Basalt woman watches Cairo unrest from hotel balcony
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
BASALT – Kathy Honea enjoyed her recent 12-day trip to Egypt, visiting such storied places as Memphis, home of the Alabaster Sphinx, as well as the well-preserved pyramids of Saqqara.
But the Basalt resident’s vacation may have been made more memorable by what occurred last Friday, the day before her departure, when she had a crow’s nest view of the civil unrest and pandemonium making world news in the capital city, Cairo.
From her 19th-story balcony at the Ramses Hilton Hotel Cairo, overlooking downtown’s Tahir Square, Honea witnessed the fourth day of the Egyptian protests, also known in the Arab world as the “Day of Anger.” For three days the protests, sparked by the recent Tunisian Revolution, were peaceful. But since that day, they have been marked by bloodshed, with an estimated 150 to 300 people killed and more than 3,000 wounded.
Speaking by telephone Wednesday from her home in Basalt, Honea described the scenes from Friday very matter-of-factly. She said she never felt her safety was threatened, even when about 50 members of the angry mob forced their way into the hotel lobby Friday night and started breaking things.
“I never felt like I was in danger,” she said, adding that when the mob stormed into the hotel, she happened to be on the first floor, peeking out from behind a large column. “That was the closest I got to the action.”
Because hotel staff shut down the elevators, Honea took the stairs all the way back to her 19th-floor room.
Earlier in the day, she saw the events unfold. She checked into the hotel around lunchtime, with plans to catch a plane back to the United States on Saturday morning. Four friends made the journey with her to Egypt.
“We saw the protests escalate from nonviolent to violent,” she said of the events unfolding on Friday afternoon. The crowds got bigger as the day wore on, she said.
Police in riot gear were called to quell the crowd. “There were a lot of them, and they arrived in big, green trucks,” Honea said. “There was a lot of rock-throwing, back and forth.”
Though she and her friends saw much of the unrest from the relative safety of the 19th-floor balcony, she said they had to refrain from watching for long periods because tear gas was wafting upward.
“There were people running toward lines of police, and police were backing up,” Honea said. “And plainclothes police were beating people, and shooting rubber bullets. And then the tanks arrived.”
She said she believes the protests became violent because of the arrival of police. “It might not have escalated as much as it did,” she said.
Tens of thousands of protesters appeared to be flooding into the downtown area. Entire bridges across the Nile River were packed with people, she said. Later in the night, large buildings went up in flames.
Early Saturday morning, with her flight scheduled to leave at around 10:30 a.m., a problem was apparent: getting to the airport. Phone and Internet service was down. There was no way to contact the driver the group had previously used.
Another factor put their departure in doubt. While most of the mob had left the scene of Friday’s melee – they would return later Saturday – police had closed off many streets, and roadblocks made travel through the city difficult.
“We had just prepared to take a cab and then, suddenly, our driver showed up,” Honea said. “We were pretty lucky.”
At the airport, they waited six hours before the plane finally left. The delay apparently was staged to give passengers more time to make the flight.
All in all, Honea said her trip was “pleasurable.”
“I had always wanted to go to Egypt,” she said. “Who knows when anyone will feel safe about going there again?”
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