Revolutionary Spirit Wanes in Tahrir

Egypt has experienced various uprisings referred to as “second revolutions” since former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11. Egyptians took to the streets on May 27 on a second “Friday of Rage” to express their disenchantment with the governing practices of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). On June 28 more clashes with the Central Security Forces (CSF) took place following the break-up of an event honoring the families of those who were killed in the January uprising that toppled the regime. From July 8, renewed protests persisted until the military and riot police forcibly broke them up on Aug. 1.

But while hundreds, if not thousands, could be found in Tahrir at a given time during that period, the follow-up protests were not as large in scale or unified in their direction as those in January.

Over the course of the month, people camped in tents throughout Tahrir Square, and some new features emerged like a Tahrir clinic, a school, rows of ambulances, and Tahrir Cinema, a screen displaying projected documentaries and footage of the revolution. The Square hosted several stages where representatives of the dozens of burgeoning political parties presented their views, individuals mourned their losses, and people of all walks found a means of expression. Singers performed patriotic songs, and folk musicians took the main stage in the evening, creating a festival-like atmosphere.

Additionally, vendors sold popcorn, tea and coffee, corn on the cob, sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds, juice, imitation Adidas shoes, Jan. 25 souvenirs, and Egyptian flags. Men and boys circulated throughout the square offering red, black, and white face painting in the colors of the Egyptian flag. As the holy month of Ramadan neared, brightly colored lanterns decorated the streets.

Demands ranged from a speedier trial of Hosni Mubarak and his sons Gamal and Alaa, as well as former Minister of the Interior Habib el-Adly, an end to military trials for civilians, the trial of those responsible for ordering the attack on protestors during the January uprising, to religious unity of Egyptians, Islamic governance, journalistic freedom, and justice for the families of martyrs. The plurality of demands and the presence of many non-protestors in the square conveyed a mixed message about the motivation and legitimacy of the sit-in.

Outside of the square, life was largely business as usual. Most Egyptians continued going to work, the internet and mobile networks were intact, and the curfew remained lifted. Many disagreed with the nearly month-long sit-in that created traffic, decreased business in Tahrir, and hindered residents who live near Tahrir in accessing their homes and basic necessities due to the “community security” force that stood at each entrance to Tahrir. For example, some families complained that they were unable to bring cooking gas to their homes because the security at Tahrir construed it as a means for making weapons.

On Aug. 1, the first day of Ramadan, the military and riot police forcibly cleared the square, taking down tents and directing traffic to resume its flow through Tahrir. Some Egyptians — including those active in the January uprising — supported this move, seeing this form of protest as no longer effective and criticizing activists for utilizing a worn strategy to pressure the military government. With the square appearing as a space of celebration and trade, critics of the sit-in could not envision the military government taking the demands of the protest seriously.

Photo credit: Dalia Malek