Friday, 18 February 2011

Letter from Cairo 18th February 2011

Over a million people in Tahrir Square with their heads bent in prayer

Today, we walked towards Liberation Square with the hope of joining in with what looked to be another massive crowd who were congregating in the thousands; this time they are not there to protest but to celebrate victory.  However, they are also sending out a message which is that they want to ensure that the revolution goes in the right direction.  However, sadly, we could not get further than Midan Talaat Harb as every street was packed with people and so blocked that there was no way we could have made our way through without being crushed.  I have, however, and still am talking on my mobile to many friends there.

There must be well over a million people in the square alone, not to speak of the surrounding streets, and this is obviously by far the biggest manifestation so far.  Today was the first Friday that we witnessed the crowds gathering before the midday prayers and Liberation Square was already filling at 8 a.m.  Wherever you look, people are jumping, dancing and celebrating but, at the same time, there is a will on the ground to keep the pressure up on the military council.

The most interesting feature today, was the appearance of Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian Islamic theologian who was imprisoned under King Farouq in 1949, then three times during the reign of former President Gamal Abdul Nasser, until he left Egypt for Qatar in 1961 and has now returned home.  He is something of a contraversial figure and has always been considered a Muslim extremist but his sermon in the square today was ground-breaking.  He sounded like a moderate and spoke of secularism to a great extent.  He even mentioned that his granddaughter had been demonstrating in the square every day.

He asked for the Egyptian army to open the Rafah boarder crossing which is the only passage between Gaza and Egypt.  Another of his astounding declarations was a request that the people should not let anyone hijack this revolution and he seemed to insinuate that this included the Muslim Brotherhood as well as the army.

But of the many issues that he spoke about, the most amazing moment was when he asked us not to forget that the Muslims and the Christians were together during this revolution and that this has broken the back of the sectarian clashes that have taken place over so many years.  He also reminded us of the day in Liberation Square when the Christians formed a circle around the Muslim protestors to protect them from the so-called pro-Muburak demonstrators, while they prayed. He then continued to express his wish for the whole square and surrounding streets to join him in prayer, Christians and Muslims alike, adding that they could worship while standing as these were special circumstances.  This was somewhat amusing in the sense that, even had the crowd wished to kneel, it would have been utterly impossible as the people was packed like sardines and there seemed to be little room to breathe.

Throughout Al-Qaradwi’s sermon my husband continually repeated ‘I don’t believe my eyes and my ears!’  Never, ever in all my years in Egypt have I felt such solidarity between the two religions and this is in itself revolutionary and begs the question that has been asked so often recently as to whether the regime intentionally incited religious unease.

It was indeed a breathlessly beautiful moment in time and at the end of his sermon the crowd erupted with a new chant ‘El Shaab yurid tathir El Bilad’ – ‘The people want the purification of the country.’  This had the same impressive rhythm as the previous chant and was quickly picked up by the entire crowd and one wonders how they managed to recite it in such perfect unison.  There has been a succession of chants all day, including the national anthem and ‘Egyptians, hold your heads up high’ and even ‘Walk like an Egyptian’!  However, we can still hear, from time to time, the old chant ‘El Shaab yurid Escaat El Nezam’ – ‘The people want the fall of the regime’ and the reason for this is that the people feel that the regime has not been entirely eradicated.  They are also asking for the removal of Ahmed Shafik, the new Prime Minister, who was also a member of the old establishment. 

Although four members of the old regime are in prison awaiting trial for misuse of the country’s funds, the demonstrators feel that corruption is endemic in many levels of society and that many more people should be brought to justice.

Many fears have been expressed both locally and abroad that the Muslim Brotherhood would take this opportunity to put themselves in power but it has become fairly apparent that this is not what the youth of Egypt desire.  They are crying out for democracy and the right to chose who rules their country.  Even the more extreme members of the Brotherhood appear to be climbing down several rungs of their ladder and there is a wonderful story which somehow substantiates this.

A friend of ours, who I shall call ‘Ahmed’ when trying to make his way to the square on Friday 28th January, when the demonstrators were attacked, became involved in conversation with a group of youths, one of whom was a bearded member of the Muslim Brotherhood, who I shall call 'Mohamed'.  In the middle of the discourse, Mohamed said to Ahmed ‘I am sorry’.  Ahmed looked extremely bewildered and said ‘Sorry for what?’ Mohamed replied, and here of course I will need to paraphrase, ‘I am sorry because I allowed myself to feel superior because I thought that I was taking the right path, unlike people like yourself, and I thought that I and people like me would be the chosen ones to lead the revolution.  God has proved to us that we were wrong and that our sense of superiority was a sin.  I was judging others when only God can judge.

The revolution appears to have reconfigured the religious scene here and clarified the public’s position towards religious institutions and discourses.  The Egyptians suddenly perceive some of the religious dialogue as being part of the corrupt and repressive regime and seem to be challenging these discourses.
This is truly a people’s revolution and I personally have great hopes for the future of Egypt.  But, I repeat, this is only the beginning of the beginning.

Nevertheless, the scene in Liberation Square is very different to the scenes that we are witnessing in other countries such as Yemen, Lybia and Bahrain where there is a great deal of violence.  Barhrain in particular seems to be the centre of great carnage where live bullets are being used and we can hear appeals for help to the rest of the world.  The contrast could not be greater and we should be proud of ourselves and consider ourselves extremely lucky that, in spite of the reactions of the police force on 28th January when they used tear gas and rubber bullets against the demonstrators, and the violence incited by the regime against the protestors on the 2nd and the 3rd of February, we have managed to carry out a peaceful revolution. 

There is a small group of pro-Mubarak demonstrators in one of the back streets Cairo but it has to be said that they are not against the revolution, they simply want to give him a happier send-off.

Night has fallen and the festivities continue; however, there were a few alarming bangs in the square but these were simply fireworks being fired into the air, again in great contrast to the bangs caused by gunfire elsewhere in the Arab world.  It has to be said, however, that lighting fireworks in the middle of such a vast crowd could be potentially dangerous.

Yesterday, I received confirmation of my Egyptian citizenship, the timing is perfect, and I can now say that I am truly proud to be an Egyptian - I shall walk with my head high and walk like an Egyptian.


  1. This is so amazing. I have goosebumps reading this. Thank you for sharing. I wish I had been there to witness today.

  2. I can only say thanks, Rosemary!!
    Great reading!! I have not been there but reading your blog I've felt transported to Cairo and a little part of this amazing social state of mind.