Al-Ahram Weekly Online   5 - 11 April 2012
Issue No. 1092
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Hole in the wall

Residents and activists breach one of the army-built concrete barriers that disfigure Downtown streets, Mohamed Abdel-Baky reports

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Activists dismantled part of the concrete wall in Qasr Al-Aini Street

Dozens of activists, aided by local residents, on Friday dismantled part of the concrete wall built by the army in December across downtown Cairo's Qasr Al-Aini Street.

Local residents have long complained of the disruption to their lives caused by the series of three metres high concrete barriers constructed by the army in an attempt to bar any access by protesters to government buildings. Old people, and those with impaired mobility, unable to cope with the lengthy detours necessary to circumnavigate the walls, have been effectively marooned in their homes. The walls also impede access to offices where thousands of citizens must daily complete official paperwork, and have worsened traffic congestion across the downtown area.

Tearing down the walls without the help of construction equipment was not easy. Protesters stood on top of the wall, breaking the massive blocks with hammers and iron bars, while others fixed ropes with hooks around the bricks to remove them.

Almost 50 meters from the wall Central Security Forces (CSF) stood behind a barbed wire fence closing off Maglis Al-Shaab Street. No clashes were reported between the two sides. An officer stationed by the barrier told Al-Ahram Weekly that the police had been ordered not to engage with the protesters under any citcumstance.

Islam Abul-Azm, a member of the "No to the Separation Walls" campaign that has been demanding the dismantling of the barriers for weeks via social media sites, said they had met with government officials in an attempt to persuade them to remove the debris left by dismantling a section of the wall and open Qasr Al-Aini Street.

The first army-built barrier appeared on 24 November in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, the scene of clashes between security forces and protesters that left at least 43 demonstrators dead and hundreds injured. On 19 December, following the violent dispersal of protesters demanding the immediate resignation of the military appointed El-Ganzouri government, the army built barriers across Qasr Al-Aini, Sheikh Rehan and Youssef El-Guindi Streets in an attempt to cordon off Interior Ministry buildings.

An additional four walls, in Fahmi, Mansour, Falaki and Noubar Streets, were erected following February's Port Said football stadium massacre, effectively sealing the area from all sides.

Small businesses within the cordoned area have seen any custom grind to a halt.

"My business just stopped. I have lost more than LE40,000 since December and will probably have to close down completely next month," says Mohamed Hafiz, the owner of a small computer shop in Noubar Street.

Only street artists have been kept busy by the appearance of the barriers, using the rough concrete of the blocks as a surface on which to paint ever more imaginative graffiti.

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