Sunday, July 24, 2011

A visit to Midan Al-Tahrir

I wait for my friend Hatem at the Hardee’s Restaurant in Midan al-Tahrir, a common meeting point for demonstrators.

The flag salesman is doing brisk business. When I inquire with him about his sales, his voice is hoarse. Perhaps, from his participation in the demonstrations?

Hatem and I dive into the crowd of mostly young men. Three platforms have been set up. We proceed to the main stage where a dynamic young man is delivering a fiery speech that draws rapt attention from the audience. I remember him as the same man from two weeks ago who captivated the audience with his rhythmic and poetic slogans.

“Allahu Akbar” shouts a man behind us, as he passes by. “God is great!”

In what has become a typical scene from the square, a young man with a long paintbrush walks around painting the Egyptian flag on people’s hands or faces. Though it is free, he usually expects a tip of at least one pound.

On stage is a munaqaba, or a completely veiled woman, an unveiled woman, who turns out to be a national TV broadcaster, and a young kid with a white T-shirt with the Superman logo emblazoned on the front. The banner behind the speaker reads,
“We cannot match the blood of our young martyrs from the justice and freedom.”
When the dynamic speaker finishes, a patriotic song is performed.

At a second and smaller stage, Dr. SalaH Al-anany, a calligrapher, is pontificating on the difference between the army and the military council. “The army is on our side, but the military council speaks politics.” The speaker is a middle-aged man with curly hair down to his neck. Bespectacled, he holds the microphone with his right hand and punctuates most sentences with his left hand.

The banner behind him reads, “From administration of the country’s affairs, returning to an original position and forming a temporary, civilian council for the administration of the country’s affairs. And we invite general personalities to debate in the Square initially to agree in the square.”

Some are on a hunger strike.

While we chat with the medics, a man carries his younger brother to the parked ambulance. The young boy has fainted. Another patient is receiving some medicine inside the van, so there’s no space for the boy. Furious, the man screams at the medics, “he’s my younger brother. I will not abandon him or let him die!” Despite the medics trying to explain to him their limitations, he’s adamant. A few people in the crowd try to restrain him to no avail. Eventually, he is led away.

A young veiled woman, 19, next to us tells us that she arrived the previous day from a nearby town. She wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
She is playful and pinches me a couple of times.

However, some men in the square robbed her and now she needs to return home. Sadly, she is lacking the 35LE for the bus ticket. Hatem reached into his pocket and gives her three pounds.

I offer her the remaining bag of peanuts in my hand. She takes the entire bag and eagerly dives in.

As we turn away, I tell Hatem that she’s a con artist. Hatem is now embarrassed that he was snookered. However, I tell him not to feel too badly. After all, for three pounds, he now has a story that he can retell for the next few months or years.

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