Sunday, 6 February 2011

Protesters have a quiet night in Tahrir

I was down in Tahrir Square again this morning and the mood is even more buoyant than usual, and the turnout is strong too. The signals from the dialogue between Suleiman and others, including the Brotherhood, are very confusing, and it could take some time for the fog to clear. But there's a description I wrote for Reuters this morning (presumably their copyright):

    Morning coffee is brewing on the wood fire outside Mohamed
Awad's plastic sheeting shelter in Tahrir Square, the hub of the
Egyptian protest movement demanding the resignation of
President Hosni Mubarak.

    At a makeshift stall nearby he can buy a wide selection of
newspapers to read over breakfast. After rare light rain
overnight the sun is up, and sleepy heads are coming out of the
blankets where they have spent another quiet night.

    The thugs who attacked the protesters for three days with
rocks and petrol bombs last week have backed off and the
Egyptian army is doing its usual thing - not very much.

    A hard core of protesters, backed by a broad popular
movement which has brought millions out on the streets, say they
are determined to stay in the square in central Cairo until
Mubarak, after 30 years in office, gives up and leaves office.

    They are settling down for the long haul, in some cases
abandoning their former lives for a cause they believe in.

    People have brought in more dumpsters for rubbish, one of
them labelled "Headquarters of the National Democratic Party" --
the Mubarak party which has been a target of their anger.

    Except for two quick trips home to Shubra in north Cairo,
Awad has been in Tahrir Square most of the time since Jan. 28,
the Day of Anger when the protest movement made the transition
from a small middle-class group into a broad-based wave.

    "I'll be here till he goes," said Awad, who is 25,
unemployed and has a bandage on his forehead, a badge of honour
in Tahrir Square. The protesters want to rename it Martyrs
Square in memory of the 300 Egyptians who have died.

    Osama Karrar, 42, organises trade fairs abroad and should
have been in Ukraine on business this week. "I've given up
everything to be here. I've travelled a lot and I have seen
freedom and I want to see it here," he said.

    "Of course I'm losing money, but that's nothing compared
with the price of freedom," he added.

    Yahya Haidar, a certified accountant in his 60s and a member
of the Muslim Brotherhood, is also deeply committed, opposed
even to dialogue with Mubarak's vice president, Omar Suleiman,
who has started talks with members of the opposition on a
solution to the crisis.

    "Dialogue is a waste of time, which is what the regime
wants. We don't want Omar Suleiman. He's a military man who just
gives orders. If he stays, we will stay," Haidar told Reuters.

    The mood was grown increasingly festive as the danger of
attack diminishes and the number of participants hold up.

    Muslim-Christian unity was one of the themes on Sunday.
Members of Egypt's Coptic Christian minority said mass in the
square and many of the placards combined the Muslim crescent and
the Christian cross. "Hand in hand" was a common chant.

    The other theme was honour to the martyrs. People held up
photographs of them and said special prayers for their souls.

    Outside the enclave held by the protest movement, normal
life is beginning to resume in the city of more than 15 million.
The banks reopened on Sunday, along with some other businesses
closed for the past 10 days.

    But not everyone is happy with the disruption. "Those kids
in Tahrir are just a bunch of troublemakers and they are ruining
business. They need to go home so we can get on with our lives,"
said a Christian money changer. He declined to give his name,
saying he was frightened the Brotherhood would come to power.


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