Alexandrian Uprising

Feb 4, 2011 by

Alexandria burning at the corniche. Photo by Sean Moylan

Last night around midnight I spoke with a friend who moved to Cairo in the fall to teach English. I hadn’t heard from him since the uprising began. Several days ago he left Cairo for Alexandria. Our webcam conversation about the protests there was abruptly cut off ten minutes later due to a lost connection. I tried calling his phone and contacting him online but there was no getting through. Instead I messaged him, asking if he’d write an account of his experiences over the next few hours for today’s Fourth Night post.

I woke up five hours later to find a long message from him that had been hastily written from an internet cafe. He didn’t recount everything that he’d described to me the night before – which included telling details like the Made in USA teargas canisters used against the protestors – but the piece offers a picture of the tumult in Alexandria that may be news to those who might assume from the Cairocentric news coverage that only the capital is burning.

Noam Chomsky, who is 83 and no abecedarian in the history of revolutions, referred on Democracy Now to the events in Egypt as “the most remarkable regional uprising that I can remember.” The monster in the closet of every unpopular political regime is that a popular revolution in the neighboring country (the proverbial “rotten” apple in the barrel) may spread to their corner. From Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen, this is what’s happening in the Arab world now. The ‘rot’ of revolt against authoritarians allied to Washington is spreading. And the events are increasingly looking to be not a footnote to history but a new chapter.

I’ve decided, therefore, to postpone Part II of my “Es Complicado” essay on the convoluted psyche of the Buenos Aires porteño until next month. Instead I append the message that my friend sent through this morning. I’ve minimally edited it for clarity, breaking up the stream of text into web-friendly chunks and occasionally including bracketed asides for clarification. I have, however, preserved the uncapitalized facebooky format.

The photos are his. But he claims his best material is his video footage – of clashes between protestors and police, of men praying in the street while police cars burn. Unfortunately, he’s been unable to send any of it through yet. As soon as I receive the files I’ll edit and post the video here.

So here it is, the Alexandria uprising in the words of Sean Moylan:


“i went to alexandria last thursday night with two beautiful alexandrian sisters. there had been protests in cairo and we knew there would be a protest in alex after friday prayers but we thought the demonstration would only be in the main midan [square]. friday morning we head downtown to the corniche [the road that runs along Alexandria’s seafront] to see the library, shop, have lunch and avoid the protests in the main square.

after the noon prayers, we found our backs to the ocean and tens of thousands of protesters to our right, left, and front. there was a violent confrontation with the police. strangely, there were still families sitting along the ocean. there were kids. fishermen were fishing. but no taxis. no direction was safe. so we stayed put until the protesters passed. we walked behind them in the opposite direction of their procession. tear gas was in our eyes.

Alexandrian uprising. Photo by Sean Moylan

the city quieted for 3 o’clock prayers. i remember seeing police vehicles burning and hundreds of men praying in the street adjacent to the mosque. immediately after the prayer ended, the men rose in a tumult. the group sounded like an angry beehive. they wielded pipes and clubs and began a fast walk. the girls and i had to run or else be caught up in the mob. each street we ran to had more protesters. we passed a group who was praying. i wasn’t sure how they’d react to us walking through them. fortunately they were in a deep conversation with allah and ignored us.

we slipped into the cecil hotel, where al’jazeera, the new york times, and other journalists were staying. from the rooftop bar i saw the crowd burn the next hotel over and the bank and train station. they paraded the body of a dead protester on their shoulders. i searched for every exit in case they torched us. i was with a group of pirates – salvage crew actually – dutch and south african engineers, divers, captains. i’m not going to lie. i was nervous and drinking beers to calm my nerves.

after 5 or 6 hours, against everybody’s advice, we left. managed to find a taxi and headed to the outskirts of the city. the next day, saturday, i taxied all the way to cairo because the train station was burnt and the bus would drop us off in downtown cairo in the country’s biggest melee, the one you’ve most likely seen on american news channels.

when i arrived in cairo, many businesses and government buildings were torched. tanks and armored vehicles were everywhere. in the shadows of the pyramids, civilization was crumbling. in my neighborhood the banks were out of money. food and water was flying off the shelf, but the egyptians were working together to get through these difficult times.

one of the most impressive and memorable sights was of the young men of every neighborhood erecting whatever roadblocks they could and defending the neighborhoods all night long. they built fires for warmth. we brought them food. occasionally they fired a gun into the air to communicate with neighboring streets and to scare potential looters. they caught a few and treated them humanely, turning them over to the army. the police were gone. the militia worked with the army.

Tank in Alexandria. Photo by Sean Moylan

the people love the army and cheered the tanks as they rolled through. the people hate the police. the police who rob blatantly. the police known for their torture chambers. every cop who got his ass kicked probably deserved it. the looters were criminal elements in a city of 20 million. no surprise there. what is surprising is mubarak encouraging anarchy in the hopes the people will want his return to power for sake of stability alone.

the political protesters were peaceful. criminals are criminals. yesterday mubarak paid thugs 50 LE to throw molotov cocktails and rocks on the peaceful protesters in tahrir (‘liberation’ in English). the same thugs who intimidate voters. the monster cut off our phones and internet in the middle of an emergency, as if people didn’t know to meet in tahrir to protest.

on monday my school evacuated us to sharm al sheikh. there is no military in the sinai according to the treaty with israel. halfway down the peninsula, we hit a bedouin roadblock. they took control of the sinai. they made us wait while they prayed and then allowed us to pass. the bus drivers hauled ass for many kilometers after that roadblock.

so here i am, put up in a 5 star resort in the middle of a revolution. it’s not my fight, but i’m pulling for the people. i love the egyptians. love em. in fact, i think i’ll marry my alexandrian friend. it’s sad it came to this. i can’t believe the mubaraks of the world have held power as long as they have. the protests turned into a revolution quicker than anybody could’ve imagined. egypt is the most populous arab country. it has the suez canal, billions of american taxpayer dollars every year, and many more vested interests than tunisia. mubarak is stubborn indeed. he would rather watch his country burn than step down after 30 years. the man is 82 years old. give it up, asshole.

let me add too obama has got swagger. his statement after mubarak’s speech was right to the jugular. i only wish he’d come out stronger against mubarak. america’s fear is that strict islamists would take over if no dictator was here. but the egyptians don’t want that. only a small percentage of the population supports that approach. i don’t know where it will lead. but i hope it is resolved soon.

tonight i will hike to the summit of mt. sinai and watch the sun rise over the holy land. i may head to addis ababa and wait this out. pardon my sloppy writing. my thoughts are a bit jumbled as i haven’t had time to sort all this out myself yet. the situation is complex. many institutions are involved. there are social, economic, political, and other issues to be resolved. i hope minds stronger than mine are working hard on it.”

And I just received these messages from him:

“another thing. during the crisis, my neighbors formed long orderly lines at the grocery store. typically, egyptians politely elbow their way to the front the way americans get a beer in a crowded bar. there were runs on banks for cash. today is a crucial day. the VP is negotiating with opposition groups.the state run media is stepping up anti-foreigner rhetoric. one of my colleagues was harassed in cairo yesterday for the first time ever in 5 years. and he speaks decent arabic. i’m going to try to download pando [software to send and receive large files]

“the free pando is inaccessible in this country. the $25 one says ‘This product is not available at this time.'”

“and the so-called strict islamists here in Egypt are the Muslim Brotherhood. they are of the most moderate and tolerant of all islamists. mubarak and the west have played out the islamist bogeyman card. the islamic brotherhood will have a voice in the new govnerment proportionate to their numbers in the population. we may as well get used to it.”

-quoted text by Sean Moylan

*Read a more extended account by Sean in a Feb 11 Daytona Beach News Journal interview HERE

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8 Comments

  1. Really appreciate this incredible report Sean. Stay safe! Viva la revolution!

  2. Sean,
    I’d say Obama’s latest turning away from Mubarak has more to do with Machiavelli than swagger. He’d be playing the wrong hand if he continued to support Mubarak (like he did in the early stages of the protest), especially seeing that the army has now turned against him. Check out this short interview with Robert Fisk, the Middle East correspondent for the Independent, about Obama and Mubarak: http://bit.ly/dJbeqa
    And here’s the Chomsky interview on Egypt that I quoted in the opening: http://bit.ly/gpKxNp
    In it he refers to when Obama gave his famous Cairo speech to the Arab world after taking office. At the time he had only glowing things to say about our partner Hosni.

  3. hugh

    Informative article. Thanks for including it
    & thanks to Sean for posting it. There was
    a 2 hour special on Democracynow.org which
    can be seen on the website. It was almost entirely focused on Cairo but some excellent interviews were included. More information from the Sinai,on Alexandria & other parts of Egypt
    would be a great help to get more insights into
    the attitudes of the average Egyptian at this
    extremely important juncture in their history.
    I only hope that the revolutionary fervor is
    not co-opted by Mubarak’s military & business
    allies. Mubarak is said to be have invested $40 billion of his own money in American & European corporation but it would be only fair to get him to give that back to the poor people of Egypt.
    to bring that money back to Egypt.

  4. dionysios A. skaliotis

    Yiasou Kotso!
    I’ve enjoyed reading your reportaz on the different topics, including your friend’s from Egypt.
    Keep up the good work

    Dionysis

  5. Sean

    My return to Cairo is delayed until Tuesday. When I get there, I will have the wires and gadgets necessary to send my videos and charge my cell too, insha’allah.

  6. Sean is having trouble sending the videos through to me because of file size although he has managed to post them on his Facebook page. I’ve also shared a few of them on mine. I’ll also see if I can get Sean to post a few of them on the Fourth Night wall. You can join that at http://www.facebook.com/FourthNight

  7. Thank you for posting this. The account is great and I’m so inspired to see that this has reached out to so many corners of the Blogosphere, to writers as well as the normal political bloggers I hang with.

    To add to it, I read in the New York Times that poetry is read at night in the middle of Tahrir Square. It is so amazing to hear that.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, Benjamin. It’s an astonishing day. The revolution took place without any external help and without any top-down leadership, aside from a young techie who built a website. It wasn’t a coup of intellectuals or generals (even though the army will now – and this should give us pause – be stepping in). Just a popular uprising against repression. We’ll see if the uprising now spreads to neighboring countries like Jordan, Bahrain, etc…

      Sean is in the midst of the celebrations at Tahrir Square this minute.

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