Analysis Fix

The Journey Back to Cairo’s Tahrir Square

Yasser Alaa /

A crowd of pro-democracy protesters in Alexandria, Egypt 
on Nov. 21. A translation of the sign is at the end of this entry.

By Lama Tawakkol
Senior Reporter
CAIRO, Egypt – Almost 10 months
ago, immediately after Egyptians ousted former President Hosni Mubarak, I had
hope and optimism – and faith in the Egyptian military.
I wasn’t alone in my support for
the Supreme Council for Armed Forces, or SCAF, that was to help my country
transition to a new, post-Mubarak, government. I wrote about it here, in a
piece called “A New Epoch Of Hope.”  


Alongside most Egyptians, I believed,
or wanted to make myself believe, that our nation had embarked on a new phase
with Mubarak’s departure.
The Egyptian people, for the most
part, wanted to move past the 18 days of the “revolution” and move on towards the
real change they’d been promised.
Several activists called for
continuing the protests and not merely stopping at getting rid of Mubarak. They
were met, however, by people who were relieved to have reached their apparent
aim, who believed that the snake’s head had been ripped off and most of the
poison sucked out. The trials of tycoon Ahmed Ezz and several previous government
ministers also served to appease the average civilian’s anger. In fact, it made
a lot of people skeptical of these activists’ “exaggeration.”
Today, however, we see Tahrir and
its spirit back in full swing. We see the people realizing it had been foolish
to put so much trust in the army, an institution whose job had been to protect
Mubarak – and whose job now is to protect its own political and economic
interests. In retrospect, remembering the activists’ calls against SCAF for
months, the people see that they’d been blinded by their need to believe in
someone and by the military’s curtain of “security” and “economic stability.”
As the past 10 months quickly go
through each of our minds, we remember 12,000 civilians who have faced military
trials. We remember the female activists who were forced to endure virginity
tests when the military detained them. We see our country, a nation that’s
always been praised for its peace and security, turn into a place with hundreds
of thugs on the loose. We recall incidents that had confused us at the time – unexplained
violence that some protests witnessed and the government’s passive reaction
later, for example – now starting to make more sense.
When activists gathered in July in
front of the Ministry of Defense to protest SCAF remaining in power, they were
met with looters and thugs while the military police stood aside, unabashed.
Then, SCAF and the government opened an investigation and bas…. “Bas” is colloquial Arabic for “just” or “enough.” It is a
word with such finality yet hollowness that it makes such an appropriate
expression for what happened to the investigation afterwards: nothing.
Then in September, a large protest
that attracted many more people than usual ended with catastrophic acts of
violence and a break-in into the Israeli embassy. SCAF and the government
accused the protesters of being thugs, referred several to military trials and,
again, bas….
Yasser Alaa /

Pro-democracy protesters in Alexandria, Egypt in September

Exactly a month later, a small
demonstration gathered in front of “Maspero,” the Egyptian State Television and
Radio building, calling for Coptic Christians’ rights. Suddenly, there was
mysterious violence. What the media and SCAF tried to portray as a
Muslim-Christian rift soon turned out to be a battle between civilians and
military personnel. Reports and footage of beaten soldiers circulated, as did
civilians being run over by tanks. The government condemned the actions, called
on “honorable” Egyptians to be calm and wise and opened an investigation. Bas. To this day, there has been no
official statement as to what really happened.
As if all of this wasn’t enough,
on October 30th, blogger, journalist and activist Alaa Abdel Fatah
was arrested for allegedly inciting violence at Maspero, looting and stealing
military weapons. It was too far-fetched this time to believe and people were
quick to pinpoint the reason Abdel Fatah was being held behind military bars. His
October 24th article in no vague terms held SCAF and the military
responsible for the deaths that had occurred in Maspero.
Twitter hashtags used by followers
interested in the situation now included #FreeAlaa and organizers calling for a
November 18 demonstration added his arrest as another motive for protest.
Many people joined the protests
last Friday, but by nightfall nearly everyone was going home. There had been no
talk of an extended sit-in. Only a few hundred people who’d been injured in
January and the martyrs’ families decided to stay, calling for the help
promised them that they’d never received.
But reports of violence and force by
Central Security Forces and military police enraged the people. They had no right
to break up peaceful protests or use such measures to empty Tahrir Square. It
was starting to be more and more obvious that SCAF needed to go.
Saturday morning attracted more
people back to Tahrir with the intention to stay. The violence did not end as protesters
described on Twitter how they were met with tear gas, beatings and rubber
bullets. Still, not everyone was on board; some people were convinced the
sit-in was unnecessary provocation.
Once again night pulled into day
and Tahrir showed no signs of emptying. By Sunday afternoon, crowds were growing
and as attention focused on the square, things became clearer. The people had
announced their intention to stay. They demanded the immediate transition of
power as well as the resignation of the cabinet and the Central Security
Forces. The military police were doing exactly what the police had done at the
beginning of the January 25 uprising.
Yasser Alaa /

Protesters in Alexandria, Egypt on November 21.

Eyewitnesses tweeted and called TV
shows to give their accounts of what was happening. They highlighted clashes mainly
taking place in Mohamed Mahmoud, a side street from Tahrir that leads to the
Ministry of Interior headquarters. They talked of enormous quantities of tear
gas that fogged the place and blurred their vision, and of CR gas that left
them numb.
They reported that many people had
fallen victim to live ammunition, rubber bullets, pellets and heavy beatings. Eye
injuries were especially common. Throughout the night, it didn’t slow down. The
shocking numbers of dead and wounded kept going up.
At 4 a.m. Monday, both sides
agreed to a “truce” where the Central Security Forces and military retreated to
the Ministry of Interior’s headquarters and the protesters in Tahrir were
allowed a long-earned rest. It proved to be short-lived, though, with the
police resuming violence almost two hours later, when many protesters had gone
home to rest or went to sleep in their tents.
For those of us who hadn’t been
able to go to bed while such acts were going on, following the news and the
protesters’ pleas for help on Twitter was heartbreaking and disappointing. It
was also infuriating that earlier on Sunday, the cabinet had released an
official statement, supporting the Ministry of Interior and praising their
exercise of self-restraint. It was like January 25th all over again,
especially since the Ministry of Interior itself had denied the use of any
violence in Tahrir. It was back to Mubarak’s mistakes again, as they
inadvertently pushed the people back to Tahrir.
The rest of Egypt woke up in
disbelief, astounded to see the return of Mubarak’s tools and tactics. They
woke up to a Tahrir Square reporting about 30 people dead because of live
bullets and at least 400 injured. They woke up to a square whose makeshift
clinic was attacked in the early hours of the morning and relocated several
times. They woke to pleas from their fellow Egyptians to join and help them.
The people in Tahrir were no longer the other, the protesters who were going
over the top. They had gone back to being fellows in the struggle as people
gathered donations and supplies and rushed over to Tahrir to help.
Still, there was no tangible
response on behalf of the government and SCAF except for a lame announcement
that the law for political corruption would be implemented. Activists had been
calling for it to be put into use for months, because it roughly means that political
parties previously involved corruption would be banned from the upcoming
parliamentary elections and public service in general. SCAF was, in short,
trying to appease the people but it was a very late response to a demand made
months ago and one that would do no good now. The people were getting an
overdose of déjà vu.
As people watched things unfold,
they continued to be in disbelief. Disturbing videos have been widely shared
online and across the media. Some showed girls pulled by the hair on the ground
or a man held captive, repeatedly beaten by the police. One outrageous clip
showed a police officer aiming at a protestor’s eye, and another officer congratulating
him on a good shot.
More and more people had shifted
to Tahrir’s side, and calls for a Million Man March on Tuesday rang loud.
Late Monday night, the cabinet
handed in its resignation and announced it was now waiting for SCAF’s decision.
This got positive feedback as it was a key demand of the protesters, but it’s
not enough. The cabinet was never really anything but an honorary post, a puppet
of the SCAF. It is a step, but not really progress.
A little bit later, SCAF released
a statement in which it condemned the acts of violence, expressed its sorrow at
the deaths and injuries and offered its condolences to the families. It also
implored the people to work together and exercise self-restraint and insisted
that the upcoming parliamentary elections will take place on time next Monday.
They also stated that the Ministry of Justice would be heading an investigation
committee into the events in Tahrir. Really? Another investigation? Bas?
It is now Tuesday afternoon and
Tahrir is packed once more with hundreds of thousands of protesters in
preparation for the Million Man March scheduled for 4 p.m. The people want SCAF
to leave and hand over power to a civilian temporary government until
parliamentary and presidential elections are held. The chant that used to be,
“The people demand the fall of the regime” has become, “The people demand the
fall of the Marshall.”
Tahrir is reportedly safe, with
only Mohamed Mahmoud Street a “war zone,” as some have put it. Everything is
shaky and no one knows what to expect. Rumors of curfews are going around, but
so far nothing has been confirmed. SCAF is calling for “national talks” but it
is too late for that.
The spirit of January’s Tahrir is
back and it is no longer separate parties protesting, but rather an entire
people. Whatever it is that SCAF and the Ministry of the Interior think is
worth killing people for isn’t going to be tolerated. The people will not rest
until their demands are met.
Yasser Alaa /

A crowd of protesters in Alexandria, Egypt on Monday.

Too many people have died since
January in the search for freedom and even more have been injured or lost their
eyes. It is too late now to give up or compromise our demands, our legitimate
demands, for freedom, dignity and a humane life.
As many people have tweeted, “We
are losing many eyes but not the vision.”
For live updates, check Twitter hashtags
#Tahrir, #TahrirNeeds, #NoSCAF, #Nov21, #OccupyTahrir, #Egypt and #Jan25.
PHOTO INFORMATION: For English readers
who are curious about what the sign in Arabic says in the photo at the top of this blog entry, Youth Journalism International Senior
Reporter Jessica Elsayed translated it:

“On top as a title it says, Al-Wafd Revolutionaries (Al Wafd is an Egyptian
Political Party)

The list says:
1. No to ‘El Selm’ Document which was a proposed piece of legislation separate from the
constitution that would ban scrutiny or questioning of the Supreme Council of
the Armed Forces, or SCAF
2. No to the Anti-Revolution
3. No to the ‘Felool’ which is a word used to describe anyone or anything loyal to the past regime
and its survival and no to people who are supporting the revival of the old