Cairo—By the time I arrived at Tahrir the morning of July 8, the iconic square was already flooded with tens of thousands of activists for what the Egyptian media dubbed “Persistence Friday.” For the first time since the 18 days of protests earlier this year that brought down Hosni Mubarak, nearly every ideological and political group stood next to each other, putting their differences aside to voice their displeasure with the transitional government’s stalled progress on political reform.
Approaching the square, the absence of the military and security forces was surprising. Contrary to Interior Minister Essawy’s claims earlier in the week that 3,000 guards would be protecting the interior ministry building, none were present outside the building that is still charred from being engulfed in flames during the height of the revolution. Mansour Street, the sight of many previous clashes between protesters and police, was practically deserted. Upon closer look, behind the metal gate protecting the facade of the building stood a dozen of Egypt’s notorious central security forces, idly sitting near their military vehicles smoking cigarettes and casually chatting with one another.
When I arrived at the square, my passport is checked and I am frisked multiple times. Soon after entering, I was approached by an older man who said “welcome to Egypt’s second revolution to overthrow this bloody regime, thank you for showing your support for the Egyptian people. I hope you enjoy yourself.” I shook his hand and moved closer towards the main stage.
Dozens of makeshift tents dominated the main square. Encompassing them all was a giant canopy to give the demonstrators a bit of relief from the sweltering heat. The canopy had been provided by Mamdouh Hamza, a wealthy civil engineer known for his charitable donations throughout Egypt and a fervent supporter of the revolutionary cause. Lining the sidewalks surrounding the tents were enlarged graphic pictures of those killed during the 18-day uprising, some being held by family members. Stages at nearly every intersection were erected where dozens of members of various groups took turns chanting the demands of the revolution through loudspeakers.
Nearly every sect of Egyptian society was represented in Tahrir. Men wearing traditional galabeyas stood chanting next to young revolutionaries in blue jeans and t-shirts. Women in full veil mingled with those dressed in Western fashion. Children weaved in and out of the crowd playing soccer with empty soda cans, as the crowds chanted, “Tantawi, we are still in Tahrir,” referring to Mohamed Tantawi, commander in chief of the Egyptian armed forces and currently de facto ruler of Egypt. I notice a man standing next to me pointing at the placard he has resting on his shoulder: “Freedom, Justice, and Humanity are above the constitution,” the sign reads. “In the U.S.,” he says, “you have basic rights as a human being. We die on the streets for these rights but have yet to see them”.
Later in the day I move to the outskirts of the square to chat with those providing security at the entrance of Tahrir. I meet a man named Mohamed, whom I ask if he believes tonight’s events have been a success. Before he can answer, a scuffle has erupted at the entrance. A man has rushed through the volunteer security gate and before getting twenty yards he is swarmed by Egyptian youths who immediately throw him out.
A young woman named Lobna tells me, “We have many people who may be here for the wrong reasons. You can not blame us for being paranoid.” I press her on her opinions of the day’s events. “When people take to the streets, it makes changes.” Asked how today has been different than protests in the last five months, she says: “We used to have weekly protests every Friday, and every Thursday the government would bring us these small concessions but nothing has changed in five months. This is different because we will bring Friday protests to them everyday until our demands have been met.”
By midnight the crowd has dwindled to less than one thousand. Chants from the loudspeakers can still be heard from blocks away and those still present are staying for the long haul. There is still no sign of the military or police and it seems, for now, protesters have voiced their demands en masse without incident. Hopefully the government has taken notice.
Wes Bruer is a writer in Atlanta.