Behind the doors of Tahrir: Tales of patriotism, resistance and hope

Nourhan El-Abbassy , Friday 11 Feb 2011

Residents of Tahrir showing their support for the January 25 uprising by offering shelter and food to the protesters reveal the real threats, turning points and a common dream

After almost three weeks since the beginning of the uprising, Tahrir Square has turned into a nation of its own, packed with anti-regime protesters demanding that Egypt’s long-time leader, Hosni Mubarak steps down as president.

“We have a mission. We want our long-held dream to unfold.” Ismat Medhat, a 21 year-old engineering student and protester said. The residents of Tahrir have made her stay possible.

“At first it was hard to sleep here but now many of the inhabitants are opening their homes for us to use their bathrooms, sleep and a lot of them cook us food,” Medhat said, adding that they have made the mission possible.

Mother of the Martyr

Aziza Mohamed, aged 89, known as the 'mother of the martyr' welcomes protesters in her son’s apartment.

“My son Atef died in the 1973 war, so I sympathise with all mothers who have lost their children in the revolution,” she said. Atef died ten months after getting married and his wife Amal decided to move to the adjoining apartment with her mother-in-law, to leave her apartment open for protesters to rest inside.

Mohamed went on to say that dedicating her son’s flat to protesters is the least she could do for her beloved country. However, she was confused at first about the January 25 uprising.

“In 1973 Mubarak was a hero. He was one of those who made Egypt regain its land and its dignity. In the early 1980s he returned Sinai without a spilling a drop of blood. It is hard to believe how this respected man changed to become what he is alleged to be today. How can a hero turn into a dictator? ” Mohamed asks.

She is not the only inhabitant helping protesters out. Behind the doors in Tahrir there are many patriotic stories.

A nightmare

Nihal Girgis a 59 year-old interior designer said that Wednesday, 1st February was a “nightmare” as her door-bell kept ringing and girls were screaming and knocking non-stop. She opened the door and found five girls and several boys at her door.

Girgis allowed the girls to enter but refused permission to the males as she was alone. “I was a bit scared, however I regret not letting them in,” she said.

She told of how she made the girls hide in the back as police officers came searching for them, “I saved the girls and they thanked me and although I was wearing a big gold cross and they were veiled, we all hugged and cried because we had a common enemy and a common threat,” Girgis said.

Screams to 'wake the dead'

Although the girls were safe, the boys were detained by police and some were beaten to death, “I could hear them being beaten severely; their screams could have woken the dead. But those screams were a wake-up call for us to unite and stand as one against corruption and injustice. It was war,” she maintains. When it was quiet she opened the door and found nothing but bloodstains all over the ground.

Wednesday was a turning point not only in Tahrir, but in the lives of the protesters. It wasn’t just a keyboard protest any more; Tahrir was the platform for revolution.

Omar Magdy, 27, a chemist, stated that the uprising bonded all Egyptians together. He said that Tahrir was a melting pot, where Egyptians united as one, creating a mosaic.

Everyone united as one

The rich, the poor, the educated and the illiterate, Muslims and Christians, male and female, everyone has united as one. It is an equal Egypt, not the one that government-owned news outlets such as Ahram, Akhbar and Egyptian television channels have tried to portray. "This is the real Egypt,” Magdy believes.

He said that there was no harassment, no discrimination and no major financial gaps. “It is Utopia. When Muslims pray, Christians create a human shield around them. When women protest, men protect them,” he continued.

Magdy made this obvious as he said that although many find the Muslims Brotherhood (MB) extremely conservative, yet “MB members were the first to fight the thugs on camels and protect us all” Magdy told Ahram Online.

The heart of the revolution

Fatima Deeb, a 57 year-old housewife and former inhabitant of Tahrir returned there to be at the heart of the revolution. She said that she could see modern history being made right in front of her eyes.

Deeb said that during Sadat’s time she and her husband protested against inflation.

“We went down to the streets to protest against price hikes when a kilo of meat cost LE1. Now my children are protesting against unemployment, discrimination and poverty.”

Although Tahrir is a symbol of the revolution and a platform giving a voice to all Egyptians, many have left due to security reasons.

Khaled Khalil, a 40 year-old physician moved from his Tahrir apartment to his new 6th of October villa.

Life became intolerable

“It was dreadful. People were camping all over the square and the police were knocking on doors searching for activists. Our homes were surrounded by thugs who were targeting people and buildings with molotov cocktails. Life became intolerable,” Khalil says, who added that buying groceries became impossible. “Whenever I went to the supermarket to get supplies, thugs used to steal them.”

Although many like Khalil preferred to move to a safer place, others preferred to make a statement.

Nouran Mohamed is a university student and the daughter of Heba Raouf, an activist and political science professor at the American University in Cairo and Cairo University and one of the popular figures in Tahrir square. Mohamed chose to stay home rather then move to any other place.

“The revolution was a personal turning point and revealed the truth. Those we thought were leading us turned out to be misleading us, so I decided not to leave until it ends,” Mohamed said

Mohamed and her mother supply the protesters they know with food, clothes, blankets and tents. They also collect money to support those in the uprising.

Not only did the uprising unite Egyptians with one vision, but it also made foreigners living in Egypt feel loyalty and attachment to the same land and share the same beliefs.

Egyptian history being made

Blanche Piaro is a 90 year-old French woman who moved from France to Cairo after she married an Egyptian lawyer. Although Pairo has been diagnosed with respitory problems and needs to be where she can have access to medical assistance at all times she has refused to leave Tahrir.

“I chose this building because of its view. From my balcony you can witness Egyptian history being made. I saw the funerals of Om Kalthoum, Gamal Abdel Nasser and Abdel Halim Hafez. Today I can see another picture, Egyptians uniting for freedom. Although I saw the military marches in 1952 when the army overthrew the king, the revolution of 2011 is the real Egyptian revolution, where the people are speaking up for themselves.” Piaro affirmed

Youssef Abdel Ghani, a 30 year-old history teacher, is one of those who have been protesting since January 25, and says that “in the last 15 years Mubarak was digging his own grave by thinking of passing the 'throne' to his son and creating the Mubarak empire.”

Abdel Ghani is one of those who is grateful to people of Tahrir for supporting the uprising throughout these three hectic weeks. “Whether we live or die, I will always be grateful they supported us, enabling us to put pressure on the government. If the uprising ends with our victory, the people of Tahrir will be one of the main reasons our dream came true," he asserts.


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