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Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Chronicles of a sit-in: Day 3

Ahram Online's Yassin Gaber, who has been spending his nights in Tahrir since the Friday of Determination, describes the third night and day of the sit-in in the second installment of his daily series

Yassin Gaber , Tuesday 12 Jul 2011
Tahrir sit-in
Protesters in Tahrir Square as night marks the end of another day of defiance (Photo: Mai Shaheen)
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Day Three- Monday (11/7):

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.

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