Laura Dean's Cairo Diary

Cairo Diary, July 1: The Day After Tamarod

By Laura Dean
Tuesday, July 2, 2013, 1:19 AM

Let me start with a recap of the day's dramatic events.

The Morsi regime continues to face devastating pressure. The Muslim Brotherhood's offices in Cairo were burned last night and this morning, and the police did nothing to prevent it. The army issued a 48 hour ultimatum to end the crisis in Egypt; unless consensus is reached, the army says it will intervene---which is understood to mean taking power, albeit for a finite period of time. But that, of course, is what many members of the millions-strong opposition want. So the not-so-subtle message seems to be: If you want an army intervention, take to the streets for the next 48 hours. However, they did not explain what a consensus should look like or what form that intervention would take, besides issuing a 'roadmap' for a way forward.

Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) Abdul Fatah Khalil el-Sisi also assured the Egyptian people that the military "will not take part in the policy making." Crowds cheered outside the presidential palace after Sisi's announcement, as army helicopters flew overhead. Earlier in the day, the opposition had issued its own ultimatum, giving President Morsi until Tuesday at 5 p.m. to step down. Four ministers have also resigned from Morsi's cabinet; and the Salafi Nour Party---once allied with the Brotherhood, and thus seemingly an ally of the president's---has broken its recent silence and called on Morsi to make concessions to avert bloodshed. Strange times!

Meanwhile, things in the governorates have gotten worse. Sixteen people have been killed across Egypt, eight at the Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo, and others in Beni Suef, Assiut, Kafr el Sheikh, Alexandria and Fayoum. In the latter, where two were killed and dozens injured on Sunday, Army Colonel Nabil Abdel Hamid said he had dismissed the governor and taken over the governorate headquarters. Egyptian newspaper Yom Sabi' also reported that the offices of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP),  Morsi's party and the Brotherhood's political arm, were torched in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Assiut. Protesters stormed the FJP offices in Qalubeya in the Delta, as well.

It's been a tough day, though the opposition mood is jubilant after the army's announcement.

Details on the Sexual Assaults

Shifting gears, some readers requested more information about the sexual assault and harassment at the protests which I mentioned yesterday. There have been 46 sexual assaults in Tahrir Square since the protests began, activist group Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment (OpAntiSH) reported. Strangely, none have been documented at protests outside the Presidential Palace at Itahadeya, or at the Muslim Brotherhood's pro-Morsi protests at Rabaa el Adaweya.

I wish more was known about how these assaults come about and whether or not some are orchestrated ahead of time. Activists and human rights advocates said to Ahram Online earlier this year that they have documented a pattern to the assaults that involves forming circles around the women, systematically removing their clothes, often with knives brought along for the purpose, while some in the group pose as rescuers and still others try to distract people nearby. As the crowd around the victims grows, other people are often genuinely trying to intervene.

Someone asked me today, how is was that these assaults take place in such a crowded place. When Tahrir Square is full, people are crushed against one another such that is it very difficult to see what's going on five feet from you---let alone to pull someone to safety against the momentum of the crush of people. As to the identity of the attackers, in such large crowds, it is easy to slip back, unobserved, into the sea of people. As far as anyone I've talked to knows, no arrests have ever been made in connection with the Tahrir assaults. Let's hope this time will be different.

There are actually an inspiring collection of groups working against the sexual violence. OpAntiSH is one of several groups working on these issues. That outfit, in addition to one called Tahrir Bodyguard, directly intervenes in sexual assaults during the protests. The groups maintain a hotline as well as a presence in the square, and respond to calls with teams of people who extricate victims from the crowd. They have been handling the bulk of protest-related assault cases over the last few days. There's also Harassmap, which conducts research and does community-level education to change attitudes about sexual harassment in Egypt.  True to its name, with input from an on- and offline community of contributors, Harassmap has mapped incidents of harassment around the country. Lastly, Nazra Insitute for Feminist Studies has worked a lot on the issue of sexual harassment, including during protests in Tahrir Square.  These groups do hugely important work and operate largely on a volunteer basis.

I arrived at a training for one of them in the days leading up to June 30th. A large room in the downtown NGO office was packed with men and women, all prepared to endanger themselves to help others during the protests. The bulk of the volunteers were young men (I think, because the gathering involved direct intervention), some of them still in business suits, from a variety of professions. They come on their own time because they want to live in a more equal, more respectful society. Preparations for days like June 30th take hours of training and planning, and I have great respect and admiration for those who undertake them.

 

Waiting for a Train

I spent the evening in the crowd outside the Presidential Palace.

Large groups of ecstatic cheering people walk toward the palace at sunset, most of them, from their conversations, seem to be celebrating the army's announcement that it would put forth a roadmap in 48 hours if the political situation is not resolved.

Mina Shehat, 22, says he wants the army to intervene but only for a short while. "Last time they didn't steer the country in the right direction," he recalls.

In front of the palace itself flags of all sizes waves frantically above the heads of the those gathered as people walk across ground strewn with corn husks and prickly pear skins---the snacks of the revolution. People chant and sing. Another euphoric protest. A family from Aswan in Upper Egypt has brought along its 9-year-old son, as have many families, to witness these historic events.

The "what next" question remains unanswered and each time I ask anyone tonight, I get a different answer. And no answer at all to the question of "who?"

Ashraf Shaeed, a 48-year-old accountant, says he just wanted someone to govern Egypt who respected the Constitution, the law, and the judiciary.

I asked his brother Rashad, a retired police officer, if he would mind a female president. 'Why not?' he replied.

Mina Shehat said that he didn't want any of the prominent opposition figures such as Mohamed el Baradei or Hamdeen Sabahi to be elected.

A young electrical engineer, Ezzat Mohamed, who moonlights as a taxi driver says, "The Muslim Brotherhood thought they had arrived. They thought the subject was closed... They thought on June 30th there would be some remnants of the old regime, some thugs, some revolutionaries. They didn't expect the Egyptian people."

Meanwhile the Brotherhood have called their supporters to the streets in response to the army deadline.

Two women I speak with seem to toe the Tamarod line and call for a power transfer to the President of the Supreme Constitutional Council, though one, Poussy Malak, 55, said she wanted Ahmed Shafik, the presidential candidate from the old regime who was beaten by Morsi a year ago, but she didn't think he would be elected. When I ask where she thinks the Salafis are (they have been conspicuously absent in all this), she says, "they are very cunning. They want a piece of the new cake."

Most of the people I talked to said they wanted 'someone new,' other than the high-profile opposition figures, to be elected during the next presidential elections. They seemed to be waiting for someone. Though how or when such a figure will materialize I'm not sure. In the meantime though, many people continue to celebrate the possibility of an army intervention.

Disused train tracks divide the parallel roads that run past the Itahadeya presidential palace where protesters have been camped out. The tracks create a natural corridor for groups of activists and families to come and go.

As I leave, I walk past hundreds of protesters sitting on either side of the tracks. They look like they are waiting for a train.

Tomorrow, I am off to to visit the Muslim Brotherhood protesters on the other side of town.

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