EGYPT: Partying and sweeping up in Tahrir Square
The day after Egyptians celebrated their president’s departure, Tahrir Square still looked like New Year’s Eve, a World Cup Final and the end of Ramadan all rolled into one. Music blared from rooftops, people danced on ledges, babies showed off their painted faces, boys struck poses on top of army tanks, horse-and-buggy rides were offered, old men roasted sweet potatoes and ears of corn, others hawked tea and popcorn, and young men donned clown wigs.
Amid the surging crowds, hundreds of men and women, both young and old, took to repairing the damage that 18 days of protests had inflicted on Cairo’s most famous square. Some painted median strips; others hauled rocks and replaced the ones that had been ripped up for ammo while battling the pro-Mubarak thugs. It was fun to see the Facebook crowd in hip jeans and button-down shirts sweeping diligently into dustpans, perhaps the first time they had ever touched a broom. The attention to the trash was an inspired move for the newly free Egyptians, given that its removal never seemed high on the government’s to-do list.
To blend in and show solidarity without getting dirty, I bought a supersized Egyptian flag to wave. While that brought appreciative smiles, I also fielded questions about where I came from. Eight-year-old Mohammed introduced me to his friend, also named Mohammed. He practiced his new English with me. And then there was Hamdy who had a few opinions about how the American president handled the situation. It seems President Obama is none too popular in the square. One large graffiti wall announced: “USA Don’t involve." But the Egyptians I spoke with made it clear that a government cannot be confused with its people. They hope the Americans who left to escape the chaos and demonstrations will come back soon.
In sharp contrast to the carnival feel were tents still standing in the center, many with protesters inside, napping or eating. Nearby were memorials with posters of the fallen.
The sun was slipping quickly on this first full day of free Egypt, so I made my way home on the metro. I switched at Mubarak station, a stop which is now scratched out on the wall map. Scrawled over it in red ink is “January 25,” a date no Egyptian will forget.
-- Clare Fleishman in Cairo
Photo: Girl in Tahrir Square. Credit: Clare Fleishman