Egyptians discover collective spirit

Anti-government demonstrators carry a huge Egyptian flag in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Tuesday.  

The citizens of Cairo stand up for themselves with dignity. A great cry goes up from the square: “Irhal! Irhal!” (Leave! Leave!) Everybody is looking in the same direction: you follow their gaze to see a long banner unfurling, falling gracefully from the sixth-floor balcony of an art deco building nearby. We read: “Do us a favour: leave!”

Holding it from the sixth-floor balcony is a young woman with big hair. She is jumping up and down and holding up her hand in a victory salute. The crowd salute back: “Irhal! Irhal!” Four generations, more than a million people (according to the army count at 2pm) are here. They are all doing what they have not been able to do for decades; each and every one is having their say in their own way and insisting on being counted.

Their dominant demand, of course, is for Mubarak and his regime to step down. In the regime’s response to this people’s revolution they have displayed the same brutality, dullness, dishonesty and predictability that have characterised their 30—year rule. They have shot and gassed their citizens, lied to them and about them, threatened them with F16s, tried to foist a “new” cabinet on them — everything except the decent thing: go.

Meanwhile the citizens on the ground have come into their own. Tahrir is about dignity and image as much as it is about the economy and corruption. People are acutely aware of how much their government has messed with their heads, worked to divide them, maligned them to the world. “She says we only care about a slice of bread,” a young labourer says, “We care about bread. But we also care about pride.” A bearded man with a wife in a niqab says: “We’re all Egyptian. Was I born with a beard?” He grins: “When Mubarak leaves I’ll be able to afford a razor!” Together, in the square, over the last four days, people have rediscovered how much they like themselves and each other and, corny as it may sound, how “good” they are. They offer each other water, dates, biscuits. Young men are constantly collecting the litter. I sneeze and someone passes me a tissue. And all the time the chant continues, the demands are articulated, options for the future are discussed.

It is not possible to say what will happen next. Everything is up in the air, our communications are still cut (but you can still follow us on Mubarak has not left, more than two million of us are occupying the main squares of Cairo and a further two to three million are occupying other Egyptian cities. For every person in this revolution there is no turning back.

Armed tanks surround Tahrir Square but the army has declared it will never attack the people. Young Egyptians surround the tanks, chatting with the soldiers. Last night (1FEB) there was a football game, “the people versus the army” with a tank as the prize. The people won. They did not get the tank. But then one of the most popular chants in Tahrir today is “The people, the army as one hand”.

I would not have thought a scenario possible where we welcome military intervention but the Egyptian army is very much part of the fabric of Egyptian society. And in both 1977 and 1985 it refused direct orders to fire on Egyptian demonstrators. An oath taken by every soldier is that he will not shoot arms against Egyptians. So at the moment the army is securing for us this space in our country where we are carrying out our peaceful, democratic, young, inclusive, open source, grassroots revolution.

I write this sitting on the grass under a variety of banners. A great bank of loudspeakers has gone up at one end of the square and we are waiting for a concert by the popular band Eskenderdella. We are all happy and we are proud to be here.

NOTE: Ahdaf Soueif is the author of the Booker prize-nominated novel The Map of Love. She lives in Cairo and London. Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2011

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Printable version | Nov 30, 2021 9:53:14 PM |

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