A brutal regime is fighting, bloodily, for its life. Robert Fisk reports from the streets of Cairo
Saturday, 29 January 2011 - London Independent
...It began at the Istikama mosque on Giza Square: a grim thoroughfare of gaunt concrete apartment blocks and a line of riot police that stretched as far as the Nile. We all knew that Mohamed ElBaradei would be there for midday prayers and, at first, the crowd seemed small. The cops smoked cigarettes. If this was the end of the reign of Mubarak, it was a pretty unimpressive start.
But then, no sooner had the last prayers been uttered than the crowd of worshippers, perched above the highway, turned towards the police. "Mubarak, Mubarak," they shouted. "Saudi Arabia is waiting for you." That's when the water cannons were turned on the crowd – the police had every intention of fighting them even though not a stone had been thrown. The water smashed into the crowd and then the hoses were pointed directly at ElBaradei, who reeled back, drenched.
He had returned from Vienna a few hours earlier and few Egyptians think he will run Egypt – he claims to want to be a negotiator – but this was a disgrace. Egypt's most honoured politician, a Nobel prize winner who had held the post of the UN's top nuclear inspector, was drenched like a street urchin. That's what Mubarak thought of him, I suppose: just another trouble maker with a "hidden agenda" – that really is the language the Egyptian government is using right now.
And then the tear gas burst over the crowds. Perhaps there were a few thousand now, but as I walked beside them, something remarkable happened. From apartment blocks and dingy alleyways, from neighbouring streets, hundreds and then thousands of Egyptians swarmed on to the highway leading to Tahrir Square. This is the one tactic the police had decided to prevent. To have Mubarak's detractors in the very centre of Cairo would suggest that his rule was already over. The government had already cut the internet – slicing off Egypt from the rest of the world – and killed all of the mobile phone signals. It made no difference.
"We want the regime to fall," the crowds screamed. Not perhaps the most memorable cry of revolution but they shouted it again and again until they drowned out the pop of tear gas grenades. From all over Cairo they surged into the city, middle-class youngsters from Gazira, the poor from the slums of Beaulak al-Daqrour, marching steadily across the Nile bridges like an army – which, I guess, was what they were...more