I was in the middle of buying some mints from a street vendor on Cairo's Talat Harb Street -- right off Tahrir Square -- when the rocks started flying. I had given a 20-cent coin to the vendor. He gave me one pack of mints, and all hell broke loose.
"Run, run," people yelled at me. I saw a group of men running down the street, carrying a man whose face was streaming with blood. Then I saw the pro-Mubarak thugs, armed with rocks, metal pipes, whips. "Run, Run," the Egyptians on the street told me. I ran for shelter as fast as I could.
This has become a pattern the past few days. Thugs hired by the regime, many of them plainclothes police, try to create chaos on the streets just outside the entrances to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the Egyptian revolution. They randomly attack people, including us foreigners. Many of us have been beaten, our cameras smashed. My CODEPINK colleague Tighe Barry had been picked up on this very street two days ago, thrown into a car, roughed up, and later dumped out with a warning to stay away.
Tighe refused to stay away, and so did a million Egyptians who, despite the threats of violence, teemed into Tahrir Square today in what was termed the "Day of Departure." Young, old, rich, poor, religious, secular -- they defied the desperate acts of a dying regime.
Ever since this uprising began on January 25, the determination and bravery of the Egyptians has been overwhelming to witness. The democracy forces in Tahrir Square have braved tear gas, water cannons, rocks, sniper fire and mobs storming in on horses and camels. All the while, they have stood their ground and continued to hold on to this sacred square.
Today they were determined to liberate the outside streets as well. While I was running away from the Mubarak mob on Talat Harb Street, a huge crowd came rushing out of the square, running towards the thugs. Just the sight of this oncoming sea of people was enough to frighten the thugs. The Mubarak mob disappeared as quickly as it had formed. Talat Harb Street, the site of street battles the last few days, was once again liberated. People cheered "Horreyah, horreyah" -- freedom, freedom.
Out of breath from running so fast, I turned around and saw the street vendor who had sold me the mints. He had run after me. It turns out that the 20-cent coin I had given him was enough to buy two packs of mints, not one. He had come me to give me the second pack.
"Welcome to Egypt," he said, smiling.
Medea Benjamin, cofounder of the peace group CODEPINK (http://www. codepink.org) and the human rights group Global Exchange (http://www.globalexchange.org), is part of an international delegation of solidarity with the Egyptian democracy movement. For media interviews, call +011 20-107148431 or contact medea [at] globalexchange.org.