A bewildering chaos of movements, chanting and excitement. That was my impression when Helen and I arrived early this afternoon at Tahrir Square in central Cairo. And we arrived to the scene of revolution in style: on a horse cart!
Helen, a British poet and my host in Cairo, and I, were walking from the flat to the square when the horse cart driver approached us. Helen thought we had to arrive in style. So we hopped onto the touristy transport.
I didn’t come to Egypt for the mass protest. But it hadn’t stopped me from coming either, though the UK and US governments have urged tourists not to come to Egypt. As an ordinary tourist, I don’t believe such demonstrations pose serious danger to the tourists. Having said that, one young American was killed yesterday in Alexandria, in Northern Egypt, for taking photos of the protest there.
So what’s the fuss about? One year ago, Mohamed Mosi became the first elected Islamic president. To mark the first anniversary of his election, his critics are calling for his resignation because they believe that he has put the interest of his Muslim Brotherhood before the country’s interest.
At the entrance to the square, we were checked briefly and let in. The sun was beating down ruthlessly and the atmosphere was just as heated. People were marching towards the square from all directions, mostly on foot, but also on motorbikes and cars. All held flags or slogans that said in Arabic and English: Get Out! They chanted so as well, as they marched or danced to the beatings of the drums or loud music. Most of the protestors were men but there were some women, some wearing headscarves.
Excitedly I took photos and some people asked to take photos of us because we were foreigners. One young man in black T-shirt came to talk me. In his limited English, he asked me where I came from and so on. Then another young man in a baseball cap approached us and yelled us angrily. The ‘black T-shirt’ interpreted for us, saying man requested us not to take pictures. Then he added in his broken English: “You nice. I love you.” We walked away, trying to forget about both men. Sexual harassment is rampant in Egypt. Two years ago, in the middle of the Arabic Revolution which saw the overthrown of Mubarak, one American female journalist was raped on this very square.
What I found extraordinary was the lack of police or military presence. The head of the military said the army would remain natural and would intervene only when a crisis occurs.
So many people were taking photos and so much excitement – people from nearby buildings waving big flags and blowing trumpets. So I took out my camera again. The next thing I knew was that the baseball cap guy appeared again, pointing at my camera excitedly – he obviously had been following us. A very nice English speaking guy stepped in and argued that there were cameras everywhere anyway.
Nevertheless, Helen and I decided to go leave the square from another entrance/checkpoint. It became a bottle neck as some tried to get in and others get out. Two guys were having a heated argument. You can see that it could escalate into some violence. Indeed, fearful of the violence, some wealthy Egyptians have fled the country.
We were thinking to head to the Palace to take a look where some of Mosi’s supporters were rallying, arguing that Mosi was elected through a democratic and credible election and he should be given the chance to finish his job.
First we had to get some water. There we got talking to a gentleman in his late 50s who speaks excellent English. He said he is a professor of history at Cairo University and he works at the animal mummy section at the Egyptian Museum and he offered to show us around the museum if we had time. I grilled why he would come out to protest. He said president Mosi has failed to deliver what he promised and he has failed to tackle the economic and security problems. For many ordinary people, life has made a turn for worse. He admitted that he voted Mosi and felt people have the right to vote him out.
After this serious conversation, we started to have small talks. He recommended us to his favorite restaurants and perfume shops. So while the mayhem of the revolution went on at the square, Helen and I ended up in a small perfume shop behind a little street right behind it. I bought a bottle of perfume named ‘the secret of the desert’, which smelt exotic to me.
Once out of the noisy street, Helen and I, clutching our shopping bags, had a laugh: we arrived at the scene of the revolution in a horse cart and ended up shopping.
When we returned to the flat in an up-market district in Aamalek, on the bank of Nile and right across from the old British sporting club (it does sound colonial) I saw a group of protestors, mostly fashionably dressed young men and women, some holding Prada bags, gathered in front of the club and ready to set out for their march.
As I am finishing this post, I received an email from Dr. Allam, the former Egyptian ambassador to China:
I think you have arrived to watch history in the making.,and to experience how the Egyptians who made the history in the past are determined to make the future that this nation deserves .
China may be more advanced and developed than Egypt. But it may take a long while before the Chinese people can determine the future of our nation. The economic opportunities are not enough.