And so, now we are back to waiting... Unless the demonstrators start burning down the cities, which would probably not be the best idea, the main thing to hope for is that the generals decide in a meeting to dump Mubarak.
But if a military junta takes over, that does not bode will for organizing elections rapidly.
I was watching AlJazeera early afternoon and saw those guys on horseback and on camels come roaring through the crowd. Also saw some of the riders being pulled off and beaten, lots of fights, rock throwing, etc.
All the anti-Mubarak seem convinced that the regime and secret police are doing it to provoke a backlash.
Good to hear that you and your family are safe in England, Mark! Today the situation is escalating and I find the coverage confusing and disturbing. The beginning of violence was predictable. My thoughts and support are with the average Egyptians and how their lives are being affected, now and forever.
Waiting for Mubarak to step down in September is a long, long wait. I doubt they will wait. A transition government until Sept. might be the best, but who would lead? El Baradei is a possibility, but, he has been out of the country for 30 years and has no base with the people. We had a similar situation recently in Canada, when Michael Ignatieff decided to run for Prime Minister. After an absence of 30 years, where he lived and was well in the United States, he then decided to come back to Canada and run for PM. No. I refused to consider him for a moment.
I think that the next leader will come from the military. I can’t wait to read your report on the situation. Thanks for posting in this chaotic time for you.
It's just too overwhelming to reply to each one of your posts to be up to date, here and elsewhere, so I'll post the first bit and try and get more in the morning. Then I should have a bit more time to answer anything -
So, where to start, hmmmm. Well, the cell phone network was cut off, so were several web sites and then the internet fully cut off. I am aware it's supposed to have come back, but...... Plus the Government did deny interfering with the phones and internet. But obviously, they did. You've probably, in the last few days, had more of an idea than me as to the state of things. They restricted the TV stations as well. So I'll just cover what happened to me/us. I'd already planned a few days at the coast (El Gouna - www.elgouna.com/ at the Sheraton - www.starwoodhotels.com/sheraton/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=323) What a good move that was. We got there on the 28th Jan, Friday, to be met by a haven of peace and tranquility. There was no indication at all of any problems elsewhere. One thing though was the amount of Army on the roads on the way and leaving Cairo. But in El Gouna itself there was nothing untoward at all.
Even though Blackberry (yes, Blackberry) reception was cut, and at times cell phone coverage, SMS's, internet etc, the powers that be had failed miserably to realise I had an emergency satellite phone as well. Hah! So with that and periodic land line calls we kept in touch with many people in the city and elsewhere, via Europe and other similar phones. The most disturbing part was the gangs of 'looters' roaming around. My estate, El Rehab (as with many areas) organised local patrols of residents and check points within the estate to monitor those coming and going. We also just so happen to have an Army base nearby resulting in each of the entrances having it's own personal tank to scare off the rabble.
However, as has been reported, many supermarkets were torched and raided. As we continued our vigil around the heated swimming pool sipping cool iced drinks and eating rather well, the horrors were conveyed to us by friends remaining behind. Many had been threatened and stayed within their apartments gradually running out of food. On Monday 31st we were due to return to Cairo to spend the night and the following day we were to take normal scheduled flights out to Europe that I had previously and coincidentally had already booked myself to the UK and the wife and kids to Germany.
I had filled the car to the brim with fuel and had my extra tank and filled up with provisions in case we had problems on the return journey. All went well though for, oooh, at least 20km after our early morning start breaking the 8am curfew, which no-one seemed bothered about. Then we arrived at the first, and known, Police check point. However, there were no Police there. Only the Army. And they had two tanks. One across each side of the road.
We weren't the first to be held up there. I could see many normal buses and cars in front of me with approx 300 men arguing with the Army by the tanks. Of course we all wanted just to be let through, but the Army, for security reasons, said no. I walked to the front to join in, a distance of about 300 metres, after I'd waited about an hour for a resolution. I was also eyeing up the surrounding desert in case a 'detour' was needed around the checkpoint. As I arrived at the front, walking past the tanks, I witnessed a conversation between one 'ring leader' and the Army Captain who was standing proudly in the turret of his tank. I witnessed it but there was no way I could understand it. But, with a bit of poetic licence, it seemed to go like this - Man – shift your bloody tank Army – no Why? I'm ordered not to move it from here. Can't you see we just want to get past? Yes. So shift your bloody tank. No, I'm not allowed to. What if we shifted it? Silence Are we allowed to move it? Silence If we moved it would you do anything? Pause......... I am not allowed to move it. (Man turned to crowd) RIGHT LADS, PUT YOUR BACK INTO IT!
So about a hundred of us got behind the tank at with a bit of coordinated shouting and shoving – we pushed it off the road into the desert. The Army Captain still proudly standing up in his turret but now facing lots of sand instead of lots of tarmac. A mad rush ensued whilst we all ran back to our cars/buses and with plenty of horn blowing and 'Wacky Races' type manoeuvres we raced through the checkpoint.
Glad to hear you and your family are safe, Mark. Now I am looking forward to a humourous telling of your adventures.
But it's definitely looking bad in Cairo. However, I would be very interested to know what is going on outside the main cities. There seems to be no news coverage of how villagers and people in small towns are reacting, or whether state TV coverage has completely blacked out any information, showing only empty streets in Cairo.
bixa, it was already in neutral. You don't expect a tank to roll far anyway, it takes a bit of pushing to get it started, too much inertia. As for a handbrake? Who knows.
bjd, outside the main cities it is mostly quiet. There are few problems and they are more looking at the news than doing anything. There is little in the villages to focus your discontent on, it is the cities where there are political offices and symbols of the government.
Imagine now a couple of hundred cars, minibuses and buses driven by Egyptians who are elated/angry/stressed and trying to get home/as far as possible/to join in before the curfew arrives at a reported 3pm along a fast open road. Quite a few will come to grief. As they did. About 10km after the checkpoint the first minibus was seen rolled over off the road on a slight bend with a few bodies laying around, plus other vehicles that had stopped to help. This sight occurred a few more times within the next 150km until they seemed to calm down a bit. There are a couple of fuel stations we passed, packed to the hilt with panic buying but we had plenty so we carried on. The next two checkpoints held no problems at all, there were no Police, Army or anyone there. The next one had the Army but the road was open, the penultimate checkpoint had a long queue but after being checked were letting people through. The last was blocked again completely, the last one into Cairo.
I joined the back of the queue about 3 or 4 hundred metres from the Army. I got out and started walking to the front but could already see no one was being allowed to pass, so gave up and went back to the car. I knew of all these checkpoints as it is a regular road we travel. I also know that just before the last one there is a turn off to a cement factory. The road we were on is a toll road and the checkpoint is at the toll booths nearest the city. The cement factory trucks don't use the toll road, it'd just get too expensive for all of them, so they go round the back of the factory to use the 'old' road which now cuts through a suburb, a suburb which is the next one along from mine. So, Plan B – do an illegal U turn, cut across the sandy central reservation, 4 wheel drive required, head the few km back to the factory and turn off. Then cut round the suburb passing through a number of residents checkpoints, all in good humour, and approach one of the gates to mine. After a cursory inspection by the occupants of an Army Personal Carrier monitoring the comings and goings, and with a wave to the gate guards we 'know' we were in.
As we came through our estate you could see numerous road obstacles but with no-one manning them, it was still daylight. So we just slipped home, put the kettle on and started the serious business of leaving the country. We didn't have long to wait until it got dark but we were quite busy sorting out the list of things that as the situation became worse we added to for stuff to take with us or arrange. One of the things we found we needed to do was visit a friend across the estate. Her husband was working abroad, she was at home with two kids and hadn't left the apartment for several days. She had little food left, none fresh. We were going to have to throw food away as we weren't sure when we'd be back, so the solution was simple, the execution of it a little less so.
We left to go to her at about 9pm and it was like a scene from Mad Max. There are few street lights anyway so it's not known as a well lit place. Round the corner from us was the first locals checkpoint. Made with several concrete blocks across the road and about ten men, all armed with large sticks or metal rods keeping warm around a fire. We approached slowly, was told to stop, we showed our residents ID cards and were waved through with a smile. I forgot to mention I told my wife to drive us so as to appear less threatening. Every hundred metres or so for the next couple of km through the estate the situation was repeated. Totally informal checkpoints, were often in view of the last one so they could see us coming, all manned by residents and with the exception of firearms (I never saw any if there were) all armed to the teeth with whatever they had and gathered around a fire.
My wife would slow down, we'd show our ID cards and be waved through with a smile. I also forgot to mention two more things – just in case it wasn't obvious, the residents had formed groups to stop any thieves, robbers, bad men, who might have been able to enter (many groups stayed at the gates) from having a clear run at doing some looting and damage. The second thing was nobody was obeying the curfew. It had been moved from 4pm to 3pm that day and to last until 8am the next day.
We delivered the food, placated the friend and told her she was being well protected by other residents so not to worry and returned the way we came, passing through all the same checkpoints with the same procedure. However, the curfew was our next problem.
Glad to hear you and yours are safe Mark.My goodness,what an ordeal. Reports of chaos and violence are most disconcerting but,not at all surprising. My fear is that things are going to get a whole lot worse. I am confused in that we were always able to see some TV coverage despite reports that all forms of communication had been cut off,including television coverage/reporting. Again,good to see you and glad you are all safe.
What a time you've had Mark - Do you think your son will go on to relate this historical incident to his children and grandchildren? I used to think only OUR grandparents had anything interesting happening to them in their youth, but doesn't seem so anylonger....
I for one am releived you are safe in Blighty even if it is brass monkeys!
It is possible that the TV coverage you were seeing is through a satellite link. I'm sure you've seen the small mobile dishes some reporters use. Though all the communication was sporadic and off and on most of the time. The national TV was ordered to shut down for a while, as was Al Jazeera, but there are just too many ways to communicate. A CNN reporter, Ben Wedeman (sp?), a long time resident of the city and fluent Arabic speaker was using a land line, which had not been cut, to phone to a desk in the USA and the desk person was then typing the report out on Twitter. The BBC had a satellite link from the top floor of a hotel. etc etc.
When things have calmed down I will speak to my kids and see what they thought. Though we did try and make light of most of the stuff we were doing/seeing. They did watch some TV as well so they do appreciate some of it. Bear in mind my three kids are at the moment in Germany with my wife and I'm in the UK. The reason is purely that my wife needed to spend the next two months there on courses to prepare for our move to Amman. My daughters are just there initially for a holiday. My son is starting a boarding school there this week as well. Had all gone according to plan then the girls would fly back to Cairo on the 12th, my son would stay there, my wife then at the beginning of April would start in Amman whilst me and the girls would move there in the summer, my son after the summer holidays returning to the boarding school.
We had normal scheduled flights on the 1st Feb, the next day, already booked from months ago, way before anything kicked off. We hoped to still get them but we were dubious because of the chaos and bedlam at the airport. However, we were going to attempt it. The night we sorted out the food thing we called at one of the gates to see what the situation was. The Security (bless them, still working) said that getting out was not on before the curfew ended at 8am. Also the Army had now manoeuvred their APC's and small tanks to block the roads off. However, my flight was at 9am to London, the wife and kids an hour later to Frankfurt. I obviously wanted to be at the airport by 7am at the latest. We had heard that the airport wasn't under a curfew, but the roads leading to it were. Also many tourists who had arrived still after the curfew came into affect were refused leaving the airport and had to spend the night there. So, Plan C happened – the break out.
At 6.30am, first light, saw us all in the car with our bags. A month ago a new part of the external wall and fencing was renewed, but in typical Egyptian fashion, not done properly. I had seen this passing in and out many times and tut tutted at their workmanship. So with a small shove from the front of my nice four wheel drive I flattened a small section of temporary fencing, drove over it out onto the road. I turned away from the blocked road by the Army and cut through three building sites around it. The previous day on our return I'd also seen where the Army points were on the main road – I only live ten minutes from the airport anyway. There was only one more which I skirted until the main airport entrance where we had to stop. The kids, playing their role beautifully and primed by us, burst into pretend tears on our signal and we showed the Army man how upset they were and please to let us pass to get to the Terminals. Which he did without a thought. A wave and a have a nice journey type of comment from him saw us through to the car park.
The British Embassy, as much use as a chocolate fire guard or a one legged man at an arse kicking party, was still downplaying the situation and hadn't organised any evacuation flights. Their advice was to go to Sharm/Hurghada/Red Sea coast where all was quiet and to sit it out for a bit. The German Embassy reacted sooner and had already organised a flight for the day we returned to Cairo. This we said we wouldn't or couldn't take but put our names down for the next day, the day we were due to fly out anyway on the scheduled flights. So, we had a fall back position. If not the normal flight, then the organised one.
Upon arrival the the Terminal no-one was being allowed in. There must have been several hundred of us there. It seems that the airlines, especially Egypt Air that we had booked on, had played by the curfew and not sent buses out to collect the pilots etc until 8am. So it was obvious we weren't going anywhere for some time. But we didn't know this while we were waiting and waiting until someone with a loud voice and a bombastic attitude (me) whistled loudly to get the attention of what had already been pointed out to me to be the head of security at the door and shouted “Yalla, Yalla” (Let's get going). He shook his head in a negative response and this loud voiced person shouted “Lain?” (why?) He then said something to the people near him who passed the information back to all of us to explain the delay.
So we settled down to wait outside. Eventually those for a flight to Doha were called forward. They struggled through the masses and disappeared into the bowels of the terminal. After a long wait another flight was called. Then the flight to Frankfurt my wife was on with the kids. I followed them and 'blagged' my way inside (To gain, usually entrance to a restricted area or club, or some material good, through confidence trickery or cheekiness. Lying is also acceptable). We had been in communication with known German Embassy staff and work friends who were at this time being picked up themselves from a hotel (the Marriott) in the town centre on the island of Zamalek and were currently on their way also. So – after much comings and goings and waiting my wife and kids managed to get on their scheduled flight. Initially to leave at 10am-ish but left about 3.30pm. The London flight on Egypt Air had still not been called or was up on the monitors. But at least I was waiting inside rather than outside now. In the mean time the German contingent had arrived and with normal efficiency organised as much as they could but were hampered continually by the weak link in the chain, the Egyptian check in agents and staff needed to see us through the process.
There came a point though where I had to commit to either the evacuation flight to Frankfurt or the Egypt Air London flight which was now being sorted out. I decided to stick with the bird in the hand and be baby sat through the formalities by the German Embassy staff (who'd also turned up with gallons of water and plenty of snacks). Thus I ended up at 6.30pm or so taking off for Europe. However, I still needed to get to London a.s.a.p. On arrival at the airport in Frankfurt my wife booked me a ticket on the normal flight the next day from there to Birmingham, the 2nd Feb. I then spent a nice night tucked up in bed in Germany with the family.
The story nearly ends there but there is always a little wrinkle at the end. Getting up early I walked to the nearby underground/overground train line which goes to the airport thinking with a sigh of relief, all is now well. I got on the first train with plenty of time only for it to pull fifty metres outside the station, break down and block the track. After waiting 20 minutes I'd had enough. I walked to the front of the train and had a word with the driver (if you are familiar with the S Bahn you know he's just through a glass door in full view) I asked him to unlock the doors to let us out to seek alternative transport. After an initial refusal as we weren't at the platform and being backed up by several other passengers, he relented.
I slipped out quickly, ran back, grabbed the first taxi who took me not far to another line where everything was running still fine. Eventually I reached Frankfurt airport again, rushed through the process there, grabbed a quick sandwich and hopped on the plane to the UK just in time.
The End (or maybe not, I'm still supposed to fly back on the 11th Feb)
I know I may have made light of some of the situation but I'm sure you can read between the lines and see it was quite unnerving and unpredictable. I have great sympathy for the common Egyptian who is stuck in the middle of it with no escape and no options. I always had and have options/alternatives, planned for and off the cuff whatever I do and wherever I am. That is most of the reason why people can get out of a bad set of circumstances.
The last time I was in such a serious situation was when I was arrested by the Iranian Secret Police and unwittingly trampled dog shit in to the carpet of their nice new car I was being detained and transported in. But that's a different story.
Post by cheerypeabrain on Feb 3, 2011 17:21:00 GMT
Mark, we're just glad that you're safe. I was working last night so didn't see the news, my son let me know that some 'pro-Mubarak protesters' had joined the demonstrations and stirred up a whole parcel of trouble. I really do wish the Egyptian people well, and hope that they end up with the government that they want, and leaders that they can trust.
It must have been terrifying and I am absolutely full of admiration for the way you handled your situation. Stay safe.
It was only half full when we got there. I've disabled the batteries, recently renewed the theft insurance but I wonder about the parking charges if and when I go to pick it up. I will have to sell it in a few months and I'm half hoping it gets disposed of in some way as the insurance worth is a lot more than I could sell it for.
Flicking through a few youtube videos I saw this one was quite good - the battle for Kasr Al Nile Bridge. At 3:40 the people praying being water cannoned, and somewhere the guy who was ran over by the reversing Police van (who got back up again somewhat dazed)-