Nathaniel Greenberg, a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington, offers his view of the uprising in Egypt from his Cairo neighborhood.
CAIRO — On Friday, demonstrations transformed into an intifada — an uprising. For every person who took to the streets in recent days, there were countless others who stayed inside. But today, the revolution came to them.
Just blocks from the major demonstrations that broke out Tuesday, Lazoghly Square was swept into the fury.
Gunshots rang out from the east and south of downtown. At the coffeehouse below my building, a few locals and I gathered around the television, watching events unfold on Al-Jazeera. Both ends of the street had been sealed off since noon by gangs of both uniformed and nonuniformed men, many wielding little more than two-by-fours or tree branches.
Clouds of smoke blackened the Mukhatam hills to the east, where major demonstrations that originated from Al-Azhar Mosque and University were culminating. The echoes of distant masses kept the residents of Khamarat Street on edge. They peered out of cracked windows and leaned over balconies, covering their mouths and noses to guard against the sharp sting of tear gas in the air.
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A middle-aged man with a baseball cap and a windbreaker joined the group inside the dimly lit coffee shop. He greeted us and removed his cap. He’d gone a few blocks south but retreated as soon as the police opened fire with tear gas, he said.
Some of the club-wielding plainclothes officers came in to the coffeehouse and sat down to watch Al-Jazeera. The reporter was relaying the U.S. position. I smiled gracefully. Fortunately for my sake, the U.S. was supporting the popular cause.
The officers jumped up suddenly and ran down the block. Security apparatus cleared the street once again. The coffeehouse boarded its windows, and I fled upstairs to my apartment.
By 5 p.m., all bystanders had disappeared. Fire increased to the south near the mosque of Sayida Zainab where a major demonstration had exploded and threatened to make its way down Khamarat Street to Lazoghly Square and the ministry offices there.
Raging, club-wielding young men raced from corner to corner, inciting at times a surge of movement when a lieutenant would rush forward and fire a cannon shot of tear gas.
A few local residents, including some women, handed bottles of water to the security gangs.
I recorded footage out the window, emptying my memory card as often as possible onto my computer. Phones and Internet were down.
I poured myself a glass of cold arak (a popular Middle Eastern liquor), and downed it quickly. Then I filled some empty jugs with water and barricaded the door with a couch. I also gathered our money, passports and my USB drive near the door. I feared that in the worst-case scenario, the fires could spread to my building.
I told my fiancée we’d have no choice but to exit by the main stairwell. We could have moved from rooftop to rooftop, but the door to the roof was locked and our doorman had left town. The U.S. Embassy is 15 minutes away, but we’d have to go through Lazoghly Square, which was now the government’s last line of defense.
On Al-Jazeera Arabic, a professor from Cairo University declared the Facebook revolution was now a thawar al-shabeea — a popular revolution, and everyone, even those who did not want to participate, were now swept up into it.
The morning sermons had been electric, but the evening prayer at 6:50 p.m. beckoned the faithful and cut through the tension of the occupied city like a knife.
The police disbanded the plainclothes militia around 9 p.m., but the position of our building remained threatened. I filmed into the night amid gunshots and tear-gas cannons. Later, the police began firing at the rooftops after protesters on top of the adjacent building hurled Molotov cocktails down upon them. I retreated inside and closed the shutters.