Watching the news, whether it’s local or international, or reading Twitter feeds is probably giving many the impression that Cairo has devolved into chaos once again. That’s not the case; outside of Tahrir and the surrounding side streets you would almost never know that the death toll is rising in the square and police are launching a near-constant barrage of tear gas.
When I walked toward the square yesterday from my office on the Corniche, just a few blocks north of Tahrir and near the barricaded state TV building, kiosks were open, older men were smoking sheesha at the local ahwa as usual, and passengers waited at the bus station under the October 6 bridge. A policeman with the green traffic police vest stood and talked to some people selling tissues and corn. It wasn’t until I reached the back corner of the Egyptian Museum that I saw hundreds of people running toward me and away from the square’s center. Then they would stop, regroup and walk back in together chanting “We want the fall of the regime.” There was one vendor in the square hoisting a stick laden with plastic bags of bright pink cotton candy — an unexpected and incongruous image that was circulated by foreign journalists on Twitter, although it didn’t seem remarkable to the those in the square.
I kept walking in further but when I saw him turn to run and several other food vendors pick up their tables or carts to scramble out in the crush of people, I took a narrow path between a corrugated metal fence and some parked cars to avoid the stampede. Some of us ducked under the barbed wire separating the museum alley from the square to get out of the crowd. By then it was clear police had pushed into the square from the southeastern side street as arcs of yellow-grey tear gas were streaming up over the crowd.
I didn’t have my camera with me so at that point I decided to leave and walked to the Corniche and then up over the bridge to Zamalek, where all evidence of the protests almost immediate faded away. Apart from reduced traffic and what sounded like automatic weapon fire coming maybe from the opposite side of the Nile overnight, the atmosphere outside of Tahrir is amazingly calm and people are going about their normal lives, many of them choosing to ignore what’s happening downtown.
Here’s a good video from Al Jazeera English that will give you a picture of the square Monday morning: