February 12th Madin Tahrir Cairo, a tale quite literally of love and trash -
Unless you have been hiding in a cave (and even then some of you probably would have figured out how to get wifi reception), Egypt is a place which will have entered your consciousness more than it ever has before. Every newspaper, TV, web blog and media source has been describing the revolution that has been sweeping the country.
Most media have focused on the dramatic or “sexy” political and activist movement and the subsequent changes to how this country will run in the future. There is another revolution however, which is quite literally sweeping the country and painting it and scrubbing it — and in the process, changing the way that Egyptians see their role in its future.
#Egypt, a recap
On the 25th of January, protests began in Cairo. They were led largely by the young, the middle classes and students, and helped by social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook. Make no mistake: For individuals to openly congregate and demand change in Egypt would have been unthinkable at the start of the year. Yet through the relatively new tool that is the Internet and its user-led media sources, ideas were exchanged and the spark was ignited.
Midan Tahrir (Liberation Square) quickly became a focal point where this relatively small (by global standards; massive by Egyptian standards) group congregated. Emboldened by public support, more and more people came out to make their voices heard.
Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s President for 30 years, is an 82 year old man. One can only imagine the level of shelter he has lived under this time, never encountering a real Egyptian or a part of his country which did not smell of fresh paint.
If you’ve ever explained to your grandmother what a “tweet” was, you can imagine what Mubarak’s perception of an Internet-enabled youth revolution might be. Can you imagine his advisors trying to demonstrate the significance of demands and anger from faceless computer screens, and the hundreds of thousands of people trying to plug in and share their voice via the #Jan25 hashtag?
Mubarak’s regime responded to the uprising by disconnecting the Internet and disrupting mobile phone services across the country. This was a final straw for many people, and drew the world’s attention to Egypt.
What followed in Midan Tahrir was nothing short of amazing. A shanty town, suddenly exploding into a shanty city, erected itself right in the centre of Cairo. Within eyesight of the NDP’s ruling headquarters, the Registry of all paperwork and historic monuments — and sitting right on the Nile — this large sprawling city took root and would not be budged.
Within days there were camps to sleep in, sound systems, ad hoc medical clinics, communal kitchens and functioning toilets. Individuals within the group took on key roles in protecting their city, stewarding or acting as rangers and any number of essential functions performed by this new state. Those of you familiar with another temporary city in another desert far far away may see some parallels.
Meals materialized out of nowhere, tea flowed more freely than, well, tea in a Cairo tea house. Blankets and bedding appeared in abundance. Everything was shared; the old system seemed to fade away to collaboration between old and young, men and women, Muslims, Christians and secular peoples. All types of Egyptians suddenly found themselves in a new place, which was not the Egypt they had left when they walked into Midan Tahrir.
This story will not focus on the events of those 18 days in Tahrir: That is a job for the Egyptians and the heroes of the event themselves. Instead, I’ll tell you what I know: what it was like on the ground at the end of the revolution, and what I learned as I helped clean up Tahrir Square.
Photos by me, except the one from Wikimedia.