As dusk fell tonight, Tahrir Square was packed with thousands of protestors demanding the fall of Egypt’s military government. On the third consecutive day of protests and after 36 hours of clashes with the security forces, there was a lull. Sweet potato, corncob and candy-floss vendors mingled with the crowds.
At twilight, ranks of police and soldiers attacked. The hollow thump of tear-gas canisters echoed from the streets to the south and east. Panic spread among the crowd and thousands took to their heels screaming “the army.”
A teenage girl ran up beside me, limping badly. She had lost a shoe, and her bare foot and her head were covered in blood. “We’ve run from Mohamed Mahmoud street, the army beat us with sticks,” she shouted. Thick plumes of tear gas rose over the running crowd and people began to choke, some vomiting from the stinging smoke. After ten minutes, the square had been cleared of protestors.
In contrast to Friday’s demonstration against proposed “supra-constitutional principles,” which was dominated by Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups, the crowd in and around Tahrir today was heavy with the middle-class youth who led the first protests against Mubarak in January. “We’ve come back to finish what we started then,” said Ashraf, a 20-year-old student. “The SCAF [military council] must realise this is the end of the game, this time they will have to kill us to get us out.”
In the run-up to elections scheduled to begin next Monday, tolerance for the military rulers’ disastrous handling of the transitional period has run out. For two days protestors have defied the SCAF to occupy Tahrir square, fleeing from and pursuing security forces in a cat-and-mouse game played out in the square and the surrounding streets and alleyways. The area is strewn with jagged paving stones broken up for missiles, broken glass and makeshift barricades. Police and army have used a mixture of tear gas, baton rounds, birdshot and batons and, reports suggest, live ammunition.
After an hour, security forces pulled back from Tahrir and the crowd, which had retreated to the side-streets, surged back in. Chants began again: “The people want the fall of the field marshal”—Egypt’s de facto leader Field Marshal Tantawi, and “The army and the…