|Protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square chanted, ‘Egyptians are back in business!’ [EPA]|
Cairo, Egypt – Is it possible that protesting and winter go hand-in-hand with Egyptian revolutions?
“Egyptians are back in business!” chanted one of the protesters walking down Tahrir Square.
As of this writing, it has been over 36 hours of constant battles. Tahrir was the trophy, as it has ever been for the past 10 months. Throwing rocks, batons, tear gas, rubber bullets and occasional live ammunition aimed at head and neck were all included, as usual. It’s been 10 months of despair, fear, random violence, confusion and thousands of civilians being put on military trials.
It was Saturday, November 19, but felt like no other day but January 25.
It followed the big protest of Friday, called for by almost all the political forces on the scene. The crowds were massive – the kind of massive that each and every activist in this country, for the past 10 months, had been wishing for. The crowds decided to turn the Friday’s protest into a sit-in at Tahrir, against the will of most of these political forces. “It’s Egypt’s army, not the army’s Egypt,” chanted one of the protesters in one of those little debate groups that you come across every few steps at Tahrir. “Down with the military state!” was the chant echoing all across Tahrir.
The following afternoon, November 19, came in shades of tear gas shot by the riot police, storming the whole square. Battles went on for hours. Later that afternoon, riot police completely took over the square.
This has been the story for the past 10 months. Tahrir has been taken away and kept from its people. Two hundred people who decided to have iftar (breakfast) on the first Friday of Ramadan at Tahrir – unacceptable to the junta – were attacked by military soldiers.
But this time, it was a different story. Protesters decided it was time to reclaim their Tahrir. And this time, they meant it. Four hours was what the riot police needed to kick protesters out of Tahrir. And another four hours passed as protesters went on sallies with the riot police at all exits of the square.
Strange but true, as I headed to Tahrir I couldn’t help telling a friend, “Gosh, I miss the smell of tear gas so bad.” We could hear bullet shots and tear gas bombs going off – that was the noise we followed. We got to Qasr el-Nil Bridge, the west side of Tahrir. A few hundred protesters were scattered and fighting back and forth with the riot police. The battle raged on.
We spent four hours dodging one tear gas bomb after another. The whole seaside by the Nile was turned into a brutal battlefield. At some point, a girl came up to me out of a tear gas cloud and asked, “Should we just give up and go home?” I was dead exhausted and almost unable to run anymore.
From my dizzy, blurry, gas-filled eyes, I looked around; it’d been hours, everyone was exhausted and we were more and more scattered. “Well, I’m still here, so that’s a no,” was my response.
We had in fact just captured four riot police vehicles packed with soldiers. It appeared they were waiting toward the rear in order to execute a pincer move against us along with other forces coming from the front. We flattened their tires and surrounded them. A lieutenant came out crying and begging us to let them go, promising that they’d leave. And so we let them go. “Peaceful, peaceful!” we reminded ourselves.
“People made it into the square from Talaat Harb Street just moments ago,” shouted one man. “It worked. The idiots followed us out of the square. The square is empty.”
We’d already battled in a half circle around Tahrir – we were almost at Abdel-Moneim Riad side of the square. We stormed into the square, chanting and greeting other protesters, coming in from all sides, with our fists held up. It smelled like tear gas, but tasted like victory. And it’s January 25 all over again.
North to south, east to west
Chants have never been louder since February. “We won’t be ruled by a militant!” was the notion and the chant. The dusty ground of Tahrir was saturated with the smell of tear gas. More people flooded in from everywhere – average men, bearded or shaved, young girls and boys, old men and old women, veiled and non-veiled. A woman, all covered up in niqab, was breaking stones with me to throw it at the cops.
That day, the consciousness of Tahrir was back. We set aside all differences we’ve ever had. “I’m a Salafi and I denounce the Salafi coward sheikhs,” read a sign a bearded man was holding. Once again the intellectual elite had failed us, so we’d decided to do the only thing that’s ever worked – take back the streets.
“Tantawi, the head of the junta, has done in 10 months what Mubarak needed 30 years for. He’s brought all Egyptians together revolting once again,” chanted one of the protesters walking by. Every once in a while, you’d find a protester solo chanting a truth, an alert message, a reminder, a verse of poetry or just a spur of the moment emotive statement.
It seemed like each one of us had something to say that we’d been holding back for a long 10 months, and Tahrir was the place to let go. “Speak up! Have no fear! Say it – ‘down with the regime’!”
“Those on Tahrir are no better men than us” was the name of a group started by activists on Facebook in the city of Alexandria. The group was launched a couple of days ago, calling on Alexandrians to go down and reclaim the famous square downtown, just like people in Cairo were about to do with Tahrir.
In Tahrir, we kept receiving news from cities all over Egypt.
Egypt, all the way from its north shores to its southern tiptoes, was revolting in sync. Eleven cities had demonstrators storming the streets, police violently cracking down on them as well. Suez, the city that’d always been the most hardcore, had such huge angry protesters storming the city that the army had to intervene. In Alexandria as well, and a number of other cities, protesters held the security apparatus headquarters and several police stations under siege.
All of a sudden, I felt as if I was posting the same Facebook status updates I used to post during the revolution’s first iteration.
Riding the bandwagon
As with their identical performance on January 25, state-run TV regurgitated the same fabrications. “All these people in Tahrir are thugs and muggers. Police didn’t face them with a single bullet or tear gas but they were the ones attacking the police,” was their oft-repeated lie.
Facebook pages at night started posting rumours that Tantawi, the head of the military supreme council, might give a speech. “Is it Tantawi’s speech 1/3?” posted an activist on Facebook, referring to Mubarak giving three speeches during the revolution before he stepped down.
An army general appeared on TV instead, calling three different talk shows on three different channels. He kept on repeating the same Mubarak-era claim that one million people at Tahrir didn’t necessarily represent the other 85 million Egyptians, that they’re a minority trying to shake the country’s stability. People in Tahrir Square couldn’t care less.
Hazem Abu Ismail, a Salafi and recently popular presidential candidate, came down to Tahrir. After calling on protesters not to camp the night before, he had the audacity to come that night and claim solidarity with them. The protesters knew they had truth on their side, so they couldn’t care less about who’s in or who’s out. Political forces started to catch up to the consciousness of Tahrir. They started joining the protest one by one. A number of parliamentary candidates decided to put their campaign for the upcoming elections in two weeks on hold.
News came out about dozens of deaths and over a thousand injuries due to the riot police. Photos emerged of piles of bodies thrown in garbage cans after one brief attack by the army. The minister of culture resigned, protesting against the violent security crackdown on peaceful protesters.
We learned a tough lesson over the last few months. We knew the revolution is still unfinished business.
November 19 is the day when Tahrir once again became a state of mind. Tahrir to us now is more of a jump-off from which we take it to the next level. This dawned on the police, thus explaining their non-stop attacks on the square.
The police apparently aimed to exhaust us and keep us held down only protecting the square and not being able to expand. In most of the cases, the army seemed like they preferred to let the riot police get their hands dirty instead of theirs. But we have too much Tahrir in us, enough not to let go or just give in to exhaustion.
Confusing rumours have just started to go back and forth between the junta accepting or rejecting the PM’s resignation.
The crowds are swinging between either demanding the junta setting April 2012 as a date for handing over power to an elected president, or demanding the junta step down immediately in favour of a transitional council – similar to the Tunisian model. Either way, the crowds are stubborn, well-experienced revolutionaries who accept no compromise and have no more tolerance for the junta’s speeches and games.
Even the promised parliamentary elections to be held by the end of this month, has become a big zero at the back of our heads. We’ve learned a hard lesson: no act of revolution can exist under military rule, and therefore no further moves should be taken with the military still in power.
The junta has come full circle. “Guess what, people still demand the removal of the regime!” read a sign at Tahrir. But, most importantly: “Egyptians are back in business.” Happy revolution to you!
Amor Eletrebi is a 23-year-old poet and activist who was has participated in protests at Tahrir Square in both the January 25 revolution and current protests.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.