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Dispatches From Tahrir Square

I Exist on the Political Map of Egypt

by MASSOUN SUKHARIEH

Down with the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood

Down with the Brotherhood Supreme Guide

Do not be afraid, Morsi is going to leave.

Erhal, Erhal [leave, leave]

People want to bring down the regime.

Moatassimim moatasmeen hatta raheel e Ameel [Sitting in, sitting in till the Traitor leaves]

Down with Mohamed Morsi Mubarak.

Bread, Freedom and Down with the Constituent Assembly.

The Muslim Brothers Sold Revolution and Sold Religion

[الإخوان المسلمين باعوا الثورة وباعوا الدين]

Cairo. 

Tahrir Square bustled with energy. The slogans tore through the air, against Morsi, against the Brotherhood rule and against the government. What began as a call for Morsi to withdraw his presidential decree has escalated to a call for him to step down, and to end the Muslim Brotherhood’s short and chaotic turn at governance.

“Oh, Prophet Muhammad, it feels like a sea of people. I have never seen anything like this before, even in the first revolution,” says Sobhi, age 38, from Shoubra.

Speakers from the podium made frequent announcements. “The Muslim Brotherhood attacked the Mahalla protestors just now,” said George Ishak of Kifaya. The workers of Mahalla were angry at an annex to the Presidential decree, which would replace board members of the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation who are over sixty with appointed members. The workers feared the Ikhwanization of the labor movement, just as long as it is the Muslim Brotherhood with its pencil in hand at the nominating process.

When it was announced that Amr Moousa’s column of protestors would enter Tahrir, chants broke out: Leave, Leave. “We say no to the Muslim Brotherhood and no to the remnants of the past regime,” yelled a member of the Socialist Revolutionaries. From elsewhere came a competing voice, “One hand, One hand,” unity above all else. Moousa’s supporters and some young people clashed.

“Are there new people with us?” someone asked from the podium. Many raised their hands. He welcomed them and said, “it is repentance for being an ex-fouloul [regime remnant]!” Again the crowd disagreed, “One hand, One hand.”

News of the fight in Mahalla, the main industrial center, between the workers and the Muslim Brotherhood came from the podium again, fights that left hundreds injured and these bulletins were greeted with chants.

Ramy Essam, the Singer of the Revolution (with his anthem Irhal, Leave), sang from the podium. The crowd sang along. They knew the words. Then he sang two new songs about the Muslim Brotherhood. One of the songs reflects the deep divides in the country: the Muslim Brotherhood creature has no place in MY square (El Ka3en el Ikhwani ma loush Makan fee Midany).

The union of the Azhar Imams sent their delegation to the podium earlier in the afternoon. The head of the delegation stripped the mask of Islam off of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. “Justice is one of the core principles of Islamic rule,” he said. “Rule with Justice, God says, and Morsi is not ruling with Justice. He is not a Muslim. And the one who steals is not a Muslim. The Muslim Brotherhood stole the Revolution. We refuse to let them rule in our name.”

A man in his forties carried a banner, “This Nation Won’t Settle Till the Muslim Brotherhood Adopt Islam.” He had signed the quote with the name Ahmad al-Banna. I asked him why he was holding this sign. He answered, “Because they are not Muslims. I want to annoy them. Of course this is not a saying from al-Banna, but this will hurt them. Maybe they will react.” When I asked him what kind of Islam he wanted, he said, “Moderate Islam, tolerant Islam, and Islam that accepts everyone. I’m against Ikhwanization of the State and the Ikhwanization of Islam.” Ikhwan is the Arabic word for Brother, and Ikhwanization refers to the monopolization by the Muslim Brotherhood.

A Sheikh from the al-Azhar University chanted, “The Azhari Turban is the representative of the nation. Neither Muslim Brotherhood nor Salafis. We are for Moderate Islam, el Imama el Azhariya hiyya ramz el Umma Diya, la Ikhwan wla Salafiya, Ihna Ramz el Wasatiya.”

A Coptic Priest held hands with a Sheikh, as the crowd chanted, “One hand, one hand.”

The youth organizations, such as April 6 and Meena (a martyr of Tahrir) as well as the Tahrir revolutionary artists coalition did not like the proscenium feel of the demonstration. They created their own circles and danced to their chants and slogans, trying to divert attention from the podium speakers.

Divisions within Unity.

Beneath the “one hand” chants, and the newly formed Salvation Front that unites all the liberal and leftist parties to face the Morsi rule, divisions are clear. If you go to Tahrir in the morning, you will see these splits. The youth organizations occupy one side of Tahrir Square and the political parties are on the other side. Walking between the tents of the different parties, one can see the differences in the crowd. When one reaches the Doustour, the El Baradei party, tents, one sees English-speaking young people in Abercombie & Fitch and Banana Republic clothes. This is not commonplace.

Under the central podium stands a man in his fifties and a teenager. They are holding a banner which criticizes the “selling of the blood of the martyrs” and declares death to the Muslim Brotherhood and the elites. I approach the older man, Ahmad Fuad, and ask him what he means by the elites. He pointed to the tents of the political parties and said, “Those are the elites.” Ahmad is from al-Haram, el Eshreen fi el haram, the popular neighborhood of al-Haram. “Neither they nor the Muslim Brotherhood care about me, about my rights, about the blood of the martyrs. I, like many others from the same background, are out of the equation. It is not bread, freedom and social justice any longer. They came to see us during the elections but then not afterwards. Look around you: in January 25 revolution, the banners in Tahrir were Bread, Social Justice Freedom, Equality. Now look, it is all banners from political parties raising their own demands. Where am I in all this. No one feels for me.” Ahmad Fuad says he is here to say that he exists on the political map of Egypt.

Others join in. They share the same disappointment. A young guy says, “No one cares about the blood of the poor and the oppressed. And the blood of the poor is a curse.” By blood he meant rights. His name is Ahmad Soudan. He is 34 and unemployed. “I came here to tell everybody that we had warned them. We are still warning you here. I care to earn a living. I am not into politics. I am here just to tell them and if they don’t want to listen to me, don’t blame me later.”

Walking to the side of Muhammad Mahmoud Street, one could hear different debates in the different tents of the political parties. Young people from the newly formed party, the Socialist Coalition, are discussing the political instability and the IMF loan agreement. They think the instability will make the IMF wary of pouring money into unstable Egypt. In the Nasserite section, there is a debate about the Muslim Brotherhood’s social service agenda, funded in part by the Gulf Arabs, and its effect on the mass organizations in the country. In the Wafd Party tent, there is a debate on the constitutionality of the presidential decree.

To walk from one side of Tahrir to the other, you have to pass by hundreds of hawkers. They are joined by unemployed workers who come to Tahrir to search for daily work, selling tea, coffee, sandwiches or even frying potatoes and Falafel for sale in the open air.

At the entrance of Muhammad Mahmoud Street, there is a huge graffiti drawing of Jaber-Gika, the young man killed in the early days of this round of protests. Fathiya, a woman in her sixties, sits near here. She asks me if I am a journalist. I said, sort of and she asks if she can talk to me. “Jot this down,” she orders. “I voted for Morsi. I thought he was a religious man who is scared of God. But now I’m hitting my head against the wall. How did I give him my vote? But keep it in mind. We did not vote for him because we love him. No. It is because we do not want the fouloul. It was between the vicious and the more vicious. I wanted Hamdeen Sabahi to win. In the second round I voted for Morsi, May God Take Him.” She lives in al-Salam. Before that she used to live in the slums, near downtown, before Sewiris, the businessman kicked them out and built his mall. He is a friend of Mubarak.

When I asked her why she was in Tahrir, she said, she wants Morsi to open the factories owned by the fouloul and employ the young people. “Why is he focused on the general prosecutor, let him focus on the fouloul, let him get their money that is saved in banks outside the country and give it to the poor! I have two sons who are not working. They used to work in one of the business of Muhammad Rachid, may god take him: he didn’t pay them well. But since the revolution they are not doing anything, there is no work. Both of them are above 30 and they are not married. I want to tell Morsi, open the factories of the fouloul and get their money from the banks and give it to us.” Fathiyya Mahmoud assured me that though she is a supporter of the Palestinian cause. She does not approve of Morsi’s compensations to the martyrs of Gaza. She thinks that he should watch for us first, find work for the young people, “are not we more deserving. It is not fair to buy clothes for others when you are bare,” she says. Everyone in Tahrir mocks Morsi’s attempt to use what he thought of was his rising popularity because of Gaza to push forward his soft coup. It backfired.

Mohammad Ahmad, a 37 years old painter, joined in the conversation. He is a daily worker and he is complaining that there is so little work these days. He, like Fouad the man with the banner, thinks of himself as the third party who is outside the equation. With tough language he says, if the hope of revolution fades for people like him they will soon start hitting the rich areas, and steal their cars and their money and whatever they have. “We will start coming to Muhandessen, to Zamalek to New Cairo…When this revolution starts no one will be able to stop it.” He talked about the different way of life, how these people living in these areas and who are not necessarily fouloul but rich people eat meat all the time, while he has to have at least 200 EGP to be able to buy meat, and these days he gets the 200 EGP every few months. If you have less money, you need to get more basic food like sugar, rice, bread. “My revolution will not be against the Muslim Brotherhood only it is against the rich, and he who threatened is excused, when the real revolution starts and when no one could stop it,” he says repeatedly.

When leaving Tahrir at night, I pass by the Ministry of Interior where a totally different protest was taking place. The youth from Muhammed Mahmoud Street and Qasr el Eyni throw stones at the police. The area is a war zone. Hassan, who I had talked to in the morning on my way to Tahrir, tells me that he did not go to Tahrir because “they like to talk, we like to act.”

The crowd of stone throwers had increased through the day. Older men and women joined the young boys. They had gathered because that morning the police had arrested some young people from their neighborhood. The area was full of smoke. I asked a young girl why she was attacking the police. “They are attacking us, don’t you see,” she responded. Here the hawkers are selling gas masks, Palestinian headscarves and band-aids. And a few pies, in case the stone throwers get hungry.

Mayssoun Sukharieh, an anthropologist, lives in Cairo.