February 10, 2011

Alan Chin in Cairo: Extreme Shock and Rage. (It Seems Even the Generals Thought Mubarak Would Resign.)

Anticipating Mubarak’s speech to the Egyptian people, to the anti-government protesters, and literally, to the world, the expectation tonight —  telegraphed in the most convincing way in the afternoon by the top echelon of the Egyptian military — was that the President would announce he was stepping down. Analogies to the fall of the Berlin Wall were as prominent and flowing as the flags — mostly Egyptian, but also Tunisian — billowing back and forth among the dense, giddy and this-far-from-blissful assemblage in Tahrir Square waiting and waiting to watch the speech.  In the early hours, Alan sent just three pictures. In their simplicity they track the story of this profound, stunning and ultimately, crushing evening.

As Alan related to me, exhausted:

The first photo captures the massive crowd in Tahrir as it was getting dark, waiting eagerly for “the speech.”

The second photo captures the dead silence and rapt attention of not just the crowd, but the soldiers watching the speech atop their APC’s  projected onto sheets-for-TV screens. In the background is the Egyptian Museum, and beyond that, the burned hulk of the ruling NDP Party headquarters.

And the third photo captures the moment the people realized Mubarak wasn’t going anywhere.

In describing the crowd reaction in that moment, Alan felt that it wasn’t only anger, not in the singular way that the television commentators described it, as much as shock, a shock like a powerful body blow. I really admire this photo for all it says. Of course, there’s the fist in motion, expressing the rage one would feel upon taking such a blow, but the rage running wild through the veins of the Egyptian public right now in the early morning of what most people fear will be a frightful day. And then, there’s his face and his eyes. It’s the face of the Egyptian street right now, feeling so betrayed and abused, so deeply hurt and upset.

Ever the student of politics, too, Chin expressed the surprise and confusion of everyone over the bizarre twist of events. Said Alan:

“The degree of the shock was the result of what the army said, the Generals actually presenting themselves in the Square today. Really, if you watched their announcement on television — and you couldn’t miss it, because it was playing everywhere, over and over — it looked like something out of a 1940’s movle, these senior officers with these very serious looks. They didn’t quite say Mubarak was going to leave, so there was room to maneuver. But, as a projection of authority, it was just them.  All them. There was no Mubarak and no Suleiman. So late tonight, when it was Mubarak on TV, and then Suleiman, but no generals with them, well… what the hell does that mean?

“The situation is explosive. It’s absolutely explosive. El Baradei is calling on the military to save the day, almost begging them to stage a coup. That’s what most people in the street seem to want as well. There is plenty of suspicion toward the military, but people believe it’s the best option.

“Right now, it feels like, unless the military actually does intervene, this place is going to explode. But what happened? Even Leon Panetta, the US Director of the CIA was saying he was going to resign. I’m afraid for what’s going to happen. People are marching on the TV station as we speak.”

— Michael Shaw with Alan Chin


See the entire series of BagNews photo-reports from Cairo at Middle-East Uprising 2011.

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