1 February 2011, Evening
I write this as we wait for Mubarak to speak. Anything less than a resignation and a departure from the country won’t be accepted by Egyptians, in my opinion.
Today we organised ourselves to go to Tahrir Square for the million person march. We made signs on bright yellow card “We love Egypt” and “Egyptians together” in English and Arabic. My daughter, suffering from a bad cold, elected to stay home with the grandparents — they had already had their protests in the 50s and 60s.
Leaving the pyramids area at about noon, we drove into town on almost traffic free roads. In the neighbourhood of Mohandiseen we saw many neighbourhood watch setups, guarding streets and avenues. Potted plants, oil barrels, traffic cones, rocks, anything available has been used as a barricade at the checkpoints. We were stopped, others had their car searched. Some guards brandished knives.
Eventually we parked on Gezirah island near the Opera and the Ahly football club. We walked across Kasr el Nil bridge, joining throngs of others, striding purposefully towards Tahrir Square.
The security at the square was controlled by volunteers — women and children to one side, men to another. Bags checked. Tanks with friendly guards provided the military presence. There is enormous respect for the military and much hope rests in them for providing security in whatever transition will come. We were asked to show IDs to ensure we were not the police. The disappearance of the police and other security forces last Friday has lost them all respect and they, and the government, are viewed with even more suspicion and derision than a week ago.
The protests of Friday, 28 January were not connected to the broad Egyptian population. They were led by the disaffected youth. Those who can find a job, who can’t afford a flat and who cannot be married.
But this has changed since Friday. The disappearance of the police and the resulting responsibility foisted on the people together with their successful defense of their streets has empowered both the rich and the poor. The governmental cynicism has been exposed, and Egyptians have a new sense of ownership of their political destiny.
We arrived at Tahrir Square as noon prayers were finishing. The mood was friendly. You could see people from all walks of life– elegant matrons, sheikhs, families, veiled women, youth, everyone was out. The protest is gaining momentum across the entire country.
We lifted our signs and immediately attracted attention. I am obviously not Egyptian and my support demonstrated by holding a sign was seen very positively. Lots of thumbs up, many questions about my nationality. My response, “Today we are all Egyptian. ” I posed for numerous pictures and had my photo taken with all sorts of protesters. I was interviewed by Brazilian and Turkish TV. Why are you staying when others are leaving? All day, not a frown to be seen anywhere. Chants would catch on and then ebb away. Antiphonal messaging across the square captured the spirit of cooperation.
My friends had never seen such a gathering of Egyptians from such disparate backgrounds. You could not help but be moved by the emotion shown.
Our signs received nods and smiles. In a country known for biting political wit there were many other more pointed signs.
Mubarak, shift delete
The plane is waiting
Step down my arms are tired of holding this sign.
Mubarak I hate you
You are fired
Our blood is not so cheap
You are out of credit
People demand the removal of the regime
There was an expectation, an anticipation, that the only way this can end is with Mubarak’s departure. Effigies hung from the traffic lights. Paper hot air balloons lifted up, as did our hopes. It was completely peaceful and respectful. Everyone was united in one thing. Mubarak has become a focal point and no one supports him.
We left after curfew had begun, as more and more came into the square.
For kids it was a great political lesson.
The kids ask, “Is Ayman Noor good?” “Is el Baradei good?” The putative leaders have no experience, the population has no training as political citizens. Their questions hang unanswered. Their parents don’t know how to respond.
Now, Mubarak’s lacklustre speech is over. Too little, too late. Big questions await.
The hope of the afternoon is deflated. What will the protesters do? How will the army, funded by $1.3 billion of US tax payers money, respond?
Long live Egypt. Tahia Masr.