Tag Archives: Tahrir

Tahrir Square, and the birth of a nation!

Tahrir ... the place... the people !

Jan. 25 will mark the fifth anniversary of the Egyptian revolution that was sparked in Tunisia a few days earlier. This was the first time in history that millions of Egyptians marched into the street to claim their country back. No public place symbolized this revolution for dignity like Tahrir Square. Where five years ago, 18 glorious days of toppled 30 years of dictatorship. Now Al-Sisi make sure that wont happen again, Tahrir Square is occupied by the Al Sisi security forces and military militia, tanks, armored vehicles, and secrete police are filling the Square keeping the people out.

Tahrir Square (Liberation Square) is a major public focal point in downtown Cairo. It combines all of the contrasts of Egypt — from the Egyptian Museum to the Hilton Hotel — and is surrounded by elegant buildings that were styled as the Paris of the Nile. It also has the biggest public bus station, where thousands of Egyptians congregate every day on their way to work or returning home.

The square gained its prominence in the 19th century when another Mubarak — Ali Pasha — was commissioned by Egypt’s ruler at the time, Ismail Pasha, and charged with remodeling Cairo. And so it was named Ismailia Square. The square’s name was changed to Midan Tahrir (or Liberation Square) after the first Egyptian Revolution of 1952.

The square has been the traditional gathering place for Egyptians with a grievance — from the bread riots of 1977 to the protests against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The square had been the symbol of the Egyptian regime for years, at least until the 1972 general strike, when the midan (square) became the focus of the student movement and opposition to the President Anwar El-Sadat’s regime.

On Jan. 24, 1971, Cairo witnessed a dramatic escalation in the confrontation between students and the Sadat government. Students discovered that the leaders of a sit-in at Cairo University had been arrested. Some 20,000 infuriated students (I was one of them) headed toward central Cairo, where security forces failed to disperse them and stop them from reaching Tahrir Square.

This was the first time Sadat had to face street riots, and it set a precedent that he never forgave or forgot. I had just moved to Cairo from a small village in the Delta. I had never participated in any meaningful way in politics. They announced in school that there was a general strike in Tahrir Square, and against the wishes of my parents and the rest of my family, I decided to go — not to participate in the general strike, but simply to be there.

I walked the short half-mile from my house through Qasr Al-Eini Street. People were coming from everywhere. There was no chanting, no conversation, just slow steadfast movement, as if something big were about to happen.

Once I got to the square, there were already thousands of people gathered. We congregated at the center around the most elegant public fountain in Egypt (which is no longer there), surrounded by 10,000 students, chanting, joking, talking. A cold night was falling; the air was thick. Students started climbing walls and posts, bringing down advertisements and billboards and pictures of Sadat and his family, all of which were consumed by a huge campfire.

It was like Woodstock, without the drugs and sex. As the night wore on, the big crowd broke into smaller groups of people with different grievances and different interests. They broke away from the center, where the hard-core protesters were. And the farther you were from the center, the more inclined you were to leave on your own.

As people trickled out of Tahrir Square, you didn’t notice this attrition. But the crowd that had earlier numbered in the thousands was now a few hundred. These were the hard core; they had no plan to leave. I wanted to see it to the end; the square was surrounded by thousands of national security forces and riot police. People could leave, but no one was being allowed in to replace them.

At about 3 a.m., a high-ranking police official approached the crowd, and from a short distance he gave his order via a loudspeaker: The crowd had seven minutes to leave the square. The crowd cheered in a show of defiance.

Everyone looked at one another to feel the mood. It was tense. The organizers asked the crowd to sit close to one another and hold hands in confrontation against the police forces. At this point, you had no option but to stay with the group. Rows of police equipped with riot batons and full gear started moving closer. The group chanting grew louder — “Belady … Belady” — to rally everyone to stay.

The security forces seemed undaunted and kept getting closer. “We are all Egyptians, we are all Egyptians,” chanted the crowd, although no communication was taking place. “They don’t speak our language,” a protester joked. The stakes were so high, and one’s own survival now depended on everyone else’s.

Suddenly, without warning, all of the lights in the square went off and tear-gas canisters were sent flying everywhere. Security forces charged.

No degree of patriotism could keep those hard-core protesters together. You lose your sense of place. You don’t know who is next to you. Your connection with your group breaks down. Now all that is left is to run away from it all.

I was terrified. I saw a young female student I didn’t know tremble and fall inside the public fountain. Five or six security officers descended on her, beating her with a brutality I had never seen before. I stopped and dragged her away, and we both ran away. But we never spoke and I never saw her again.

That day — Jan. 24, 1971, at about 4 a.m. — was when I realized that Egypt,  eats its own children like wolves. My sense of Egypt was never the same again.

Also you can read it at

StarTribune 

Ahmed Tharwat is host of the Arab-American TV show “Belahdan,” which airs Mondays at 10:30 p.m. on Twin Cities Public Television. He blogs at Notes From America, on www.ahmediatv.com. Follow him on Twitter @AhmediaTV.

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Selling Lingerie on the Egyptian Street

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Selling Lingerie on the Egyptian Street
Cairo’s Tahrir Square is the global symbol of the January 25th Revolution, where millions of Egyptians, including women, went to demand the toppling of the regime. Lately, Tahrir Square has witnessed the courting of the Egyptian population by General Al Sisi and his propaganda machine as well as a “Million Woman March” demanding the toppling of the hijab.
The history of progressive women and their struggle for independence and social freedom is an old one, starting with the Egyptian feminist and activist, Huda El Sha’arwi, founder of the Egyptian Feminist Union in 1923. Two events stand out in the history of women’s struggle in Egypt. In the Egyptian Revolution of 1919, women demonstrated side by side with men and used their hijab as a symbol of resistance to the British occupation, and again in the 1940’s and early 50’s, when small groups of radical women leftists embraced the topics of inequality and nationalism with a strong anti-imperialist bent. Here is pamphlet published by the group that announced, “. . . struggle to realize democratic freedom for women in Egypt–that is the freedom which cannot arrive under the shadow of the imperialist and imperialism nor under the shadow of enslavement and exploitation.”
Egyptian women, who are again trying to gain the freedom to remove their hijab, need to “burn their bras” first, as their western counterparts did in the sexual revolution of the 60’s. Back in Tahrir Square, Egyptian women may not be exactly burning their bras anytime soon, but you can see them buying bras, lingerie and undergarments on the street. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see bras and lingerie displayed on every street corner and in the windows of shops, even on sidewalks in the slums of Cairo.

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A post revolution visit to Egypt…, 2012

making a phone call

 

 

Sisi accidental leader

 

 

Glued to the TV for the glorifying 18 days of the January 25th, 2011 Egyptian Revolution, I was boxed in the hyped coverage of the Tahrir drama: the day of fury, the battle of the camels, the stubborn dictator, the man behind Omar Suleiman, the killing of peaceful protestors, the Sylmaya Sylmaya chanting, the Egyptians’ resilience and their brilliant sense of political humor, the irhel (leave) signs”, Obama’s wait-and see attitude, the speech, the stepping down of a dictator, the end of a 30-year dictatorship, all unfolding live and before my eyes. After the dust had settled, al Jazeera moved on to other stops on the Arab Spring freedom trail, and the western media returned back to their bases. However, the revolution has not ended. Fifteen months later, the Egyptians are still going at it, protesting at Tahrir Square and elsewhere, people still willing to die for their freedom. I decided to take my own camera and follow the Egyptian Freedom Trail, to document this event through my own eyes.

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The eight-hour flight to Paris was long but uneventful; the landing was smooth, and even the five- hour layover at the Paris airport was a welcome rest. Then came the shorter flight to Cairo, which was an interesting one, a harbinger of things to come, perhaps. A few minutes after I was seated , my first row mate appeared, a high-ranking Egyptian Coptic cleric; he looked like a pope to me, fully dressed in his religious costume. A few minutes later an Afghani “Salafy” man arrived to claim the other seat. I learned later that he was going to Saudi Arabia on his “Omarah”, the off season hajj. I introduced myself and the two to each other and commented to the jokingly, “We have 4 hour flight, so we need to talk to each other.” Needless to say, we had a ball, mostly talking about Egypt and the Egyptian sense of humor, occasionally interrupted by a few interfaith dialogs. We exchanged phones numbers and wished each other luck on our individual journeys.

I landed at Cairo International Airport on Thursday, the 5th of April, at 5:30 pm. The airport staff were helpful and friendly. “Welcome home,” said the female security guard after a quick glimpse at my American passport. I didn’t tell my family of my arrival time, so only my friend Said was waiting for me. Immediately, I started observing people all around me, trying to see the signs that people have changed after the revolution. I was watching their eyes, their movements, how they spoke, how they asked questions. Would they ask for baksheesh (tips) as before? I was desperately looking for any clue to the post revolution and post Mubarak era.
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But first things first, I was eager to stop at Tahrir Square, in spite of all advice against it. “We don’t know who is in Tahrir now, lots of thugs, or Baltagiyah, are making it their permanent home” said my friend Said. The next day was Friday, April 6th, and the people were gearing for another one-million man march, the Salafy supporters flexing their muscle in support of their presidential front runner Hazem Abu Ismail. “You can go and see for yourself then,” Said advised me . Driving home, things looked normal in the streets. People seemed to be minding their own business dealing with the normal heavy traffic, left to fend for themselves, they feel free to do anything they want. The streets seemed for the first time remarkably void of any police or security with just a few army tanks present around some government buildings. Everywhere you look, the walls were covered by anti Mubarak, anti government, and anti military graffiti; revolutionary art covered the decay of the old Cairo buildings making the city look new and vibrant again . After 5000 years, Egyptians had re-discovered their ancient trade, writing their stories on the walls.

TAHRIR VISIT

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At one p.m. the next day, I woke up in my sister’s 6th floor apartment in a building on a small street just a few blocks from Tahrir Square. I washed and had breakfast. It was a Friday afternoon in April, but through the shuttered windows, I could feed the air was hot like summer. The family’s mood was tense; people didn’t know what to expect during this molyoniyah (one-million man march). It was the first one after a truce had been struck between protestors and police security, the tens of people who were killed in Maspero, the Magles Elshaab strike, the Mohamed Mahmoud street protest and the Port Said massacres, all fresh memories. I was a little worried as this was my first Tahrir visit post revolution. I had been there in ‘72 for a general sit-in during Sadat’s era and had learned firsthand about police brutality, but I had been younger then. Now, I didn’t know what to do or how it was going to turn out. I needed to be fully prepared, so I brought my own Tahrir “survival kit” from the States. Good sturdy tennis shoes, a hoody, strong jeans with lots of pockets, sweets and snacks, pepper spray, and small Bloggie camera and, of course, my old, expired Egyptian passport to use as I.D., just in case. “Keep the American one at home,” I was advised. The anti-American sentiment was high that week. The NGO military raids had just taken place a few weeks before. I also was equipped with two of my twenty-something nephews, Islam (a Salafy and Hazem Abu Ismail supporter) who actually was one of the organizers for the event and waiting for us at Tahrir, and Mohamed (a Muslim Brotherhood supporter) and the one who had been in the trenches from the beginning. “I know all the police and officers in our street,” he said. He was one of the community leaders during the revolution, forming a community policing force, and had been in Tahrir tons of time. He was my Tahrir guru throughout my visit to Egypt. ”Uncle, don’t speak to them, your Arabic is broken, I’ll do all the talking,” he always joked every time we visited Tahrir.

Street Market

Since the apartment building is located such a short distant from Tahrir, we practically could hear the protestors chanting from home. It has been in the midst of everything since the revolution began a year and half ago. Looking down from the balcony window, I could take in the scene: there was a tank, police in full riot gear, protestors, a hunger strike tent, people chanting anti-military songs, young soccer fan ultras having a sit-in strike and chanting. We gathered at the front of our building and started walking at about 3:45pm toward Tahrir. The scouting report indicated that the Square was getting full, and my Salafy guy, Islam, called and gave us the go-ahead sign. “Where are you? Everything is going well here,” he said. “Walk purposefully and don’t look at any soldiers. Just ignore them as if they aren’t there,” Mohamed told me. We reached Qasr Elaini Street, the main artery to Tahrir Square. Already the flow of demonstrators was overwhelming with people coming from everywhere. The street was blocked by barbed wire with only a crack for an opening to keep an orderly entry. People were so excited; everyone was talking, joking and patiently waiting for their turn. It was so amazing to me that all those people, from all walks of life, and all factions, were just taking this all in stride. The Tahrir movement was bigger than anyone’s affiliation and verbal confrontations were put to rest in a hurry. As we approached the square, I was actually trembling, excited, my heart beat was racing. ‘This is it,’ I thought. ‘This is the place that 15 months ago had witnessed the most amazing historical event in Egypt history.’ That night Tahrir was gearing for another molyoniyah called for by the supporters of their new Salafy presidential front runner, Hazem Abu Ismail. The Salafy are those ultra-conservative Islamists who want to take Islam back to its original core of Salafis, (descendants of the prophet Mohammed). They are growing in number and confidence in post-revolution Egypt.

 

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They have mostly avoided politics for the last 30 years, and have been financed and supported by Saudi money and Wahhabi ideas. They won 25% in the first parliamentary election, and represent a much larger though less-organized group than the well-established Muslim brotherhood. The Brotherhood, which won 47% of the seats, are the strongest political faction in Egypt now with more political experience and organizational skilled. But today’s Molyoniah is a Salafy one. Their number is overwhelming as they walk chanting with their long beards wearing their traditional short robes. Their leader, Hazem Abu Ismaeil, has become a pop-star phenomenon. People were so eager to find a hero, and he was willing to take that role. His name became a household word overnight. In just a few weeks, his posters spread everywhere, on cars, buildings, mosques, street posts, T-shirts, foreheads, even on motorcycles and bikes. He had become the Obama agent of change for lots of Egyptians. His support crossed over the Salafy hard-core lines. His political campaign was slick and modern, with massive marketing memorabilia. His slogans, Sawf Nahia Krama , “We shall live with dignity,” captured people’s imagination. After 30 years of humiliation by ex-dictator Mubarak, people were reenergized again. “He is the only one who will bring our dignity back,” said a 43-year-old Hassan Salah, an elementary school teacher. Ismail’s wide appeal wasn’t because of his conservative views. On the contrary, it was based on his modern appeal and sense of humor. He is not the typical bearded Jihadist type that media would like to flash on the 5 o’clock news. When he was asked in a press conference why his posters were covering 2/3 of Egyptian streets, he fired back, “Give me one more year, I will cover the other third.” His popularity was spreading like wild fire. Then came the issue of his mother’s nationality, and suddenly, the military had to react; they couldn’t tolerate such serious opposition. The fiasco arose over the fact that Abu Ismail’s mother had lived in the US and held dual citizenship. That, according to the Egyptian constitution, disqualified him from running in the presidential race. This Constitutional Amendment was made during a referendum that the military shoved down the Egyptian’s throats after the revolution.

 

More than 70% approved with wide support from the Salafy and Islamist movement. Abu Ismail himself supported the amendment, but most people didn’t even know what they were agreeing to, I was told. In quick succession, ultraconservative Islamist candidate Hazem Abu Ismail, front runner Khairat el-Shater of the Muslim Brotherhood, and former intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, were knocked out of the race along with seven others on legal grounds. “Omar Suleiman finished his last act and service to the country,” Osam Jad, a poet and activist explained sarcastically, talking about the former chief of intelligence of ex-dictator Mubarak, the mastermind of all wheeling and dealing with Israel and the Palestinian peace process, as well as American favorite rendition program guy. The one who once cut off the hand of an Al Qaida suspect and sent it to the American intelligence to check his fingerprints.

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During my stay in Egypt, I attended three major Molyaniyahs at Tahrir Square. The one I described was organized by the Salafy faction, another was by the well-organized Muslim Brotherhood, Ahkwan, and the last one by all factions and political groups, called “Save the Revolution Day,” which was the most impressive one, where I met people from all over Egypt. Everyone was talking, every faction featuring their own grand stands, and most people were shopping around for new ideas.Debates were taking place everywhere. I saw a Salafy surrounding by a hostile crowd, while he remained calm and deliberate. He asked everyone to give him a chance to explain his views, and they did. Soon people started laughing and he joined the crowd.

Egypt has changed so much now that people aren’t afraid of the government; instead, it is the other way around. People were waving their flags and banners. On all my visits to Tahrir Square and other demonstrations, I never saw any violence from the crowd. “We only have violence when we have police or military present,” explained Khaled Abol Naga, Egyptian Tahrir prince and filmmaker. In every Molyoniah, Tahrir looked like a huge carnival of ideas and grievances. The Square has its own reverence now, and people respect it since it symbolizes the revolutionary spirit. Any altercations were dealt with promptly. People know it is a place for everyone to come and feel safe to speak and express their views. More than anything, it symbolizes the anti-Mubarak era. I asked my nephew Islam, a devoted Salafy, if we could stop at one of the liberal tents, “Revolution Coloration” as their sign says. Although it was a Salafy Molyaniaya Friday, the other groups had never left Tahrir since the stepping down of ex-dictator Mubarak. “We are staying here until the revolution achieve its objectives,” said Ahmed Mohamed, one of the organizers. Once we got closer to their tent, one of the groups saw my nephew and the Hazem Abu Ismail sign he carried, and he immediately started pushing him away. He had a spray in his hand, and started spraying him as if he was chasing away flies. My nephew was cool and just smiled and stepped away from the tent. Another organizer rushed from inside the tent and offered an apology, “I’m so sorry,” he told us, “you both welcome to our tent.”

PEOPLE OF TAHRIR

At Tahrir, I met so many wonderful people with great ideals; people who for the first time feel free to talk about their own country without fear of persecution; people with strong opinions and strong suspicions of each other’s views. Yes, the Islamists are growing in Egypt but in spite of their extreme views, I found them much easier to talk to than the so-called tolerant liberals. Here I’m talking about the street Salafy, the ones who, like everyone else, want a better Egypt for everyone, not just the Military elite. “During Mubarak, corruption was rampant. What we need now is more of moral leader,” explained to me Hassan Heggazi, who came all the way from Suhag in southern Egypt to support the Abu Ismail campaign. The street Salafy are gaining confidence as their voice gets stronger, their beards get longer, their robes get shorter, but they need to win the people over.

 

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… Christmas Greeting From Tahrir

…from Tahrir with Love

This year I have gotten more Christmas and New Year greetings from Egypt than I have ever gotten from all my friends here in the US. Americans don’t even send Christmas greeting anymore, they send Holiday greeting, as Fox News pundits claim that there is a war on Christmas in the US, not Egyptian Liberals, they are celebrating Christmas as if it is a national holiday. Egyptians elected for the first time in their long history a civilian president, which brought to power a Muslim brotherhood candidate, Mr. Mohammed Morsi. A few months in power the Egyptian liberals whom their candidate lost in the first round, have lost their bearing, gradually losing the ground to the entrenched well-organized Muslim brotherhood, and their Salafy alliance. Mr. Morsi lack of leadership and a few constitutional missteps gave the appearance of power grapping and the islamization (brotherhoodization) of Egypt. This was met by a stiff resistance from Egyptian liberals, who use the street as a platform for their demands and grievances. There is a deep struggle now in Egypt not so much about new ideas, but new Egypt. After 60 years of military dictatorship, Egypt is looking for a new direction, a new identity, wither an Islamic or secular Egypt. Liberal in Egypt found themselves on the defense, with their populist leader, nr. El Bradei and Mr. Sabbahi not willing to master any serious opposition other than calling for one-million march, to Tahrir every time they oppose something and want to have their voice heard. Now liberals are launching a crusade against Islamists and Muslim brotherhood rejecting the appearance of any Islamic symbols and tendency in Egypt. Liberals elites in Egypt will do anything to taunt the Islamists, and willing to do anything to stop Muslim brotherhood hegemony on Egypt buy becoming christen brotherhood themselves, pondering to Copts in every occasion, visiting church, celebrate Christmas, Christmas for them is not so much celebration of Jesus birthday , for liberals elites it is a westernized holiday that is full of flashes, fireworks, drinks and gifts, a commercial one. Where as Almoulid, Birth of Muhammed is usually celebrated in Egypt by the poor uneducated masses allover Egypt, voide of any greetings cards or fireworks, they don’t have a Hallmark company to speak for them, only their own tradition and values. The liberals Self loathing and Islamophobia reflects a paranoia toward Islamists that is worst than the one found here in post-911 America, the anti Islamist rhetoric in Egypt seems as if it is coming from Michele Backmann playbook. They think the Muslim Brotherhood not that penetrated the Egyptian government but everywhere the Egyptian society. They look at Islamists as backward, fanatic and extremists who will take Egypt a few century back, and in same time talking about old Egypt and its proud pre-Islamic history. “Egypt would lose its Pharaohnic identify” said Azza Soliman a political writer whom I interviewed in her house in Cairo, When I visited Egypt this Summer, “ the oppressive minority won” Said, liberal and head of Nassreist party after 63% of Egyptians said yes to new constitution referendum. I went to Tahrir Square for three different one-million-man march, two for Islamists (Salafy & Brotherhood) and one for so called the revolutionary forces, Liberals, lefties and all opposition, I found it easier to talk to Islamist than to liberals; who were more dogmatic and uncompromising, their self righteous blinds them from listening to any opposition. Where the Islamists were confident and open to dialog, My bearded camera Salafy help was chased out of one of the liberal tent with a can of spree like roaches, he smiled and left the tent apologizing.. The very same people who are accusing Morsi of siding with America and the west, are looking westward for salvation. They are against the new constitution because doesn’t protect minorities, and in the same time when Essam El-Aryan head of the Muslim brotherhood out of the blues invited Egyptian Jews living in Israel to come back to Egypt, and enjoy the new free Egypt “ they should not live in a country that occupy and exploits Palestinians ” he explained.. The Liberals went nuts, started a camping of treason and sell out accusation against him. After toppling the biggest dictator in Egyptian history, liberal ran out of ideas. Now short of making fun of Morsi and his party, they are sitting lame duck at Tahrir Square with no vision for Egypt except opposing its “Ikwanization” and western liberal slogans of Christmas greetings and Happy New Year wishes from Tahrir with love.

Ahmed Tharwat. Host of Arab American TV show, BelAhdan
Minnesota, USA
www.ahmediatv.com
email: ahmediatv@gmail.com

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