Day nine – Monday (18/7):
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?