Revolutionary Spirit Returns To Egypt's Tahrir Square

Jul 27, 2011

As the center of the political whirlwind that toppled President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year, Cairo's Tahrir Square became synonymous with revolution in Egypt.

Now, the protesters have returned: Nearly three weeks ago, demonstrators unhappy with the pace of change in Egypt began camping out in the square, hoping to revive the spirit that shook the country six months ago.

Tahrir, or Liberation, Square has become a political festival — with singing, dancing, face-painting and arguing. It's a sit-in, a camp-in, a tent city — a place of artistic expression and political freedom unlike anything Egypt has seen in decades.

It was created primarily by the young, and protesters like 26-year-old Ramy Muhammad Abdullah don't want to give it up.

"Every day I finish my work and I come here [to] Tahrir Square. I'm trying to do my best to achieve our goals. Because our revolution until now didn't achieve anything from our goals," he says.

That's become the mantra of Cairo's protest movement: The military council that is Egypt's caretaker government has moved too slowly; the revolution has stalled. Flags and posters and banners in the square announce that message — sometimes expressed with anger, other times with humor and sarcasm.

Take the fight over the word "thug." When the protesters march, the military calls them thugs. The protesters counter that the military employs thugs to squash the revolution. Semantics clash on banners flapping in the wind.

Tahrir Square is not a quiet place. The air is filled with the sound of speeches and chanting, which breaks out all the time.

The demands range from the general — "bring down the system" — to the specific. Sarrah Abdel Rahman, a 23-year-old blogger and prolific tweeter, cites the use of military trials to prosecute demonstrators.

"We have a constitution, and we have a law — and that law is there for a reason. And these laws are made for civilians. Military trials are completely unfair and inhumane. They don't give you a lawyer," Abdel Rahman says, adding that the trials are fast and the sentences too harsh.

"I believe that the military is corrupt," she says.

But not all Egyptians find the political festival in Tahrir Square endearing or inspiring.

Hisham Kassem is a longtime civil rights advocate, but he has lost patience with the Tahrir Square generation.

"It's become pointless," he says.

He cites the demand that the military speed up Mubarak's trial. The former president is charged with responsibility for causing the deaths of more than 800 demonstrators.

"Most of the demands are ridiculous and unacceptable," Kassem says. "To expedite Mubarak's trial is unacceptable to me. I have fought for the rule of law, and this is the country I hope that we will build together. Now, summary trials [are] something I refuse completely, and Mubarak must face justice, not revenge."

Back in the square, protesters like Abdel Rahman reject these criticisms, insisting that holding Tahrir is the only way to ensure the revolution advances.

"There is no other way that we know that can make a difference. I mean, whatever happens, the Supreme Council does what they think is good for them, not for the country, and they don't take into consideration anyone's opinion," Abdel Rahman says.

Activist Ahmed Maher, sweating profusely under a broiling sun, expresses the same sentiment.

"We are here because we fear the revolution is going backwards," he says. "As long as there are still rebels here, we will not lose the revolution."

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