Witnessing ‘a festival of the oppressed’

Anne Alexander visited Cairo for Socialist Worker (UK) during the struggle to get rid of Mubarak and described the scene in Tahrir square

It is a seedbed for new kinds of democracy. Slogans and demands are tested on the crowds. Those who gauge the mood correctly see their ideas spread like fire across the square, echoing into TV studios, through social media networks and even into the corridors of power.

Amid the ferment of political debate, Tahrir also functions as an organising centre.

“People are going back to the factories from the square to explain the real story of the revolution,” explains Tarek Mustafa, a leader of the independent Property Tax Collectors’ Union.

But beyond the barricades and the barbed wire, however, the state is not yet broken.

Trucks of riot police are parked up side roads. The army is visible everywhere, even in the square, where protesters sleep beneath the tanks to stop them moving.

Tahrir Square has become the centre of the revolution—a space won at a terrible cost. Around the square are banners and placards with the faces of the young men and women who have died in the uprising.

“We don’t want you, we don’t want you—the blood of the martyrs flows between us,” chanted the crowds last Sunday.

Perceptions of the army’s role are shifting rapidly. “Army and people: one hand” was a favourite chant last week. Now that has changed: “We are the people, you are the army—get out of our way and let us get on with our life.”

Rabab, who has been in Tahrir square told me, “The process of revolution has changed things for me as a woman.

“I have been on the streets 24/7 for two weeks, and never been subjected to a sexist comment.

“Something has really shifted in the collective memory, and everyone has noticed it.”

There is a growing rejection of sectarianism and a clear articulation of Muslim-Christian unity.

On Friday of last week, Christians linked arms and ringed the square while Muslim protesters prayed.

“This is new,” a socialist activist told me. “Sunday is the first day we have seen people from the churches out in force. This really is a festival of the oppressed.”

Tahrir Square is a liberated space, a laboratory for popular self-organisation with its own security forces defending the entrances from attack, field hospitals, pharmacies and volunteer squads of street cleaners.

Magazine

Solidarity meetings

Latest articles

Read more

The Egyptian Revolution—18 days that shook the world

A revolution in Egypt in 2011 overthrew a brutal dictator and gave a glimpse of how society could be run differently. Egyptian revolutionary Hossam el-Hamalawy tells the story

Protests in Egypt met with brutal repression

Protests took to the streets of Egypt in April despite a ban on demonstrations. The coordination and determination of the mobilisations marks a shift in the confidence of the opposition to the regime.

Workers and Egypt’s unfinished counter-revolution

If you want to understand the social processes and economic contradictions which led to the Egyptian revolution in 2011, read this book. It also explains why the military is back in charge and waging a counter-revolution, but never suggests this was the inevitable outcome.