Friday, 4 February 2011

From Tahrir Square: Notes on a Revolution, cont'd.

It seemed important to go to Tahrir square today. After the intimidation tactics deployed against the protesters over the past two days, it seemed important to show that such tactics would not work. For me, issues of safety apart, the personal challenge was overcoming my claustrophobia in crowds.
Just before the end of Friday prayers at noon, a friend and I walked over from near the Gezira Club to the Kasr-el-Nil bridge flanked by the pair of lion statues, and crossed the river in the company of a growing but calm crowd. We were stopped and searched three separate times in the short distance between Zamalek and Tahrir, each time by polite but determined young women students; men were searched by men.
Then we were in the square, ringed around by iconic buildings: the pink Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, where King Tut’s treasures lie; the Mogama’, Egypt’s notorious registry of records and bureaucratic nightmare; the American University in Cairo, now relocated to the far outskirts of Cairo; the Ritz Carlton, the Semiramis Intercontinental, all the grand hotels.
The square itself was a solid mass of humanity, of all walks of life and of all ages; in the middle a tent city of sorts sheltered a few bandaged men. Here and there someone would wave a banner and start up a chant, but there were no leaders and no organized protest. It seemed to be enough just to be there. There were no thugs and no violence, although I did catch a pickpocket- a pretty girl- slipping her hand into my friend’s handbag and lifting her cell phone.
There were camera crews here and there: a Swedish television station stopped me and interviewed me: what was an obviously middle-class person’s grievance with the Mubarak regime, the reporter wanted to know. Another foreign reporter, who was using her cell phone to take pictures, asked me if I would interpret for her. She wanted to ask a woman in peasant dress, holding a lovely blue-eyed baby girl, why the woman risked bringing her child to the protest. “It’s for the sake of her future,” the mother replied.
The chants and banners were mostly “Leave, Mubarak” or “we won’t go till he does,” but there was also an effigy of Mubarak hanging from a lamppost and I made it clear to the people around me that I objected to that. Their response was that I hadn't walked in their shoes- apparently they were making a judgment based on my appearance.
I got into a civil disagreement with a couple of university professors who were criticizing opposition figures who wanted Mubarak to put constitutional guarantees in place before he left. As far as I understand, according to Egypt’s constitution, only an elected president can dissolve Parliament. If Mubarak goes before that issue is resolved, V-P Omar Suleiman will take over and he cannot, as a non-elected president, dissolve Parliament; that would leave the country with the same representatives who were elected in fraudulent elections. 
A couple of hours later exhaustion set in, and we started to walk back. By then, tanks and barricades blocked off the bridge, and we had to make our way around them. My friend found her car and left and I walked back to the Gezira Club to catch my breath and have a cappuccino. Several people I knew sitting around the Lido there asked me how things were going in Tahrir Square, and then a few of them decided to up and take a stroll down that way and have a look for themselves- very much the same way they might in other circumstances decide to go take a look at charity auction at one of the grand hotels on the Corniche. As I sipped my coffee, someone asked what time curfew was today; the new normal.


  1. Amazing to have your first-hand reporting. I admire you for going to Tahrir Square - and wish I could be there with you! Let freedom ring, loud and clear.



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