Friday, February 25, 2011

A Hearty Party in the Square

The timing of my arrival in Cairo was fortuitous. Fridays, the Muslim holy day, have been designated as celebration/demonstration days to acknowledge the accomplishments and push for faster or further change. The drive in from the airport on Friday afternoon seemed unremarkable and I wondered where the evidence was of a country emerging from revolution. Passing Mubarak's former palace, one saw vestiges of the events, with a couple of tanks guarding the entry, but otherwise all seemed quite normal. Soon enough, though, the evidence mounted as the taxi approached Cairo city center. As if a portrait was being slowly phased in, Egyptian flags started appearing - held aloft by youths on motorcycles, thrust out car windows by adults and children of all ages, and hoisted by growing groups headed somewhere.

Then, the closer we got to Tahrir Square - ground zero for the protests - the road became congested with young people, the air covered with flags of all sizes, and an atmosphere - an emotion - suffused the area. They were headed to the party in the Square!

My online search for a convenient hotel proved to have been successful as the cab delivered me to the Novotel El Borg, situated just across the Nile from Tahrir. After checking in I made my way toward the Square. Those 300 yards or so ended up taking half an hour, as the bridge was packed with people, streaming in both directions. The din was dense - from honking cars, vuvuzelas reminiscent of the Cape Town soccer matches, and groups of all sizes singing and dancing.

Once in the Square, it was surreal. How many people? Some said that 3 million were there earlier in the day, but "just a million now." How does one count such a mass? I surely had never been amongst so many people, nearly shoulder to shoulder. New Year's Day-like fireworks were going off and bright floodlights lit the entire square.

I ended up talking at length with a group of late teens - who were disappointed that I didn't have a Facebook page that they could post our pictures on! How did they feel? "We are now of one hand, the whole people," said Esam, the taller one on the right. A while into the interview, another of them left and brought over a man from Alexandria to help with our language communication but also to demonstrate the unity that was so viscerally present. Ahmad (striped sweater) explained that he'd been there all day, that he and the youths had met during the festivities and that they felt a bond across the generations - "They are like my sons. We are all Egyptians and now are free to live honorably."

Progress is fast and encouraging on finding funding to do a documentary about this unique revolution, and to begin extensive research initiatives. More about those designs in a later entry. Check out our website which will soon have postings of audio and video interviews, etc.


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