Today I am confronted by a new Egypt. Perched in my sweet new little room over Bab el Louq market in downtown Cairo, I can hear this new Egypt flowing across the night air in through the two big French doors that open onto my balcony. If I open my shutters and stand there, six stories up in the Cairo sky, I imagine I can almost see the people gathered in Tahrir square.
When my flatmate woke me this morning he told me about the scores of police blocking off our road, in our building, questioning. But it came as no surprise, everyone has been talking about it for days but all say that it won’t amount to much, even still the government will pour the troops out onto the streets just in case, to show their presence and maintain docility.
The first indicator that today was different was when the neighbor, the mother of my flatmate’s childhood best friend, came rushing to tell us to close our windows so the tear gas wouldn’t get in. We were having a day of Spring cleaning in the apartment and all the windows were wide open, very uncharacteristic for a Cairo home. Soon we heard that Tahrir was full of demonstrators and when we climbed out onto the balcony we could hear their chants like a low roar.
My inner rebel was roused, dressing and brushing the dust out of my hair I set out to investigate the scene, camera, passport, and cellphone in hand. I immediately met two of my colleagues and their company emboldened me. After standing in the middle of a major street leading to the square, a street where one normally must calculate crossing traffic like a video game, and examining the approach, we decided to get closer and then entered the protest.
The police in their riot gear had the street blocked off with traffic barriers but were allowing people to pass through with no problems. Inside the atmosphere felt something like a Sunday picnic with political overtones. People not actively demonstrating were sitting in the middle of the main roads to rest and everyone had their cell phones out to reach friends and document the event, seemingly as high a priority as being there in the first place, which is reasonable since in these days a revolution gains ground more in the virtual world than in the real.
There were various groups chanting different slogans and challenges to the president. Over time they seemed to be coming slowly more cohesive and powerful as a result. The crowds surged forward and were driven back, confronting police barricades and storming towards the Parliament building. After the sunset call to prayer rang out across the square there was a lull in the shouts and jeers as hundreds of men and women lined up to pray in the street, bowing their heads to the pavement that meets not reverent human beings but a million car tires on a normal day.
As the city grew dark and the people grew weary the action took on a more determined and serious tone, they were starting to realize that something, yes something was really happening. Stars were emerging, in the heavens and on the ground. There were the young men who climbed the lamp posts to drape Egyptians flags and hold banners high and those who exhibit prowess at leading the cheers, hoisted on the shoulders of their countrymen, spinning ever cleverer slogans against the regime and corruption.
They are still there, the hope growing and filling their hearts and mine as the time passes and commitment to affecting change is born in this populace. I made my way home, having to explain myself at the entrance to my street and beg leave to enter from the head of the policemen. I have now washed the dust and dirt of Tahrir off of me, but I cannot rid myself of this hope, a spark ignited by this day, this new Egypt, these Egyptians who have found something new in themselves. I am so proud today of them, of this country, and I will fall asleep with the same thought as tens of millions of Egyptians tonight… Inshallah.