The flow of foot traffic into Tahrir was endless Thursday night and Friday morning. Micro buses and coaches surrounded various entrances to the squares. Men with untrimmed beards, white skull caps and Saudi-styled galabiyas filed out of the buses carrying their signs, coolers and other luggage. They then set towards the square, often times chanting “Islamism, Islamism.” A protester standing next me looked on in disbelief at the endless processions of chanting Salafists. “Are they coming to wage war?” she asked. Indeed, it was a militaristic sight: a steady cadre in white, some bearing black flags with the words, “There is no god but God” painted in white.
I returned to the Tahrir Thursday evening preparing myself for the spectacle which awaited me. Word had spread on Twitter of an Salafist banner which had been raised close to the Qasr El-Nil Bridge exit. The sign read: “The people demand the application of Sharia.” Spread across a traffic mast and street lamp, the banner was eventually removed after some fuss and several exasperated attempts at forcefully tearing it down.
In the camp, a boy from the countryside sat proudly with his arm in a sling. The exasperated attempts, it turns out, belonged to him. The occupants of a tent nearby began building a more permanent camp site with a solid wood structure and dozens of chairs.
The Youth for Freedom and Justice was back to life. Khalid Abdel Hamid of the Revolution Youth Coalition stood, explaining the sit-ins demands. After he finished the song “Beladi” (My country) was played, as a man with an “I love you, Egypt” t-shirt waved slowly waved a flag and mouthed the words. A sign had been raised with the cartoon faces of Tantawi and Mubarak, stating the two figures were one and the same. (Later, it seems, the sign was removed). Poetry readings were back, including the Upper Egyptian boy who drew crowds with his impassioned recitations the first weel. A man came on afterwards and began chanting – to the disconcertion of many , “the people and the army are one hand.”(The qualification,of course, that the military council does not belong to us but the army does).
Outside the metro exit in front of Hardees, an island of bodies lay huddled together. The almost one month old sit-in was filled with new faces – bearded, of course. Preparations for Friday were proceeding at breakneck speed. A giant stage, larger than any erected since 8 July, was taking form nearby, and across the square, at the Talaat Harb exit, another colossal stage slowly came together. The former belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, though many claimed it would be open to use by all movements and parties, while the latter belonged to a group called the Salafist Call. In front of the two stages, each adorned with a blue trim carrying an ornate golden crest, lay dozens men. The Salafist stage was causing more of a stir, however. The beared men in white huddled together, directing the work around them and passing out numerous fliers, many of which spoke against the notion of constiutional principles and called for elections first. Several bore red arms, designating 'organising committees' while others identified their various governorates of origins. Space was being claimed and they had the numbers to do so.
Off to the side, stood the dwarfed “popular stage” blasting tunes by Nubian singer Mohammed Mounir, almost comically, at the new arrivals. In between the two stages, a car, draped in revolutionary t-shirts, stood parked. I began to notice that the merchandise salesman had increased since the night before. A man stood next to the work in progress and began shouting “raise your head high, you're a Muslim.” There was already friction and it seemed each the scuffle for space and attention had already begun.
A table covered in white cloth was placed a few metres in front of the Salafist stage as more and more of the roundabout around them was being cut off to any foot traffic. Banners were hoisted up reading: “no to biased rumours”; “you've heard of us so listen, we're of you and you of us” and “Egypt is a Muslim nation, neither secular nor Western.” Soon dozens of men holding the exact same signs gathered together, chanting “God is great.” The volume began to increase and eventually set of on a march around the traffic island, yelling: “Islamism, Islamism” and “with our spirit and blood, we sacrifice ourselves for Islam.”
Many looked on, perturbed by the chants. Voices yelled, “We sacrifice yourself for Egypt.” As the group neared the Youth for Freedom and Justice stage, “God is great, in the name of God, in the name of God” – the words to a post-1973 war song – boomed from the loudspeakers, drowning out their chants.
As the march passed the stage (I was on their heels), we passed a group, tambourine man and all, chanting “civil, civil.” The marchers turned towards the crowd ,and I noticed several cheeky grins emerge on their faces as they glanced towards the traffic island. The air was electric and one could easily feel the tension. “We've been here for the past month; where've you been?” some shouted at the marchers.
By 2:00 in the morning, the Salafist stage had reached completion and religious recitations resounded through the square and through some of its surrounding streets. It soon followed by numerous “God is great” declarations and a sermon which was soon drowned out by protesters heatedly calling for the overthrow of the Field-Marshall. As the chanting dissipated, small groups formed. A bearded man selling newspapers began arguing with another over the term “civil.”
“The term implies secular state without religion,” he argued. “No, you're conflating terms together at your own whim,” another responded, adding, “Civil just means we won't be ruled by the military.” To which the newspaper seller responded, “Well under Islamic law you wouldn't be run by a military either.”
Hearing this last bit, a man walked towards us and interjected: “Yeah, but who would you have run us? Omar Ibn Al-Khattab [the second rightly-guided caliph]? You're dreaming, man.”
Shortly afterwards, another small procession began to tour the roundabout, chanting, “We're the people true, we don't march behind you.” The “you” here refers to all movements, parties and individuals. The conversations would carry on throughout the early morning. Many heavily objected to the square's anti-military council sentiment, arguing that there was no alternative and the vacuum created by their ouster would leave Egypt ripe for foreign carving. One man curiously argued that Western powers wanted to divide Egypt into four countries.
Dawn broke. The stream of Salafists filing into the square was endless. The chants and counter-chants continued. At intervals, a speaker would mount the Salafist stage and proclaim, “God is great.” Friday's million man protest, dubbed “the Day of Unity and Popular Will” was about to kick off, but from the very beginning, it seems, the sentiments of those filing into the square was far from one of unity.
It was 23 July, the anniversary of the 1952 Free Officer's coup. The evening before, a spontaneous march towards the Ministry of Defence was forcefully ended in front of the Nour Mosque in Abbassiya Square. Protesters later informed me that they were given no instructions concerning the march. Tahrir Square was full of life, according to most, and the presence of Sufi singer Ahmed El-Tuni pleasantly distracted many of the square's inhabitants.
Reports from Friday indicated that residents of the district also clashed with the protesters. Following the clashes, the military council released Statement 69 and 70 early Saturday morning on its Facebook page.
The first statement denied using violence to disperse demonstrations in Egypt's cities – clashes took place in Alexandria, Cairo and Suez. The council also accused the April 6 Youth Movement of seeking to sow discord between the military and the people and warned against any further attempts to do so. It was the first time the country's de-facto leaders had identified a single group by name, rather than the usual “elements” or “agents” it so often made reference to in previous statements. The online community of activists quickly leapt to April 6's defence. A group was soon created, entitled “We are all April 6.”
In a strange and incongruous second statement, the military council thanked those who had formed human shields between the army and protesters, and prevented potential strife, ensuring the military were seen as an institution which does not attack its own people. The Facebook message also warned people against the use of certain internet sites where saboteurs and malevolent agents roamed freely.
Comments on Twitter abounded. But soon, the focus turned again towards the forthcoming march. The route was the same as the spontaneous march the night before. The destination was the Ministry of Defence. The call: a swift transfer of power to a civilian government. Protesters would gather in Tahrir Square at 4:00pm to begin the march which would proceed through Ramses Street. By 5:00pm, the cadre would be joined by demonstrators waiting in front of the Nour Mosque. Such was the plan, at any rate.
Critics questioned the logic of such a march and criticised the calls for protest on a national holiday – the anniversary of a 'revolution.' They called for protesters to respect the country's wish to celebrate and honour the '52 'revolution.' Those who supported the march argued that the '52 military coup gave birth to the very system that the revolutionaries were trying to break.
One Twitter user and journalist, @JanoCharbel, sent a message stating that '52 should not even be referred to as a revolution: “We must stop referring to the military coup of #July231952 as a #Revolution! In modern history #Egypthas two REAL REVOLUTIONS: 1919 & 2011.”
Tahrir Square was surprisingly empty in the early afternoon. Small groups of protesters marched sporadically around the traffic island, chanting against de-facto leader Field Marshall Mohammed Hussein Tantawi and his council. The sun forced a number of my colleagues and me onto the traffic island, where we took to the shade. An activist from a neighbouring tent walked around, handing protesters gas masks. I took one for myself, knowing well the threat of Central Security Forces (CSF).
The zero-tolerance tone taken by the military council in its statements meant that Saturday's marchers would need to be extra cautious. I asked several around me of the prospect of tensions. “We are sending the military council a clear, confrontational message of dissent,” stated one. “It took us 30 years to break down the police state; now we're rushing to take down military rule; I hope we're not rushing this,” another stated. “It's a revolution,” was the response.
IT WAS ALREADY PAST 4:00. Soon the numbers revolving around the square began to increase. Coalescing, they gathered in front of the Youth for Justice and Freedom's stage. Chanting erupted. Kamal Khalil, a socialist activist and leader of the Democratic Workers Party, took to the stage, asking protesters to remain still until those praying finished. “You all saw what happened yesterday when our numbers were too few; if we are to march, we must march with as many numbers as we can muster,” stated the ageing activist.
Within minutes, those assembled began to mobilise and the marchers soon set their course for Abdel Moneim Riad Square. Shouts of “freedom, freedom” rang out. Hoping to get a feel for the numbers, I ran ahead along the foot path and jumped onto the green railing. I looked ahead towards the 6 October Bridge and behind me, towards the square. The stream of bodies seemed endless. I couldn't tell where the march began and where it ended. Protesters chanted, “Down, down with military rule.”
We weaved our way under the bridge and onto Ramses Street. Protesters spanned the entire width of the street. The main street offered intermittent plots of shade for the spirited demonstrators. The crowd’s energy was high and their chants roared through the streets of downtown. Passing the state-owned daily Al-Gomhorriya’s offices, interested spectators could be seen leaning out of their offices. The marchers soon turned their zeal towards the reviled paper and shouted: “Here they are, here they are, here are the liars” and “the people demand the cleansing of the press.”
Pressing on through the streets of downtown, a group of marchers chanted a reworded and now, anti-military council Zamalek football anthem. As the column of demonstrators neared Ramses Square, two bangs echoed and two skyward clouds of smoke dispersed. Some claimed the sounds came from Ultra football fans.
Passing the train station and the square, protesters entered into the Abbassiya district with its old, ornate architecture. Faces peered out of their windows, down at the stream of bodies. “Oh residents of Abbassiya, come down and join us,” chanted protesters. Some were greeted with bags of supplies and water bottles, thrown from above.
Moments of silence were generally greeted by a resounding question: “Those of you quiet, why are you so? Have you reaped your rights, or is their more to sow?”
MIDWAY THROUGH THE MARCH, I turned to the member of my family that happened to be marching next to me. “Where do you reckon we are? The front, middle or back of the column?” I asked. We were unable to tell. Massive enough to stop the flow of traffic, it seemed. People glued to their smart phones reported numbers in the tens of thousands.
Within a little over an hour, we arrived, having been forewarned of the awaiting military cordon. As I approached the barbed wire barricade, I realise that our numbers were nowhere near the five thousand mark, let alone the estimated tens. Behind the barbed wire stood a sea of military police, ranked and unranked, as well as at least six personnel carriers – soldiers manning the turrets – and a fire engine at the rear. A group of civilians stood on the bridge behind the rows of soldiers and their superiors. Others were interspersed into various empty spaces.
A military police officer (three stars) stood grinning at the protesters as some tried to stick their heads through the wiring. He laughed and commented about a sign held behind me, but I couldn't make out his words. The amassed demonstrators chanted against Tantawi and the military council. Some protesters grew agitated and began yelling at individual soldiers, but they were pulled away. “The army is ours, but the military council is not,” chanted many, hoping to disarm the lower ranks of the army.
A man began yelling, “the people and the army are one hand” but was soon hushed by most of those around him. Another jokingly yelled back, “the army and the police are one hand.” An older, veiled lady took her turn and walked up to the fence to give the army a piece of her mind. She was soon drowned out, as the cut off mass began singing the national anthem. I looked at the soldiers in this moment, wondering what thoughts may be turning in their minds. Here were protesters, who came chanting “peaceful, peaceful,” now giving a stirring rendition of our country's anthem.
Four or five soldiers drew past, each holding a piece of wire. They proceeded to reinforce the barbed wire, as onlookers facetiously asked if they were scared the marchers would break through.
Turning to the mosque, I noticed a string of soldiers standing behind the iron fence. Behind them, a group of civilians, gathered to watch. People had taken their seats along the square and I decided to go to the nearest kiosk and buy more water bottles for the rest of the evening. Making my way through the protesters, I noticed there was both the young and old in our midst.
As I returned with the water bottles, I was met by a stampede of protesters, fleeing from a threat, as yet, unknown to me. Was it the military? Suddenly, bottles came crashing down in front of me. A man, beside me on the foot path, warned protesters not to flee into the side streets: “If you run in there you're not coming back,” he shouted. Running in and out of the side streets were plain clothed individuals with sticks and stones.
There were several open fronts. The alleyways proved to be the first forceful confrontation. Our way back to Tahrir was still open, but not for long. I doubled my speed, but was soon met with bursts of gun fire. People rushed towards me. Others dove to the ground. “It’s just sound,” people yelled. Sound or not sound, their aim was intimidation and they succeeded.
Protesters reached for the ground to pick up rocks, but many jumped and grabbed at their hands, urging them to remain peaceful.
We were stuck in between buildings and barbed wire. Bottles and stones came crashing down around us. Looking up I noticed men and women running across the rooftops overhead. Underneath the trees and off to the side, I noticed Yehia, one of the camp's resident street children, and one of his friends. They were both shaken and panic-stricken. Women and children around them were crying. I handed them my water and tried to get closer to the alley nearest the barbed wire.
I noticed a red glare, reflected off the shiny exterior of a shop. With one explosion after the other, an onslaught of Molotov cocktails rained down on us. There were those who came prepared with various makeshift forms of head gear. I saw several hard hats. Several used milk crates and others, still, tied compressed water bottles together to form a helmet.
THEN THE CLANGING BEGAN. Men and women stood hammering sticks and stones against metal shutters and side rails. Protesters laboured at the pavement, crushing the concrete beneath their feet. Others came with bins, crates and anything that could transport ammunition to the front lines.
The number of injured began to steadily increase. Bloodied faces were carried back to the ambulances parked in front of the mosque. A new front had been opened on Ramses Street, blocking our way out of the square. For some time, the protesters made significant advancements against our assailants. (It remained unclear whether these were hired thugs or misinformed residents set upon us, thinking we were the thugs).
After some time, the war of stones and petrol bombs unfolding in the background, demonstrators gathered near the entrance of the garden adjacent to the mosque. An escape route had been discovered through the garden of El-Demerdash Hospital. Calls were made to leave, but those present overwhelming refused to pull out and forsake fellow protesters to an assuredly grim fate.
A lady sat in the middle of the street weeping. A small group surrounded her, and a man, sobbing at the sight before him, pleaded with her to get herself together. The ongoing clamour was augmented by the unyielding roar of the mosque's speaker system. Above, a military helicopter slowly circled the area.
The next moments were filled with indecision. It's difficult to accurately portray the passage of time in any such conflict, though I feel the pace at which events unfolded was diminished due to confusion amongst demonstrators.
All the while, the tide of battle ebbed and flowed. Voices called for a sit-in, refusing to cede any ground, but the overwhelming sentiment was for a return to Tahrir Square. We were under siege and the destruction to cars and shop fronts made it clear that these weren’t just residents defending their neighbourhood, so incongruous was the wanton violence.
A third party had arrived to shield and protect the thugs. The glint of their black helmets and visors was unmistakable. It was an ominous sight. To one side stood a gigantic mosque; to the front stood a stoic military; to the other thugs and to the rear CSF forces now gathered.
Protesters feverishly set on the garden's fence, forcefully tearing it open for women and children to escape. The flow of retreats doubled, but persistence saw many rushing back to the fray. Suddenly a single wave of tear gas was fired directly into our midst, sending people through the garden.
THE SHOCK FROM THE GAS WAS SHORT BUT POTENT. The move to Tahrir couldn't be more pressing. Word spread of missing activists and friends. Amr Gharbeia, a blogger and activist, was kidnapped by vigilantes against the revolution as he approached El-Demerdash metro station. Another reported being chased by another posse of self-anointed deputies.
The decision to return had been made, but we waited for the green light from the mosque. Passage would be granted for those wishing to return to Tahrir, boomed the mosque's speakers.
To call it the trudge back home would belie the vigour and spirit of the marchers, but the protesters, including myself, showed clear signs of fatigue. Many stopped intermittently along the way to sit down and regain what little energy remained. At the first sign of a juice maker, I ran across the street and swallowed a stein of sugar cane juice.
Marching through Abbassiya, we passed onlookers who cheered and applauded us. They waved flags and snapped photos. Some residents threw down water bottles. Our numbers had dwindled and eventually traffic began to squeeze past us on one side. Passing through Ramses Square, the volume of the chants trebled. The protesters had found a second wind, chanting ”freedom” as though walking to a football stadium – clapping rhythmically and pumping their arms into the air.
With this renewed vigour, the procession approached Tahrir Square where we were met with applause and words of praise. Passing through the checkpoint, I quickly walked towards the traffic island. Resting my legs, I began to think of the repercussions.
The military council had acted brashly, declaring war on a group of peaceful protesters. It had laid a trap and watched in silence as civilian aggressors brutishly pinned in the revolutionaries. Would the images and videos, released in the next days have an effect on public opinion? The military's messages and actions over the past two days represented an aggressive shift in tone. Were they probing their mandate: playing poker? And if so, what was their next hand? Or, just as importantly, what was the revolutionaries' next move and how would Abbassiya's events affect the sit-in's future?
Thursday night’s placidity reached into Friday's early hours. The steady stream of groups into and out of the square had by 3:00am abated. I stay close to the Qasr El-Nil checkpoint, sipping on coffee, trying to summon up any remaining energy. The pre-dawn exodus continued and soon the square's activity died down.
A group of men worked to create a new awning. Emptied Fava bean sacks were being tied together. The plan appeared to tie one end onto the traffic mast and the other to makeshift structure which kept the main white sheet aloft over the central island.
I returned to the encampment and found my companions all asleep. I heard the dawn prayer and decided to catch a wink before the big Friday protest. I spread my exercise mat onto the ground and unfurled my sleeping bag.
The day dawned and with it the morning fights and arguments and, of course, the numerous flies. I covered my face with a bag and hoped that our neighbours would stop their never-ending melodrama.
Like clockwork, the morning meeting convened at about 8:00. The mood was more jovial than the previous day, as the activists looked forward to Friday's festivities. The evening would include the much anticipated performance of Sufi Sheikh Ahmed El-Tuni.
The success of Wednesday's march to the prosecutor-general's office was noted, as the conversation turned again to the future of the sit-in. Several protesters voiced their determination to see the protest carry-on through the religious month of Ramadan. The sunset feast would draw many to Tahrir, allowing the movement a chance to remain politically alive during a month which, so often, has been characterised by lethargy. Tahrir Cinema, for instance, could offer a political alternative to the usual soaps. Whether these ideas were purely wishful or not, they helped pass the morning.
By 10:00, the square's stages were occupied and microphone checks resounded. The Fava bean awning was almost finished and numbers were slowly trickling into occupied Tahrir. I descended into the metro station and headed to work.
At work, I began to realise that my motor functions were deteriorating. It had been four days since I'd had a proper sleep. I hadn't fully recovered from the flu-bug which had circulated the sit-in. I knew the square was waiting and it pained me to leave on such an eventful day. But, leave I did, and the next 12 or so hours are lost time.
Note to the reader: I will do my best to fill in the missing time with interviews. Until then, the chronicles will pick up the following day in Tahrir before the announced 4:00pm march to the Ministry of Defence.
I was sat on the terrace of a rooftop café, finishing the previous nights' entries. Night and day were no longer two separate entities, the many tribulations of the square had synthesised the two until the one was indistinguishable from the other. The noon day hours were perhaps the most distinguishable, but the lull during the sun's peak often transpired without much fuss.
The need for sleep had seemed to vanish over the course of the week, and whenever I felt the tiresome urge coming on, I would deafen any such thought with a war-like medley of coffee and cigarettes.
Dawn broke and the voices of the remaining clientèle began to swell. “They did the right thing with the sellers,” one declared, as he proceeded to argue that Tahrir's burgeoning revolution began via a certain social class and would continue so. Soon the conversation turned to song. The man began singing Mohammed Mounir's “Egyptian Story” eventually transitioning into a group rendition of the post-1973 Shadia tune “Oh My Love, Oh Egypt.”
“Look, we've made our very own Tahrir here.”
ARGUMENTS HAD CONTINUED in the square throughout Wednesday night and into Thursday morning. Returning from the café at 6:30, I searched for the morning march's organisers. The plan was to depart the square at 7:00 and again turn on the prosecutor-general’s office. This time, however, the intention was to occupy.
The organiser approached us. There were no more than five of us at the meeting point. He pointed to the ongoing arguments in the square. Demonstrators were too occupied with Wednesday night's aftermath to pull away from the protest's epicentre.
I withdrew and joined my fellow campers for the morning's discussion. They were immersed in dialogue, questioning previous tactics and looking for creative ways out of the recurring dilemma. An activist voiced her surprise at the depths to which society, to a large degree, had internalised years of government propaganda. Take for instance a scene I observed the Wednesday night. A protester, upon seeing a man videoing the tension, quickly entreated him to stop: “We can't air our dirty laundry for all the world to see.”
Furthermore, a rigid classist doctrine underlay the vicious targeting of vendors. Their right to be in Tahrir was questioned and the reason: image. The activist reverted to an anecdote from her time in the square. A seller, she recounted, once asked her not to photograph him, worried that such images would sully outsider perceptions of the square.
THE LOWS OF THE PREVIOUS NIGHT had galvanised a small group of protesters, many from our encampment, to convene with 93 sellers. They agreed with the sellers to designate two locations in the square: the strip leading to Qasr El-Nil Bridge and the green lawn ahead of Abdel Moneim Riad Square. The sellers would turn over their national identification cards to a committee and in return receive a numbered work badge.
Tahrir, save for a handful of tea vendors in front of the Mogamma, was completely depleted of all its merchants. We walked from checkpoint to checkpoint following the discussion and I observed as the activists explained to each popular committee the new lay of the land. Some responded with interest, offering their own input. One security volunteer proposed that sellers enter the square through one of two checkpoints rather than through all seven. Others asked if the security crews could be given their own work badges as well to dispel any ambivalence. Then there were the few, or were they the many, who nodded, focusing exclusively on the fact that street vendors would once again be allowed into the square. Though they met with objections, the small band of protesters had devised an alternative, and many, knowing it was only a matter of time before sellers returned, acquiesced.
After they'd finished their rounds, I decided to board the metro home. It was past noon and the sun's rays were piercingly sharp.
THURSDAY EVENING could only be classified by a stillness in stark contrast to the agitation of the previous night. I turned to my colleague, who'd also accompanied me the previous night, and wondered if such placidity would last. The sellers had taken to one of the two designated spaces, and though the square's numbers did not seem any less than the night before, the roundabout was conspicuously bare.
We walked towards Qasr El-Nil Bridge where tonight Tahrir Cinema would screen films on Egypt's workers and peasants. The first couple of film clips showed images from the 18-day uprising and the celebrations that followed the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak. The focus then shifted to post-uprising Egypt and a short film exposed the worker's struggle at the Egyptian Starch and Glucose Manufacturing Company's Tora factory. The audience applauded the spirited defiance against government corruption and the show of solidarity with Tahrir protesters. Another film gave a brief glimpse of the Petrojet sit-in. Dismissed workers sought reinstatement following years of work on expired temporary contracts.
The focus of the cinema then shifted to victims of police and military brutality both before and after the overthrow of Mubarak. Several members of the audience demanded videos of fighting. They called for “the Battle of the Camel” and “videos of the revolution.” The interviews were poignant, however, and many of those sitting around me watched intently.
Eventually, though, spectators began calling again for clips of fighting. When the last documentary film came on, people grew fed up and began leaving. The film examined the Egyptian farmers' struggle with the effects of economic liberalisation and the agricultural policies which have crippled the public sector and shifted the priorities to the export-driven private sector. The presenter, seeing her audience's dissatisfaction, explained that Egypt's struggle extended far beyond the stones thrown on 2 February in Tahrir. Farmers and workers were the country's backbone. Their struggles were very much a part of 25 January, she stated. After all, what could be more pressing than a country's food supply.
The film was titled “Pity the Nation” after the lines from a Khalil Gibran poem: “Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave, eats a bread it does not harvest, and drinks a wine that flows not from its own wine-press.”
THE SCREENINGS ENDED and I walked towards the square. Again I was confronted with the barren look of the roundabout. I recalled the morning's discussion. An activist had questioned the presence of sellers, arguing that the first 18 days were different. “Why did we need liver sandwiches in Tahrir anyway,” he asked. The response was overwhelmingly simple: we struggled in misery for years and to no avail, but now, we'd toppled a dictator and managed to do so with the most carnival-like protests history had ever seen.
The morning’s visit to the prosecutor-general’s office had effectively energised Tahrir’s protesters and provided an increasingly hazy sit-in with renewed focus. Though numbers had steadily dwindled – the square’s population had plateaued by Wednesday – protesters spent the late afternoon preparing banners and signs for the forthcoming marches.
One of the anticipated evening marches would set off from Tahrir Square at 6:30pm in support of the families of political prisoners. The appointed time came and went, yet I remained behind to work on the previous day’s entry. Soon, however, word reached me of the fomenting march halting downtown Cairo’s dense traffic. I hurriedly left the office to see for myself. Running through downtown, the demonstrator’s chants rumbled in the distance.
The march largely focused on the illegitimacy of the military council, the country’s interim authority. Numbering about 200, the marchers pushed through Talaat Harb Street, weaving a path towards the High Court and onto Galaa Street.
As the protesters closed in on the Corniche, some began urging a shift towards Maspero. A moment of indecision soon followed. One of the march’s organisers halted the march, insisting that it had taken its toll on the families of the political prisoners. They needed to reserve their remaining energy for Tahrir, the organiser stated, where they would address the sit-in.
The march soon began to correct its path, passing under the 6 October Bridge and onto Abdel Moneim Riad Square. As we crossed the square, a terrifying yet oddly humorous moment tore me away from the gravity of the situation: a small rather rotund boy pranced, legs and arms wide apart, across the street and whistled at oncoming traffic to stop.
UPON ENTERING THE SQUARE, the families took to the Youth for Justice and Freedom stage to address the gathering crowd. Towards Qasr El-Nil Bridge, Tahrir Cinema's crew began preparation for the 10:30pm showing.
I stood at a distance from the stage with a colleague, as we both observed the square. It had been a strange week. The sellers had been expelled from the stage yesterday, but here they were again. Many complained that the focus of the sit-in had been lost within the square's growing complexities. The occupation's dynamics had sparked many questions over the past few days: what aspects of society were being reproduced by the occupants and what was being generated or created through the square's social and political evolution?
My colleague turned to me and remarked: “The square is very calm this evening. Perhaps, we're losing steam.”
It was true; there was an odd tranquillity. I started to explain that this might be a sign of stability when a small confrontation between a tea vendor, a couscous seller and a third party broke out in front of us. The squabble draws attention, and soon, people are rushing towards the lady tea vendor. The situation quickly escalates as the crowd antagonises her. A man rushes to a tea station nearby, shouting at the boy vendor and overturning his stand. Dozens of tea glasses shatter across the pavement and the boy begins to cry.
All the while the crowd is growing and small arguments begin to break out around my colleague and me. A group of men and boys with white pieces of cloth tied to their upper arms rush in – many carrying bats and sticks. They claim to be security, but their actions belie any true intentions of diffusing the impending showdown.
Another vendor steps in front of the lady tea vendor and bares his chest, screaming: “Kill me if you wish. What do you want from us?” His words draw no response from the growing mob. “Clear away,” he yells. “What are you all looking at?” As though a knee jerk reaction, another man shouts “peaceful, peaceful.”
“How can you yell 'peaceful, peaceful' after all this thuggery?” responds the seller.
Onlookers begin to question the strange 'security' force in white arm bands. The costumed individuals claim to be allied to no coalition or party; they're members of the Independent Federation. Some sticks are seized, but soon a wave of protesters and vendors sweep through the area and the area is cleared in the blink of an eye. As the crowd proceeds to the roundabout, I hear a speaker on the stage demand that all the vendors leave the square quietly. A street artist nearby continues his work, unaffected. I felt another purge coming.
Soon the mob which had been circling the square draws near and I notice two people, possibly overwhelmed by the situation, being carried away from the argument. Sellers begin marching round the traffic island calling the protesters thugs which shortly leads to another shouting and punching match. The square's merchants, by now surrounded, began heatedly chanting: “The revolutionaries are thugs.” In response, the crowd shouts, “The sellers are thugs.”
By this point, I struggled to perceive any rhyme or reason from the rapidly intensifying events around me. The angry rabble soon shifted to a nearby traffic garden, turning on the seller's tents. Heated shouting contests turn violent as stones are thrown by children on the seller's side. A cordon is formed to divide the two sides, but any attempt to attenuate their raging emotions was, by now, futile. Suddenly, I realised that most of the people around me were wielding sticks.
STONES, THEN BRICKS AND THEN TEA VESSELS flew past me. The men and boys with sticks charged past me, overtaking the garden and smashing the tents and stands. The sides no longer seemed easily distinguishable. The entire square seemed to be overrun with stick and bat wielding individuals. Panic spread through the occupied grounds as the mob chased each other down towards Abdel Moneim Riad Square and then back towards Talaat Harb Street.
People passed me, eyes glazed and dumbfounded by the sudden turn of events. A group of protesters attempted to disarm fellow protesters, gathering sticks and pipes and disposing of them in a remote tent. Others stood around arguing. Many felt the use of force was necessary, but others still believed that any such show of violence went against all the principles and aspirations of the 25 January popular uprising.
Rumours, as they have yet to be verified, spread of State Security goons being captured. Atop the 'people's stage' near the Talaat Harb Street entrance, a man stood preaching to his crowd. It was a strange sight amid all the discord. “Tie up these State Security officials, but do not beat them,” his voice echoed over the loudspeakers.
A man next to me named Ibrahim began arguing with another claiming to be a security head. “They'll be back, you know. How many times have we been through this? Seven!” Ibrahim said. “This is the last time,” responded the stout security head. He spoke over the rims of his eye glasses, dropping English profanities intermittently. The man was certainly a caricature.
He continued to speak in his strange, staccato Arabic: “You're crazy.” The young man had mentioned that sellers should be confronted peacefully and force, if necessary, should be applied without weapons. “They're all infiltrators. If you have another way of dealing with them, go deal with that vendor,” the security head stated, pointing at what seemed to be an imaginary vendor.
Ibrahim began questioning the presence of the sticks and another responded, “We need to protect ourselves. We didn't come here to die at the hands of the sellers.” I stepped in: “Where are all these sticks and pipes coming from anyway?” “From the tents, of course,” was the response. It was true. Furniture, crates, umbrellas were easily turned into weapons. Though some of the sticks had nails hammered into the fibres and protruded out the other end in a mace-like fashion.
My attention returns to the conversation and a new participant shows his scar from the previous day's confrontation. He mentions a doctor who had been stabbed in the midst of the conflict. In the background, I begin to make out the sounds of a Quranic recitation being broadcast from the Youth for Justice and Freedom stage. The stick wielding mob had by now exited the square and a small group of protesters marched around the central traffic island, chanting: “Oh prosecutor, by your office, a martyr’s mother can find no solace.”
I picked up a broom and returned to the sight of the shattered tea glasses. Cleaning crews surrounded the square. The final curtain fell on Wednesday night's Tahrir Cinema; nearby, a small verbal quibble took place – again about the sellers.
In anticipation of the morning march, I anxiously searched for any source of caffeine after a mere hour and a half worth of sleep. A breakfast street vendor was being questioned at the Qasr El-Nil Street checkpoint. The committee manning the entrance asked him were he had received the document, supposedly allowing him access to the square which had been almost completely emptied of its sellers. Walking back to the traffic island, I encountered a small squabble between a “nosey” vendor and inhabitants of a nearby tent. The seemingly never ending conflict between the square's protesters and the sellers had, yet again, peaked.
Street sweepers did their morning rounds, as newsboys announced the morning's papers. The security committees at Mohammed Mahmoud Street and at the Omar Makram Mosque were playing pickup football.
THE EVENING BEFORE had it's share of heated discussions and confrontations. Discussions from Monday night and Tuesday morning had culminated in a series of planned marches for Wednesday. As the sun's light began to wane Tuesday, a frenzied skirmish between street vendors and individuals within the square erupted. The events were related to me by many of my fellow campers.
The square's small time tycoons have been under constant suspicion since the the first week of the sit-in. Many are suspected of being infiltrators sent to spy on the protesters and, as such, are often targeted by various organised and disorganised mobs. The most intriguing narrative of yesterday's clash depicts a dissatisfied customer claiming to have been food poisoned by one of occuped Tahrir's many makeshift chefs.
A brawl ensued in which the vendor is said to have poured hot water on himself to implicate his accuser. The conflict escalated as a gathering mob used the incident to again purge the square of almost all of its peddlers and food sellers.
What's more, there are purported attempts to begin numbering the square's food vendors in order to keep records of complaints and trace incidences of food poisoning. The far fetched scheme drew quite a bit of laughter from myself and those around me. By night fall, the square's roundabout looked like a ghost town – in stark contrast to the night before.
AS THE ONGOING TAHRIR CINEMA PROJECT began it's nightly showing, talk among various political movements within the square revolved around plans for Wednesday's marches and the sit-in's prospects at large. Flyers for a 6:00pm march to the Cabinet offices were being distributed by the Revolutionary Socialists on behalf of the Popular 8 July Front. Further talk of a 5:00am march towards the prosecutor-general's office circulated, as word spread of 6:30pm march by the families of the political prisoners – destination, as yet, unknown.
With activists around me airing their frustrations at the media circus and political fiasco surrounding the Cabinet reshuffle, discussions again began to focus on the sit-in's future and possible plans of action to either keep it going or strategically disperse it. Many, vexed by the tangential path the reshuffle has lead the movement on, highlighted the upcoming month of Ramadan and whispers of a plan to continue through the fasting holiday. Others discussed pressing organisational and political matters which needed tending to in light of the autumn parliamentary elections. Nothing was clear, however, and the fate of Tahrir remained, as it had for days, ambiguous.
REALISING THAT NO CAFÉS would possibly be open at 6:00am, my sleep deprived companion and I decided to overcome any conscientious objections and walk to the nearby Shepeard Hotel on the Corniche. Three cups of coffee later, we walked back to the encampment expecting to find it's occupants stirred and ready for the planned march to the prosecutor-general's office.
Gathering ourselves, many still stiff from their repose on the hard earth, we walked towards the Egyptian Museum. A tiny crowd gathered behind us, no more than 200 strong, and began to walk in our direction. Their progress was interrupted when an activist was accused of the unthinkable – photographing the square. Photographing, of course, took place but not by the activist in question. Regardless, a small quarrel broke out but was soon quelled. The gathered marchers took a quick spin around the traffic island to gather more protesters.
WITH THE HUNDRED OR SO PROTESTERS, the march took off in the direction of Abdel Moneim Riad Square where we exited the occupied territory and made our way to Ramsis Street. The march itself took all of half an hour. A small group of protester's, arms locked, formed a moving cordon to separate the rest of the group from the passing traffic. Impassioned, demonstrators chanted against the military council, the army, the prosecutor-general, the Interior Ministry and the slow pace of trials, both of ex-regime figures and the police officers accused of killing protesters.
“Oh prosecutor, please advise how much is one hearing's bribe,” rang the voice of protesters as they neared the judicial offices. The loudspeaker floated among a handful of chant leaders. One of whom voiced a widely felt sentiment: “Take a minister, put one in; we've not seen the change begin.”
WE WERE GREETED BY A MILITARY POLICE cordon at the prosecutor-general's office. For a time, protester's were satisfied standing behind the red berets, directing their voices at the small crowd of spectators who looked on from the upper story's windows. Before long we were able to move through the military police line, many of us making it to the steps. No sooner had we reached the steps than an officer, his pistol raised, began to order those around him to force us down. Myself and several others were pushed away form the entrance as others bared their chests, passionately daring the military to open fire on them.
Isolated shouts of “peaceful, peaceful” could be heard as military police dressed in riot gear rushed to kettle in the remaining demonstrators on the steps, dividing the group into two. Afterwards, many protesters, warily suspected that the military police in riot gear were in fact Central Security Forces in the latter's uniforms. In the moment, however, tensions flared as protesters asked the soldiers whether they hadn't learnt from the lessons of the Interior Ministry. The strained moment passed, but the protesters' rage remained. Chants against the military council and the army surged. Where the military's batons and guns meant to protect civilians or kill them, many inquired in convulsions of passion.
After an hour half, the numbers began to dwindle and those who remained were forced to make a decision: stay on or return to the square. The protester's soon agreed to return, vowing to return the next morning. This time, however, for a day-long sit-in.
Monday evening in Tahrir crept quietly into night as stages came down and numbers seemed to dwindle. The camp, its dirt floor newly carpeted, was also quiet. Some of the neighbours were reorganising their tents and equipment as the street children sat around one of the camp's activists for their daily reading and drawing class. I walked to the Qasr El-Nil Bridge checkpoint with an acquaintance from the camp to deliver water and juice to the security volunteers. Tahrir had several supply networks for food, drinks and ice. The team of activists I stayed with had their own tent for the supplies which they replenished on a daily basis via calls made on Twitter.
In an attempt to bring the politically active denizens of the Twitter-verse to Tahrir, Alaa Abd El Fattah held yet another 'Tweet Nadwa.' The discussion group turned it's focus to the many different initiatives and movements within the sit-in. From film collectives to graffiti art to the public committees and the 'No to military trials' campaign, the evening explored the many forces of resistance which had grown within the past six months. An electricity outage early on gave the evening a kinetic push, as hundreds of protesters left the pitch-dark traffic island, marching through the square and defiantly chanting, “We won't leave.”
The energy soon subsided, and before long, the lights returned, drawing an enthusiastic response from the nadwa's participants. Atop the main stage – the small Nasserist one and the 'people's stage' were alone left and provided little competition – a protester stood chanting beneath the Youth for Justice and Freedom banner. The crowd below, appearing zombie-like, stared on: few mumbled chants. Was Tahrir finally losing steam?
WHERE ONCE A TABLE with socialist pamphlets and newspapers stood, a street vendor stood cooking kosheri, a starchy mix of rice, lentils pasta topped with sauce, onions and hummus beans. Though kosheri had often been a staple food product in the square – vendors across the square selling containers for a few pounds, Monday night was the first time I saw vats of boiling pasta and simmering sauce in makeshift kitchens. The street vendors were plenty, but where were their politically dissident clients?
It must be said that there was a general air of exhaustion among most of the encampment's protesters. I myself had been growing more and more fatigued, partly by the sleeping conditions and heat but mostly by the anticipation (especially with the growing passage of time), the increasing tensions within the square and the slow, equivocal response of the ruling military council and it's Cabinet. Monday had provided the protesters with yet another confusing mess, when Prime Minister Sharaf announced that he would not be swearing in his new ministers.
Many protesters, though pleased with the removal of ministers such as Zahi Hawass, the almost former minister of state for antiquities, and finance minister Samir Radwan, were very displeased with the government's decision to keep NDP figures from pre-25 January in power. The most notorious, Minister of International Cooperation and Planning Fayza Aboul-Naga, has been a Cabinet member since former prime minister Ahmed Nazif's tenure. A speaker on the square's main platform decried this anomaly: “We all know Fayza Aboul-Naga. She was close to Mubarak and Suzanne [the former first-lady], yet she remains in power. The government thinks it can laugh at us, but they are all illegitimate. Legitimacy comes from Tahrir.”
A MAN WALKED AROUND with a lynched effigy of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, ready to pose, peace sign at the ready. Another walked around with a cardboard tank, pivoting turret and all, and a sign reading: “The army protects not rules.” It wasn't the same Tahrir, I'd seen and written about a week ago, but small changes were taking place that, if the sit-in were to press on, would further stimulate the burgeoning political conscience in Egypt at large.
Around the Mogamma and throughout the traffic island, pockets of protesters joined together to discuss political and economic programmes. In front of the Mogamma, a group huddled around a large, school-sized notebook resting on a stand. A lady stood in the middle, energetically demonstrating her points in bold red marker.
AT 11:00, the 'Let's Write Our Constitution' initiative, known in Arabic as 'Dostourna' (our constitution), gathered at the Egyptian Museum. The initiative called for volunteers to interview various strati of Egyptian society regarding the principles people would like to see enshrined in the constitution. Announced by the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre in May and organised in part by activist Alaa Abd El Fattah (who spent three years in South Africa), the project was inspired by the South African experience in their constitutional principles in the early 1990s. The defining ethos of the undertaking is to draw on people's opinion not just jurists
A protester came by the tent to announce the 'Dostourna' gathering. As the camp site was abuzz with political debate, not many responded to the call. Midnight drew near, yet the political debate still raged. Representatives from different movements sat in a circle debating the future of the sit-in.
Ramadan was drawing closer and with it, many felt, the sit-in would inevitably draw to an end. Tactics were thrown around and with the sounds of the political chatter ringing in my ears, my eyes grew heavy. Thoughts of the sit-in and the constitutional initiative spun around in my sleepy head.
The next morning, the discussion was brought back into sharp focus, by the newly raised, colourful banners associated with the approaching fast. I walked towards the edge of the traffic island. A Ramadan lantern hung overhead.
Talk in ‘New Egypt,’ as the square was once fondly called, has revolved around the Cabinet reshuffle for several days. With the announcements of resignations and new appointments, the square is looking to the future with many questions, as yet, unresolved. The reshuffle which has overshadowed all written demands, much to the dismay of Tahrir’s nucleus, has left many protesters apprehensive of the sit-in’s fate. Will certain groups decided to pack-up and leave? What and where should the next push be? Will the sit-in fizzle and fade or will the demonstrators leave having milked significant concessions from the ruling military council?
As these questions floated within the collective conscious of the square, Tahrir protesters began to stir Monday morning. A man stood outside his tent, sweeping the dusty earth at his feet while another curiously watched the peculiar sight of refuse collectors making their way around the encampment. Tea vendors were busily ladling profuse amounts of sugar into each brew and food stands with eggs, cheese, cold cuts and halva stood largely unfrequented.
TOWARDS MOHAMMED MAHMOUD STREET, a huddled mass stood listening intently to a ‘doctor’ as he spoke on the revolution’s demands. “Are all the revolution’s victims martyrs?” asked one man. “Can we really return [ousted president Hosni] Mubarak’s stolen money to the people?” another asked, speaking over a lady who persisted till her voice was heard: “We keep talking about having one stage only; when will this happen?”
The ‘doctor,’ as they kept referring to him, was yet another manifestation of the ‘knowledgeable person’ or ‘wise sage’ who, amid all the fogginess and political uncertainties, was expected to deliver all the answers. Some, as was the case with the ‘doctor,’ relished the attention and would go off on tangents, dissecting the word ‘democracy’ into its Greek roots and tracing the system of governance to Pharaonic times. Listeners came and went, fed up after such diatribes, but it didn’t seem to deter them from seeking a more direct speaker elsewhere.
I’ve often heard debates (e.g. the call for kicking street vendors out of the square) in which participants have simply stated: “You come to a conclusion and we’ll follow your lead.” While there are several groups which seek a proportional system of representation within the square, content with the anarchistic nature of the square, many others desperately seek a clear, well defined leadership.
Sunday night, a crowd stood heckling, dropping a never ending series of “what if’s” as union leader and soapboxer Kamal Abou Eita focused on the need for a budget overhaul, favouring those on low-income. Interruptions eventually became the so rife that Abou Eita’s socialist sermonising soon ground to a halt. A man seized the microphone and acrimoniously addressed his audience: “The stages are not the place for questioning; this is why we have meetings...Everyone needs to look to his or herself for answers and solutions. Yes, we are one hand and we shall achieve our demands, but freedom comes at a price. We all have to look to ourselves, be independent, before we can truly work together.”
The series of “what if’s” reflect the many doubts and ambiguities which presently shroud the square and its demonstrators. Many if not all desire a clear roadmap, though no such map exists.
The desire for an ‘answer man’ is understandable when real information is sparse and controlled from the top. It is also understandable when curiosity and access to more reliable sources of information are rarely afforded luxuries.
SO HOW SHOULD THE SQUARE PROCEED? Frankly put, the reshuffle doesn’t affect the hardcore protesters currently occupying Tahrir Square. It is dissatisfaction with the Interior Ministry and the prosecutor-general and the rights of the martyrs' families which rest at the core of the current sit-in. Anger towards the interior minister and the prosecutor-general is palpable within the square. There, nevertheless, were fears of parties or movements beginning to withdraw.
“There are movements and parties looking to pull out of the sit-in,” stated an anxious looking man Monday morning. “None of them will want to pull out first, for the sake of their image. This is exactly why we shouldn’t bring up the single stage discussion today.”
Talk of dismantling all but one stage has speckled conversations since day one, but the past two days have seen the issue receive concerted consideration. The night before, several stages had announced the idea, one even promising to begin the job immediately.
“Today will be a tense day,” the anxious man warned, pressing his palms together. “But we need to dismantle all the stages except one,” interjected another, his shiny black shoes standing in stark opposition to the ragged, dusty nature of the sit-in. “We can’t have a proper meeting or discuss anything, so long as these stages remain.”
In the end, it didn’t take much more to convince him to drop the issue for the day. The thought of a party or coalition using the excuse to withdraw eventually convinced the naysayers.
The square’s future, in part, rests in the protester’s ability to organise and form democratic structures within their own camp. But how will the desire for one hand, one voice and one stage play into the square’s political evolution?
Tahrir Square on Saturday evening bustled with people. The consensus among those present was that numbers had surpassed those of Friday evening. Near the Talaat Harb Street entrance, the Wafd Party stage had come down and the neighbouring Nasserist stage moved in to take its place. A few metres away, the Revolutionary Artists Coalition were close to completing their Tahrir mural. Artists, paint brushes in hand, leaned over several panels as onlookers held their camera phones aloft, eager to capture every moment.
It was an isolated moment of permanence. If one can call it thus. For it surely was a transient piece of expression, to be captured in high definition, only then to be washed away by whatever fate awaited this corner of the street. Nevertheless, the mural was establishing a permanence. Tahrir's revolutionary settlement was now possessed of its own culture, ideas and ideologies. A political will was finding its voice in the strokes of each painter's brush. Tahrir's resolute vision of a future was slowly materialising, digging its feet into the concrete. The clock could not be turned back on this social and political evolution.
The square's many different forms of expression represented well the diverse social and economic backgrounds of its inhabitants. Elsewhere, a boy stood on a newly erected stage, struggling to remember the lines he was evidently told to memorise. He recited a joke about ousted president Hosni Mubarak's absurd fiscal fortune, drawing laughter from the small crowd. The culture of resistance was still in the child's voice much as it was in the mural.
AFTER TWO FRIDAY'S OF PROTEST, the occupied square seemed more settled in its rhythm. The walk through the roundabout and back to the encampment had become routine. Carefully weaving through the ropes which anchored the tents into the soil, I walked past the Egyptian Social Democratic Party's camp and the revolutionary press tent. Ahead stood a small encampment of Suez protesters with their symbolic blue flag unfurled and even further up was Tahrir's very own book shop, fittingly named Tahrir Books.
Talk in the camp was more subdued than usual. Some spoke of the day's news, mentioning the human rights groups and their calls for better treatment of thugs within the square. The report had sparked a short spat on Twitter earlier. The media had run a few stories over the past week on the harsh treatment of thugs and other alleged criminals caught within the square. As with each press release, protesters feared for the square's image. Certain parties felt dismay at the scandals, fearing the purity of the movement would be sullied, while others hoped that any such scandal might push Tahrir's occupants to alter their methods.
Conversation proceeded in such a manner for some time, until one of the camp's activists announced the release of a new military statement. Shushing everyone, as she was wont to do, she began reading the statement aloud. There were those who giggled, those who chose to feign disregard and those who listened, muttering reproof. Nothing had changed. The military had stated its belief in the right to demonstrate but refused to abrogate the use of military trials. An announcement from the Youth for Justice and Freedom stage stirred some of the campers.
Two of the hunger strike demonstrators were saying a few words on their meeting with the military council. A few of us went to listen. It was a short but defiant statement. The military had offered them nothing. Military trials were to continue and so, therefore, would the protester's hunger strike.
IT WAS BUSINESS AS USUAL IN TAHRIR. Resistance was palpable. The day had brought with it a series of setbacks. Word of the military's forced dispersion of sit-ins in Tanta and Luxor had created a stir among the revolutionary settlers, but a stroll through the square on Saturday evening did not give me or anyone around me cause to be disheartened. No, it was anything but disheartening. Everything, from the usual group of criminals being marched off; to the recurrent sight of protesters marching and chanting round the square; to the small squabbles here and there; to the protesters sitting round their tents deep in conversation; to the revolutionary artists reclaiming public space suggested an immutable reality.
The camp was restless throughout the late hours of Wednesday night and the early hours of Thursday morning. Disturbances were common place, and for the first time since the beginning of the 'third sit-in,' a general alarm resounded at around 2:00. Those encamped in the traffic island were jolted awake by the short-lived fear of attack. Protesters quickly put on their shoes to run to Qasr El-Nil Street, but soon discovered that the commotion was due to yet another criminal with weapons.
The next morning, talk in the camp revolved around suspicions that a sizeable amount of infiltrators were in our midst. One of the campers showed us an image on his camera of three military personnel walking on Mohammed Mahmoud Street inside the occupied zone.
The square, itself, however, was generally quiet. The chaotic events of Wednesday morning did not repeat themselves. Employees made their way into the Mogamma for the second morning while, on the other side of the square, small groups assembled in the diminishing shade. I got closer to one group which seemed more animated than the rest and listened. “Something doesn't feel right,” a man said anxiously, adding, “Something is happening and I don't know exactly what.”
A man passed by, asking if anyone could volunteer for checkpoint duty. Numbers were running low. I turned and began to walk to Mohammed Mahmoud Street, hoping to catch a glance of a soldier. The thought of forced dispersion by the military was not an alien one. Before the thought went too far, with all its anxieties and grim conclusions, I remembered the words of a protester earlier in the morning: “They wouldn't dare attack us on a Thursday – not before the big Friday protest.”
The alarm at 2:00 in the morning had certainly aroused in me feelings of the first 18-days and all it's sleepless nights: memories of protesters marching up and down Maglis El-Shaab Street chanting military slogans. Those nights had also been full of false alarms. After February 2, the infamous 'Battle of the Camel,' protest grounds were constantly on high alert, fearing renewed attacks. Now, in the 'third sit-in,' military spokesman General Mohsen El-Fangari's threatening speech had reawakened a unshakeable sense of insecurity. This insecurity was accompanied, however, by desire for constant vigilance. Tahrir's resolve could be felt.
Speaking to a protester in the encampment, I was told of a series of nightly meetings between several groups, aiming to develop a sense of understanding between the many factions represented in the square as well as increase the communication and collaboration among the numerous public committees.
TALK OF AND PREPARATIONS FOR FRIDAY'S PROTEST paled in comparison to those of Tuesday's million man march. No, Thursday night in Tahrir was no different than any other night. Poetry recitations continued on the Youth for Justice and Freedom Stage where the night before a boy from Upper Egypt had blown away listeners with his Saidi verse and, close to Abdel Moneim Riad Square, a 'Tweet Nadwa' (discussion group) was taking place for the second night in a row. Tonight the topic revolved around the restructuring of the judicial system.
No longer the largely exclusive gathering it was when it held it's first discussion in Cairo's neighbourhood of Dokki, the latest 'Tweet Nadwa' was far more representative of Egypt's activists. The colourful turnout certainly made for a more lively dynamic. Entertaining and lively as it was for the onlookers, the job of moderator Alaa Abd El-Fattah looked agonising at times. The 140 second rule was flouted by many. In one humourous exchange, a man from Assiut persistently swatted away El Fattah's hand as the moderator made several attempts at slowly prying the microphone from the garrulous speaker.
Passing several street vendors, I made my way to the April 6 stage where a band was readying itself for a performance. The deafening sounds of chanting made their way from the Youth for Justice and Freedom stage. As though in response, the April 6 stage began to broadcast, for the thousandth time, 'Ya Bladi' (Oh, My Country), a post-25 January tune. Hearing these two political groups fight it out in their war of speakers, I thought of the banner which had been raised for Tuesday's million man march. The banner, located in the Mogamma complex, announced the formulation of a 'Tahrir Charter.' The first point, which best convoyed the anti-factional ethos of the statement, simply stated: “A restoration of the character and spirit of Tahrir which includes unity and cohesion, preferring the national interest above partisanship and self-interests.”
TAHRIR PRESENTED A STRANGE REALITY. One in which the urge and, perhaps unrealistic endeavour, of attaining a perfect unity had instead been replaced by a plurality of political hopes and ambitions. Not long ago, protesters had chanted “the army and the people are one hand,” but after the military began to fall further and further out of people's graces, protesters turned to chanting “one hand.” I wonder how long it will take till even “one hand” becomes an obsolete chant.
As my thoughts came back to the moment and the never ending refrain of 'Ya Bladi,' the crowd began to flock past me, running towards a bride and groom. It was a familiar sight, but still managed to draw the awe and excitement of the crowd. The newly weds were taken to the stage as the groom waved a two-fingered piece sign and a miniature Egyptian flag. He spoke a few words, chastising the ruling military council and offering his support for the families of the martyrs.
Photographers snapped away to the sounds of an old Abdel Halem revolutionary tune, 'Sura' (Picture). A man then took to the stage and began chanting into the microphone. “We are not here just to listen to music and celebrate,” he shouted. “So let's show our revolutionary spirit.”
THE BAND TOOK TO THE STAGE and began playing their Nubian jams, very reminiscent of Mohammed Mounir whom they paid tribute to in the their performance. I stood listening and thinking of the sit-ins growing festival atmosphere. The number of bands I'd seen come and go in the past week was impressive. Far more, I believe, than in all the 18 days of the first uprising. Soon, however, I found myself in the middle of stampede as protesters rushed into the audience and stormed the stage, shouting “one hand, one stage” and “get down, get down.” A protester next to me, flailing his arms this way and that, yelled: “How can you play music when the martyrs haven't been buried yet?”
The band's lead singer tried to calm the growing crowd of dissenters, but his efforts went unheard, as more and more people took to the stage. Several stage hands tried to direct the protest elsewhere, feigning to join in, but the growing crowd was unmoved and would not be satiated until the band was run off the stage and chanting resumed. Another stage hand grabbed a microphone and, addressing the angry assembly, spoke: “You are all right. This is no time for music. These stages should be used for chanting and revolutionary purposes only. There shall be no more music in Tahrir.”
An hour or so passed and, sitting in the Mogamma's lawn, I heard the bars of a song. It grew louder until I turned and in the distance saw the very same stage. There a singer stood, crooning songs of dissent and protest.
The camp’s inhabitants were divided into several small groups Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Some sat playing cards and discussing Zamalek’s latest pick for manager. Talk of the football club’s hardcore supporters came up, prompting several to proudly boast of the Ultra White Knights crucial role in many of the sit-ins and street clashes which ensued. Others, exhausted from the march and exorbitant noise levels, slept. It is a strange sleep which I suppose could hardly be termed so due to the intermittent shouting and the constant influx of protesters in and out of the campsite.
Early Wednesday morning, about 4:00, word reached the camp and its neighbours of a desperate need for checkpoint volunteers, especially women. The issue of security and the Popular Committees which guard the eight checkpoints into Tahrir Square was already a sore point of discussion. Some of the activists around me had already discovered and confronted a security committee using electroshock weapons, among other things, to both ensure their own safety and deal with any antagonists. One frustratingly stated: “Only the police and the state have the right to such use of force.” It seemed that the committee had already resorted to such force. We were again confronted by Tahrir’s political evolution and the question of security.
Attempting to catch a wink before the anticipated opening of the Mogamma, I was jolted awake by a noisy disturbance towards Abdel Moneim Riad Square. People were running back to the roundabout’s central garden, alerting others that a street vendor was being forced out for reasons which were never made very clear. Though the smell of gas which had permeated the entire encampment seemed to have originated in this seller’s tent.
RUNNING TOWARDS ABDEL MONEIM RIAD SQUARE, I heard of the vendor’s unpleasant exit from the square. One of the protesters, disturbed by the events, moaned: “If he had been a heretic, you wouldn’t have treated him so.” Many of the sit-in protesters stood in circles arguing about the incidence as others, feeling emboldened, called for the complete removal of street vendors from the square.
As groups rounded men together and marched through the square, protesters, both men and women, ran to the aid of the sellers. A member of the Popular Committee asked for volunteers, dividing them up into groups of five or six. He discouraged the use of force, but was determined to see the vendors relocated beyond Tahrir. Another faction had no problem with excessive force. They pushed through the roundabout, as their leader chanted: “Are you men?” to which they responded, “Yes.”
Eventually, after a dramatic encounter with a vendor who broke down and began crying, a debate broke out between those for and those against the expulsion. “Peacefully, peacefully,” the vigilante group yelled. “This is your fault; you created this mess. How can you say ‘peacefully’ now,” another barked in return. “These vendors offer us protection, we need them,” said another.
A girl soon caught the group’s attention as she stressed that it was this same decision to kick out the sellers which caused the street clashes in March. “They’ll attack us again, we can’t kick them out,” she implored, adding, “Everyone has a right to come into this sit-in.” “But they bring drugs into this protest and make us look bad,” responded a man. “Then we kick those out who are caught, but we cannot adopt the practices of the regime and State Security,” said the girl. “Right, you expect us to wait till they’ve blown us all up with their gas canisters!” a man scoffed. He then turned to his friend and mumbled: “Let’s get out of here, what is she saying?”
A lone street sweeper was quietly rounding up cigarette butts and bits of rubbish. Daylight revealed the inordinate extent of litter from Tuesday night’s march and protest. Puddles of muddy water had settled in the roundabout: the result of many kilos of ice used by vendors throughout the day to cool their drinks and fruits. Three people stood together, watching the street sweeper. “It’s just another morning argument,” one of the three said, nonchalantly.
The anti-expulsion advocates had lost their fight. Street vendors, with their carts packed, trudged through the muddy pools. Some cursed, but most kept quiet. By mid-morning, the square looked empty. Though perhaps a setback for the square’s sit-in, the protesters, some from April 6, the Popular Committees, Youth for Justice and Freedom along with those as yet unaffiliated with any movement or party, had come together to argue about the fate of their occupation.
BETWEEN THE SLEEPLESS NIGHTS IN TAHRIR, the morning dash to the office and the two to three hours of sleep I’d managed to squeeze in for the past five days, exhaustion had begun to take its toll – fight as I did to overcome it. Leaving work on Wednesday, I began to feel an enormous weight in each of my steps. Barely managing to board the metro, I decided to stay at a colleague’s place, neighbouring the square.
After a mere three hours sleep, I eventually found myself stepping into Tahrir in time for the late night festivities. To my very pleasant surprise, the street vendors had all returned. I inquired and a protester told me that the occupants of the square had come to an agreement with the sellers in the early afternoon. All sellers with gas canisters agreed to remain at a distance from the central traffic island, while the rest of the sellers were free to occupy the roundabout. I was very pleased at this accord. Tahrir’s protesters had encountered an obstacle and, through concessions, overcome.
Tahrir Cinema was drawing crowds for its second night. The cinema project has been showing footage of the 18-day uprising as well as various short films by local artists. As sounds of gun fire, rattling and yelling burst from the makeshift cinema’s speakers, inquiring eyes began gravitating to the light and source of all the commotion.
Forcing their heads into the gathered crowd, protesters looked on in wonder at familiar images: Central Security Forces on 28 January, popular committees in Cairo’s streets playing football during downtime and perhaps the most moving video of them all, a short montage of the ‘Battle of the Camel.’
I began walking back to the campsite; it had been a very long day which had no clear beginning. My days had begun to flow into each other. Tahrir was its own world with its own sense of time. I lay my head down on the sleeping bag, and, with chants and songs booming in the backdrop, I fell asleep.
Yehia, by now a familiar face, was glued to my side. Both he and Ahmed, members of the mischievous gang of street children, had become more than just tent companions and permanent escorts – both within and without the square. No, it seemed that now I had new bedfellows. With his head in my gut (body sprawled every which way), the fourth morning of Tahrir's sit-in began.
The camp was mostly quiet save for occasional spats among isolated groups. Members of the camp I was staying with had found a man wandering around taking photos as we slept. “These camps are like homes; would you just waltz into somebody's house and photograph them as they slept?” someone asked the man.
LEAVING THE TRAFFIC island at the centre of Tahrir, I noticed a general calm around the entire square. It seemed emptier than the past few days. In front of the Mogamma an odd structure, whose construction began in the earlier hours of the morning, was drawing attention. The head of one of the public committees overseeing the square's security made his rounds. The structure drew his attention and he walked over to inspect. Though there is no clear hierarchy or power structure behind the sit-in, there are several forces that seem to draw a certain amount of respect and are able to impress a level of authority on those around them. Among these groups are the Independent Federation, the April 6 Youth Movement and a group called “the Popular Committee.”
However, as an activist with the Revolutionary Socialists told me, “There really aren't any power structures in the square; there might be those who walk around with an air of authority, but the square is working in an ashwaey (informal) model.”
Another activist from the No to Military Trials camp added his two cents: “There are groups that have earned a level of street credibility through their participation in 28 January, 9 March and 27 June, but, in general, everything more or less works on an individual basis.”
Monday night had passed with relative quiet after spirited demonstrations against Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and his moot speech that served to galvanise the protesters and give them a much-needed rallying point. As dawn approached, a few arrests were made and the alleged thieves were rushed to the same tents in front of the Mogamma.
Bystanders, families and their children included, stared on in interest, but the heated moments quickly passed. Groups of young protesters entertained themselves by comically imitating counter-revolutionary propaganda. One teenager was animatedly pretending to hand out KFC meals and 100 euro to passersby.
Another group walked around with a loudspeaker, light heartedly calling “Kareem, oh Kareem, where are you?” They drew a few laughs as they indiscriminately stopped people and asked about this infamous Kareem of theirs.
Some protesters could be heard chatting about the Mogamma shut down. They were pushing for the building to be opened on Wednesday and Thursday.
IN AN ATTEMPT TO GATHER INFORMATION on the whereabouts and fates of the detained “thieves,” I walked to the tents where they were taken. The discussion did not lead anywhere as I was met with general suspicion. Declaring I was a citizen, participating in the sit-in, and that I was merely inquiring for my own peace of mind, I was met with an interesting answer: “You keep to your home (I understood this as tent) and we'll keep to ours.” It was the second time I'd heard encampments referred to as homes.
As the sit-in draws on, the protesters have started to view occupied Tahrir as a community. There are one's family, Yehia and Ahmed being vital members; one's neighbours; the revolutionary barber; the makeshift cafés and food vendors (you can even have tea and water delivered to your tent); a cinema and cleaning crews, among others. In a manner, encampments had become households with gates, common areas, “keep out” signs and the full monty.
However, with the absence of any police or military presence and with the widespread anti-regime sentiment, the square has become so much more than a community. In the struggle against the regime, with all its corruption and authoritarianism, Tahrir has become a settlement outside the political and security sphere of the current system. The square has become a settlement with its own security forces, makeshift prisons, groups claiming to be morality police, vigilantes and rabble-rousers.
With this transformation has come a slew of debates and subsequent divisions. There are many who view the square as a state within a state. The term anarchy has been dropped on several occasions. But, as is the case with the state, the question of law and order and who has the monopoly on the use of force or violence eventually rears its ugly head.
I posed this point to a prominent activist staying in the encampment: “Different groups of protesters are dealing with matters according to their own experiences and understandings. There are those who detain a criminal and offer them a lawyer during the interrogation, those who beat them and tie them to a tree, those who hand them over to the military and those who hand them to the [human rights organisation] Nadeem Centre.” It was not an easy question with an easy answer, he explained, adding that this was to be expected and would be tempered through discussion and growing channels of communication between the various groups.
Other activists were more pessimistic, arguing that certain security measures and methods of dealing with criminals were reminiscent of the reviled State Security and Ministry of Interior. It was clear, though, that occupied Tahrir was evolving.
THE PLANNED MILLION-MAN march gave Tuesday a tense atmosphere, more kinetic than that of previous days. Walking back to the square in the afternoon, I felt a peculiar, yet oddly familiar frisson. The square, though by no means jam-packed with demonstrators, was bustling with an energy I hadn't felt since the 18-day uprising.
As protesters kept arriving into the square, groups of demonstrators gathered to discuss the long awaited announcement by (military spokesman) General Mohsen El-Fangari, which had been broadcast earlier. The speech was seen by many as a farce, addressing none of the sit-in's demands and offering little more than veiled threats and finger wagging.
Some, jokingly thanked him, believing his words would only attract more people to the sit-in and would add impetus to the already present protesters, some perhaps disillusioned by the military's silence. Fangari's excessive use of his finger prompted some activists to mockingly call him “Fingeri.”
The expected 5:00pm march from the square to the Cabinet offices in protest of Sharaf's interim government and the military council did not begin on time as participants awaited larger numbers. Demonstrators feared that a march might deprive Tahrir Square of a needed critical mass, leaving the protest ground open to attack. But it seemed protesters' anger far outweighed their anxieties.
As I stood on El-Qasr El-Eini Street chatting about the day's events, a thunderous roar drew my attention. Turning around, I was immediately met by the sight of hundreds upon hundreds of protesters marching my way, chanting with furious fervour: “The people demand the overthrow of the field marshal.” They were met by small pockets of dissent as some protesters urged the marchers to hold back, fearing repercussions if the square's numbers dwindled.
Moving in the direction of Maglis El-Shaab (Parliament) Street, protesters feverishly marched with determination and purpose. I remembered the words of a protester the night before: “These are not requests; these are demands!” Seeing the hundreds if not thousands, for their numbers kept swelling, pushing towards the Cabinet, brought back images of the first days of the popular uprising. As we approached the Cabinet offices, the military could be seen standing in several locations.
Soldiers stood with long sticks and shields while others carried rifles and riot gear. Nothing phased the marchers.
Traffic was blocked using barriers and the protesters advanced, passing the Parliament building which was surrounded by the military. Some demonstrators quickly moved to the fences to prevent any attempts at scaling the gates, shouting “peacefully, peacefully.”
Reaching the Cabinet offices, the protesters moved to a balcony where an officer stood with armed soldiers.
The officer immediately asked the soldiers to step back and patted his head, indicating that the revolutionaries were held in high esteem. The marchers responded in a paroxysm of passion: “We either die like them [the revolution’s martyrs] or we get them their rights.” Maglis El-Shaab Street was by now at maximum capacity. Protesters bared their chests as if to tell the military that they were ready to die on the spot if their demands were not met.
Soon the march began to push in the direction of the Ministry of Interior, but in a spur of the moment decision decided against such escalation. Stomping and chanting, the protesters marched back towards the square bearing a flag several metres long and shouting “Egypt, Egypt!” Some shouted at the soldiers: “Those soldiers there are piteous and Tantawi is the king of the jungle.” Others tauntingly yelled: “Where are the Muslim Brothers? Here is the square.”
The marchers in their thousands returned to the square, flocking to the stages with excitement. Their anger seemed to have dramatically altered the dynamics of their relationship with the military. “The people and the army are one hand” was dropped from their vernacular as they had exploded with anger, yelling at the military who, dressed in riot gear and standing silently, appeared not unlike the Central Security Forces.
FOLLOWING HARD ON THE HEELS OF THE MARCH came the news of deputy prime minister Yehia El-Gamal’s resignation. Crowds cheered as the news was announced over the square’s many loudspeakers. It was evening and the revolutionary square was abuzz with life as bands performed on stage and a revolutionary cinema was erected, Cinema Tahrir. On another stage, speakers spoke out against Fangari, the military council and Sharaf's Cabinet. Interspersed between speeches were Suez folk songs in honour of the Suez sit-in demonstrators. Cleaning crews were busily at work and back in the encampment a small group of protesters from Suez were enthusiastically chanting pro-martyr and anti-Tantawi slogans.
The encampment, Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, was brimming with life: activists gathering to discuss the day’s march, tensions within the square and growing organisational problems. Another group of activists walked around asking for people’s opinion on whether or not to open the Mogamma. The overwhelming response was “yes.” Those who said “no” were encouraged to air their thoughts.
Light came and with it a higher than usual level of tension, tempered slightly by the revolutionaries opening of the Mogamma. Street vendors had become a source of debate among protesters. Some felt that they should be kicked out of the square, others that they should be given a separate space within the square and others, still, that the vendors should remain as they have been. By 10:00, however, the vendors were nowhere in sight.
Occupied Tahrir was brimming with life Sunday night. The numbers hadn't decreased substantially as midnight brought with it the start of the "second revolution's" fourth day. Retreating from the central garden to the front lawn of the Mogamma – my previous night's squat—I noticed several new canvas tents along with a sizeable swell in number of sit-in protesters.
As I walked from the Mogamma, realising rest was not meant for me, I sat down on a small concrete island to have tea with activists from the 'No to Military Trials' encampment. Shortly after, a large crowd of protesters rushed towards the encampment near Qasr El-Eini Street, yelling “thief, thief!” I made nothing of it. The atmosphere was quite pleasant and the conversation plenty as small groups gathered, chatting feverishly. Some spoke of Suez and the military's forceful dispersion of the Sokhna road sit-in, while others spoke of the political reawakening taking place on the street and the fearless antagonism directed towards the military council.
Monday morning was a rude awakening after the tangible energy felt the previous night. The dishevelled members of the packed encampment were busily discussing a rumour that captured thieves and drug dealers may have been abused or even tortured in the square over the course of the night. Although there was never direct confirmation of this, the question of what was to be done with the apprehended troublemakers consumed the camp and several camps across the square.
Debates on how to secure Tahrir and how to deal with criminal suspects would set the tone for the rest of the day. Returning to the Mogamma and Qasr El-Eini encampment at around 8:00, I witnessed a discussion between activists I knew and members of the popular committees who formed the core of the square’s security service. They were members of the Independent Federation, a permanent fixture in the square since 25 January. The leader of the crew spoke confidently, stressing that no torture had taken place but highlighted the futility of handing suspects to the military police and interior ministry as many would return soon after bearing a fresh set of weapons. A man, caught stealing a laptop among other things, was brought out of the tent and denied that any harm had been done to him.
As exhaustion began to take its toll, semblances of divisions began to appear among the camps. But despite certain anxieties and the isolated moments of tension, Tahrir Square remained vibrant and protesters' determination didn't seem to dwindle. The military council and the interim government had largely ignored the demonstrators and their demands. Protesters were acutely aware of this.
The day brought with it intriguing developments. Stages were dismantled as others were raised. Where the Muslim Brotherhood stage had stood on Friday, the left-wing Youth for Justice and Freedom movement had erected a large stage to rival that of the neighbouring April 6 Youth Movement, in all its amplified glory. The square's street vendors also seemed to multiply, drawing ever closer to the central garden. Their presence made for an interesting series of obstacles in the roundabout.
Protesters' attitudes began to shift. Many argued that the bulk of the square's presence were vendors and political tourists making their way through the occupied grounds. Others aware of this latest class of tourist, argued favourably, suggesting that the politicised nature of Tahrir Square might convince the as yet unconvinced. A series of marches brought fresh faces, keen to gauge the revolutionary winds of Tahrir.
As evening approached, numbers began to increase as jobholders brought their families. The air, which further intensified after a protracted electricity outage earlier, was further agitated by a series of arguments within the central garden and throughout the square – sharply felt as I drew nearer to its fringes.
As though echoing the morning's troubles, checkpoints grew lax as people began entering the square without either providing identification or yielding to body and bag searches.
Elsewhere, a small fire broke out inside one of the traffic signal masts. A bystander, standing next to me, was almost certain she heard someone instructing another to light a piece of cloth and drop it into the mast's electricity box. Talk grew of 'infiltrators.' Not soon after this word was spoken to me, news reached me of leaflets being handed out, claiming protesters were foreign agents.
Soon, evening had turned to night and with it came uninvited calamities. The encampment I often frequent had its own disturbance when a plain clothed police officer, whose birth date was suspiciously 25 January according to his ID, was caught looking for one of the camp's activists. His confiscated phone held photos of him in his police uniform. Perhaps not his wisest manoeuvre. He was escorted out of the garden.
Moments later, the much anticipated address by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf interrupted talk of the police officer. No sooner had the speech begun than it ended. Sharaf's message, to put it mildly, provided little, if any, substance for Tahrir's demonstrators. It did not take long, however, for the familiar feeling of disappointment to dissipate: supplanted by anti-Sharaf and anti-military council chants. As though forgetting all its earlier frictions, the square became awash with Egyptian flags as protesters filled the roundabout – once again unified in their determination for change.
Dawn broke this morning, after a night of unease, with an apprehensive—if at times odd—tension. The talk in the Tahrir encampment Saturday night focused on the start of the work week. Many of the activists around me, and many others in the square, would be going to work the next day and expressed concern for loss of bodies, needed to both keep a sizeable enough presence and secure the numerous checkpoints.
Sunday would be a test of endurance against the pressure to open up the square to traffic and for maintaining a critical and consistent mass. Endurance here is a crucial word, as sleep is hard to come by and the cold, sometimes damp, garden in front of the Mogamma building, the largest government building in Egypt, is unforgiving.
Sunday morning at 7:00, I was awakened to the sounds of a small, but loud, crowd of protesters marching on the Mogamma. The aim: shut it down. Moving away from the square, relative calm blanketed downtown Cairo's streets. Passersby could be heard chatting, some heatedly debating the propriety of the sit-in, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf's Saturday evening address and the usual talk of that illustrious and ever elusive wheel of production.
Back on the outskirts of the square, a raging shouting match – broken bottles, curses and all – took off. Several street vendors in the square had begun insulting the protesters and provoking confrontations, causing the latter to eject these 'infiltrators' from the square.
Sleep derived as I was, I decided against what would certainly be a futile confrontation with the noon day sun and went home to trade out my dirty clothes for a more savoury outfit. Returning to the square in the afternoon, I took refuge under the large white sails in the central garden. Protesters were gathered in pockets (wherever there was shade) around the Mogamma, in the central garden and underneath a new awning which extended from the centre to the stage situated in front of Hardees.
In the encampment, the activists and friends I've been staying with had managed to attract a small, impish gang of street children. Suffice to say, the entire afternoon and much of the early evening was spent entertaining the little rascals, teaching them Arabic script and English and, more than once, prying them apart from each other's necks.
As evening approached and protesters began to file back into the occupation's grounds, loudspeakers began blaring as protesters, gone hoarse, shouted incomprehensibly into the overextended PA systems. The numerous stages and their occupants are seen by many, myself included, as an aurally offensive addition to the sit-in. I suppose it's the non stop need to yell messages of little substance at fellow protesters that is truly irksome. Take for instance a lady yelling shrilly as singer Rami Essam chants to his crowd mixed in with a loud broadcast of the post 25 January song, “Beladi” (My country). Whatever content may have been found in any of these individually was lost as it all blended into cacophony.
It was time to leave the square for a coffee and grub. As I walked out of the Talaat Harb Street checkpoint, I noticed some new arrivals: the street vendors had arrived, offering their sharp selection of ties, sun glasses and shawls for those protesters keen to look posh as they vocalise their deep dissatisfaction with the status quo.