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February 4, 2011

'Mubarak will go Friday,' they cried as rocks and firebombs flew

(Cairo, Feb 4) From the House on the Corner, you could watch the arrogance and folly yesterday of those Egyptians who would rid themselves of their "President." It was painful - it always is when the "good guys" play into the hands of their enemies - but the young pro-democracy demonstrators on the Tahrir Square barricades carefully organised their Cairo battle, brought up their lorryloads of rocks in advance, telephoned for reinforcements and then drove the young men of Hosni Mubarak back from the flyovers behind the Egyptian Museum.

Maybe it was the anticipation that the old man will go at last today. Maybe it was revenge for the fire-bombing and sniper attacks of the previous night. But as far as the "heroes" of Egypt are concerned, it was not their finest hour.

The House on the Corner was a referee's touchline, a house of late 18th century stucco with outer decorations of stone grapes and wreaths and, in the dank and derelict interior, a broken marble staircase, reeking cloth wallpaper and wooden floors, groaning under bag after bag of stones, all neatly broken into rectangles to hurl at the accursed Mubarakites. It was somehow typical that no one knew the history of this elegant, sad old house on the corner of Mahmoud Basounee Street and Martyr Abdul Menem Riad Square. It even had a missing step on the gloomy second floor with a 30ft drop that immediately brought to mind the staircase in Stevenson's Kidnapped, and its vertiginous drop illuminated by lightning. But from its crumbling balconies, I could watch the battle of stones yesterday and the brave, pathetic attempts of the Egyptian army to contain this miniature civil war, preceding, as it does, another Sabbath day of prayers and anger and – so the protesters happily believe yet again – the very final hours of their accursed dictator.

The soldiers manoeuvred through the field of rocks on the highway below, trying to position two Abrams tanks between the armies of stone throwers, four soldiers waving their hands above their heads – the Egyptian street sign for "cease fire".

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