End of the Road Trip The Revolution Returns to Egypt
Part 6: KILOMETER 5,290, Cairo, Tahrir Square
It is the night in which the third wave of the Tahrir rebellion begins. The protesters have occupied the side street in front of the parliament building. There are a few dozen tents, readings, banners and street children bumming cigarettes. There is the smell of urine and a street fighter wearing sunglasses, Mohammed al-Agiery, who sounds like a US military spokesman when he describes the police operation: "We lost 1,010 eyes. He had 10 kills. But now we are better prepared."
The street is crowded with people, and one of the young women in the crowd is probably the woman who, on the very next day, will be dragged, half-naked, along the street by uniformed men, who will kick her like a bag of garbage. But today she is still chanting with the others: against the betrayal of the revolution, and against these military leaders who have taken advantage of the rage and the courage of young people to keep themselves in power.
They have blocked the entrances to the cabinet building and placed a coffin painted in the national colors on the street for each martyr of the last wave of the revolution. And although it was meant as a gesture of remembrance, it now seems as if the coffins were being kept at the ready for what is about to happen. Sheets of concrete were thrown from the rooftops. Some say it was the military, while others insist it was employees of the administration. Now there are chunks of concrete strewn across the street. An old woman is collecting them and handing them to a boy. A column of smoke rises between the office buildings.
The first of the wounded, apparently hit by a rubber bullet, is gasping for air, still holding the Egyptian flag in his hand. Other protesters show up with burning torches, determined to set fire to the buildings, any buildings, even the headquarters of the Egyptian Geographic Society. In the midst of the running, shouting and waiting crowd, an old man is holding up a banner depicting a photo of his dead son.
The "revolution," the spirit of Tahrir, is back, as if it had merely been waiting in a side street. Many Egyptians find it disruptive, and many just want to see calm return to their streets. But they also don't want to see their daughters being dragged, half-naked, across the pavement.
The Evangelical Church of Cairo is behind a sinister-looking government building built in the Soviet style. The church courtyard has been turned into a field hospital. The injured refuse to be taken to a government hospital. The courtyard is a scene of confusion in the darkness, where pitiful figures hang from stretchers, their skin glistening with their own blood. A young man, his face turned to the side, is gazing into the distance.
A young woman in a Niqab is running around with dressing material. There are conservative men with dark marks on their foreheads, the result of frequent prayer, next to young men in street-fighter outfits, a Coptic nurse, people weeping, and people holding onto each other. There is a cross hanging high above the scene, but it seems completely irrelevant.
The field hospital was ready for use within hours. The telephone lines were working, and people were filming, photographing and publishing their images. They have learned a lot within the last year. It was an intensive course in civil organization and civil disobedience, in political science and political theology, a crash course in learning how to assert oneself. The Koran may have displaced Facebook, but that will no longer be the case when the pious calls for change are not actually followed by real change.
It is the night of the third wave of the revolution on Tahrir Square. Nothing is over, and everything continues. In its building on the other side of the square, the Arab League is reaching its latest decisions about Syria, another country to which the movement that began in the Maghreb has now spread. Does the movement represent the birth of a civil society, an Islamist renaissance or just another chapter in a history of tribal conflicts?
It's too early to tell where the movement is headed, not even after traveling endless kilometers on the highway of revolutions, from the Atlantic to the Nile.
There are many signs on the side of a road, signs that provide clear information about where travelers are headed. But whether they are right is something one only learns at the end of the journey.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
- Part 1: The Revolution Returns to Egypt
- Part 2: KILOMETER 4,510, Umm Sa'ad, border crossing to Egypt
- Part 3: KILOMETER 5,031, Alexandria, Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral
- Part 4: KILOMETER 5,040, Bibliotheca Alexandrina
- Part 5: KILOMETER 5,280, Cairo, Dokki district, Café Costa
- Part 6: KILOMETER 5,290, Cairo, Tahrir Square