Freedom, Brooms and Rollers
For hours, I wandered the downtown streets with friends, watched young men and women dance on boats moored on the banks of the Nile, chatting with strangers, taking pictures of soldiers and officers who were speaking to crowds around them about how the army would work with the people. “The people of Egypt proved their love for this country,” one man in uniform and a red beret told a gathering outside the Foreign Ministry by the State TV building. A bride and groom walked through the streets, roared on by car horns and a euphoric crowd. At streetside cafes and even in local pubs, people danced and sung. I saw the activist Salma El Tarzi, who had spent the last two weeks camped out at Tahrir, in tears. Outside Al Jazeera’s Cairo bureau, a crowd had gathered, and stayed late into the night. Here, as elsewhere in the city, they were chanting: “Hold your head up high, for you are an Egyptian.”
When I set out for the square at around 10:30 AM Saturday morning, people were still out celebrating. Every single car seemed to have at least one Egyptian flag flying from its window, and people were honking horns in rhythm—the way they do after a big soccer match. The downtown was also packed—but now the victory celebrations were complemented by groups of people cleaning up.
Cairo felt like a new place. When I got to the square, many of my friends, and tens of thousands of others who had stayed out to all hours were already back, putting things in order. A friend tweeted, “I am falling in love with brooms.” Another, “Guys, whoever is still coming to #Tahrir, we need black n white paint and rollers! We’re repainting and reconstructing pavements. Pls RT.” In the square, someone was holding a sign saying “Freedom Equals Responsibility” and groups of youth were chanting “no one throw garbage on the ground.” A guy with a loud speaker was asking people not to step on the freshly painted pavements; in some places, people were forming human shields around the wet paint.
As the new future begins to come into view, everyone realizes there is a lot of work to do—and also that it’s not quite over. Last night, I bumped into Hala El Koussy, the artist, again, and she said, “This is half the celebration. We want a civilian state, not a military one. I want a man in a suit leading the country, not a man in uniform.” Other activists I spoke to had similar concerns. Already there is talk among youth groups about forming parties and organizing themselves in a more formal way. But the shock of having toppled the regime—peacefully, without any outside assistance—is profound, and the sheer jubilation seems likely to continue for days to come.