Voices of Egypt: Million Man March

Jul 13, 2011

By Shadi Rahimi

Song: "ElWad3 Laze Yet3'ayaar" by MC Amin of Arabian Knightz (http://www.arableaguerap.com/). Translation: Karim Adel Eissa

On the "Friday of Persistence," July 8, I arrived in Cairo. Thousands upon thousands of Egyptians poured into Tahrir Square for a "Million Man March," in numbers some said felt comparable to that of the Revolution in the spring. Thousands have been camping in Tahrir since then, saying they will not leave until the interim military-led government delivers on their demands, which include: Justice for all who suffered under the rule of ousted President Hosni Mubarak and the hundreds of people killed during the Revolution (including by holding trials for police and officials like Mubarak and former Interior Minister Habib el Adly); Jobs and fair wages; an end to military tribunals for civilians who have been arrested and/or jailed; and democratic elections.

Young men and women are manning the security entrances leading into the Square, asking people for identification before patting them down and checking inside bags. An air of paranoia is said to be stoked by the interim government, with the threat of spies and armed thugs apparently contributing to a Palestinian friend and I being initially denied entry one night, as a young woman told us, "Egyptians only" for security reasons.

Hundreds of people have put up makeshift tents to sleep under, others are sleeping on the grass or dirt. Some tents in the center of the Square have been pitched by political parties, where supporters gather. Parties including the Muslim Brotherhood have set up stages around the Square, and voices of Egyptians throughout the day blare through loudspeakers - singing, shouting slogans and speeches, voicing personal and party opinions. In the evenings, Tahrir has an almost festival atmosphere, with people milling about and vendors selling food, shirts, flags, even perfume.

Various actions are taking place across the country, including a worker strike in the Suez Canal, which generates $1.2 billion annually for Egypt and is a major transportation corridor for ships and cargo moving between Europe and Asia. The threat of an economic shutdown has reverberated across the country. There's a divide among some Egyptians that is supported by government messaging - that continued protests are harming national stability. Some argue that Egyptians should focus on rebuilding the country, while those in Tahrir and taking part in actions elsewhere in the country argue that the only path to a better future is through continued political pressure.

So far the police, or Central Security Forces, have stayed away from Tahrir since Friday, unlike June 28 when demonstrators and police clashed there, with teargas, rubber bullets and live ammunition resulting in hundreds of injuries. On July 12, a rumor spread that the military would attack Tahrir Square by early evening. The numbers of people in the Square have lessened since Friday, but people continue to return. Even foreigners can be spotted in Tahrir day and night, many with cameras, with one Egyptian man remarking to me Friday that the Square has become "the new pyramids."

For Egyptians in Cairo, Tahrir remains ground zero for the movement to transform the country. As one young man sleeping there overnight said in my video, "We are going to be here for however long it takes, days, weeks, months - as long as it takes until we feel our rights are back and until we feel our martyrs can finally rest in peace."

Shadi Rahimi is a freelancer currently in Cairo, Egypt. She co-founded Seventh Native American Generation (SNAG) and is a member of the National Iranian American Council and Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association. In 2009, she helped to organize an Indigenous Delegation to Palestine. Previously, she was the Communications Director of the W. Haywood Burns Institute and Community Justice Network for Youth.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

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