Photo Essay on Egypt: Tears of Gas

This is what I woke up to this morning. Bellowing black smoke coming from Rabaa where Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been camping for the past month. Below protesters were burning tires, planks of wood and trees. We couldn’t see the amount of smoke and tear gas but then it cleared up to reveal this.

A small group of Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi supporters stood on the side of the road chanting ‘Down with the military rule’ and ‘God is Great’.

And then it came. My first experience with tear gas. It looked like a comet going through the pitch-black sky. Like a missile. But a few moments after it hit the ground my body reacted to it the way it was designed to.

First, it stings the eyes and one can’t help but involuntary shed a few tears. Then feels as though one’s face is on fire, especially under the eyes. I felt like acid was thrown down my throat. Everyone runs away from the canister when it’s thrown and while I tried to take photographs, I was quite often forced to retreat inside from the power of the gas.

Many protesters came prepared, wearing gas masks I’ve only ever seen in history museums in London. They’re used in modern-day life here.

Those who are not prepared have to go through the stinging pain that attacks one’s senses.

Military helicopters hovered overhead, the black smoke increasing. I used to sing ‘London’s burning’ when I was a child. I never knew that one day my second home would be burning.

A young man was trying to prevent the others from marching towards the police barricade. “You’ll die, don’t go!” he shouted passionately while the man in red responded “I don’t care! I want to die!”

Protesters started gathering garbage bins and metal barriers from construction buildings to make a wall between them and the riot police firing the tear gas.

Men run when the tear gas hits the ground. We had to deal with the tear gas on a frequent basis, around every five-ten minutes.

Then the riot police advance, making ground.

The protesters take material from a building nearby that is under construction to create makeshift barriers.

Cameramen filming the events below. It’s aimed right at me because the clashes are this close.

Two helicopters circled the sky that hasn’t ceased to be black from all the smoke.

Protesters set fire to tires.

Although a minority, women are among the protesters angered at the breakup of the sit-in in Rabaa.

A protester took hold of the tear gas and threw it back at the police.

Chaos ensues on the street that leads to Rabaa.

The riot police are in the background while smoke obscures their view.

More protesters gather in front of the police.

The riot police with their van look towards the protesters, firing tear gas every few minutes.

My eyes do not dry from the continuous use of tear gas.

They enter the street with cheers because they’ve stolen an army vehicle. They empty it of its contents and set it on fire.

A fire truck was also among the vehicles taken.

The bullet holes in the windscreen sent shivers down my spine.

Running from the fired tear gas.

Protesters trying to put out a tear gas canister. Many have Pepsi or Coke to wash their faces from the effect of the gas.

The men throw rocks at the riot police. The street is strewn with rocks and equipment from construction sites. And on the left-hand side, the face of Morsi watches on a billboard.

Even the police and plain-clothed men with them start throwing rocks.

The vision gets a little hazy while smoke drifts our way. Men are still throwing stones and rocks at the police, while the latter do the same.

Smoke continues to come out from Rabaa. I later learn that the smoke is coming from vehicles people set on fire.

 

Men use a wooden construction to hide behind while police continue to fire tear gas.

 

A protester looking quite dejected.

There were some plain clothed men with the police throwing rocks.

Protesters carrying an injured man to safety.

Every now and then men would call ‘Yalla’ to the other men to move toward the police.

This young girl was among the protesters. Tear gas was still being thrown below us.

Chaos continues and it’s only 9:40 AM.

Photojournalists were at the scene.

More tear gas. Protesters throwing water on the canister.

A young man held a container that sporadically burst out with fireworks to scare the police.

Throwing rocks alongside the police.

A policeman shooting at someone with what appears to be a rifle. I’m not sure if this is live ammunition or birdshot.

He also shot on protesters on the other side of the road, while those with him threw rocks.

A man on the side of the police started to approach the protesters with a peace sign, so the protesters approached him by putting their hands up.

The man with the helmet braved the police and with arms stretched out approached them and the man who had initially tried to make peace between the two camps.

In the middle of the chaos and rock throwing, they hug. As though showing that both sides can love each other, I’m not sure.

And so that man with the helmet leads the men to force the police to back a few meters behind. With their hands held high in a peaceful gesture, the police retreat slowly without firing anything at them. But they only retreat a few meters behind.

Too close for comfort, the police fire tear gas, dispersing the crowd and pushing them back again.

We could also hear what sounded like gunshots. These men started running for their lives.

I always associated these scenes with Iraq or Palestine. Never Egypt. Never Tayaran Street in Nasr City.

It gets worse when police keep firing tear gas and gunshots.

It momentarily turns dark from all the smoke and tears gas. I can’t breathe from the smell. My head is throbbing.

This injured man is carried away on a motorcycle. His shirt is bloody and so is his hand. He is holding his temple. Even his mobile phone is bloody.

This man was also shot at by police.

Ambulances try to go through every few minutes. Men are injured inside. I see another man injured by shots and carried away.

They continue to throw rocks, angered at the shots fired and the injuries.

A foreign journalist making notes, phone calls and in another picture trying to breathe through the tear gas thrown on the street. She’s waiting for her photographer who joined her after taking a few photographs. They left quickly.

The protesters regroup and try advancing on the police again. It’s a continuous game of cat and mouse.

The protesters set fire to the army vehicle.

The protesters gathered in more numbers. They haven’t stopped banging rocks on metal poles, barricades, and the street lights to make more noise to intimidate the police.

The policeman on the right is shooting at someone high up.

Police fired tear gas directly at the barriers protesters were hiding behind, causing the barriers to fall over. One man is running away from the falling canister.

A military helicopter hovers overhead, assessing the scenes below.

Gunshots fired from this policeman towards Mohamed Fahmy street where protesters are.

The police retreat while one continues shooting. A billboard has been uprooted from its place by protesters, written on it ‘Leave Sissi’.

Then all hell breaks loose at the 4 pm local time. I have run for cover because of the sheer amount of live ammunition being fired towards us. When I look up I see it’s coming from this police truck, a sniper on top. In the background, two men are laying on the floor lifeless. I assumed they were just ducking to show the police not to harm them.

Two of these vans charged towards protesters on both sides of the road, shooting.

On the pavement, I noticed the two men had not moved, even after the vans had retreated. Then I zoomed in and saw the pool of blood forming on the floor below one of the man"s face.

The protesters set fire to a car.

The man lying on the floor has been clearly shot on the forehead. A pool of blood has formed on the floor. These men become so angry at the deaths, they scream at the police on the other side. From as far as I can tell these deceased men were not armed. We did see one person armed earlier on, with a handgun, and even got upset that we were taking photographs, but he was not among those shot.

It all ended as the sunset prayers were being called from mosques with imam’s crying through the microphone as they prayed. The police shot several times at protesters until all we could hear were the deafening sounds of the gunfire. There were no more protesters after that. The street became eerily quiet. Bulldozers later came to clean up the paving stones protesters had built and all the other barriers, rocks and stones. Helicopters still hover above. The police are sitting on the pavement. Shots are fired every now and then. And we are all wondering what’s next for Egypt and its Egyptians, wondering how much more will die for their version of the Egyptian dream.

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