Yes or No?

Na’am willa la?” (Yes or no?) A child shouted at a group of us covering today’s referendum in the Imbaba neighborhood of Cairo. I shouted back, “I dont know, what about you?” He laughed at the Arabic-speaking foreigner with a strange Egyptian accent and ran off with his friends.

Today, more than a month after Hosni Mubarak was forced from office, Egyptians from across the country cast their vote — yes or no — in a referendum on proposed constitutional amendments. The vote has been actively debated from TV stations to street corners. Traveling around the city the past few nights I’ve seen groups of people at Tahrir Square and other public areas standing in small groups debating the referendum. Anyone can join the debate, or, if you’re just passing by and want to hear some differing views, you can easily listen in. Democracy at work, and for the time being everyone is taking part. (Read the Guardian’s report on the referendum for more.)

Of all the various polling stations around town, it was important for me to go to the Imbaba neighborhood today. It’s in Imbaba where I witnessed intense street battles between the people and the police on 28 January. People fought for hours against police armed with tear-gas and other weaponry until the demonstrators forced the police to retreat before marching on to Tahrir Square where numerous other marches from around the city converged. Imbaba is considered one of Cairo’s poorest neighborhoods, and it’s a telling sign of just how inclusive this revolutionary process is to see working class Egyptians from all backgrounds taking part.

28 January 2011:

On 28 January, demonstrators take position atop a building in the Imbaba neighborhood of Cairo during fierce battles with the police. (image: matthew cassel)

19 March 2011:

People wait for hours to cast their vote while a street vendor gets his hookah started (image:matthew cassel)

A voter shows off his marked hand in Imbaba (image: matthew cassel)

A voter in Imababa (image: matthew cassel)

One sign on a vendor's truck says "yes" to the referendum, and a female employee holds another sign reading "no." (image: matthew cassel)

The workers

Sadly, I have to leave Egypt to get back to Lebanon tomorrow. The events of the past few weeks have been absolutely unbelievable to be part of. Few thought that overthrowing Mubarak would be possible, but people power made it happen. However, it was only the first step in a larger struggle for rights and a more democratic government in Egypt — read my interview with blogger/activist Mona Seif for more on this. What happens next is up to the workers. Many who were part of the uprising to overthrow Mubarak, are now taking to the streets from various sectors to overthrow their corrupt union leadership and demand better pay and more rights. As this happens be sure to follow Egyptian photographer and journalist Hossam El-Hamalawy (www.arabawy.org), who has documented the struggle of Egyptian workers for years.

The below portraits are of public transport workers protesting in Cairo today:

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The day after

I’ve never been one for national flags, but Egyptians waving them the day after deposing their dictator of 30 years didn’t bother me too much.

Saturday, 12 February:

Tahrir Square (matthew cassel)

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Activists drive around encouraging others to volunteer and help keep Cairo clean (matthew cassel)

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A volunteer directs traffic near Tahrir Square (matthew cassel)

Qasr al-Nil bridge (matthew cassel)

Sunday, 13 February:

Despite the 48 hours of celebrations, the revolution seems that it’s far from over. Egyptian workers are now organizing in their respective sectors for better pay, more rights, and against their corrupt union leadership. Protests happened across Egypt today, including one that I couldn’t believe. On 28 January I watched violent clashes when the police tried to repress the people’s uprising that became a nationwide movement that day. The police failed and the uprising surged ahead, but not before more than 300 were killed by the police and other branches of the Mubarak regime’s security forces.

But now, after the people’s victory, thousands of police are organizing for their rights and join in the larger revolution. My jaw dropped as I followed police across the Qasr al-Nil bridge where on the 28th they used all kinds of force against unarmed demonstrators. Today they chanted, “the police and the people are one,” playing on an earlier chant by protesters that went: “the army and the people are one.” There are a number of strikes and other worker-related actions planned in the coming days. It looks like the workers’ movement will be the new phase of the Egyptian revolution.

From repressing protesters to becoming one ... (matthew cassel)

24 hours in Cairo

Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian dictator who was hated by his people and backed by the US government for the past 30 years, is gone.

Thursday, 10 February:

Children at Tahrir Square hang out near pictures of some of the 297 people killed by Mubarak's forces since the uprising began (matthew cassel)

A man holds a poster of one of the women killed by Mubarak's forces in recent weeks. Although he didn't know her, he told me he felt she was his daughter. (matthew cassel)

An example of Egyptian humor: 'New from Kentucky, the leave combo.' Mubarak propaganda tried to make people believe that protesters were living well over recent weeks in Tahrir and eating free KFC. (matthew cassel)

Mubarak's speech on Thursday night (matthew cassel)

Protesters watch Mubarak's speech closely. The young man on the left has been protesting non-stop since January 25, while the man on the right was a political prisoner for 14 years in Mubarak's jails. (matthew cassel)

Protesters react to Mubarak announcing he will not leave office (matthew cassel)

Friday, 11 February:

The next morning, hundreds of thousands came to Tahrir to take part in Friday prayers and then continued protests against Mubarak (matthew cassel)

Protests began immediately after prayers ended (matthew cassel)

Protesters then marched to the building for the Egyptian state TV (matthew cassel)

Soldiers guarding the TV building clearly did not want to use violence against protesters. Some soldiers even started crying as the situation intensified. (matthew cassel)

Sign on the right reads: 'leave oh Mubarak' (matthew cassel)

A flying 'V' near the TV protest (matthew cassel)

Victory (matthew cassel)

Tahrir Square after news of Mubarak's resignation (matthew cassel)

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Tahrir Square post-liberation (matthew cassel)

And of course …

From left to right: the mother, uncle and sister of Khaled Said. The young man who was killed last year by Egyptian police in Alexandria. His death was a large part of the reason for the January 25th uprising that eventually led to the ouster of Mubarak (matthew cassel)

“Leave before the Saidis come”

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A rather large man (pictured above) stopped me in Tahrir yesterday and started shouting, “Lave before the Sa’idis come!” His threats were directed at Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who he said should leave office before the Sa’idi people from Upper Egypt (a largely rural area of southern Egypt) come and really mess him up. As he spoke a crowd gathered around us, most were smiling and welcoming the lone Sa’idi man to Cairo. His loud threats were enough to make me feel a bit worried. I keep wondering what must be going through the mind of the 82-year-old president as he sees much of his country out in the streets every day expressing their hatred for his regime and calling on him to pack up and go.

The uprising is definitely escalating and taking on new forms. Yesterday, many of the labor unions joined in the struggle. Journalists are still facing many difficulties, and even those with credentials have been denied from covering factories on strike, or different cities like Alexandria and Suez where protests are ongoing, like the ones in Cairo.

The below are some images from Tahrir Square yesterday:

Protesters walk past a poster of a man killed by state security forces during pro-democracy protests (matthew cassel)

Protesters read Arabic newspapers pasted on a wall at Tahrir Square (matthew cassel)

'Revolution Hospital' (matthew cassel)

He stopped me and said, 'Take my picture smoking a joint in Tahrir Square' (matthew cassel)

Egytpian Christians march through Tahrir Square (matthew cassel)

Tens of thousands remain at Tahrir throughout the night (matthew cassel)

Liberation like never before

Just when many commentators felt the ongoing protests at Tahrir (Liberation) Square were losing steam, the largest number of demonstrators yet came out to call for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and his regime. Here are a few images from yesterday:

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A protester carries a sign with the word 'leave' written in Hebrew. One of the popular chants from the demonstrations has been: 'tell him (Mubarak) leave in Hebrew, he doesn't understand Arabic'. (matthew cassel)

Revolutionary Women

A dear friend from Chicago called me last night to check in on me and the uprising in Egypt. She’s been following my work closely and wondered why it seemed like there are few women taking part in the protests. I was shocked, but then I realized that most of my pictures contain mostly men. It may be true that the majority of people at the protests are men, but it’s certainly not by a big margin. While I do try to represent a wide variety of people in my images, I find myself sometimes being overly sensitive when photographing women in this region. I’ve also been told to stop at least a couple times when taking pictures of veiled women. But I will do my best to make sure they’re represented in my photographs from now on. They have been just as present as men during this uprising, and it’s not fair that they’re not represented in the coverage.

Here are some images of revolutionary Egyptian women from Tahrir Square today:

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'Mutabanash mutabanash, al-hurriyeh mish balash' -- English translation: 'We're not tired, we're not tired, freedom isn't free' (matthew cassel)

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A young girl holds a paper with the images of the revolution's martyrs. Her father behind her holds his wrist up to make sure I know that Christians are also active in the revolution. (matthew cassel)