Tahrir Square - 1st of December 2011

I wrote this back in December when I went to Egypt. At the time, me and blogging were on the outs, so I didn't post it. With the protests that happened in Cario with Mubarak's sentencing, it's been hard to align what it was like to stand in Tahrir Square with what I'm seeing on the news. I dug out this post to remember, really.

It was early in the morning, well before 9am. It was a little cold, with fog making anything in the distance hazy. We'd managed to convince our tour guide to take us down to Tahrir Square. The square was the focal point of the Egyptian revolution against Mubarak, and I wanted to see it. It wasn't on the itenirary for our day in Cairo, but if it was safe, I wanted to see a revolution in progress. Our tour guide wasn't happy about the idea, and it took some convincing before he agreed that we could go down if (and only if) we left when he said, with no fuss. Easy terms, really.

The old adminstration building of president Mubarak's stood over the square, black and charred, missing windows. Clearly abandoned. It's been that way since the first protests back in February. A pretty stark reminder of what happened in February. There were a few buildings around the Square, like The Ritz, that had scaffolding up and were in the process of repairing similar damage.

We were stopped just past the checkpoint, a young boy with burnt off nostrials apologetically checked our passports to make sure we were who we said we were. Tear Gas, my cousin whispered. Tear gas isn't meant to be harmful, but there were rumors that the Egyptian military were using expired gas, gas that WAS harmful, one that could cause your lungs and throat and nostrils to sear and burn. I was shocked to see the effects of such rumors before we were even in the square.

It was quiet past the check point. We were clearly the only tourists there, which, having followed throngs of them down towards the Egyptian Museusm, felt odd and slightly spooky. There were many banners, and tents. Flags and spray painted slogans on walls. People were just starting to get up, getting started with their day. Others selling food, some walking through on their way into work. Young kids roamed around in little gangs and men sat together in fold out chairs, with very serious expressions. It wasn't as full as I'd seen it on tv, with the riots, but it certainly wasn't empty either.

It was safe, but you could definitely feel the tension, the rhythym of a people waiting for an outcome. It was Day 3 of the voting period, so they had a while to wait. We hadn't been there long, but soon people started paying us attention. Asking our names, and where we were from. It was different from the usual 'best price beautiful lady' heckling, but it felt far from friendly. They all wanted to talk to us, and my cousin, with his blonde hair and blue eyes stood out like a beacon. At that point our tour guide decided that enough was enough, and we should leave. We did, quickly and quietly. There were throngs of people moving in the opposite direction. We were the only ones leaving.

It was pretty shocking to see how little the media had hyped things up, to see the people act for their country, to feel how tense everyone was. It was a fairly serious revolution, people had been hurt and some killed for what they believed in.

When we were safe and sound back at the tourist resort, miles and miles physically and culturally from Cairo, we were told that we were idiots for visiting Tahrir Square. That it was so volatile, and would have taken something as minor as someone throwing a stone in the wrong direction and we could have been seriously hurt. No one was, it was quiet, and seemed safe enough. It was enough to make me appreciate what was going on, and just how very safe and stable home is.

Still, I got to witness a tinsy slice of revolution, as it happened. It was a pretty humbling experience.