February 10, 2011
A Walk Through Tahrir Square: Site of Triumph and Tragedy
When I arrived in Egypt on January 22, life was as normal as ever with no indication that a revolution was about to break out just three days later, forever transforming Egypt and its citizens.
Long fed up with political corruption and monopoly, the people of Egypt finally decided that it was time to take what’s theirs.
Cairo’s streets and bridges, squares and alleys were a stage to history as millions took to the streets, day-in day-out, in a determined explosion of defiance, demanding an upheaval of Egypt’s political system.
With all eyes on Egypt, Tahrir Square is now arguably the world’s most famous square; the Egyptian flag, a symbol of freedom worldwide.
Tahrir Square was always the address. When protesters were forcefully evacuated from Tahrir Square on the first day of the protests, they came back three days later in larger numbers, this time refusing to take no for an answer. After eight hours of withering the acrid of tear gas and rubber bullets, we poured into Tahrir Square and at that moment knew that the protests had become a revolution.
For Egyptians who have called Tahrir Square home since that day, the Square is more than a symbol of the revolution; it is a symbol of a new Egypt.
“Guys don’t harass girls here, they treat them as their sisters; people proactively share their limited supply of food and water. We respect each other’s difference; we are a united people. We come from all over the country, but share one goal: a better Egypt,” said Mona, a student.
“This is the safest place for me in Egypt right now,” Said Nanna, a blonde blue-eyed Danish reporter. After the government pulled out the police force from the streets, government-related thugs and hoodlums roamed the streets attacking protesters and reporters. “The protesters protected me with their bodies,” she said.
Across from the Square is the Egyptian Museum, home of the world’s most expensive artifacts, also protected from vandals by a human chain of protesters.
Let’s take a walk.
The entrance of the Square has been barricaded by protesters. Directly outside are military tanks, parked outside with soldiers perched on top, observing silently. The military has shown total neutrality and is widely appreciated for it; soldiers are friendly and courteous often pausing to let visitors take photographs with them.
Ad hoc security check points have been created; volunteers ask you to show your ID and open your bags as a welcoming committee of miners from upper Egypt sing “Welcome, Welcome, O Ye Heroes.” Inside, other volunteers walk around with gloves and garbage bags, helping keep Tahrir Square the cleanest it has ever been despite the massive population density. Huge signs with revolutionary slogans hang between trees and lampposts and roll down from buildings. Protesters walk around with creative and highly personalized messages plastered on placards, rejecting the political status quo and demanding their rights.
In one corner, a makeshift first aid clinic manned by volunteer doctors stands across from a food bank of snacks and bottles of water.
In every corner is a rally of sorts, some on large stages complete with loud speakers, some on grassy areas, and others on the street. As you stroll through, you see that some gatherings are devoted to speeches, others to poetry, others yet to musical bands, debates, prayer, and chanting.
In the middle of all this, thousands march with flags, some huge, some small, all calling for an end to the current regime.
“Soon the world will never again mention the bloody French revolution as a historical reference but will remember the peaceful, inspiring , ethical, charismatic, emotional and spiritual Egyptian revolution as a motto of all world revolutions to come,” said Kamal.
Last Friday, Tahrir Square was the site of the Muslim Sabbath. Hundreds of thousands of Muslims prayed as Christian volunteers surrounded them for protection. The following Sunday, Christians held their mass as Muslims took their turn giving protection. Around the square, you see many images of the Crescent and the Cross. Images of Tahrir Imams and Priests holding hands have become popular.
“This is the real Egypt, the Alexandria church bombing was yet another government farce,” said Adel, referring to the recent scandal allegedly implicating the now estranged former Minister of Interior. “Tell me, if Muslims wanted to blow up their Christian neighbors, then how come not one church faced any violence in the past two weeks despite the total absence of police security outside churches and everywhere else?” He asked. “To the contrary, in many churches, Muslim youth volunteered to replace the usual security in front of the churches.”
On Wednesday, February 2, Tahrir Square was the site of a national tragedy. Thugs on camels and horses raced into the square attacking protesters with machetes and swords. The attacks continued well into the next day, with overnight clashes featuring Molotov cocktails and snipers. The government failed to intervene and was roundly accused of sponsoring the thugs. Dozens died and thousands were injured. Egyptians were outraged and the incident further rallied some of the silent masses into the revolution.
A volunteer doctor said:
“They attacked men, women, and children. I treated one 13 year old for seven wounds. As soon as I finished, he got up and raced back into the fighting. The next time I saw him, he had a bullet lodged in his brain.”
Since then, volunteer security has been beefed up and the site now has a martyrs wall featuring huge photos of those killed that day. Passersby pause to make a prayer.
A week later, I saw a woman walking around Tahrir with a sign, “My son died here, I came to replace him.”
“We came here to reclaim our lost dignity,” Mona said, “We are willing to lose our lives than leave here without it.”