Four Hours in Tahrir Square, Cairo

I had no intention of going into Tahrir Square yesterday. I’d been through the area once before when I visited the Egyptian Museum in October of 2009 during my first trip to Cairo. Back then, long before the January 2011 revolution during which thousands of people were injured and hundreds killed, I hadn’t even realized I was in a square, much less known what its name was. Now, of course, we all know the name.

Man carrying several Egyptian flags through Tahrir Square

I wasn’t planning to avoid Tahrir Square because its name is now synonymous with Middle Eastern uprisings, but because of last week’s renewed violence in which 42 people were killed in the area around Tahrir and several blinded. In its aftermath, the square was still crammed with a multitude of people, making it just a little too far off the tourist trail even for normally brave me.

Protestor demonstrating in Tahrir Square, Cairo

After I checked into Cecilia Hotel yesterday, though, just a few-minute walk from Tahrir, my Egyptian friend and I headed over there to see what was going on. We found an atmosphere so fascinating that we wound up not only entering but staying for four hours.

Poster of people killed in the January 25 Revolution

This area of Cairo, in fact, was so relaxed that at times seemed more like a street festival than the epicenter of a massive government overthrow. On this day there were tens of thousands of people filling the square and its surrounding streets, ordinarily jam packed with traffic.

A street in Tahrir Square, Cairo

Adding to the festive atmosphere were scores of vendors selling food and drinks as well as plenty of Egypt souvenirs.

Popcorn for sale in Tahrir Square

Popcorn for sale in Tahrir Square

T-shirts, flags and other January 25 Revolution souvenirs

Intertwined with this rather lighthearted aspect of the scene were many people making non-verbal political statements, most of them admirably clever.

Man holding Hosni Mubarak January 25 cartoon in Tahrir Square

Man wearing an eye patch in Tahrir Square

Empty tear gas cannisters and a spent bull casing in Tahrir Square

Me with an Egyptian flag painted on my face

I thought that Tahrir as I saw it yesterday, crowded with people and devoid of cars, was the way it has been since the revolution. The manager of my hostel, though, told me that in February after the revolution Tahrir returned to its normal self, only to slip back into revolution gear ten days ago when the rioting started anew. With a hundred or so tents in various spots in the square, it looked like some people have settled in semi-permanently.

Protestors' tents in Tahrir

Several small demonstrations took place from time to time yesterday, in which one person would somehow get a crowd to form around them and then start shouting short statements which the crowd would then repeat. These lasted only a few minutes each, though, and were completely peaceful. Here’s a video I shot of the most impressive and charismatic of the protestors whom I saw. I like this guy’s rhythm!

16 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Nei Pori says:

    Vibrant and tough period is ahead of Egypt. I really hope that people will manage to overcome all problems. They deserve good life.

  2. Ayngelina says:

    Really looking forward to your perspective on all of this, I know a lot of people have cancelled trips there.

  3. Sabina says:

    Thanks, Ayngelina. I know – a lot of people have. It’s a shame. Everything is fine and perfectly safe here. I’ll be writing more posts about Cairo this week and in the next couple of weeks and many, many more posts about Egypt in the coming months.

  4. Sabina says:

    They definitely deserve a great life. I will pray that they get it.

  5. Steve says:

    This is really fascinating. You give a great picture of what it is like on the ground there. They have found some really interesting and creative ways of protesting.

    I know some people who have cancelled trips there because of what’s been going on, but you make it seem like it isn’t that bad. I’m looking forward to hearing more about Egypt from you.

  6. Were you still there during the egyptian elections?

  7. Sabina says:

    Thanks a lot, Steve! It isn’t bad at all. In fact, it’s incredible. I love being here during this time in history. Tahrir is one tiny part of Cairo, and I wouldn’t have stayed there for four hours if it was violent or dangerous. I’ll be writing more about Cairo and the rest of Egypt soon.

  8. Sabina says:

    The elections are still going on, Zablon. It’s a very exciting time to be in Egypt.

  9. Louise Mckinnon says:

    I was there when it all started. I still went down there. The media portray Egypt as a place not to go at the moment. I spent hundreds of dollers just to go back there as a solo female traveller. Just goes to prove you cant believe everything that is aid. I admire you for putting it out there.

  10. Sabina says:

    Hi, Louise! It’s great to hear from another solo female traveler who loves Egypt. I would love to hear your perspective on how Cairo was when the revolution took place. How incredible to be there at the time.

  11. you’re very brave to have gone to Tahrir square! I wouldn’t have had the guts travelling on my own

  12. Loeffle says:

    Not sure if I would have dared to go there.
    But you are very familiar with Egypt, so it might have been easier.

    i might have gone to a similiar event in Malaysia as well…

  13. Sabina says:

    Hi Loeffle! It’s great to see you here. It was really easy because I was with my Egyptian friend. :)

  14. Aied Kamel says:

    love this post and love also the photos..

  15. Sabina says:

    Thank you, Aied!

  16. […] Sabina got to experience Egypt at a time few other Westerners did. “Spending several hours in Tahrir Square in Cairo in November 2011″ was her “number one very favorite Egyptian experience”. It “was just one week after they had some serious, prolonged post-revolution violence which resulted in several deaths”. That didn’t cause Sabina to run to one of Egypt’s borders. On the contrary, she says the situation calmed down the day she arrived in Cairo, so she let her friend Joseph take her to the square. […]

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