Qasr El-Aini Demonstrations, December 17

Today was one of the more confusing days in Cairo since the summer.  The violence on Qasr El-Aini in front of the Ministry of Interior from yesterday rolled on through the night and into the morning, and by early afternoon, the army had taken to the streets, attacking demonstrators both in front of the Majlis  El-Sha’ab on Qasr El-Aini and Tahrir Square.

At about 1 pm, news spread over Twitter that journalists from Al Jazeera and plenty of other outlets were being attacked, their offices ransacked, and their equipment destroyed and confiscated.  At the same time, Al Jazeera Mubasher’s broadcast went off air, and State TV was the only live news channel available.  Twitter was virtually the only way to get information other than calling friends.

Journalists and activists were constantly reporting acts of violence throughout the afternoon.  The Syrian, Bahraini, and Yemeni tents outside the Arab League were destroyed, as were all the tents in Tahrir.  At some point, massive plumes of smoke covered the Tahrir area.  Videos of soldiers brutally assaulting protestors, including women, went viral around youtube and social media sites.

A few hours later, cranes were brought in to Downtown to construct a concrete block wall on Qasr El-Aini, very similar to the wall built on Mohamed Mahmoud a little over two weeks ago.  Still, it was unclear what was really going on Downtown.

Walking to the Tahrir Square area around 6:45 pm, strolling from Talaat Harb Square down Talaat Harb, you would not even necessarily know what was going on a few hundred yards away.  Families continued shopping, people were eating their dinners in nearby restaurants, and the usual mix of car horns, music, and chatter filled the air.

Closer still to the action, Tahrir Square itself had a very safe atmosphere.  Although many of the public lights in the area had been turned off, thousands of people loitered in the area, some walking casually in and out of the crowds on Qasr El-Aini.

Finally, Qasr El-Aini Street had a few thousand people crowded next to the army’s wall, and on El-Sheikh Rihan Street, one block south of Mohamed Mahmoud, where the army had built a barbed wire fence in front of the American University of Cairo’s front gate.  A line of security forces stood still, with weapons, beyond the fence.  Occasionally, the crowd in front of the concrete barrier on Qasr El-Aini hurled fireworks or a stones over the wall, and the crowd cheered loudly when one firework briefly lit a nearby tree on fire.

One thing that really stood out was the group of little kids, could not have been older than 12-years-old, who were throwing rocks at security forces who were on the balcony of a nearby building.  Little kids can usually be seen out at these kinds of protests, and were especially noticeable the night of the Maspero attacks.  Still, it remains a troubling trend.

So right now, the situation seems uncertain but also static.  The mood and environment is different from massive Tahrir rallys, and different from what was happening on Mohamed Mahmoud a few weeks ago.  Al Jazeera Mubasher is back on air, and just aired some of the most graphic videos of attacks that took place today.

Unclear where this all goes as the one year anniversary of the January 25th Revolution draws nearer.

Photos: December 17 – Downtown, Cairo.  Crowds gathered at around 6:45 pm in Tahrir Square and around Qasr El-Aini Street, where demonstrations against Egypt’s military regime continue.

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