Egypt's Thirst for Freedom Has Intensified, Even After Mubarak's Exit

Right now, the issue of the oppressive regime is the focus in Egypt. Issues like U.S., Israel, and disagreements between Muslim brotherhood and secular population will be tackled in their own time.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

CAIRO - Prior to Mubarak's fall, demonstrators in Tahrir Square shouted "The army and the people - one hand." After the man who ruled for the past 30 years was toppled, those who listened closely noticed that the chant had changed slightly: "The people and the army - one hand."

Was someone behind this change? Did it evolve on its own, unintentionally? Was this a signal that the people - that hidden entity, which grew and developed into such a visible, vibrant creature in three weeks - are warning the army not to forget who is sovereign? Or perhaps those who listen carefully are attributing too much meaning to the change in words?

There is no answer, but the fact that the question is being asked just goes to show how proud the people are that their revolution was guided by some sort of internal logic, a collective logic, with a great deal of dialogue and listening. Not by orders, not by dictates from above. For example, without any directives, it became clear that attention should not be diverted from the main issue: the oppressive regime. There was no other issue, not the United States or Israel, not different economic visions or other problems, and certainly not the disagreements between the Muslim Brotherhood and the secular population. Each in its own time.

The "regular" protesters allowed themselves a break on Sunday, staying in bed a little longer and keeping away from the square. It and its access roads reverted to being used for vehicular traffic.

Children posing for photographs in front of the Egyptian Museum near Tahrir Square in Cairo, February 12, 2011.Credit: AP

But the magic is not over: Not only this writer - three hours into her visit to revolutionary Cairo - but also a resident of the capital noticed as well that drivers are honking less. Only at a specific location were drivers asked to honk, for some unclear reason. And they eagerly responded, smiling along with the festive atmosphere that was sweeping over the cars and the army tanks, which had civilians climbing on top or posing for photos near them.

Another bit of magic: Drivers patiently waited for the square to be clear of vehicles that preceded them, and only then did they proceed into the huge area. Self-appointed traffic supervisors, perhaps traffic supervisors of the revolution, kept things rolling along better than any member of the hated police force. Everyone heeded their orders, even if they contradicted the orders of another.

"We have never seen such an empty space in the square, with drivers respecting others in such a way," the Cairene native commented with surprise.

A poster declared that today was a day for making Tahrir Square beautiful. Dozens of young and not-so-young persons were busy sweeping the surrounding sidewalks and the streets, collecting garbage, painting the edges of the sidewalk in black and white and the railings in green and gold. Some of the younger ones warned passersby not to step on the fresh paint.

"The Youth of the Revolution" is what they are calling themselves and they say it all started on Facebook (could it be otherwise? ). They say they themselves contributed money to pay the sweepers and to cover the cost of paint and brushes.

Irrespective of who initiated and who is paying, the cleaning and painting work, like the unusual show of generosity of the drivers, are an "embarrassment" to the regime: They expose its responsibility for all the violence seen as endemic to the day-to-day life of this city, along with the dirt, the neglect, the endless noise, the ongoing confrontations between the drivers.

"In three weeks of revolution we did not experience any sexual harassment by men," a woman said surprised. "What civilization emerged in these weeks! What culture!"

The activists are already talking about the days of the uprising as if they took place a generation ago, and now one must hurry and put memories to paper.

"The way ahead of us is long, that is true," said a teacher of Arabic, who works as a taxi driver to supplement his monthly income of $120 per month after 22 years on the job. "But before the path was blocked, a dead end."

His right hand is bandaged. He was injured when the local popular committee in which he is a member confronted a thief. "Those small criminals that the regime sent out - that is how they would always do it. [Mubarak] impoverished us and terrorized us just so we would need him and think we could not do without him."

In the square I heard some people complaining about the fact that others were happy at the fall of Mubarak and his ministers. The teacher-driver explained: "There are those, like the peanut seller, whom you told me of, who now feel pity for the side that lost. They are emotional. There are those who act that way because it is convenient for them, materially: They do not feel our pain."

He too spoke with pride of civilization: "The world thought that we are not developed - and here we are proving who we are. During the Mubarak period people were embarrassed to say they were Egyptian. We felt occupied. When it is another country occupying you, it is easier than when the occupier is from your own nation."



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN


בנימין נתניהו השקת ספר

Netanyahu’s Israel Is About to Slam the Door on the Diaspora

עדי שטרן

Head of Israel’s Top Art Academy Leads a Quiet Revolution

Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

Skyscrapers in Ramat Gan and Tel Aviv.

Israel May Have Caught the Worst American Disease, New Research Shows

ג'אמיל דקוור

Why the Head of ACLU’s Human Rights Program Has Regrets About Emigrating From Israel


Netanyahu’s Election Win Dealt a Grievous Blow to Judaism