Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Revolution and Humanity II

As promised, I am doing my best to provide snapshots of the last few days. My first and second visits to Tahrir square since the protests began left a profound impression on me.

Monday, January 31: It's true what they say, Tahrir did have the vibe of a music festival, an acoustic guitar would not seem out of place. For all the unrest and world-wide media coverage swirling around the square, it was surprising to find that the epicenter was relaxed and peaceful. My friends had established a meeting spot near a statue in front of the city's notorious bureaucratic headquarters. More than one person mused as to why that building had not been burned or even fired upon by the army, the general fear though was that if attacked, the building would demand, as it always does, days of mind-numbing paperwork. We strolled through the protesters, reading signs, taking pictures and exchanging a few words. As with most Egyptian scenes there was a sense of impromptu organization - families arranged picnics and men organized themselves for the evening call to prayer.
Surrounding the square there were many restaurants boasting maybe equally shocking scenes in the country's capital: single file lines. We stared in awe as men waited patiently one behind the other and even instructed newcomers that yes this was indeed a line and that they would have to step in back. We strolled a little while longer and paused again to listen to music flow through the streets like cherry syrup on summer's first snow cone. We left the square that evening feeling confident, inspired, and generally relaxed.

Tuesday, February 1: This was the day of the million member march, so labeled by the April 6 Movement. The mood downtown was decidedly more tense, but this tension seemed to only settle just around the square, with the inside's peace and beauty still preserved. Entering Tahrir was by far the hardest part of my day. As we drew closer we were pushed into a large crowd funneled through civilian checkpoints. They were checking ID's - more to see if you had one - because it was impossible to apply any specific scrutiny as the masses moved past. I held a photo copy of my passport above my head and did my best to inch through while drawing as little attention as possible. This plan largely failed because they would insist at points that the men and women separate. Women were given more space and could meet their men at the end of the road. With my group of friends being all guys however, I often chose to stay amongst the crowded hoard. Luckily, two tall Egyptian men adopted us. They were instantly protective for two reasons. First, they appreciated us coming to witness these protests and wanted to make sure we understood the situation so that we could spread the word back home. Second, they were, understandably, trying to avoid the situation of an injured American. If one of us were hurt, it would create an international incident unlikely to bode well for Egyptians.
Once in the square, it was again peaceful and jovial. We camped out at our spot, where many many Egyptians came to thank us for simply being there. I was humbled by their gratitude and could only ever manage a meager "your welcome." As Americans, our presence was largely embraced that day. In the evening, we sent out a search party to bring back food. We laughed and talked as we shared pizza and fateer on the hallowed bricks of the country's revolutionary headquarters. As per the custom, when we had our fill we offered any leftovers to people nearby. Then they too laughed and talked and enjoyed their pizza. On my way out that evening, I even saw a make shift tea shop. Men huddled around collecting cups of tea for their families and friends. I left for a second day in a row with a feeling of warmth and confidence in the Egyptian people.

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