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“We’re not going anywhere”: Voices from Tahrir Square on the day of the martyrs
“We will stay here in Tahrir Square until we succeed, even if it takes months. We will stay here on our own if we have to”
One of a group of young Tahrir occupiers, 06/02/2011
“I hope people know that just because we’re back to work it doesn’t mean we gave up! Our Tahririans are still out there & we got their back.”
Anonymous Tweeter, 06/02/2011
The message from the Egyptian government this morning is that life must return to normal. Yesterday an army commander, Hasan al Roweny told the Tahrir occupiers over a megaphone that (apparently) they had the right to ‘freedom of expression’ but that “we want people to go back to work and to get paid, and life to get back to normal”, “The people can stay in Tahrir, but not on the road”. The following morning the army had withdrawn many of its tanks from the streets around Tahrir Square, workers queued outside the boarded up banks, cafes and restaurants opened for the first time in days, and traffic flowed relatively freely – but the Tahrir occupiers were going nowhere.
‘Day of the Martyrs’
Today, Sunday, was described by the protestors as the ‘Day of the Martyrs’ and banners bearing the names of the over 300 people killed during the uprising were flying in the wind. An interfaith ceremony was held during the afternoon for the martyrs of the rebellion.
Rather than making people go away, the manipulative government tactics used to empty the area seemed to have had the opposite effect. People showed up in their tens of thousands to honour their dead and show Mubarak that they were not willing to give up their fight for freedom.
As we mentioned yesterday, the suspicious attitudes towards internationals have been easing, and today the people seemed to have begun to see through the lies about infiltrators and were out in force to make links with the few foreigners still here. As soon as we entered the square we were approached by three teenage boys from Cairo who wanted an interview for their Facebook page: “We don’t believe that what the state TV is saying is true. They always tell us lies”, they said. “We believe that many foreigners are here to support us and we want to show that we have support and we also want people to help us send out the truth about what is happening here”. Throughout the day we heard similar words from many people, with mainstream media, and especially Egyptian State TV, coming under severe criticism. Many of the occupiers carried placards saying “don’t trust the state tv”, or as one of the most passionate chants of the day went: “Mubarak, Mubarak, liar, liar”.
The rumours about internationals are just one of the many deliberate disinformation campaigns by the state to limit the effectiveness of the rebellion. A couple of days ago rumours were circulating that Mubarak had stepped down and that the demonstrations had been successful, then there was the false story that Mubarak had stepped down from the National Democratic Party; all of this is designed to give the impression that change is underway and there is no need for the uprising to continue.
One other issue which came up in several conversations throughout the day was the issue of the military and the role of the army. Especially during the early days of what Egyptians have started calling a revolution (“the government calls it an uprising, we say it is a revolution”, one man stated) much was made of the supposed support by the army for the protests. This assumption seemed to have been made as the army had stated that they would not shoot at protestors and because there was some anti Mubarak graffiti spray-painted onto tanks by demonstrators without any bloody consequences. However, at least some people seem to have started to doubt the generosity of this claim. “No, the army are not on our side or even neutral” one man said with conviction. “If they were they would not have let people into the square to attack us last Wednesday”. Another man told us that he hoped the rebellion would bring an “end to military rule”.
Orchestrated State Brutality
There was much discussion of the events of last Wednesday when a bloody attack was mounted against the demonstration in Tahrir Square. When asked who the attackers were one man said “A few of them were people who had heard the President’s speech the previous evening and who thought the protests should stop as he had promised not to stand in the next election, others were from the police and security forces and still others were paid bandits – the same people who come out to intimidate people at election time”. “They attacked us with horse and camels, then with molotovs and knives and finally with guns. They took the roofs of buildings. It was a well planned coordinated attack.” When we asked if the attack had been a state plot those around us nodded.
Autonomy within the Revolution
The Tahrir occupation continues to be a triumph of self organisation. Three entrances to the square were defended by community barricades today, and the medical clinics were continuing to operate. These clinics are not run by any political party and, according to one demonstrator “no-one asks any questions at the clinics, everyone gets treated there. We are doing ourselves what the Government should be doing”. We also saw teams being organised to collect rubbish These volunteer teams, whether for defence, first-aid or rubbish collection, are made up of men and women, Muslims and Christians.
As the afternoon drew to a close more people began flooding into the square. Many people who had been to work during the day were, instead of giving up and going home as the government intended, joining the demonstration after work. Numbers in the square grew exponentially as the evening drew in.
New memorials for the rebellion’s martyrs were set up and thousands of people, again Christians and Muslims, stood together and prayed. Demonstrators could be seen arriving with tents and sleeping bags and bedding down for another night defying the curfew.
The Revolution Continues
The state certainly hasn’t achieved its goal of business as usual. Tahrir Square remains an unchallenged autonomous free space within a dictatorship that, until a fortnight ago, would tolerate almost no freedom of expression. Mubarak may now opt for another bout of repression, or he may choose to wait it out, hoping the demonstrators numbers will dwindle as people are lured back to their everyday lives. However the rebels are not going away… For so many people the Egyptian rebellion represents hope, and a chance for liberation. That hope cannot be extinguished by the promise of normality without freedom.