I traveled to Egypt for the first time in January. I went because I'd never been there before, and I wanted to do some tourist stuff, see some friends, and delude myself into thinking that I was improving my Arabic. (My Arabic skills = still embarrassingly bad). From January 1 through January 24, my vacation was perfect. I rode a horse around the pyramids, I spent hours wandering through Old Cairo and lost my temper in Khan el-Khalili market, I spent many nights drinking and chatting with strangers in El Horreya, and I ate koshery every day. (Don't judge, it's delicious.) January 25 was my last day in Cairo, and my friend and fellow Kevorkian student, Liam Stack, advised me to check out the demonstrations that were planned for that day. A security crackdown was expected and I should, as he said, see what my tax dollars are used for in Egypt.
The protest was supposed to begin at noon, but there were a number of different locations where people were said to be meeting, so I decided to wait around in Tahrir Square and see what happened. Around 12:30 I got bored, and went to an upscale cafe on a side street to get a fancy coffee. A friend in another neighborhood called to see if I wanted to meet, and I joked that I was going to miss the revolution because I was not in a rush to finish my coffee. He asked me to meet him near his apartment, in Doqqi, on the other side of the Nile, after he showered. I joked that he was going to miss the revolution because his neuroses compelled him to shower before attending a demonstration. It had not crossed my mind that this could turn into something that lasted more than a few hours and involved more than a few hundred people. After all, this was Egypt.
Liam texted me and told me to go outside, because demonstrators were marching on a bridge over the Nile towards Tahrir. When I got outside, lines of riot police had formed around all the side streets, blocking my way back into Tahrir Square. I got through by "pretending" to be a lost tourist who was trying to get to the subway entrance on the other side of the police line. However, I was still stuck on the other side of the fence separating the sidewalk from the street, where the demonstrators were marching towards the police line. When I saw that many other spectators were taking video on their phones, I decided to do the same.
At the very beginning, demonstrators tried to push through the line of riot police, finally succeeded, then began to march through the square.
I started walking along the sidewalk because burly, tan jacketed men, who I later found out were plainclothes secret police, more commonly referred to simply as "the thugs," began pushing the crowd of spectators along.
After making their way around Tahrir Square, the demonstrators continued to march towards the Corniche of the Nile and the square went quiet, aside from riot police forming and reforming lines, trying to decide where they needed to go.
I thought nothing else was going to happen in Tahrir, so I hopped on the subway and headed to Doqqi to meet my friend, who suggested that we head to Mohandiseen. Hours later, we would be back in Tahrir Square, watching the scene outside through the glass doors of the Al-Safir travel agency, waiting for the tear gas to disperse.
(To be continued)