Anger at injustice drives Egypt’s Tahrir activists
Thousands bracing for battle with Mubarak supporters.
February 4, 2011 11:04 by Reuters
Abdelrahman Hassan told his 9-year-old sister not to cry when he left his home in Alexandria to join the Cairo protests entering what may be their decisive phase.
“I hugged her a lot this morning. I told her I’m going to protect our future because they stole it before and they will do it again,” the 28-year-old therapist said in the capital’s Tahrir Square. “People need to come to protect this revolution because the regime wants to kill the revolution.”
Thousands of diehard activists, who have festooned central Cairo with banners proclaiming a democratic revolution, are bracing themselves for a battle with supporters of President Hosni Mubarak whose rule has been rocked by the protests that erupted across Egypt on Jan. 25.
Concessions offered by Mubarak in a speech earlier this week, including a promise of constitutional reforms, caused a drop in support for the demonstrators, while popular and government pressure grew on them to give up their occupation of Cairo’s central urban space.
An attack on Wednesday by Mubarak supporters wielding knives and whips, some of them on camels and horses, reinvigorated the protest but raised fears of a bloody showdown at Tahrir that could make or break their dream of a new Egypt.
Many seemed to have come to Tahrir seeking retribution for past wrongs or despair at the poverty, corruption and political repression that has afflicted Egypt for decades.
They have turned the largest public space in Cairo into an arena for politicians, amateur and professional, to vent their opinions on the soap box in a way unimaginable under emergency laws in force for three decades.
“State security control everything,” said Ahmed Mahmoud Zaki, a 30-year-old doctor.
“If you apply for any job as a professional, they have to give their approval. I was once detained for 12 hours after I had an argument with an officer. They treated me like I had murdered someone.”
He went on: “I used to work in a police hospital, but I left after one year because I couldn’t handle it any more. I once saw a conscript soldier jump out of a window there because of the abuse he was receiving from officers.”
“YES WE CAN”
One young man walks in silence holding up a placard reading: “Haitham my brother was going to get married last week. He died a martyr”. A forlorn-looking young boy sits in rags on the ground with a piece of paper saying “yes we can,” echoing the election slogan of U.S. President Barack Obama.
Families of Egyptians who died in a 2006 Red Sea ferry disaster, which galvanised the deep sense of national decline among Egyptians, had taken up a pavement spot. “The ferry martyrs inform you that the sharks say ‘hi’,” their banner said sarcastically.
A sheikh from Al Azhar, Egypt’s prestigious Islamic university, stopped in front of the Mugamma, a Kafka-esque building which for many sums up bureaucratic chaos and injustice, to attack the treatment of ordinary people at the hands of state security.
“They abuse people with sticks like this,” he said, holding up a walking stick. “They electrocute you. They are inhuman.”
In the distance was the burned out hulk of the ruling National Democratic Party headquarters, one of dozens of official buildings destroyed in clashes with police last week.
Hassan said that, although many had died in the past week, it was for a noble cause.
“Some people were killed here but it’s nothing compared to the police stations where people are killed all the time,” he said.
“Where I live in Alexandria I know three people who were killed last year. People attacked the station in revenge. Now there’s not even a single chair left there.”
(Editing by Andrew Dobbie)