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Reporter's Notebook: Cairo, a capital under siege

Text by Marc DAOU

Latest update : 2011-01-29

FRANCE 24's special correspondents in Cairo report on their arrival in the Egyptian capital, a city besieged by security forces and protesters determined to end President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule.

Hotels under siege, mobile phones silenced, landlines cut off and the Internet shut down – welcome to Cairo, a city sliding into chaos.

Inspired by Tunisia’s popular revolt, thousands of Egyptians have taken to the streets to call for the departure of their autocratic ruler, President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981. Yet, as we landed at Cairo’s international airport Friday afternoon, there was little to suggest the country was facing its worst unrest in a generation. All around us, the customary crowds of carefree tourists were disembarking, eager to visit the glorious archaeological remains of Ancient Egypt.

The first impression, however, proved deceptive. As we approached the city chauffeured in an old gray Peugeot cab, it soon became obvious the capital was rife with unrest. From several kilometres afar, Cairo’s silhouette could be picked out from the clouds of smoke billowing above the buildings, while armed forces policed both sides of the highway. We passed a heavily guarded mosque in Heliopolis, a suburb of the capital. The closer we got, the more palpable was the tension.

We crossed a bridge littered with parked cars, their drivers leaning over to film events below with their mobile phones. As we entered the city centre, the rumour grew into a deafening roar. All around us, protesters, scurried around in little groups, playing cat and mouse with the police, the air stifled by tear gas. One after another, the roads to our hotel turned out to be blocked, some by police and others by marchers. We finally reached the Ramses Hotel by foot, only to find it surrounded by protesters of all ages.

A bell boy welcomed us inside the hotel, apologizing for the circumstances. As we checked in, a police charge pushed a wave of protesters inside the lobby. Amid the shouts and clatter of shattered windows, a tourist fainted and was promptly evacuated. Soon, tear gas spread throughout the hotel. A man with a gas mask led us to our rooms. It was 5pm on our watches. One hour later, overwhelmed by the unrest, the Egyptian authorities declared a curfew in Cairo and two other major cities.
 

Date created : 2011-01-29

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