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Chronicles of a sit-in: Day 8

In which our man in Tahrir sees resistance root the sit-in to the square

Yassin Gaber , Sunday 17 Jul 2011
Tahrir protesters
Egyptian protesters are seen at their tent, at Tahrir Square, the focal point of the Egyptian uprising, in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, July 17, 2011.(AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
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Day eight – Saturday (16/7):

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.

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