For most of the afternoon Sunday, the open roof deck at the InterContinental Cairo Semiramis hotels had two sunbathers and a young boy swimming in the Olympic size pool by himself. Six stories down, and 200 hundred yards away, on Abd El-Quader Hamza street, reckless policemen (aka the Central Security Force, or CSF) were launching tear-gas shells against the multiple protesters who were hurling rocks back at them.
Only once did the sunbathers get up to see what all the commotion was about, and that was when a stream of protesters busted through the CSF blockade at Abdel Kader Hamza Pasha Street and began running and screaming loud enough to wake them. They peered over the ledge of the hotel for a few minutes until things settled down. Then they went back to sunbathing.
Sometimes, the Central Security Forces deployed to "handle" the more disruptive protesters throw the rocks back. They'll collect some of the stones thrown at them and then wind up and hurl them at the same faceless moving targets with the same amount of amateurish, schoolyard accuracy that often times does nothing but cover the street in rocks. It's odd to see just how vulnerable every one is. We found ourselves standing behind the CSF yesterday morning and I realized how easy it would be for a protester just to run right up behind the officers and immobilize them if anyone had something more lethal than a rock.
But then again the violence doled about by the Central Security Force (which it turns out is basically a JV army put together by former president Mubarak) is equally nonsensical and often more ruthless. There are no formal rules of engagement or peace-keeping in the Cairo streets. At times while we were watching the officers charge into a pack of protesters it seemed so unrealistic—like a Civil War reenactment, but with teargas guns and dopey shields instead of bayonets and rifles. Most of their procedures to disperse the mob appeared more mob-like and improvised than the protesters themselves. We witnessed two men detained and beaten only to be marched off unprotected as Morsi supporters got in a few punches of their own.
The clashes last throughout most of the morning and late into the evening. Certain streets are overtaken by protesters who are then dispersed by teargas shells. Yesterday, there were hourly disruptions on the street in front of our hotel as protesters ran in and ran out, in and out, screaming and running away and then huddling up for their next move. A little after midnight there was a louder disruption as a dozen or so protesters carried an injured man down the street and attempted to hail down a vehicle to take him away. They finally flagged down a motorcyclist. Together, they propped the unconscious man onto the bike as another protester climbed on back to hold him upright while he was driven away. At about 2 a.m, a teargas can was lobbed into the middle of the block at a small group of protesters. One of them attempted to kick it back at the unseen CSF only to shank it sideways and take in a face full of gas in the process. After that, the rest of the night, our street was relatively quiet.
Today is chaotic, more so than before, but it's still very much contained to Tahrir Sqaure. Last night, the Muslim Brotherhood (essentially the party responsible for electing Morsi and his main supporters at this point) was going to do their own march within walking distance from Tahrir Square. They canceled last night, and some of the journalists and locals I spoke with suggested that the violence will be more of the rock-throwing and tear-gassing as usual. There will be more supporters, of course, the real middle-class Egyptians who will engage in peaceful protests while most of the children throw rocks and bottles. But the lack of a strong Muslim Brotherhood presence means it will be less violent.
This disappointed a couple of young locals I spoke with last night, as they spent their Monday night on party boat on the Nile. They were 30ish, successful-types. They categorized themselves as sensible liberals. "We need people to die tomorrow," one said. "Yes, unfortunately we need more bloodshed. That's the only way things will change."