Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Revolution at Dawn

I awoke at 5:30 am to sounds of several blasts coming from the Square just across the river from the hotel. I counted about 10 of them, then saw a flurry of vehicles driving toward the square with blue lights flashing. Got dressed quickly and made my over to the Square wanting to see how things are at such an early hour.

There were much fewer people at that hour, with those who had obviously spent the night starting to mill about, still wrapped in their blankets, huddling around small fires of burning trash. Yet, there was still action down Mohamed Mahmoud Street, the one artery leading to the south of the Square where the clashes have been taking place, with protesters trying to push the security services back away from the Square toward the Ministry of Security building. This was where the blasts I heard had come from, and it became clear that they were shots of tear gas cannisters.

Previously, this street was too croweded with protesters to get a view of what it was like on the front lines, but this morning it seemed possible. So I made my up slowly toward the front. It's a cat and mouse game, with protesters charging, then fleeing back when the tear gas was fired, often in a high arc so that one sees a smoking trail falling from the sky, hits the ground and spreads a wave of smoke.

I videowed one of these cannisters as it fell near us, and was frankly surprised at how little impact of the gas there was. The day before I had been near the Square several times and the residual gas was very hard to take, causing allergy-like respiratory responses.

But then, somewhat later, the crowd began to retreat again. I followed and was overtaken by a wave of invisible gas that was like fire to the eyes. As I ran back, one young man asked if I was OK, and I bravely said yes and waved him off. But soon enough the others didn't need to ask and they rushed to me (like they did to so many others) and sprayed my face with the antitdote solution mixed of water, sodium and who knows what else. I heard the urgent instructions, "Don't open your eyes. Wait a few seconds." Then they sprayed a second dose, admonishing me not to touch my eyes. Finally, it was OK to open them, and the young attendents carefully wiped the residue off my forehead and cheeks, staying meticulously away from the eyes.

This inivisible gas is the more toxic brand that the security services have been employing in this round of the revolution.


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