Democracy Now! senior producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous is in Egypt now and shares his thoughts on what he's seen there, the transformation of a country he once knew. You can follow his tweets @sharifkouddous.
Transcript via Democracy Now!.
AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, you landed in your home city of Cairo just a few days ago, but it was not the same country you grew up in. Describe your feelings and what you have found, but start at the airport.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, I’ve traveled to Egypt countless times from the United States after I moved there for college and then work, and when my plane from JFK touched down in Cairo International Airport on Saturday, the day after the massive protest where the protesters beat back the Interior Ministry, police and state security forces, I did land in a different country than the one I had known my entire life. Egypt has been reborn. This is not the Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt anymore. And no matter what happens next, it will never be again.
This is a unprecedented popular uprising, the likes of which myself and many others never thought they would see under President Mubarak. They are taking to the streets, men and women, rich and poor, all segments of society. They are defying the curfew for the past few days, packing into Tahrir Square. And their mood is celebratory, and it’s victorious. They are sure. They are sure that they will not leave until Mubarak does. And they are chanting in the streets every day.
They talk about what has taken place over the past week with such pride in what they have done. Tomorrow marks a week from the January 25th National Police Day, when the first protest began, and culminated on Friday. Friday was essentially a battle between the Interior Ministry and the people, and the people won. They talk about how they came up on the bridges leading to Tahrir, faced off with hundreds and hundreds of riot police from the Interior Ministry, from the state security forces, and were met with violence. They talk with how they walked with their hands up in the air, showing that they were coming peacefully, chanting, "Salmiya! Salmiya!" which means "Peacefully." And they were beat down. They were tear-gassed over and over again.
And I’m not talking about, you know, hardcore activists and protesters, which have been taking to the streets increasingly over the last few years; I’m talking about people who had been depoliticized over the last few years, people from the middle class, young, the Facebook generation. What one person told me, this is the revolution of the Facebook generation. They came out in droves, old and young, and they took the streets. And what one person told me was, when they would be beat down and tear-gassed, others would come in and rush the police, and then they would fall down, and others would come back after them. And they said, "We gave each other courage."
And as of 5:30 p.m., the police completely disappeared, reportedly on order, from the streets of Cairo. They were in full retreat, and they have disappeared. There is not a traffic policeman in Cairo. There’s not any police anywhere. They have come down to the streets today.
But since then, the military came in. And as many saw the images on the screens of how the military was greeted warmly on the streets of Cairo, you know, crowds were roaring with approval as tanks rolled in. And what’s important to understand is that, you know, over the past decades, three decades, the state, the security forces and the police have been brutalizing, have been torturing the Egyptian people, have been wrongly imprisoning them, have been corrupt. But the army has not done this. The army has not had an interaction with the civilian population since the 1973 war with Israel. And so, people trust the army. I’ve seen unbelievable scenes in Tahrir Square, where tanks have been just covered with people riding on the turret of the tank and all over the tanks, chanting. They pray on the tanks. They chant, "Al-gysh al-sha’ab yd wahda," which means "The army, the people are one hand." And I’ve seen soldiers carried on the shoulders of crowds through the crowds, chanting, holding flowers.
Now, it remains to be seen what will happen going forward. Yesterday in Tahrir, at 4:00, there’s been a 4:00 p.m. curfew yesterday. Today it’s actually 3:00 p.m. I’m talking to you, and the curfew is now in effect. I will be going to Tahrir after this interview. But people are in defiance of any kind of authority until Hosni Mubarak leaves. And yesterday we saw, in Tahrir, military jets, two fighter jets, and a helicopter continually swoop and do flyovers over Tahrir Square right at 4:00 p.m., when the curfew went into effect. And the jets kept getting louder and louder as they came lower. And whether it was an act of intimidation or not is unclear. But the crowds did not care. They waved and whistled and shouted to the planes as they passed overhead.
There really is an unbelievable feeling of community now, of people coming together. I’ve never seen Egypt this way. People are picking up trash in Tahrir Square. People are handing out food. People are helping each other. People are sleeping in the middle of Tahrir Square and setting up tents in the middle of the square. It is a scene that is very emotional. It’s something that no one thought could come together. It’s largely leaderless. I mean, no one—there’s no one organizing group. This is a popular uprising across all segments of society. Opposition groups have come now into the fold. They are—the Muslim Brotherhood is here, and other opposition groups. But people don’t want it coopted. And, you know, one of the things that I witnessed that was very moving was a lot of the Brotherhood started chanting, "Allah Akbar," and then—which means "God is great" in Arabic. And then the counter chant that was much louder, reverberating over them, was to "Muslim, Christian, we are all Egyptian." And that really symbolizes what’s happening here in Egypt today.