Egypt’s Protestors Come to Aid of Ransacked Semiramsis Hotel

A harrowing account from Ahram Online:

“We ran to the crisis meeting point on the 4th floor and barricaded ourselves in,” Samak describes, “it unfolded so quickly we followed all our security measures, but no guards of hotels in Egypt are armed. We had to secure guests and colleagues.”

Meanwhile revolutionaries outside the hotel attempted to prevent the thugs from entering the building, reports Ahram Online journalist Karim Hafez who was at the scene.

“When they realised these groups were trying to loot the hotel, protesters shot fire crackers at them as they attacked the building and tried to push them away from the area but these groups were armed with birdshot bullets,” says Hafez.

The assailants also attempted to steal the ATM in front of the hotel.

Journalist Mohammed Mare, who witnessed the event, recounted on his Twitter account that four people arrived in a Lancer car with no licence plate behind the protesters and fired the shots to scare protesters away, before storming the hotel.

The attackers shot at employees and continued to destroy the building for approximately three hours before security forces arrived.

So far there have been no confirmed injuries.

“We are the frontline, I’m still a bit shaky, and the situation is still not resolved. Clashes are starting again,” Samak says, who thanked the revolutionaries that “stood by us last night,” via the hotel’s Twitter account, adding “you are awesome.”

One of my pictures from the previous post is of the entrance to this hotel. One detail I neglected to mention was the pungent effect of tear gas still in the air. I could barely keep my eyes open as I walked through the area. Strangely, this was also true at the Nile River bridge – I would have expected the open air to have dispersed it by then.

This story helps show the complications of Egypt’s situation. Moments earlier these protestors were going hard against the police. But it was the protestors, and not the police, who intervened to save the hotel. [I recall seeing another statement saying the two cooperated to fight back the thugs.]

Egypt’s opposition seems to be banking on the chaos to reverse the president’s extra-legal gains, cause damage to his political chances and reputation, or else have the army step in and reset the situation entirely. Dialogue is so necessary at this moment, but they also have so little reason to trust its fairness. It is a dilemma.

But the opposition in all likelihood does not control the street. A possible outcome is for the president to do what so many Egyptians lament Mubarak is no longer around to do: Crackdown and ensure security.

If this scenario emerges, will it revolution be completely reversed? Will there be another one party system with a handful of loyal opposition parties?

It is far too complicated to say so, and history never repeats itself exactly. But these days, most political parties and ordinary citizens are nervous, expecting the worst. Its just that they define ‘worst’ differently.


Family in Tahrir

Sidu and Hannah
Sidu and Hannah

With Egypt on the eve of another potentially massive demonstration, it is time to pull these pictures out from the archive. They are from the day I took my four year old daughter and her grandfather to Tahrir. I didn’t post them immediately, as I didn’t want to scare the rest of the extended family. And to set hearts at ease, I don’t plan to take anyone tomorrow.

It is hard to recall all the events of Tahrir, but on that occasion there were once again clashes – the night before. My parents were visiting to help assist with the birth of our new son; of course my father had to see the famous square. The best time to avoid violence is morning, when all are exhausted from fighting through the night.

‘I smell nail polish remover,’ said Hannah, my daughter. She was sort of right; I had never noticed how it resembled the scent of lingering tear gas.

‘What pretty decorations,’ she said. I looked all around, wondering if she was referring to the graffiti, some of which is rather creative.

‘No, the shiny ones,’ and she pointed toward the middle of the road. Ah, barbed wire.

With a local protestor
With a local protestor

Some lessons I explained, others were left unsaid. My children are getting quite an education in Egypt.

As for my father, he was particularly impressed by an incoming march as we exited the square along Kasr al-Nile Bridge. ‘Such passion,’ he remarked. We even got a quick glance of Hamdeen Sabbahi’s silver locks as he accompanied the procession to Tahrir.

(Sabbahi not visible)
(Sabbahi not visible)

As for tomorrow, the two year anniversary of the start of the revolution, expectations are meaningless. Tahrir could be packed, or victim of protest fatigue and sullen resignation. It could spark a second revolution against the Muslim Brotherhood, or descend violently into anarchy and chaos.

Here’s hoping for a protest without nail polish and decorations.


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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Eid Sacrifices


Millions of Egyptians celebrated the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice; many also witnessed the sacrifice of others over religion.

In some places Egyptians battled either institutions or each other over control of the main public squares – and with it, the right to lead the holiday sermon.

In other places the sermon itself displayed opposition to certain elements of the Egyptian population.

Likely, for most, it was a simple day of remembrance and revelry.

Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son in your name, God, but you stopped him. Likewise, many Egyptians appear willing to sacrifice each other in your name.

For Abraham, you provided a substitute. Will there be a similar scapegoat in Egypt? If so, who?

God, save Egypt and her people from this fate. May no son of the Nile be placed upon the altar; may no son of the Nile place another human being there.

What then will redeem Egyptian politics, God? How do sacrifices end?

Perhaps the answer lies in keeping the concept but changing the recipient. Is it possible for Egyptians to place themselves on the altar?

Can you raise up leaders, God, who will self-sacrifice – not for their cause – but for the other? Can you provide those who will risk and ruin their own reputations by defending all semblance of righteousness in the cause of the other?

Find these men, God, and promote them. Honor them and make them examples. May their courage expose the self-service of all who care only for their limited understanding.

Keep Egypt in faith, God, the faith that you will preserve the good however much discipline and repentance you must engender along the way.

And in the end, may even self-sacrifice fade away as Egypt self-embraces, and then embraces all others.

May only the remembrance and revelry of distant sacrifices remain.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Ripples


As a tumultuous period has passed, though not been resolved, smaller items follow in succession. Largely Islamist protests the past two weeks in Tahrir rippled out to the governorates, where thousands of people demonstrated to ‘save the revolution’. It is hard to gauge the effect, but if Islamists decide to continue, and if revolutionaries decide to join them, Egypt could be shaken up and down the Nile, not just as previously in Cairo.

But for this week, revolutionaries did not join them. The quotes used earlier reflect their estimate that Islamist protest is only a tool for leverage against the military, not a commitment to the goals of January 25. It is an old question, but viewed through a new strategy. Revolutionaries have railed against the military for months; as latecomers are Islamists true converts or old manipulators? Regardless, should they join hands anyway, or let the two come to blows, if indeed that is fated?

God, the ripples are in advance of elections, when a tsunami may engulf them. Stabilize Egypt in the coming weeks that this first democratic experiment might hold and issue confidence.

Such confidence may be waning, as another ripple disqualified a candidate, only to bring him back again. Mubarak’s prime minister following the outbreak of the January revolution has long been a candidate for president. Parliament passed a law to bar all old regime figures, under which he was eliminated. Then, strangely, only a day later he was cleared in his appeal.

God, there is much that makes one shake the head in confusion. For the normal citizen, keep such vagaries from returning perspective to the prerevolutionary days of resignation.

For the political parties, aid their understanding of what must be fought for, and what may be accepted. If all must be fought, then give the strength and endurance to do so.

For Egypt’s judiciary, may members be men of integrity and courage, that they may interpret the law as it was intended, and for the good of the people. If this was not the intention, give discernment in the absence of clear separation of powers.

For the military council, give them steadfastness to complete the long period of transition. May they stand at arm’s length from each pursuant of power, and equip the people to make wise decisions. May they keep the nation from danger, especially that which is self-inflicted.

God, gear Egypt for these final coming stages. May she endure and overcome all challenges; may she emerge victorious in honor of all who have sacrificed for freedom. These are many, from all spectrums of society.

In the end, however different their viewpoints and disappointed their efforts, may they all embrace in celebration of what was wrought, that it may continue.

And God, may such success ripple throughout the region, that it too may know peace. Bless Egypt, God. May she soon have rest.