble between a “nosey” vendor and inhabitants of a nearby tent. The seemingly never ending conflict between the square's protesters and the sellers had, yet again, peaked.

Street sweepers did their morning rounds, as newsboys announced the morning's papers. The security committees at Mohammed Mahmoud Street and at the Omar Makram Mosque were playing pickup football.

THE EVENING BEFORE had it's share of heated discussions and confrontations. Discussions from Monday night and Tuesday morning had culminated in a series of planned marches for Wednesday. As the sun's light began to wane Tuesday, a frenzied skirmish between street vendors and individuals within the square erupted. The events were related to me by many of my fellow campers.

The square's small time tycoons have been under constant suspicion since the the first week of the sit-in. Many are suspected of being infiltrators sent to spy on the protesters and, as such, are often targeted by various organised and disorganised mobs. The most intriguing narrative of yesterday's clash depicts a dissatisfied customer claiming to have been food poisoned by one of occuped Tahrir's many makeshift chefs.

A brawl ensued in which the vendor is said to have poured hot water on himself to implicate his accuser. The conflict escalated as a gathering mob used the incident to again purge the square of almost all of its peddlers and food sellers.

What's more, there are purported attempts to begin numbering the square's food vendors in order to keep records of complaints and trace incidences of food poisoning. The far fetched scheme drew quite a bit of laughter from myself and those around me. By night fall, the square's roundabout looked like a ghost town – in stark contrast to the night before.

AS THE ONGOING TAHRIR CINEMA PROJECT began it's nightly showing, talk among various political movements within the square revolved around plans for Wednesday's marches and the sit-in's prospects at large. Flyers for a 6:00pm march to the Cabinet offices were being distributed by the Revolutionary Socialists on behalf of the Popular 8 July Front. Further talk of a 5:00am march towards the prosecutor-general's office circulated, as word spread of 6:30pm march by the families of the political prisoners – destination, as yet, unknown.

With activists around me airing their frustrations at the media circus and political fiasco surrounding the Cabinet reshuffle, discussions again began to focus on the sit-in's future and possible plans of action to either keep it going or strategically disperse it. Many, vexed by the tangential path the reshuffle has lead the movement on, highlighted the upcoming month of Ramadan and whispers of a plan to continue through the fasting holiday. Others discussed pressing organisational and political matters which needed tending to in light of the autumn parliamentary elections. Nothing was clear, however, and the fate of Tahrir remained, as it had for days, ambiguous.

REALISING THAT NO CAFÉS would possibly be open at 6:00am, my sleep deprived companion and I decided to overcome any conscientious objections and walk to the nearby Shepeard Hotel on the Corniche. Three cups of coffee later, we walked back to the encampment expecting to find it's occupants stirred and ready for the planned march to the prosecutor-general's office.

Gathering ourselves, many still stiff from their repose on the hard earth, we walked towards the Egyptian Museum. A tiny crowd gathered behind us, no more than 200 strong, and began to walk in our direction. Their progress was interrupted when an activist was accused of the unthinkable – photographing the square. Photographing, of course, took place but not by the activist in question. Regardless, a small quarrel broke out but was soon quelled. The gathered marchers took a quick spin around the traffic island to gather more protesters.

WITH THE HUNDRED OR SO PROTESTERS, the march took off in the direction of Abdel Moneim Riad Square where we exited the occupied territory and made our way to Ramsis Street. The march itself took all of half an hour. A small group of protester's, arms locked, formed a moving cordon to separate the rest of the group from the passing traffic. Impassioned, demonstrators chanted against the military council, the army, the prosecutor-general, the Interior Ministry and the slow pace of trials, both of ex-regime figures and the police officers accused of killing protesters.

“Oh prosecutor, please advise how much is one hearing's bribe,” rang the voice of protesters as they neared the judicial offices. The loudspeaker floated among a handful of chant leaders. One of whom voiced a widely felt sentiment: “Take a minister, put one in; we've not seen the change begin.”

WE WERE GREETED BY A MILITARY POLICE cordon at the prosecutor-general's office. For a time, protester's were satisfied standing behind the red berets, directing their voices at the small crowd of spectators who looked on from the upper story's windows. Before long we were able to move through the military police line, many of us making it to the steps. No sooner had we reached the steps than an officer, his pistol raised, began to order those around him to force us down. Myself and several others were pushed away form the entrance as others bared their chests, passionately daring the military to open fire on them.

Isolated shouts of “peaceful, peaceful” could be heard as military police dressed in riot gear rushed to kettle in the remaining demonstrators on the steps, dividing the group into two. Afterwards, many protesters, warily suspected that the military police in riot gear were in fact Central Security Forces in the latter's uniforms. In the moment, however, tensions flared as protesters asked the soldiers whether they hadn't learnt from the lessons of the Interior Ministry. The strained moment passed, but the protesters' rage remained. Chants against the military council and the army surged. Where the military's batons and guns meant to protect civilians or kill them, many inquired in convulsions of passion.

After an hour half, the numbers began to dwindle and those who remained were forced to make a decision: stay on or return to the square. The protester's soon agreed to return, vowing to return the next morning. This time, however, for a day-long sit-in.