Friday, March 04, 2011

The Values of Tahrir Square

To gain a deeper understanding of the Egyptian revolution, I visited Cairo during the first week of March and attended the demonstration at Tahrir Square on Friday, March 4.  The demonstration was originally called to demand the removal of the Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafiq, a former airforce commander and Minister of Civil Aviation appointed by Mubarak.  However, following Shafiq's participation in a television program where he was severely attacked by the writer Alaa Al Aswany (who wrote the marvelous book, The Yacoubian Building), he announced his resignation on March 3.   The demonstration therefore was quite joyous, although still focused on the removal of other ministers named by former President Mubarak and other demands for political reform.

Tanks were stationed on the outskirts of the square, and metal barriers were established at each entrance. The Square itself appeared to be a music festival, with families picnicking, people of all ages taking photos and videos, tomtoms beating and music blaring. Crowds formed around several stages, where speakers urged the army to clean the government and make way for civilian control.  Young people cheered, laughed and sang. Hawkers sold Egyptian flags, ribbons, bumper stickers and cards celebrating the start of the revolution on January 25 and mourning the martyrs killed.  Women and men cleaned the streets with their brooms.

Adding to the joy of the day was a visit by the new Prime Minister, Essam Sharaf. He came to the Square to tell the protesters that he would work to meet their demands. He saluted the "martyrs" of the revolution and told the crowd that he drew his legitimacy from them. Protestors escorted him from the stage on their shoulders.

Although at first I was nervous at the prospect of attending a demonstration at a site where so many protesters had been killed, I felt very comfortable.  When many Egyptians recognized I was American, they welcomed me and expressed their pride at unseating Mubarak.  Others spoke of their happiness in gaining the freedom to shape their future. I felt a common bond with the demonstrators, as human beings seeking to live their lives as they wished.

The values in evidence were respect for others, collaboration, citizenship, political activism and integrity. A clear and focused political agenda brought together people with a tremendous diversity of interests. Organizers created a climate that welcomed Egyptians alienated from the political process.

It will be a challenge to maintain these values as Egypt builds responsive democratic institutions and legal frameworks. However, I am convinced that the demonstrators and everyone in their lives have been transformed.  They are determined to do everything in their power to combat the values that facilitated their subjugation by the Mubarak regime. People throughout the world should support them in their struggle to translate their values into a democratic system that respects the interests of all Egyptians.

Rick Gold
From Post-Revolutionary Egypt

1 comment:

Bill Creasy said...

A recent opinion essay by Niall Ferguson in Newsweek (March 7, 2011 issue) pointed out that most popular revolutions have ended in mass bloodshed and tyrannies. He specifically cites the French, Russian, and Chinese Communist. He cautioned that Americans shouldn't be so quick to cheer the popular revolutions in the Arab region. I hope that these revolutions work out well, but they are far from over.