Egyptians Queue up to Say: On February 4, 2011, I Was in Tahrir Square
We were all waiting for, frankly, a huge confrontation. It never happened. The pro-Mubarak demonstrators showed up, caused a bit of a ruckus, and then dispersed—and a fair bit away from Liberation (Tahrir) Square.
The atmosphere in the Square was electric. People were singing the national anthem of Egypt, and people watching were posting messages online indicating they were crying when they heard that chant. A number of famous personalities joined the protests after Friday prayers—including, significantly, Amr Moussa (the former foreign minister of Egypt, and Secretary General of the Arab League). The Mufti of Egypt declared he would resign if a single protestor were harmed; but there was no sign today at Tahrir Square that any real violence would occur.
As the Muslim protestors carried out their congregational prayers in the square, and their Christian compatriots protected them as human shields, the imam of the main mosque in Tahrir Square declared, “In how you are, you display the manners of our liege-lord Muhammad, and our liege-lord Jesus.” The symbolism of these sorts of declarations and actions, whether they take place at a protest for or against the government, cannot be overstated.
Night began to fall on the protestors, but there were still huge queues of people waiting to come into Tahrir Square. Egyptians are not known for queuing! But they queued, and queued for hours in order to get in and be able to say, “On February 4, 2011, I was in Tahrir Square.” There were some pro-Mubarak protestors in those queues, but they came peacefully, and without violence – and they were treated as family members with whom there had been a disagreement. This uprising has caused friction within families all over Egypt, and once all of this is over, it will take time to mend those relationships.
Those who entered were being patted down several times (maybe five or six) before they were let into the Square. And the Square, even as night fell, was still a sight to see. The army showed no sign of allowing these protestors to go anywhere—there was barbed wire around the exits, as well as tanks and armed soldiers in riot gear—but they also showed no sign of quashing it. As a cautionary measure, there were between a half-dozen and a dozen ambulances standing by, in case something did happen—but nothing did.
The rumor mill continues, as it has throughout this. Many are now convinced that there are foreign agents in Cairo causing trouble. No one knows what to believe anymore—and it’s that sense of uncertainty that is still causing damage to this country. One young man I spoke to who is in his last year of engineering at university, and from a well-to-do family in a wealthy district of Cairo, told me this evening, “After all this, I’m certain—I’m going to finish university, do my military service, and leave. I have to look after my family.”
Its clear that behind closed doors, the wheels of politics are spinning, and that the solution to this upheaval is being debated and considered. When the smoke clears, this country will have a lot of rebuilding to do—perhaps more than anyone realizes.
HA Hellyer is a Fellow of the University of Warwick, director of the Visionary Consultants Group and the Europe Fellow of the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU).
This article was published by Religion Dispatches on February 4, 2011: