Voices from the Streets of Cairo

Tracey Barnett ©February 2011
Tahrir Cairo Protests

In just hours, the euphoria of a new Egypt turned bloody when Mubarak’s men moved in with weapons. Listen to the voices of Tahrir Square earlier this week when they were filled with hope instead of fear. It is women’s voices that make this revolution especially come alive for me. I give them this space today:

Excerpts from blogger Sarah Carr from earlier this week before Tahrir Square turned violent:

“Have you ever been alone in a house at night and thought you heard someone breaking in, and laid, awake and immobilized by fear watching moving shadows until day breaks and the ordinary objects of your home are no longer monsters? That is how I felt walking around the streets of downtown Cairo yesterday.

We arrived in Tahrir Square around 3p.m. to find an army checkpoint at the entrance to the square from Qasr El-Aini Bridge formed by two tanks. Someone had scrawled Fuck Mubarak on the back of one. Soldiers checked bags and patted people down for weapons.

Shortly after I arrived two jet fighters started circling overhead, flying so low that it hurt my ears. Some people cheered, others began chanting Mesh Meshyeen, mesh meshyeen [“We’re not moving”].…

The streets leading to the Interior Ministry are a scorched mess of twisted metal and broken glass….Seeing these burnt out shells has been extremely gratifying. For three years I reported on cases of torture, disappearances and brutality at the hands of this institution. My heart sank every time I was with a male friend and we had to deal with a police officer on any level because I knew the outcome of that encounter would be decided by a million factors other than justice and rule of law.

We ran into a labour lawyer in Downtown who said hello and then left us saying, “I’m going to go and breathe in freedom.” For the first time in my life I walked down an Egyptian street yesterday and didn’t see a single policemen, not a single man in plain clothes with the crackling walkie talkie and the ability to casually change your life forever in a second. I was free.”

Another entry, “In Port Saeed Street the demonstration was tear gassed. A much-reduced demonstration regrouped…but something happened: people stopped running and for the second time in four days it was like the ground shifted and nothing would be the same anymore.

The effect a crowd not retreating creates is inspirational and terrifying, its sense of power in freefall like allowing yourself to fall backwards into somebody’s arms. There were moments –as a woman- when I was truly terrified amongst this raging sea of men – but mostly it was exhilarating….”

Mona Eltahawy from The Guardian,

“It is the most exciting time of my life.

How did they do it? Why now? What took so long? These are the questions I face on news shows scrambling to understand. I struggle with the magnitude of my feelings of watching as my country revolts and I give into tears when I hear my father’s Arabic-inflected accent in the English of Egyptian men screaming at television cameras through tear gas: “I’m doing this for my children. What life is this?”

Journalist Nicholas Kristof on Facebook from Cairo,

“It’s been interesting to interview women protesters here in Egypt. I ask them if they’re worried that a more democratic Egypt would be a more fundamentalist country, more oppressive for women, and they say no. And they’re a bit reproachful that I should doubt democracy, and I walk away from these interviews feeling a bit ashamed…”

Finally, from a male correspondent, M. R., in The Economist far away from Tahrir Square; Maybe a giant swimming pool sized hole dug in a next-door garden earlier this week is the best quiet indicator this now bloody revolution may yet succeed:

“In a far corner of the garden stood rows of cardboard boxes spilling over with freshly shredded papers, and next to them a smouldering fire.

More intriguingly, a group of ordinary looking young men sat on the lawn, next to the hole. More boxes surrounded them, and from these the men extracted, one by one, what looked like cassette tapes and compact discs. After carefully smashing each of these with hammers, they tossed them into the pit. Down at its bottom another man shoveled wet cement onto the broken bits of plastic. More boxes kept appearing, and their labours continued all afternoon.

The villa, surrounded by high walls, is always silent. Cars, mostly unobtrusive Fiats and Ladas, slip in and out of its automatic security gates at odd hours, and fluorescent light peeps through shuttered windows late in the night. This happens to be an unmarked branch office of one of the Mubarak regime’s top security agencies. It seems that someone had given the order to destroy their records. Whatever secrets were on those tapes and in those papers are now gone forever.”

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