- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2011

CAIRO | Outside the shuttered door of the KFC restaurant in Tahrir Square on Monday, a doctor and about five volunteer aides dressed a protester’s old gunshot wound with iodine before springing into action: An unconscious teenage girl was rushed through the crowd and onto a blanket at the makeshift clinic.

The clinic, one of six health care units set up around the anti-government protests in central Cairo, treats patients with colds as well as those with wounds sustained in clashes that have beset Egypt’s 2-week-old uprising.

On one of the red walls of the old KFC, a handwritten sign says in Arabic, “We will not clean the blood off of our doctors’ coats.”

The makeshift medical centers bespeak the bloody toll of what many now are calling the “Nile Revolution.” Human Rights Watch says nearly 300 people have been killed during the protests, and doctors say 3,000 have been injured in Cairo alone.

In the past few days, Egyptian leaders have scrambled to quiet the protests by promising increased rights and that the 30-year reign of President Hosni Mubarak and his family will end with his term in office in September.

On Monday, the government approved a 15 percent pay increase for state employees, a measure aimed at improving the Mubarak regime’s standing among the rank and file. But demonstrators in Tahrir Square said their message is clear and unwavering: They want Mr. Mubarak’s tenure to end immediately.

“He didn’t just do Egyptians wrong,” said Abdul, a lawyer who gave only one name. “He did all the Arabs wrong. Thirty years is enough.”

Doctors say they have adequate supplies to treat the protesters, but there is no mistaking that the facilities — some without roofs, walls or running water — cannot sustain the health of the hundreds of demonstrators who have vowed to remain in the square until Mr. Mubarak resigns.

“We are under siege,” said Dr. Essam, an internist who did not want to give his full name. “They will never build facilities here. We expect cutting water supply and power.”

Even after organizers called for a day off from demonstrations, tens of the thousands of protesters flooded Tahrir Square on Monday. Barricades and tanks surround the area. Protesters say the barriers keep out Mubarak supporters, like those who attacked the demonstrators last week in battles that left five people dead and more than 1,000 injured.

Doctors said they rely solely on supplies brought in by volunteers at great personal risk. Bags of goods brought from other areas of Cairo have been snatched by what protesters suspect are saboteurs hired or coerced by the ruling party.

“If they catch your bag full of medicine, they will take it from you,” said Dr. Essam. “And you might get beaten as well.”

As Dr. Essam spoke, a roar broke out behind him as a crowd of protesters surrounded and ejected someone they suspected of being a government-hired thug who had come to disrupt the peaceful protest.

More than 500 doctors volunteer at the clinics in 50-person shifts, along with scores of medical students and other helpers. Locals stream into the main “hospital,” which occupies a mosque at the end of an alley near the square, to drop off plastic bags of medicine, supplies, blankets and clothes.

“We are all volunteers,” said Dr. Hisham Ibarahim. “We are not getting any help from the hospitals.”

Hundreds of people camp nightly in the square in tents, under military tanks and on sidewalks. Doctors say protesters living in the elements are at a high risk for diseases and infections, but the enthusiasm of the crowds is unwavering.

“Their bodies are very tired,” said Dr. Mohammad, a first-aid doctor and volunteer at one of the clinics. “But their souls are very tough.” Fearing reprisals, he too gave only one name.

Most patients, he said, immediately return to the streets after medical treatment to continue protesting — some against the advice of doctors. Dr. Mohammad said he has urged many patients to leave the square to go to a state hospital for treatment of injuries that could cause permanent damage. Protesters, he said, often will not leave the square, even for a day.

“I try to tell them that it is dangerous, but they refuse,” Dr. Mohammad said. “I tell them, ‘You have to go. You have to go.’ They say, ‘No, no, no, I will not leave until he leaves.’”

Other kinds of facilities have popped up in Tahrir Square as it becomes clear that the crowds are here to stay.

Three men trimmed beards and cut hair near the center of the square Monday, while an increasing number of vendors sold food, drinks and cigarettes. Most items were free or offered at low prices. A full meal of kosherie, a common Egyptian pasta dish, costs about 50 cents.

Kosherie also has become jokingly known as “Egyptian Kentucky,” after state-run television accused protesters of being foreign agents who were paid 50 Egyptian pounds a day to eat KFC food and chant anti-government slogans.

The restaurant now is surrounded by blankets, camping demonstrators and the makeshift clinic. A new favorite sign has quickly become: “Kentucky is closed, stupid.”

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