Cairo demonstrators detain a Mubarak supporter in Tahrir Square. (Khaled Desouki, AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Cairo — The morning after in Tahrir Square resembled the aftermath of a hurricane: a desolate landscape of walking wounded, husks of wrecked vehicles and a scatter of random debris. Here, a rubber sandal, there a bloodied scarf, and on the periphery, a very small, very dirty kitten.
Anti-government protesters held their ground in the sprawling plaza through a violent night in which firebombs rained down and automatic weapons fire rattled.
As it grew light Thursday morning, some of the square's defenders collapsed into sleep on traffic medians or on mats spread on the filthy concrete. Underfoot was a carpet of stones. One man snored in another's lap.
Makeshift barricades, cobbled together from torn-up railings and sheets of metal, stretched across the access routes. Concrete chunks were heaped in piles, like weapons caches. The smell of smoke hung in the morning air.
"No sleep — it was a fight all night," said a hollow-eyed Ali Ahmed, a 44-year-old engineer. "We are only leaving now because our friends will come to cover for us. We must hold this place."
The protesters, in their 10th day of a battle to push President Hosni Mubarak from power, were unmoved either by the army's call for them to end their demonstrations or the longtime leader's assurances that he would not seek reelection in September. They said they expected the pro-Mubarak forces who stormed the plaza on Wednesday afternoon to return in a few hours.
A weary-looking young man and woman, Ahmed Said and Nashwa Shebil, perched on a concrete curb, sharing a single mug of steaming tea. Talking of the just-passed night, they finished one another's sentences like an old couple.
They smiled when asked about that: They had just met the day before.
"It was frightening, but we're not afraid," he said. "We want our country back," she said.
A trio of middle-aged men limped toward one of the square's exits, waiting to make their way out through a cordon manned by the protesters. They made clear whom they blamed.
"Mubarak," said one, pointing to the bloody bandage wrapped around his head.
"Mubarak," said the second, pointing to his splinted arm.
"Mubarak," said the third, raising his trouser leg to show a bloody gash.