The planned 23 July march on SCAF headquarters in Heliopolis started from Tahrir sometime close 5pm. The march was initially around five thousand strong, but soon swelled to more than 20,000 protesters. I’m giving here the most conservative estimate; some friends think the numbers went up to 50,000. Where did those people come from? They were ordinary people in the streets or residents we passed through their neighborhoods. And it’s important to remember this, and shove it in the face of those who claim protests and marches do not enjoy the support of the public any more.
The march left Tahrir via Abdel Moneim Riyadh Square, and continued down Emtidad Ramses Street, and into Ghamra. Protesters were chanting beautifully rhymed slogans against Field Marshal Tantawi, SCAF, and police torture. They were chanting for social justice, bread and civil liberties.
As we approached Abbassiya, we started receiving news that the military police and the army special forces have blocked the road by the Nour Mosque with machine gun-mounted armored vehicles and barbed wires. We also received news there were “thugs” preparing Molotov cocktails and swords awaiting us.
But as we entered Abbassiya and passed by the cathedral, no problems whatsoever had happened. On the contrary, residents from the windows were cheering us, and some were throwing water bottles on the demand of thirsty protesters. It was a scene that reminded me of the Friday of Anger march, except we were heading to Tahrir on that day to topple Mubarak, while yesterday we were marching on the same route in the opposite direction, heading to overthrow Mubarak’s loyal generals, the SCAF.
The calm did not last for long. As soon as we reached the Nour Mosque, we found rows of army soldiers and officers, with the interior ministry’s Central Security Forces lined behind them. We stood our ground, demanding we pass. We were refused. Chants started immediately against Tantawi. The attack started. Young men carrying swords and knives flocked to our right, while others were stoning us from the side streets. Army soldiers kept firing their machine guns into the air, to be followed later by a chopper circulating around our heads. It was a war zone in every sense of the word.
The army has been inciting against our march already for days on the state-run channels, accusing the Tahrir protesters of being “thugs, foreign agents” bla bla bla. The army also, according to Abbassiya residents I spoke with, has been going around in the neighborhood since the previous night, telling people in the neighborhood that they “will be attacked by foreign paid thugs” the follow day. Those “foreign paid thugs” were of course, us.
Those who attacked us yesterday included criminal thugs from the Waily district, but also some residents of Abbassiya who did buy the army’s lies. The army was already on the roof tops before our arrival, the same roof tops Molotov cocktails and rocks were showered at us from.
The clashes went on for hours. We were besieged: the army and the police on one side, while the thugs blocking our way back to Tahrir. Scores were injured and detained. I personally carried one protester to the nearby hospital, and his left leg was dislocated completely, before my right leg was injured by some projectile or rock, I don’t know.
The army stood silent, watching the battle ground, hoping the thugs and the residents would finish us off, while the police was more than happy to join in by throwing rounds and rounds of tear gas. We managed to return to Tahrir in small groups via the neighboring hospital late at night.
Dear SCAF, you are a bunch of filthy cowards, who resort to lies and knife-wielding thugs to attack peaceful protesters. You prove day after day you are nothing but Mubarak’s loyal generals, who have hijacked this revolution. I wish nothing short of seeing you and your big boss Tantawi in court soon, to pay for your crimes.