News / Middle East

Reporter's Notebook: Egypt Returns to Tahrir

Crowds gather again in Cairo's Tahrir Square June 19, 2012.
Crowds gather again in Cairo's Tahrir Square June 19, 2012.
Davin Hutchins
CAIRO - Early last year, the powerful images of millions of Egyptians flooding Tahrir Square became a symbol embraced by the world as ground zero of Arab self-determination.

Sure, Tunisia was the Arab Spring's first revolution to depose a dictator. Bahrain, Yemen and Syria have had their own uprisings, still largely unresolved.

But Egypt’s Tahrir Square was seen as the icon. To many, it represented and continues to represent the essence of a do-or-die standoff between people and their unwanted leaders.

In the case of Egypt, largely peaceful demonstrations fueled by Facebook, Twitter and international media coverage led to the ouster of strongarm president Hosni Mubarak. The resulting vacuum brought to power a military council promising a swift restoration of civilian rule.  That was 16 months ago and for 16 months the people were patient. Tahrir, too, the symbol of idealism which once mobilized an entire nation, has been relatively quiet. Protests against the slow pace of transition were small. The level of political apathy seemed to be palpably growing.

But all that seems to be changing again.


Within the past week, Egypt’s military rulers,  the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) introduced security measures reminiscent of Mubarak’s decades-old Emergency Laws that allowed the army and intelligence services to detain dissenters practically without charge.

The Supreme Constitutional Court ruled the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament unconstitutional after recent elections and dissolved it in its entirety. Also, the SCAF issued an 11th hour decree granting itself legislative and budgetary powers in the absence of a parliament.

And all this happened against the backdrop of the first free presidential elections the country has seen, and most likely because of them. The results of the poll, although vote counting continues, seem to indicate that here, too, the Muslim Brotherhood, for decades a political pariah, would come out on top.  According to early results, the group's candidate, Mohamed Morsi, is ahead of Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister and widely considered the man with whom the country's generals would find it easier to collude.

The way many Egyptians had been feeling until recently about Tahrir was probably best put in an activist's tweet:

“Tahrir doesn’t represent Egypt anymore! It's more like a theater being rented by different actors everyday & Egyptians r just watching.”

Even each day this week, a different contingent seemed to take to the square, and usually only hundreds appeared. At one point even members of the dissolved parliament attempted in vain to conduct a session in Tahrir as they were prohibited by the SCAF from entering the building of the Legislative Assembly.
  • A crowd of an estimated 2000 Egyptian protesters are crossing the Nile River on June 15th, 2012 in Cairo.
  • A debate brews among Tahrir Square protesters after a weekend of Egypt elections on June 15th, 2012 in Cairo.
  • Egyptian women gather to join a June 15th, 2012 mass rally in Tahrir Square of Cairo, Egypt.
  • Cries of freedom and disdain for presidential candidate ‪Ahmed Shafiq and the former Mubarak regime on June 15th, 2012 in Tahrir Square, Cairo.
  • Egyptians line up to place their vote in their nation's presidential runoff in Cairo on June 16th, 2012.
  • A young Egyptian voter on June 16th, 2012 says he is voting for Muslim Brotherhood's candidate Morsi because he feels the Islam religion should govern all matters even politics.
  • A queue of Egyptian votes at a polling station in Shubra on June 16th, 2012.
  • A demonstration in Tahrir gathers on June 18th, 2012 to share election frustrations over unofficial results in Cairo.
  • A demonstrator displays post-election frustrations on June 18th, 2012 in Tahrir Square of Cairo.
  • A child stands in the middle of a June 18th, 2012 protest in Tahrir Square of Cairo.

To supporters of Morsi, Tahrir was the venue for early presidential victory celebration for a Muslim Brother they hope will ascend the land's highest office. But many view these celebrations as premature at best.

Morsi, if actually victorious, has been stripped of most powers by the SCAF. Also,  Shafiq has not conceded the race. With events shifting at a rapid pace, a mentality has developed to "celebrate while you can" because rules may again change.

Indeed, while covering this story in Cairo for the past six days, Tahrir seemed like a common green any political group could rent for free.

The graffiti around the square, too, painted a disturbing picture. Symbols of January 25 martyrs and anti-Mubarak slogans from the revolution's early days have been replaced by more cynical murals of the SCAF pulling the strings of dancing skeletons.

“I don’t think people misjudged the intentions of the SCAF,” said Ashraf Khalil, author of Liberation Square, a journalist’s account of the January 25 revolution. “They misjudged the true strength of the establishment here and how quickly things could shift.”

Khalil said it is possible that even during apex of the January 25 revolution and the months that followed, Egypt remained as fractious as ever but the focus on Mubarak concealed the fault lines.

“I think this fragmentation we’re seeing could be an indication of real Egyptian society. When a Mubarak is removed, all these fault lines come to the forefront. And it doesn’t necessarily need to be a bad thing. If anything, it would have been more healthy if the way this presidential election was going was working along some of these new fault lines. Instead, we’re reverting to the old fault lines. We’re reverting to the security establishment versus Muslim Brotherhood. It’s the failure to overcome these things, these old networks.”

The existence of Mubarak and the push for his removal was the focal point of Tahrir in 2011. It propelled hundreds of thousands to take to the square. But Mubarak was only the figurehead of an entrenched military establishment led by the SCAF. Egyptians, some say, appear to be awakening to that fact now.

Tonight, on my seventh day,  many Egyptians are returning to the place that brought them together last year.  As of this writing, about 70,000 people have descended on Tahrir. They represent the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, the conservative An-Nour party, the Revolutionary Youth Coalition and the April 6 Movement. They are indignant, deafening and unified.

Perhaps it took some time for Egyptians to realize what the international press had already assessed - that they had witnessed a soft military coup and were being cheated out of the democracy they fought so hard for.

If tonight is any indication, Egypt will not go quietly...

You May Like

Ebola Death Toll Nears 5,000 as Virus Advances

West Africa bears heaviest burden; Mali toddler’s death raises new fears More

Jordan’s Battle With Islamic State Militants Carries Domestic Risks

Despite Western concerns that IS militants are preparing a Jordanian offensive, analysts call the kingdom's solid intel a strong deterrent More

Asian-Americans Assume Office in Record Numbers

Steadily deepening engagement in local politics pays off for politicians like Chinese-American Judy Chu More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Comanche Chief Quanah Parker’s Century-Old House Falling Apart

One of the most fascinating people in U.S. history was Quanah Parker, the last chief of the American Indian tribe, the Comanche. He was the son of a Comanche warrior and a white woman who had been captured by the Indians. Parker was a fierce warrior until 1875 when he led his people to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and took on a new, peaceful life. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Cache, Oklahoma, Quanah’s image remains strong among his people, but part of his heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid