Sunday, 6 February 2011

Whose Revolution? And a Coptic-Muslim Mass.

On the surface, there is a semblance of normality on the streets of Cairo today. The rowing crews were out on the water early again. Yesterday the banks re-opened for three hours; there were short queues of 8 people or so, but no scramble. Cars were double-parked all over the streets as usual. People went to work, went to lunch; traffic was as its normal busy self till curfew at 7 pm.
This comes as a relief to many, even irreducible critics of the Mubarak regime. As one businesswoman- a recent widow who has taken over the running of her husband's factories on top of her own legal practice- told me: "I am meeting payroll for 500 families, and no one can come to work. How much longer can I keep paying their salaries with no revenue? And what will they do if I have to shut down the factories indefinitely? Already the day workers who are hired by the day to load and unload trucks and so on, they are out of a job, and their families live hand to mouth."
Only the demonstrators in Tahrir Square bunkered down for another night under a light drizzle, after an inspiring day: a Coptic mass was held in the square, attended by Christians and Muslims alike. In contrast, on television, Coptic patriarch Shenouda declared his support for Mubarak.
During the past three days, Tahrir Square has seen less bloodshed and more entertainment; it has become quite the thing for a succession of political, military and media figures to make an appearance: Chief of Staff Tantawi, opposition party leaders, Shorouk publisher Ibrahim el-Mo'allem, writers like M. Salmawy.
But all this has the uneasy feeling of the calm before the storm. It is clear that the multiple tugs of war among the forces of the old regime and between them and the opposition, is from over. The complete breakdown of order: shutting down internet, cell phones, public transport, withdrawing police off the streets and letting prisoners loose- that breakdown of order, it is generally believed, was part of that tug of war. It did not succeed entirely, thanks to the phlegmatic response of the Egyptian people, who took security matters in their own hands and avoided panic.
What some fear, and others welcome, is a military take-over of power. The top men in the new "cabinet" are all military men. Egypt had its first chance at a civilian government in 60 years post-Mubarak. It remains to be seen if the door to that opportunity is still open.

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