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The fate of ِEgypt's Tahrir sit-in still unclear

With numbers dwindling, revolutionaries in Tahrir struggle to uphold demands, with opinions diverging on whether or not to call the sit-in off

Salma Shukrallah , Saturday 3 Dec 2011
Tahrir Square
Egyptian youths shout slogans against the country's ruling military council in Tahrir Square (Photo: AP)
Views: 2343
Views: 2343

As numbers are on the decrease in Tahrir Square, the fate of the sit-in staged in the iconic square remains unclear. Although its demands remain unaltered, emphasised by the thousands who marched on Friday to join those already there in Tahrir for over a week, some tents are being moved.

On Tuesday, several Salafists took the decision to withdraw after Salafist presidential Hopeful Hazem Abu Ismail urged them to go vote and return later. Others in the square boycotted the elections, deeming it null and void, while others voted whilst maintaining their place in the square.

Apart from elections, which clearly had an impact, this is not the first time a Tahrir sit-in starts to weaken without achieving its full demands. The 8 July sit-in, which lasted for over three weeks, had already reached its weakest point before it was forcefully dispersed by military police on 1 August. The current sit-in triggered by clashes on 18 November is similarly experiencing a low point, although not all protesters accept it is over yet.

Maher Ibrahim Mohamed, one of the demonstrators participating in Tahrir, explained as he was dismantling a tent originally used as a field hospital that he together with many others do not intend to leave. He says: “We are just dismantling this tent because those who brought it earlier want it back, but we intend to stay. If we had not left Tahrir Square before, our demands would have been met by now.”

“We are demanding a civil government agreed upon by the true revolutionaries, and we want the military council to give up its authorities. The elections will not change anything because there is a deal between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military council,” added Mohamed.

The Muslim Brotherhood declared earlier that the majority of the newly elected parliament will be forming the new government. However, its statements seem to have left those in the square unsatisfied.

Activist Doaa Basiouny also holds a similar stance, adding: “I wished that the military council would give up its authorities through elections, but that is not going to happen because they are protecting their interests and they will not give it up unless there is enough pressure to force them.”

Nonetheless, on Friday several participating groups released a statement declaring that they decided to move their tents from Tahrir and join others in front of Cabinet building. Demonstrators there continue to chant against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the newly appointed government.

Others not in Tahrir all the time nonetheless express their solidairty. Ashraf Zeitoun is one of the thousands who marched Friday to commemorate the revolution’s martyrs. He said: “I come every Friday and every couple of days to show my support for the sit-in’s demands." Zeitoun adds that he is not the only one outside of the sit-in who supports Tahrir, expressing disappointment that more do not participate.

While some may be sympathetic with Tahrir but are not participating, some are completely against the sit-in. Some political movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the main liberal parties, such as the Free Egyptians, have been absent from Tahrir, arguing that the focus should be on elections instead. Several of their figures have also made statements against sit-ins and strikes, arguing that the country is now hungry for stability.

Similarly, a statement recently released by several artists and intellectuals demanded that all sit-ins, demonstrations and strikes are halted for three months, arguing that the country needs calm and stability. In response, another statement was released by artists and intellectuals condemning this view, arguing that on the contrary demonstrations and strikes should escalate to reach complete civil disobedience so that the revolution is fulfilled.

In support of the sit-in and its demands, some have on the other hand argued that tactically demonstrators should collectively halt a sit-in when its numbers decrease and it ceases to exert the necessary pressure. Socialist activist Haitham Gabr argued in an article released on 29 November that the 19 November demonstrations are but one of many battles needed to be fought against military rule, instead of treating it as the final fight, which only weakens the cause.

Gabr adds that a collective decision to halt the sit-in before it completely dies out will strengthen the movement as it will not be leaving the square defeated. Views similar to Gabr's may have influenced some to leave Tahrir and move in front of the Cabinet building. Gabr explains in his article: "Tahrir has become increasingly more difficult to secure as numbers of protesters are decreasing and demonstrators are being inflitrated by secret service agents dressed in civilian clothes pretending to be securing Tahrir's entrances." 

While some have withdrawn and others moved in front of the Cabinet, others remain occupying the square despite it all. The fate of the sit-in remains unclear, though many currently occupying the square are attempting to open the square for traffic. 

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