Last Updated: Mon Apr 23, 2012 12:13 pm (KSA) 09:13 am (GMT)

Tahrir Square: What it means to Egyptians one year on

Tahrir Square in Cairo remains the hub of protest and is seen as the heart of Egypt’s evolving future. (Reuters)
Tahrir Square in Cairo remains the hub of protest and is seen as the heart of Egypt’s evolving future. (Reuters)

Thick traffic pours in and pedestrians weave through the flow to the sound of honks, beeps and shouts, while trains rattle by underneath the square that contained a revolution.

Business goes on in the cafes, shops and market stalls while around them stages are erected and dismantled as demonstrations come and go.
Tahrir Square is still the hub of protest and the heart of Egypt’s evolving future.

Last Friday’s demonstration brought together voices from across the spectrum of politics when the people’s separate demands once again converged on common ground.

“The Square is the main pillar of the revolution,” said one demonstrator, named Islam, who was there to support the recently rejected Salafist presidential candidate Hazem Abu Ismail. He has been sleeping in the square for five nights and said, “The atmosphere is beautiful.”

Another Salafist demonstrator, Mohammad Fathi, had moved from camping outside the electoral commission to be with the main demonstration in Tahrir Square on Friday and has been sleeping there since. He said, “The people’s demands have to come from a central place.” He plans to stay until his demands are met, which include the reinstatement of Abu Ismail.

Ashraf al-Tayb has been living in Tahrir Square since November. He has refused to join any party because he supports unity and dislikes the ruptures caused by segregation.

He moved into the square after witnessing the notorious violence in early November on Mohammad Mahmoud Street, just off Tahrir Square, because he wanted to understand the revolution and politics.

“I see Tahrir Square as my home,” he said. “It’s a symbol of the nation and of standing up to injustice, and it’s the headquarters of the sit-ins.”
But after a dispute with the recently arrived Salafist encampment, Tayb has decided to move out of the square back to his home in Suez. For him, the “spirit of Tahrir” has worn off.

And there are others who are finding difficulties with the situation in Tahrir Square.

At a convenience store on one corner of the square, the assistants said they had to close for Friday’s demonstration out of fear for the shop, and business had not been good.

Ahmed from Nadi Wadi al-Nil, a café on the other side of the square, agreed that business had been slow, despite the large numbers of people gathering each week in the square.

But at a large stall selling flags, memorabilia and trinkets, vendors Atif Yacoub and Tariq Ahmad said that they need the demonstrations to stay afloat. “We can go for weeks without making money until a big demonstration happens.” But they hope to keep their stall there once “everything settles,” and are optimistic about the unity of the Egyptian people.

Their optimism is shared by a group of Egyptian activists who embraced the ‘Tahrir Effect’ in the aftermath of the revolution to build a network of likeminded individuals and groups working on civil society initiatives in Egypt, the Middle East and beyond. Via their website Tahrir Squared, they provide a news source and support network for activists calling for change in their countries.

They say the ‘spirit of Tahrir’ is “the concern for the people of Egypt, without differentiation between the Muslims or the Christians, rich or poor, old or young, disabled or not, man or woman” that was displayed in the square during the uprising and hope to capture this “truly unique moment in our time” and spread it further.

And of course the ‘Tahrir effect’ has reached far beyond the streets of Cairo and the cities of Egypt. It has played a significant role in inspiring protest movements in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria.

Syrian Amin Kazkaz, a spokesperson for the Syrian solidarity tent in Tahrir Square, said, “Syrians took the revolution from Egypt.” Referring to the influence of the Egyptian revolution on Syria, when pictures of a full and passionate Tahrir Square were beamed into the country, he added, “Egyptians toppled their president in 18 days, we thought maybe we’d need one month or two to bring down Assad.”

Worldwide, the people power exhibited in Tahrir Square was embraced by protesters in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol and the Occupy Wall Street movement that began New York and swept across the globe. In fact, the space outside St Paul’s cathedral in London where the British Occupy movement camped out for several weeks was dubbed Tahrir Square in its honor.

Although the initial euphoria in Egypt wore off months ago, and demands repeated by protesters on a weekly basis are yet to be met, last Friday showed that the square still holds the promise of change for the better among Cairo’s active demonstrators. And the busy central roundabout named ‘liberation’ will likely continue to welcome many voices in the coming weeks.

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