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When I set out to the Itihadiyya Presidential Palace in Heliopolis, Cairo, I wanted to capture some footage of the Muslim Brotherhood's pro-Mohamed Morsi sit-in and the clashes that were reported earlier in the evening, with five deaths and more than three hundred injuries confirmed. At that time, I was uncomfortably speaking at an American University in Cairo panel on the Middle East and Knowledge Production. I got some of that "knowledge" produced right in my face first hand in the Itihadiyya quarter, Korba Street, and Roxy Square shortly after.
It was a little after 11 pm. I returned around 4 am, as the raging clashes began to subside. Below is a quick account. For further background on the current situation and confrontations, see these posts on jadaliyya here and here. The night before, I captured the oppositions' sit-in in Tahrir Square here.
On a tip from friends, I stopped first at Korba Street in Heliopolis where clashes were taking place. I witnessed two bloody fist-fights between Morsi supporters and opponents, an overturned vehicle, and palpable tension (see photos). I refrained from filming.
My intention was to see the Brotherhood's sit-in around the Presidential Palace, and converse with the adherents. They had marched in large numbers to camp there protect the "legitimacy" of President Morsi, a day after that same area was swarming with his opponents who led him to leave the palace before too long. Pro-Morsi groups apparently took down the tents that stood in their way from the day before, roughed up and beat the campers, and pushed them away, initiating a day-long clashes that lasted until recently (it is 5:30 am in Cairo now).
Against the advice of make-shift yuppie-looking neighborhood-watching baton-wielding younger men who said they are protecting their quarter from a possible "Ikhwan" incursion, I proceeded right to the Marghani Street, alongside the Presidential Palace, where a very large number of Brotherhood supporters lined the street for as far as the eye can see. By then, many were sleeping opposite the palace on the grass (see pictures). I spoke with nearly thirty individuals at some length about why they were there. They repeated the above, regarding protecting the President, and almost verbatim, they stated that this whole mess is caused by people who lost out after Hosni Mubarak fell. Contrary to actual numbers, when I pointed out that today Morsi is opposed by many who also opposed Mubarak and even Ahmad Shafiq for President, they claimed that these came in very small numbers. They were cordial, extremely polite and welcoming, but quite off in their reading of what constitutes the opposition and its various motivations. I respectfully asked if I can take pictures, and I was allowed every time (see photos). I spoke to bloodied supporters who recount their stories, with no mention of any infringements on their parts and on the parts of their group--though this was the same account from the other side, except we have access to footage on various social media that shows the destruction of camped tents by Morsi supporters early on.
I then proceeded to leave that area, and was advised to stay away from Roxy Square, which prompted me to head there right away. I had to cross the barricades that separated the Ikhwan camp site from the anti-Morsi protesters across from al-`Urouba tunnel (see photos). The entire streets were littered by rocks and damaged material used to blockade various parts of streets. It was like an abandoned war zone. I took a cab to get to Roxy Square quickly, but when roads were blocked, I made may way on foot.
I was immediately sucked into the real deal, where clashes were raging. Crowds by the hundreds on both sides were at a stand-off around Roxy Square, throwing molotov cocktails and tear-gas bombs, big stones, and firing live ammunition, but mostly towards the ground. You could hear primal-type screaming in waves, which I then found out was a precursor and an accompaniment to group-wide dynamic attacks on the other side, where dozens would run in unison toward the other side of the street while screaming (to develop the courage to do what is in reality nuts as you totally expose yourself), throwing at them whatever they can grasp.
Admittedly, the first thing I thought about is that my mother would have a hear-attack if she knows that I was there, let alone headed to the eye of the storm that was being reported and simulcast, well, everywhere. Then I remembered I was over forty, so I forged ahead on the side of the anti-Morsi protesters (I'm using pro- and anti-Morsi casually, but much can be found on Jadaliyya that unpack these dynamics/positions). I got hit on the knee with a stone from the other side, but can't claim a real injury--damn it.
For about ninety minutes, crowds would advance, throwing stones and molotov bombs, get targeted via the same means, plus what sounded like live ammunition which was apparently aimed at the ground. The one added element was the tear-gas that nearly blinded most of us who were closer to the front (see video on the "Aftermath of Roxy"). The systematic and plentiful throwing of tear-gas bombs, and the police vehicles stationed on the Ikhwan side, left little to ponder in terms of whose side the police were taking--at least in that particular confrontation.
Videos of the Roxy Clahes Captured by Author (below)
As you will see in the video above, the more fortified Ikhwan side was using leftovers from construction sites to create shields behind which they would advance. In that particular confrontation, they were more organized and strategic, but not more courageous than the folks who were on the other side, and usually locals to Heliopolis. One has to also account for the support the other side received from the police, though any such reports must be confirmed on a case by case bases, given the instances I witnessed in which not all policemen were sympathetic to the Ikhwan. At some level, it boiled down to personal preference and location of officers, though the tilt was certainly not towards the opposition when it really mattered.
You could physically feel the tension in the thick air. This is not just some skirmish or group clash. It is a visceral and definitive battle about the future of Egypt. What is quite evident, however, is that the Ikhwan have lost a lot of stature in the past days, and certainly any aura of sacredness attached to the message they espouse. Opponents of Morsi are not all apple pie either. They include a minority that is sympathetic to the old political order, though these are far from being the driving force of the opposition, in contrast to the Brohtherhood's claims. It remains to be seen who can consistently mobilize a greater number of people based on a sustainable and non-alienating message/propaganda. But the current struggle/confrontation runs much deeper than numbers and strategy. Issues of identity are at its front and center.
TO VIEW THE VIDEO OF THE AFTERMATH OF THE CONFRONTATION,
Overturned vehicle around Korba St.
Brotherhood sit-in across from the Presiential Palace.
Injured supporter of Morsi.
Brotherhood sit-in across from the Presiential Palace.
Whatever happens, there's always koshari.
The Police! Hanging out.
Much needed tea stand.
The police, in the middle of the stand-off.
Rocks everywhere. A preferred weapon.
The wall of the Presidential Palace, opposite to the side wehre the Brotherhood members were sitting.
Near Roxy Square, right behind the clashes' site.
Injured Morsi opponents.
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