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Cairo under military occupation
We are all a little bit occupied – But Cairo has been under an extreme form of military occupation for the past 11 days. Curfews of up to eighteen hours a day have been imposed, tanks, armoured personnel carriers and F16s have been rolled out to intimidate those determined to affect change and arrests, lethal force and extreme restrictions on movement have been used. 13 demonstrators have been killed in the last two days.
The curfew has made life terrifying for ordinary people in Cairo. This evening military police ensured that shops were closed by 5pm. During curfew it is virtually impossible to travel anywhere in the city. Military checkpoints stop and harass the sick on the way to hospital while neighbourhood teams sit up and man makeshift checkpoints through the night. This evening it was announced that the curfew would be eased to 7pm to 6am.
The US is now pressing for Mubarak to step down, and cultivating Vice President Omar Suleiman. This is an attempt to recover the status quo in Egypt – to retain control of the population and to maintain US imperialism and Israeli interests by channeling the anger of the demonstrators away from the state through making cosmetic changes to the organisation of the government.
The military have set up checkpoints on the major roads with tanks occupying downtown Cairo. On Thursday 3rd February we passed over 50 tanks on the main road into Cairo before we lost count. Lighter armoured personnel carriers, armed with machine guns and howitzers, are also present in droves.
In neighbourhoods throughout Cairo, groups of residents sit at makeshift roadblocks, carrying coshes, iron bars and the occasional machete. On Thursday morning, during curfew, we passed through ten of these checkpoints. They were set up since the start of the uprising to protect communities. According to people we have spoken to they are organised at a grassroots level. There may be differing reasons for the setting up of these checkpoints but according to many they are in response to the breaking out of prisoners from jails and the looting that has happened since the rebellion began. Escaped prisoners have been handed in to the army by the neighbourhood checkpoints and IDs of strangers are checked before they are allowed to pass.
As the claim that Israeli infiltrators are present on the demonstrations is propagated these same community checkpoints have checked passports of foreigners and prevented internationals entering downtown Cairo.
The people involved in these community checkpoints are, for the most part, the same people who are attending the demonstrations in Tahrir Square. There is something impressive about these community attempts to protect people but a rebellion which talks so much about freedom should be careful not to create a new prison.
One thing that people keep repeating is that the army is ‘on our side’, but is that really true? The army may be refusing to participate in an out and out massacre in order to stop the demonstrations but they are an occupying force intimidating the population, enforcing curfews, checking IDs and facilitating mass arrests. It is the military and security forces who have held the country in a vice like grip for decades, any real change must challenge military control.