Edited transcript of interview with Anna Day
While most Americans watched the protests in Cairo unfold on TV from the safety of their homes, one UW alumna was on the front lines during the clashes between police and protesters earlier this year.
Day felt both the ferocity and compassion of the protests: Police attacked, chased and gassed her during the ugliest days, but protesters tried to protect her and make sure she got to safety.
The following is a part of her story is from an interview with The Badger Herald.
Cairo by night
I start walking to Tahrir and I am going past these personnel carriers. Personnel carriers are common in Cairo. They look like train cars filled with people. They had a fleet of these personnel carriers leading up to Tahrir.
I am walking by and all these men are cat-calling me because it’s late at night and I’m a foreigner. I look over and I see that there are all these protesters gagged and cuffed inside these personnel carriers
I thought, “Oh, dear God.”
I started talking to the soldiers because they’re always up for talking to American girls. They start letting me take their picture and in the picture you can see people gagged and cuffed in the background.
Pepsi and Prayers on Anger Friday
A call to prayer went off and the Muslim men got down and were praying on this bridge that goes into Tahrir Square and the non-Muslim men went in front of them, as well as the women.
It was this moment that seemed to say, “Time-out.” These men and women stood between the police and these praying Muslim Egyptians on Friday, which is the Muslim day of prayer. So then, the call to prayer ends, the men stand up and it was like, “Time in.”
The police immediately start covering the entire area with tear gas. And when they shoot these canisters, it is a propelled shot.
A single protester would run up, grab the tear gas and throw it into the Nile or into the side of the street to get it away from the protesters.
Then somehow the protesters would run up and grab the protester and bring them back to safety and grab Pepsi, or some other kind of condiment in their eyes.
Pepsi was neutralizing the effect of the tear gas if you kept it in your eyes. There were all these crazy little tactics people had adapted as the week went on.
On encounters with the police
I was attacked by these police officers with clubs. They were hitting me with these clubs trying to hit my camera out of my hands. I was screaming and yelling. I ran off the bridge [to Tahrir Square] as another fleet of police walked on. It was unbelievable.
I get down into downtown Cairo and I am trying to get into Tahrir. Downtown Cairo: This is an area that probably had about 10 lanes of traffic.
This is a main part of Cairo. The Ramses-Hilton is right there. It’s just this central downtown area. It’s completely deserted. This is probably midnight, so this is unheard of in a city of 20 million people.
There’s smoke, there’s tear gas, you can hear sirens, you can hear gunshots from the bridge. There are groups of men roaming the streets with clubs. There are groups of police roaming the streets with batons.
It was just this eerie scene from an urban civil war.
No tweets, no status updates, no problem
Social media played an enormous role in organizing the initial protest.
However, the momentum of that initial protest was so contagious that by that evening it was all over the news that people had come home from work and come out.
The brutality escalated the entire situation. Not just social media, but Al Jazeera’s coverage, which was fantastic, really fueled this momentum. It was feeding into each other. People were getting more and more excited and losing their fear.
A New Egypt
I would love to go back to Egypt. Right now, Egyptians are calling on foreigners to come to Egypt. I have already seen advertisements for the “New Egypt.”
I am not uncomfortable going there.
I do not think Westerns should be uncomfortable going there. The protesters weren’t not about America’s involvement in Egypt. That was what I found to be most beautiful about it. I thought there would be more animosity towards America’s support of Mubarak, and certainly there was.
There was a kind of responsibility I saw from the protesters that was wonderful. They took responsibility for their own country’s corruption. They didn’t blame it on the U.S., which does play a role in the corruption.
I look like a sorority girl, and I would be comfortable going to Cairo next week.