If viewed from above Tahrir Square resembles a giant wagon wheel. At its central axis lies a large white tent surrounded by dozens of signs and banners broadcasting the demands of the protestors who have filled the traffic circle to capacity. At 10:30am this morning, many of the roads stemming out from the traffic circle were filled with people as far as the eye could see. By the time the noon prayer finished around 12:30, the flow of protestors resembled that of the Nile River: a slow, inevitable seemingly endless movement of people downstream to Tahrir Square.
Getting into the square is no simple task. During the January 25 Revolution, the Interior Ministry ordered state security officers to dawn civilian clothing and attempt to violently disrupt the protestors. This past Sunday, someone set fire to a couple of the tents in a weak attempt to disrupt the sit-in. As such to ensure the safety of all those in the square, popular committees from by the April 6th Movement and other youth coalitions are set up a series of checkpoints at every possible entrance to the square including the metro stops. There men are separated from women for a series of pat-downs and all bags are searched – to the degree that I had to take my sunglasses out of their fabric case and turn the case inside out.
Inside the square, the sense of purpose is everywhere. While the protestors are frustrated and angry, their feelings are directed towards the regime – with one noted exception: the Muslim Brotherhood. For various reasons, Muslim Brotherhood jumped on the protest bandwagon yesterday afternoon at the last possible moment. Moreover they have refused to take part in the sit-in and instead plan to leave at 6:00pm. As a result many view them as a parasite taking advantage of the protests to disseminate their leaflets. Furthermore, when their members attempted to start a chant proclaiming that “the people and the army are one hand”, the rest of the protestors doused them with water.
Al-Jazeera has estimated that more than two million people have entered the square. While this is represent an continuation of the station’s addiction to numerical exaggeration – I would place the number in the upper hundreds of thousands – there is not doubt that this is easily the biggest demonstration since the fall of Mubarak. The heat, however, is playing a significant, detrimental role. There is limited shade in the square and thus as the afternoon rolled on those gathered in the square (including myself) began to trickle out of the square seeking refuge from the sun’s rays in the surrounding alleyways.
I will close with translations of a sampling of the protests’ chants and signs.
1. One hand!
2. Long live the crescent and cross!
(يحيي الهلال والصليب)
3. The people want the purification of the country!
(الشعب يريد تطهير البلاد)
4. Muslim, Christian, we are all Egyptians!
(مسلم مسيحي كلنا مصريين)
5. The people want the trials of the blood-spillers!*
(الشعب يريد محاكمة السفاح)
6. The legitimacy is in Tahrir!
(الشريعة في تحرير)
7. We don’t want you (the Field Marshall), Leave! Scram!
(مش عايزينك ارحل غور)
8. Hey Husani Mubarak your trash*, the blood of martyrs is not cheap
(حسني مبارك يا حسيس دم الشهداء مش رخيص)
*Both these words are strong insults not usually heard on the Egyptian street.
1. The blood of the martyrs is calling, I want my rights and the rights of my country (دم الشهداء ينادي عاوز حقي وحق بلادي)
2. No to the religious scholars (لا للعملاء)
3. Down with American and Israel (سقوط أمريكا واسرائيل)
4. Vengeance for the killers of martyrs. (قصاص من قتلة الشهداء)
5. The people want the purification of the media (الشعب يريد تطهير الإعلام)
6. The people want unity in the square (الشعب يريد وحده في الميدان)