Confusion Reigns on Cairo Streets

For H.A. Hellyer’s full coverage for RD from Cairo, click here.

It’s a very confusing time. This country has endured so much hardship over the past week—many naturally want it to end, and return to a modicum of normalcy and security, as well as personal well-being. And when Mubarak said he was not running again, many decided that the time to protest had ended, and that the time to plan for the future had begun. Certainly on Tuesday night, that’s what it seemed like.

But on Wednesday, there were still people in Tahrir—and they were certainly the insistent, who were insisting that he leave now, be put on trial and so forth. Walking among them, it was striking how different camps were all over the place, and there was no one leader at all. Nor a group of leaders. This was and is a leaderless and rudderless unrest, who are not united on a vision for the future past a very few basic demands. They’ve made a number of strategic errors, and will probably continue to do so. As I left, I thought that eventually, they’d all just go home, and then we would see how the coming months would unfold. That the next nine months would be a time of transition for Egypt, and that at the end of it, Mubarak would retire as the first retired leader of modern Egypt.

The rest of the day threw all of that into question. The anti-Mubarak protestors have been set upon, and now, increasingly, there are voices around Egypt making themselves heard against the protestors. I even heard, as I was walking around Cairo’s streets, people essentially blaming the violence in Tahrir on the anti-government protestors themselves—not because they thought the protestors had become violent, but they had essentially brought the violence upon themselves. On the other side, many took the violence as a sign that there would be no peaceful transition over the coming months—rather, that anti-government protestors could expect to be arrested in the weeks and months ahead. In yet another camp, one could see the skepticism about the protestors being even able to take power if they ever wanted to, as disorganized as they are.

In the midst of all of this, there are all sorts of rumors floating around, from all sides. In the thick of things here, it’s hard to know what’s actually true and what’s false, beyond a simple truth: people are dying and are being hurt. No one seems to know what to believe anymore, but now that people realize the threat of violence in Tahrir, more and more are pleading for people not to go on tomorrow’s protest. Indeed, the Mufti of Egypt, one of the most respected religious figures in the Arab world, just urged people yesterday to stop protesting. Other reports indicated that other religious figures, whether inside or outside Egypt, were claiming it was a duty to go protesting tomorrow. And so the cycle begins, and the confusion deepens. None around us know what will happen next—except that now that it has become dark in Cairo, we’re all preparing our makeshift weapons, so we patrol our streets and protect our homes.