Egypt in 140 Characters or Less: Widespread Looting All Over Cairo

These are 40-tweets-in-20-minutes kind of days for me. I have only really become a tweeter after my beloved #Cairo started burning on #Jan25. The preceding hash-tags are testimony to my inability to think beyond tweeting this revolution, this uprising. I love twitter and I love facebook-for the last few days I have been practically living on them.

But as I say below and have said so many times--more than 99% of the population of Egypt is not reading this, right here.They are dodging bullets and tear-gas. Its kind of hard to tweet when bombs are exploding around you. There is a small critical mass of Egyptians for sure who are sending invaluable information out--some of it to each other--but really into the outside world. There are also a few newly minted reporters, freshly scrubbed and arrived in #Cairo who have managed to #tweet the angst of #Egypt's millons while they too are dodging bullets--how they get internet access remains a mystery to my friends like Yousry who have been giving me remarkable insight from their landlines (and today sporadically from Midan #Tahrir, the ground zero of all this) which I have been faithfully tweeting.

Also and this is very important--Facebook much more than twitter played a role in the initial stages of this uprising--where about 90,000 people signed onto a group page. It seems like a lot of people--but remember that there are about 19 million in Cairo--and 80 million in Egypt.

May I add that for the biggest majority--English is also not their first language--(more than you can possibly imagine of 80 million Egyptians, don't know it--and in any case they would not give a damn about what some US blogger like me has to say about them on a liberal US blogsite like this) Yes you can tweet in Arabic--and the less than 100 tweeters in #Cairo right now--have been doing that too, primarily for each other when they can figure out (sporadically) how to get on the internet--a few of them have friends calling them (or they sms friends outside Egypt) and they basically dictate or sms their tweets.

So this whole business of twitter vs.not-so-twitter revolution--which the rather myopic and most prominently displayed punditry on US Cable is engaging in is an almost farcical discussion now (and I will hopefully also move on from it). Its great to start seeing people with Arab accents and even names on CNN now. But so much else of that other punditry has not even been to Egypt!

My choice 48 hours ago was clear. I could stay at home and just have Cairo numbers in a state of constant re-dial and then tweet and facebook everything my friends told me obsessively--or I could be chauffeured around town between cablenews stations, all the while tweeting my movements to my admiring followers. I chose the former but succumbed today for a moment at CNBC for my first (and hopefully last) TV interview on the subject.

Please read this first and this second remarkable account from Yousry. Click on the hyperlinks you supersmart bloggernews socially networked people.

This below is my friend Fouad's account from FRIDAY (so a bit old). The two hyperlinks above to the Yousry interviews are a lot more current.

American television networks and an endless parade of mostly white men pundits (brought out and dusted off with their cobwebs) should take lessons from Al-Jazeera in live reportage, in not having pundits talk over the chants of a mass of humanity, in having Arab reporters covering what they know best, in remarkably evocative and courageous camerawork and in just being able to cover history like no other television network has ever been able to do before. And yes, I also mean that CNN during the first Gulf War was not as good as this.

It is so important to remember that the vast MAJORITY of those on the streets around the country do not have the time, the ability, the resources (including smartphones) and certainly no access to working mobile phone service. This revolution is JUST NOT BEING TWITTERED by the people who are actually protesting.

The only people tweeting are either reporters with huge bureaus and live cameras to back them or people like me reporting from the cyber-frontlines talking to the few friends in Cairo we can reach on their landlines.

To tweet this revolution and Egypt's complex backstory in 140 characters or less is impossible.

My friend Fouad was able to get on the landline again. His body and soul are still bruised and yet he has never been more hopeful. His severe anger at Hosni Mubarak's speech full of lies and his ambivalence about the appointment of Omar Suleiman, the head of intelligence as the new vice president.

In a fragmented conversation on a still-functioning landline, and as bullets do rain all around him, here are his bullet points -- the thoughts and experiences of an ordinary citizen, not a reporter.

• Mohandaseen is burning -- we are surrounded by looters, and the army is just watching.
• They are looting houses, and we have no idea who these looters are.
• My parents asked army tank guys and they said we cannot intervene!
• Everyone here is saying that Mubarak is being spiteful -- he wants looters so that he can say -- look I gave you calm for 30 years? OK now you want to get rid of me? Well see the chaos my going can bring -- enjoy the unrest and the looting. Only I could have protected all of you!
• I was driving and three men with knives attacked me near Sudan street -- I had to sort of run them over.
• Big rumor that Mubarak is releasing prisoners and arming them so that they can infiltrate neighborhoods and loot them.
• Maadi, Street number nine-huge vandalism happening -- there is looting everywhere in Rihab city, in Mohandasin, in Shubra. In Heliopolis there are plainclothes police.
• My parents are organizing all the baobabs in our street and making blockades to stop the looters.
• There are Balkageyah (thugs) everywhere -- all rich neighborhoods are being attacked.
• I think he is fucked up yaani -- He didnt resign -- his speech instigated the violence -- now looters and the poor think that when you know there is no hope you might as well get as much as you can as long as the chaos lasts -- people were hopeful that he would go.
• Maybe in other governates -- people are more organized and closer to each other as community members... so they will organize better, perhaps -- in Cairo it is difficult to control the chaos and disorder -- there are 19 million people in this city who often don't talk to each other and are so separated by class and money -- I am wondering how they can organize together?
• The people in Cairo are fighting two things -- they are fighting police forces but also now fighting looters.
• People prayed the Salat ul Genaza, the funeral prayer after the evening prayers in Tahrir -- we carried a body through the crush of thousands -- I was crying, so many of us were crying.