Egypt's Tahrir Square goes from battle ground to forum for debate

Yassin Gaber , Sunday 10 Apr 2011

Two days after the forced dispersal of Tahrir Square by the Egyptian army, the military's role and conduct finds itself the focus of public discussion

Tahrir Square
Groups of people gather around the burned-out military vehicles in Tahrir on Sunday. Graffiti on the truck states, "The people demand the removal of the Field Marshall." (Photo: Mai Ezzat)

Hundreds of people gathered in Tahrir Square on Sunday to discuss the military’s actions on Friday when around a thousand sit-in protesters were forcibly removed from the square. Traffic around the square, especially near the Egyptian Museum, was heavily congested due to army-constructed barricades and barbed wire. There was, however, no notable military or security presence in the square or the surrounding downtown streets.

Groups of people congregated, discussing the role of the Armed Forces and the military council - the country’s de-facto rulers - who held a press conference Saturday night to clarify and explain its heavy handed tactics the night before. The square had become a forum for debate as men and women of all ages stood eager to hear the views of others. People wandered around asking and inquiring. "What's your take on the military? Are you for staying or for leaving?"

The air was uneasy and the large square, which had been filled by tens of thousands on Friday’s "Day of Cleansing" was reminiscent of a ghost town as the wind blew dust and rubbish around the empty roundabout. The once green garden which had been filled with tents and vibrant conversation stood vacant, an empty dust bowl littered with a few emptied tents surrounded by barbed wire.

Next to the KFC branch, a group of artists calling themselves the "Revolutionary Artists Union" had painted a mural depicting Friday’s violence.

Spread across the various corners of the square stood people arguing about a need to give the military time: time to sift through the "thousands of papers" relating to the regime’s corrupt figures. Bystanders watched with interest as parties would try to convince others that the protesters were impeding the country’s progress. Many of the discussions revolved around the same points covered during the military council’s press conference: these protesters are not the same youth that initiated that 25 January uprising, there are forces trying to create divisions between the people and the army, the country’s economy is suffering - often pointing to the tourism sector.

The arguments were all verbal, mostly being conducted in a peaceful manner though some people were clearly agitated by the situation, airing their opinions in no subtle manner. One elderly fellow speaking to one of the youth stated: “"The army are respectable and we cannot allow elements to drive a wedge between the people and their army.”

Many simply wanted the barricades lifted and traffic to begin following normally. Others, standing near the two burned-out military vehicles, demanded that the youth use their energy to clear the square of all its rubbish and debris - especially the vehicles which had been turned into a refuse dump.

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