02/07/2013 08:50 BST | Updated 31/08/2013 06:12 BST

Going to the Revolution: My Experience of Protests in Cairo


My plan to see the day's protests was temporarily halted by the tragic murder of 21-year-old American student Andrew Pochter who was stabbed in the chest while taking pictures of protests on his phone. His death immediately and fundamentally changed the way I viewed the current unrest in Cairo.

Pochter who shared a similar age, interest and occupation to myself when he died was a casualty of the explosive and unpredictable nature of these protests. These parallels between Pochter and myself personalized the violence in Cairo and terrified me. His death destroyed my confused, abstract idea of what the protests were like and hit me in the chest with a grim and painful dose of reality.

My overzealous friends convinced me to leave for Central Cairo at 5am to avoid roadblocks and mobs. My taxi screeched past a sleepy Tahrir Sq along empty roads breaking the still but strangely humid air. After strong assurances by some and stern warnings by others about the safety of the protests I had no clue what to expect. "It's too quiet" I heard Pierce Brosnan 007 whisper.

I stayed at the crowded office of Shayfeencom (we are watching you), a political watchdog monitoring sexual violence in the demonstrations and helping the victims of it. Excitement animated the employees and heightened emotions. The arguments before the protest were not expected.

After 4 hours of work, which were frequently interrupted by news reports and the time spent gazing at the live feed of Tahrir Square on TV, I was rushed outside. The march to Tahrir had begun.


An incalculable mass of people, from old women in wheelchairs to babies in prams were waving flags and smiling. The pride that permeated the air was contagious. Disbelief at the scale of this event was universal. 'How can Morsi ignore this?' one man exclaimed spotting me on the side of the street.

The march was overwhelming. Standing in the middle of the street I was a tiny pebble in a huge current. Flags seemed to be everywhere, in hands, on vehicles, coming out of apartment windows. Marchers gave me posters and leaflets; they even corrected me when I was holding an Arabic banner upside down. Everyone was smiling and shouting. The irony of course was that such happiness was created by a movement expressing such deep discontentment.

But despite the smiley faces and the striking feeling of togetherness, I was anxious still. I didn't want to 'interfere'. I got the feeling that I was at a stranger's wedding but with much more sinister consequences than seen in Wedding Crashers. When away from my Egyptian colleagues I was occasionally gestured at to stop taking photos, something that immediately brought back thoughts of Pochter.

When the march began to fade a few hours later I was rushed into a jeep to see Tahrir Square. I didn't have time to decide whether I wanted to go let alone express any objections. The jeep somehow rushed through the moving crowds like the Nightbus in the Harry Potter films and quickly got to Tahrir Square where I was pushed out of the car and told vaguely-"One minute!".


I will never see so many people again.

The dense crowds (actually numbering around 500,000 in Tahrir Sq) hid the roads and pavements making the place unrecognisable. It was like seeing an ocean where every drop is a different colour and moves by itself. I was then ordered back into the jeep and we fled.

My camera was fried, my head was sore, my mind was virtually inactive and a the 30th of June was done.

I was lucky. Accompanied by knowledgeable Egyptians I was safe in the midst of happy, caring protesters who on the whole were glad to see a foreigner interested in their country. The experience was ultimate. It was day I'll never forget for all the right reasons.

However the experience I was fortunate enough to have was sadly not shared by all. Clashes have resulted in deaths across the country and have injured hundreds. A staggering 99% of women who participated in a UN study of the protest reported some kind of sexual harassment or assault. The sinister side of the unrest, despite overshadowing the more inspiring and friendly side in the media, shows just how volatile and dangerous these protests can be.

The protests are exciting. I was lucky enough to see history being enacted. However my excitement and wonder are diluted with sadness. Sadness seeing a monolithic population divided and hearing that buildings are being burned down, people killed and women assaulted wantonly.

As the army cryptically threatens to intervene it is clear that change is afoot. What this change will be is unknown. I find it hard to optimistic about the future.

Neither a military coup nor a military crackdown on protests set an ideal precedent for the Egyptian democracy. Egyptians are even more divided on who should replace Morsi than whether he should leave in the first place. Whatever happens, those in power will have an extremely difficult job to do.