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Internet blackout in Egypt, notes

I am now at home, in Italy. As you all know, internet was cut off in Egypt until today. In the meantime I took some notes about what was going on and what I saw, and now I am just copying and pasting them from my BlackBerry as I don’t want to change anything. I hope to convey to you the same feelings I got… Just a quick note: I didn’t have my camera, so I feel like I have to speak up. Please ASK if you want to know something, I might have left something out, but my mind is just so full of things at the moment…

Cairo, Egypt. Friday, jan 28th 2011.
The sun is about to rise and I am in my bed, so sleepy I crave some sleep but too nervous to fall asleep.
The adhan never sounded so creepy.
It’s the dawn of a new day, a day when things will happen, things can change, things can also get terribly wrong.
He called me about 1 hour ago and told me not to go to the protests. He doesn’t want me to go because people will die. I know he’s going anyway, and he told me that if he’s going to get hurt or die, it’s ok because he’s fighting for something he believes in.
And I can’t tell him not to go. I know how important this is.
But please be safe, we tell each other. I will, we reply. Promise that. We can’t…
I want to go to the movies with you again. Please get me a bunch of flowers. Who knows if and when this will happen? How long will the protests be? Nobody knows.
Will the protests turn into something else?
Me and my flatmates are going to a “pacific sit-in”… But who knows if the police agrees on the pacific side. They could teargas us and beat us just for no reason.
We went to the supermarket last night, and there were unusually many people. We bought a lot of food, in case things get very ugly and we can’t leave our flat for a couple of days.
Maybe all this will look ridiculous when I read it again after “everything will be over”, maybe I am just too emotional, maybe everything is going to be fine.
But what do we know?
They say the army will be there. In my mind army means weapons. I don’t feel any better.
The internet is cut off all over Egypt. Come on Vodafone, what the heck is this?
We called the customer service just to see what they would answer. “It’s a global problem but we are working on it. It may take a few days”. What.the.fuck.
Do you know how it feels when you have NO WAY to contact people? I know my family and friends are worried and are waiting for my news. But they’ll just get silence.
The government still didn’t pronounce a single word about what’s going on but they are cutting people’s internet and phone lines, just in case. Oh so it looks like you know what’s going on, huh?
They say they will cut electricity too. We filled a big bowl of water just in case they do, and the water pump won’t work.
Data service on smartphones is off. Text messages also. I can call people but it doesn’t always work.
I am just so worried.
I try to relax, I send him my positive energy because I don’t pray.
January 28th is today. Hanshuf. 

11 am, I try to make a phonecall. They even cut the normal phone service. Shit

3 pm, I am on the rooftop of Novotel Gezira in Zamalek, me and a friend wanted to join this pacific protest I told u before but we didn’t find it so we just entered the hotel to watch the news… Suddenly we heard shooting and people screaming and running inside the hall of the hotel to look for shelter. All coughing their lungs out for the gas. A hotel worker invites us to go to the room but we don’t have one so we escape to the rooftop. Well we’re actually stuck here now.
I can see Qasr el Nil bridge right in front of me. People vs police. Massive use of tear gas, and water cannons.
And you know what happens? Suddenly the adhan starts and people stop the protest. Even the police. And they pray.
I wish I had my camera. This is one of the most unbelievable things I have ever seen in my life. Go Egypt…

5.30 pm – we are trapped in the hotel since a few hours. We can’t go anywhere and nobody knows we’re here, as phones + internet still don’t work. The city looks on fire, black smoke everywhere, and sound of shooting continuously. I am officially scared for all the people I know who joined the protests. They say 8 people died already in Downtown only. Please please… They have to be ok. Please.

Injured people are taken in front of the hotel, and the awesome staff assist them with water and first aid. And what does the police do? They fucking throw tear gas in the hotel because they want these people to leave and go back to the streets. I hate them.
Gas is everywhere, elevator doesn’t work, we are stuck in the hall and in the gas. We try to climb the emergency stairs to reach the roof but the gas doesn’t allow us to breathe. It’s awful…
I see black smoke coming up from my neighbourhood. I will definitely have to stay here for more time. How long?

We tried to go on the street for a minute to look for a taxi or reach the metro but it’s still full of tear gas and.. Blood. Back into the hotel.

Tear gas is burning our nose, throat and skin, and we breathe through a wet tissue. We are given masks, just in case.

6 pm – cover few has been decided, we can’t leave the hotel. They give us a room free of charge. We can’t find the words to thank them.
At least now we can see the news, thanks God CNN is showing what’s happening and they say the truth: protesters are not being violent. Police is. Motherfuckers.

Phones and internet are still not working, and we can’t tell our flatmates, families and friends where we are. We want everyone to know we are ok! At the same time, we can’t have news from the people we know who joined the protests. Are they safe? Are they still protesting or maybe they left? What if they came to our places to meet us and didn’t find us there?

Waiting for Mubarak’s speech on the tv, but he doesn’t show up. Wtf.

In all this, the sound of shoots is constant outside of the window as well as the people’s chants and screams. Can’t really get used to it… The tv says they heard gunfire but no one is sure yet. I hope they didn’t start shooting and that it’s “just” rubber bullets and tear gas again. Yes, we are now used to its smell.

Jan 29th, 2011

We wake up early, look outside of the window and everything looks ok. At least, cars are going on the streets normally so we decide to go out quickly and go home until it’s possible.

I am talking plural since yesterday, but didn’t say who I am with. I am with a Swiss girl who wanted to take part in the pacific procession with me, but then… everything went wrong.

I walk home, and in order to do so I have to walk through all the places where the protests took place yesterday: Qasr el Nil Bridge, Midan Tahrir, Qasr el Einy Street. There are burning cars, bullet and teargas cases, stones and debris everywhere. Some police cars are still burning in the middle of the streets. Tanks are all around. In Tahrir a small protest is still going on, I cross the square quickly, all I want now is go home.

In the meantime the phone signal is finally back, and I call my mother and my flatmates. He still doesn’t answer, his phone is off, I am worried.

On the way home I meet an American guy I know, he tells me he was stuck in Downtown for the night. We both climb the stars to my apartment and share our stories. My flatmates are all at home, safe.

The day goes on more or less normally, we watch the news all the time. We see things getting out of hand. My German flatmate receives a call from a friend who’s at the Interior Ministry. The guy, panicking, tells her he just saw police shooting 3 persons in front of him. The news still didn’t mention it. “Let the world know”, he asks.

Three friends pay us a short visit around 4 pm, at the beginning of curfew. They leave, and just after a few minutes one of them calls me “They are shooting at us!” – “Come back!” I say. But they didn’t come back, as they got stuck in a side street and can’t come back without risking again.

Later on I call him back, he’s safe, but he has to patrol his area for looters.

Here comes a scenario we didn’t think of. I receive phone calls from each part of Cairo, and everywhere the situation is the same: looters assault shops, banks and even houses. It looks like some of them also have weapons, probably stolen from (or provided by…?) the police. For the records, police disappeared just after Mubarak named the new vice-president. Therefore, we are a city of 20 millions people without a single cop. Reassuring.

We hear voices down in the street, that was quiet until now. We are worried, but we find out that all the men of the area gathered in order to protect the neighborhood. It’s something, but they are a few… some of them have sticks, one has an hatchet, some have nothing.

In the meantime we barricaded ourselves pushing a heavy piece of furniture against the wall, and gathered all the “blunt instruments” we found around the flat. Someone saved her thesis on an external hard drive, who hid her laptop… and I saved the most beautiful photos, and hid the most expensive lenses of my camera. And now we can only wait, hoping that nothing happens.

In the meantime he called, around 5 pm. He came back from the protests around 8 am, but he’s again on the streets to protect his area. Looks like in Nasr City things are worse, and there’s no police nor army to help.

Just a few minutes ago our house shook as a tank passed. Looks like we are not totally alone…

Sunday, jan 30th
3.50 am

The looters are in our area. We hear shooting and screams in the street and we are laying in the bed in the dark. Staying close to the windows is dangerous because they are shooting in the air. We are shaking…

I think about the indifference with which I watched news like this on the tv in the past, and I get mad at myself and at all the people who I’m sure are doing the same elsewhere in the world.

January 31st, 2011

I sip a glass of karkade. Who know why I never tried it before… it’s delicious.

I am being hosted by a family who lives in Nasr City, very close to the airport. I have a ticket to Italy for wednesday. From here, I can reach the airport very quickly, but from my apartment in Downtown it would take too long, and according to the situation I could have got stuck and maybe miss the flight.

The situation now looks ok: curfew starts at 3pm, so there’s nothing to do but stay at home. Every afternoon, since 3 days, men gather in the streets at the beginning of curfew and build fences with basically anything – stones, concrete bags, branches – and protect the area. This happens all around the city, especially after the many jailbreaks. Police still didn’t come back.

It’s amazing how common people are helping each other. After the first night, when we were scared, this sort of “second police” system was born, and we all feel safe. The army is now everywhere, and when a suspect is found by the “patrols”, he is taken to the soldiers.

I will never thank these men enough. Some of them are just boys.

I was planning to go to Italy for a few days around mid Feb. I decided to anticipate the trip as for the situation: the protests look peaceful, I don’t feel in danger, but there’s no internet, I can’t go out therefore I can’t work or go to school. It’s the best time to go home for a while, but I’ll be back as soon as possible, at least to finish my Arabic course.

My room in Downtown is waiting for me, I left my stuff in there and paid the rent for Feb.

I see Egypt as home now, and here is where I want to come back, at least to see all the people that I couldn’t see and didn’t hear from in these last days…

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23 Responses to Internet blackout in Egypt, notes

  1. Erica says:

    I have been so worried about you the past few days. Poor Shaun had to hear the brunt of my concerns. Every time I turned on the TV I was thinking about you in your apartment waiting it out.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I really hope that everything will turn out okay and you can go “home”.

  2. Dalene says:

    Incredible. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts as you did. Glad that you made it out okay…hope your friends continue to be safe as well.

  3. Jason says:

    It’s great to know you’re safe! I was getting worried about you, but knew you would be smart and do everything you could to stay safe. I’m glad you’re back and, in a manner of speaking, alright. Thanks for sharing your amazing story.

  4. Juno says:

    Girl, I’m so happy to hear from you. We all were so worried about you. I really thought the protest will end soon, and looked peaceful but not apparently.
    Incredible story, and I can’t imagine how terrifying that must be.
    Good that you are in Italy, hopefully you can go back to home soon. xxx

  5. Osvaldo says:

    I’m very glad you’re ok Giulia :)

  6. Ali says:

    Again, I am SOOOO glad you’re ok! Just like Erica said, all I kept thinking was, I really hope Giulia is safe! It sounds like such a horrible situation, I can’t believe what you saw and heard. I like that you wrote it this way, just your stream of thoughts as it was going on, rather than rewriting it. I felt more able to picture it this way. I was actually worried about you while reading it, even though I know you’re already safe in Italy. I know you love your home in Cairo, hopefully things will settle down and you can go back soon. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  7. Leslie says:

    Wow- thanks for sharing your story. This simply amazed me: “Suddenly the adhan starts and people stop the protest. Even the police. And they pray. I wish I had my camera. This is one of the most unbelievable things I have ever seen in my life.” What a surreal scene.

  8. Carol says:

    I do pray Giulia! YOU & all concerned are in my prayers. I pray to GOD above that all of your friends & you are safe & peace befalls Egypt. I can’t imagine the horror of Egypt… PEACE

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  10. Giordana Scala says:

    Giulia! ho letto tutto d’un fiato!!!Che momenti…per fortuna sei a casa, ora.
    Non contattavo la mamma per non farla impensierire ulteriormente.
    Grazie per esser tornata, almeno per un po’, ma, Piccola, che cosa hai dovuto vedere!!!!
    Sei stata coraggiosa!!
    Ti abbraccio.
    Giordana

  11. tiziana says:

    Oh G. ho sentito le emozioni percorrere ogni riga del testo, posso paragonare ciò che ho provato stando qua nel vedere le immagini delle proteste, seguendo second per secondo ogni informazione, video , foto….ed elevarlo un milione di volte…e forse avvicinarmi a ciò che avete vissuto!
    credo che siano le esperienze più reali queste, ciò che fa di colpo capire che siamo in vita,e che la vita ha un senso, ed è preziosa..
    anche provar paura, sentirsi in pericolo, temere che forse tutto possa cambiare..in modi a noi sconosciuti…essere per una volta nel centro della storia mentre questa va creandosi…essere li e vivere

    e credo si tratti di emozioni che uniscono più di molte altre…

    il mio pensiero è stato rivolto a voi ogni secondo
    e ogni secondo avrei desiderato poter essere al Cairo

    ti abbraccio forte
    perchè è tutto ciò che resta, le parole non possono sempre spiegare…

    love u
    T.

  12. Andrew says:

    Wow.. glad you are safe, but what a ride. Iagree with Ali, that is probably the best way to have written that kind of story.

  13. Giulia…Thanks to God for your arrival to Italy safe…

  14. giuliadventures says:

    Thank you everyone! Love to all of you, I appreciate all your fantastic support, it’s helping a lot! Thank you again <3

  15. Natalie says:

    A very moving post and it is not till we read posts like this that we can imagine just what it was like for people there.

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  17. Brooks says:

    Wow! I’m glad you left it the way it was when you wrote. It is an amazing piece and easy to tell what it was like to be there and what you are feeling. Thanks for writing and sharing!

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  20. Whanz says:

    My tears are fallen when I read this post, Thanks God that your friend is safe. How does He felt right now? Is He alright?

    • Giulia says:

      Yes, he was fine but I had no news from him until the following day in the afternoon… those were very tense hours.

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