From the celebratory atmosphere to the ugly face of the civil turmoil in Egypt, a Vancouver man has witnessed events unfolding in the country's restive capital of Cairo.
Don Wright and his partner were vacationing in Ghana before they proceeded to Egypt for the second leg of their break. Their trip was planned long beforehand.
Incidentally, Wright is Amnesty International Canada’s development coordinator for B.C. and the Yukon.
While in Ghana, he had no idea of what was going on in Egypt because he didn’t have access to the Internet for about a week. On the night before he and his partner were leaving, someone told them that things don’t look too good in Cairo. But at the airport, they were informed by authorities there that everything was okay.
In a phone interview with the Straight, Wright recalled how things went down during his vacation in Egypt.
Wright and his partner arrived in Cairo on a Saturday evening.
“Our first experience was there were no police on the streets,” he related. “There were citizen patrols every half block or block, who were checking cars and taxis that were going through. Not a lot of traffic on the streets because it was already curfew. We got there 10 p.m. actually so it was well into curfew.”
While in a taxi, they also encountered army roadblocks, where they were turned away and told to find alternate routes.
“So what would normally be a 20-minute taxi ride from the airport to our hotel was more than an hour-and-a-half because of all the stops and because of having to go around these roadblocks,” he said.
The couple went to the Canadian embassy to inform the diplomatic mission about their presence in the city. They wandered around.
In the evening, they went to Tahrir Square, the epicentre of demonstrations against Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Wright saw a small-scale protest. Things were peaceful.
Wright said that he and his partner were warmly welcomed by the protesters.
The demonstration was “very peaceful”, according to Wright.
“The protesters were well organized,” he said. “They actually had lines where they were searching people coming into the area. The military was there but they were standing by. They weren’t interfering.”
The people felt triumphant. Wright and his partner were offered water and biscuits. There was also one other thing they were eager to share with the tourists.
Wright’s hotel was six blocks from the protest area. He and his partner went back to their hotel that night with warm feelings.
But things were about to get ugly the next day.
This was a Wednesday. Their driver took them to outlying areas to see tourist attractions.
Upon their return to the central area of Cairo, pro-Mubarak forces were already mobilizing. They were moving into the protest area.
“As we walked through that crowd, I was yelled at and surrounded by mob and they tried to take my camera away from me and I ran from them,” Wright recalled.
“We, of course, avoided the square that night,” he said. “But on the news, we saw the images from that location. That was their point of attack against the protesters.”
Wright and his partner heard gunfire from their hotel on that evening.
The next day wasn’t any better for the couple on the streets of Cairo.
This was Thursday, and the two walked towards the direction of the Canadian embassy. They were stopped along the way.
“We were actually detained by the street citizen patrols, which by this time were clearly pro-Mubarak, and very aggressive, intimidating,” Wright said “They wouldn’t let us continue they wouldn’t let us go back. They were holding us there for 10 minutes before an army jeep went by. I jumped out and waved down the army jeep and it came over and escorted us through the mob near our embassy.”
Also on that day, the couple’s taxi was pulled over by machete-wielding young men. The men banged their bladed weapons against the vehicle. After some scary moments, they were allowed to go through.
Wright and his partner originally planned to leave Cairo on February 5. But because of flight changes due to the curfew, they left in the morning of February 4.
Since Friday is a day of prayer for Muslims, there wasn’t much activity in the city.
“We made the run to the airport in 20 minutes,” Wright said.
They spent Friday night in Amsterdam, and arrived back in Vancouver on February 5.