This post was originally published by The Daily Cardinal.
UW-Madison junior Katrina Gray was studying abroad in Alexandria when mass protests against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak broke out. She witnessed her friends and neighbors join the nationwide democratic struggle. This is her story:
On January 24 my Egyptian friends and I sat in a café smoking hookah and drinking tea; a normal day. The topic of the next day's protests came up. We talked about Mubarak, 30 years of marshall law and the quality of life, but overall my peers assured me that the protests of Police Day would be short-lived. They were wrong.
The days following would be beyond anything I could have imagined. In the mornings the streets were quiet and pensive, like the calm before the storm, and in the evenings the people took to the streets, regardless of religion, age or class.
The atmosphere was positive and the first few days of protest were entirely peaceful. After the police—who were feared and hated—all but disappeared overnight and the Army came in their place, the community morale sky-rocketed: Citizens took over traffic control, garbage collection and neighborhood watch groups—everyone was working together.
On January 28, I woke up in what felt like Soviet Russia, or maybe North Korea: Overnight the government had cut off Internet and phone service, and tanks were parked on main streets every few miles. The news on TV was as if it were just an average day. I could feel the invisible hand of dictatorship closing in. But people came out that day in greater numbers, chanting "the people want to drop the system" or "enough, drop Mubarak."
Later that night destruction and arson began. The tear gas wasn't so bad (although, I didn't get the brunt of it), and there are more than enough junker-cars in Alexandria to burn. What was most unsettling was seeing the wounded: many experiencing head trauma, likely from rocks being thrown at police vehicles and bouncing back.
The night of January 29 is when things got dicey. After the protests, small groups of armed men patrolled the streets looking for looters and criminals. I thought of my friends, soon to be engineers, standing in bunches with old broomsticks or kitchen knives doing their duty to protect the neighborhood, and without phone or Internet access I was unable to check on them.
What's important to know about this revolution is that it is entirely by the people; they are doing this for themselves, for their children. It is not a product of international influence, it is not secretly being run by the Muslim Brotherhood of the Waft party or any political party.
One day I found myself trapped in the middle of a protest of several thousand people vandalizing an abandoned police vehicle and growing more tumultuous. A neighbor saw that I was distraught and came to my aid, leading me safely through the crowd and up a winding pair of stairs to a safe vantage point. That's what will stick with me: the innumerable acts of kindness from my peers and neighbors.