Hundreds of people began to gather in Tahrir Square in the early evening on Saturday to protest against the Cairo Criminal Court’s decision to drop all charges against former president Hosni Mubarak, including murder charges for his role in the deaths of hundreds of protesters during the 25 January Revolution.
As the police and the armed forces closed in on Tahrir and sealed off streets leading to the square, with metal gates as on Qasr Al-Aini, or with barbed wire backed by armoured personnel carriers as on Mohamed Mahmoud, Talaat Harb, and Tahrir streets, the protesters coalesced in Abdel Moneim Riyadh Square and around the north-eastern side of the Egyptian Museum.
When I arrived at the scene around 8.30pm the crowd was in the thousands and growing larger by the minute, as more and more people arrived from Qasr Al-Nil, Champollion, and other streets feeding into Abdel Moneim Riyadh Square. The protesters were young and overwhelmingly male. One slogan I heard was, “We don’t care if Mubarak is out or inside, we will take our right.” Other mottos took aim at President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and the military.
Ahmed Nagi, a graffiti artist who participated in the 2011 revolution, found himself in the neighbourhood and joined the demonstrations. “When I heard the Mubarak verdict I felt like our revolution had been photoshopped–I felt like they erased our revolution.”
Ahmed said some of his friends were killed during the 2011 revolution. “I remember a friend of mine, Mohamed Mahrous, who was shot dead in front of the police station in Islamic Cairo on January 28. I remembered all the people who died in Tahrir during the revolution. I knew Mubarak would be free in the end, I knew that would happen, but still this verdict makes me so angry.”
At one point, larger groups within the crowd began to advance towards Tahrir while chanting ash-shab yurid isqat an-nizam (the people want to bring down the regime), a slogan that first emerged during the Tunisian revolution and that quickly become one of the most popular mottos of the January 25 revolution in Egypt.
The crowds next to the Egyptian Museum, in front of the barbed wire and the armoured personnel carriers, facing the bright white sagoma of the Mugamma on the other end of Tahrir Square, were becoming larger and increasingly compact, their voices louder and louder.
At first, I advanced with them. Then security forces opened the water cannons and seconds later they began firing teargas.
I decided to take off but Ahmed did not run. “My soul is on my hand. I don’t care anymore, I am not scared,” he said.
Teargas canisters began to fall nearby and most protestors dispersed, with many running towards Champillon and Qasr Al-Nil streets. As I left the area, security forces in plain clothes appeared suddenly and began to grab and detain demonstrators. Social media reports confirmed numerous arrests.
Mubarak, now 86, was overthrown in 2011, after 18 days of massive popular protests. The Cairo Criminal Court stated that 289 people were killed and 1,588 injured across 11 governorates in the first week of protests, from 25 January to 31 January 2011.
Mubarak always denied issuing orders to kill protesters in his testimonies before the court. Habib Al-Adly, who was minister of interior from 1997 to 2011, also denied any involvement in the killing of protesters.
All charges against Mubarak and Al-Adly were dropped on Saturday, as the judge ruled the case was “inadmissible” on technical grounds.