Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Turning Tahrir Off . . . and On?

The most notable change upon arrival on this the third trip to Egypt was the quiet of the iconic Tahrir Square. Indeed, like neither of the past two stays (Feb/March and July), the taxi literally drove through the square and around the ground-zero roundabout - the most direct route to the hotel. Previously, that portion of the route was either formally blocked off or crowded out with people.

I had seen the square lonely before (see earlier posts) but this felt different - more permanent. At the end of July on the day prior to the begin of Ramadan, military forecably cleared the roundabout of its dense, tent city that had been continually populated for several weeks as a renewed iteration of the revolution. We had spent considerable time in the little city in July, taking it all in, admiring the double-tent human rights library erected and staffed by the youths from the Andalus group that we now know well, and briefly interviewing the small group of hunger strikers.

Protests have been scheduled since then, but they've had marginal participation, including last Friday - typically a day of much activity. The line drawn in the sand by the military that day seeems to be firm. The activists that camped there during both iterations of the revolution/sit-in now group themselves across the avenue (behind the sidewalks barriers), reminisce sadly, and try to shore each other up by feigning optimism when all know that all are depressed.

Those who were already long-ago fed up with the continual protesting in the square now express relief - as if a pest has been dismissed. Sure, the revolution was important, but it's time to get on with life, they say; enough of complaining at every instance.

But then, tellingly, it was one of strongest proponents of this position of restraint, who, when reviewing potential coming scenarios indicated that if the new political structures do not improve the situation (read, economic), they would simply: "Turn on Tahrir."