Last night- after hours of building up hope, after the top military brass had issued communiqué no. 1- came the stunningly disappointing speech by Mubarak, Egypt’s once and future president, according to him; followed by the insulting exhortation by his V-P, and now acting president, Omar Suleiman, for the youth of Egypt to go home and get to work and avoid watching satellite TV. Satellite TV, as a matter of fact, showed the rage that greeted his speech: the men, and especially women, who cannot make ends meet or educate their children screaming for jobs, this minute. Others threatened to march on the presidential palace the next morning, and that raised alarm about a potential bloody clash between the protesters and the army. Today’s demonstration promised to live up to its name: Friday of Anger.
So when I walked down to
Tahrir Square at noon today, I was bracing for even worse tension than last Friday. But the atmosphere in Tahrir Square reminded one of a street fair or pre-football match crowd: the masses streaming in seemed relaxed, there were many smiling families with small children getting their faces painted in the colors of the Egyptian flag, and street vendors were hawking everything from flags to badges. Stalls were set up at both ends of the bridge leading to the square, selling sandwiches and juice. The smell of roast sweet potatoes filled the air.
The contrasts in the crowd were striking: the clean-cut kids in their $200 gym shoes and their thigh-high boots who strolled over from the sports club in Zamalek rubbed elbows with the mechanic apprentices in their torn sandals who came from clear across town. On the bridge I met
Egypt’s former ambassador to and his brother, walking over to take a look. Washington
Inside the square, free food was being distributed: benefactors came in carrying huge cartons labeled “Hostess Cookies” and “Molto Chocolates”, among other things. A makeshift bandstand played upbeat patriotic songs and some of the crowd joined in. There was very little chanting and no raised fists. But here and there, a few grim faces as people were handed leaflets detailing the alleged holdings of
’s corrupt elite. Egypt
The generally lighter mood may have been brought on by the announcement earlier that President Mubarak had left for the resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh, or by the army’s second communiqué promising a lifting of the reviled emergency laws as soon as conditions allowed; or the angrier protesters may have peeled off to march on the President’s palace in Heliopolis- some 10-15,000 are estimated to have done so.
The Friday of anger is far from over, but so far the worst scenario seems to have been avoided, and the Egyptian people are demonstrating, again, that they have learned how to dig in for the long haul and wear down the regime and the army by a show of indefatigable good spirits.
A few photos:
A few photos: