Welcome to the Tahrir Square

10/08/2018 Posted by admin

by Tom Popyk

You walk down the Nile promenade and take a turn past the line of soldiers in body armour. A tank, scrawled with graffiti, points the way with its barrel.

And so, you join the crowd.

Swept up, they take you past the barricades. Kids sell Egyptian flags, and fuzzy hats in the national colours of red, black and white. A man asks you for your passport and nods when he sees Canada.

Photo by Jeff Stephen.

Photo by Jeff Stephen.

And so, you pass through the protest lines, frisked by security. A woman’s shopping bag beside you is checked, her child on her hip, eyes wide. In front, a gauntlet.

On either side, clapping and singing. A man with a bullhorn shoves it in your face to repeat the Arabic chant, and laughs when you can’t get that back of the throat sound right. There are more laughs and smiles. A welcoming committee. And you are welcome.

This is supposed to be a protest.

Photo by Jeff Stephen.

Photo by Jeff Stephen.

Everyone is taking pictures. Cell phones snap. Videos cameras scan the square.

Families crowd shoulder to shoulder to get in the frame. Men with bandages roam, obliging groups with testimony of their injuries. A group of women, eyes fierce behind niqabs, stands silent with a cutout of a peace dove. A young boy on his father’s shoulder yells, and a chorus responds, and they follow him deeper into the crowd: a Pied Piper of protest.

Photo by Jeff Stephen.

Now, on your right, tents made of tarpaulin, the pavement covered with rugs, crowded. Some sleep, exhausted, this mid-afternoon despite the noise of loudspeakers and speeches. A little girl in a red dress sweeps the dirt in front of one tent, the broom twice her height. Her father waking in the tent watches.

Photo by Jeff Stephen.

Photo by Jeff Stephen.

There are more tents. More people and stories. Some have been here for a week, others just arrived. They all say the same thing.

They will not leave.

But you do, towards the largest crowds, hugging a makeshift stage. On it, mothers hold framed photos in their hands, and wail into the microphone. People figure you don’t speak Arabic so they point at the pictures and repeat a word you know: martyr.

This is a protest.

Look around. About 15,000 people.

Photo by Jeff Stephen.

Photo by Jeff Stephen.

Story continues below


A man in a business suit sits on the curb, smoking, listening to the speeches. Teenagers in skinny jeans and band T-shirts hold hands, because they can. A shopping bag, like the one the woman had at the checkpoint, is passed around. It has bread inside.

An old man limps past you as in a trace, his hands raised, his cane pointing to the sky. He lowers it, puts his chin on the handle and weeps. No one, in all this, seems to find it remarkable.

But you’ve seen enough. Time to leave.

Past the broken rocks piled on the pavement in a row near the gate. Past a makeshift medical tent, and more tanks with graffiti. Protesters lean on the treads, soldiers scan the horizon.

Two kids are hoisted on top of the armour and wave flags.

A crowd surrounds two men arguing the politics of it all, fierce sides in heated debate, that splinter into smaller groups, words skipping through crowd like a rock on lake.

You hope the talking will last.

Welcome to the Tahrir Square.

Tom is Global National’s South Asia correspondent. He is currently in Cairo, covering the unrest in Egypt. Follow him on Twitter: @TPopykGlobal.

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