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Egyptians Between Squares

by MAYSSOUN SUKARIEH

And if you see a Muslim Brotherhood member

Coming to the Square,

His Mom’s night will be dark

And he will leave the square unhappy

(Wlaw shufti ikwan gayyilna el meedan 

Leilit ummo soda w hayirga3e za3elan).

Rami Issam sang his new song —  the Ikhwani [Muslim Brotherhood] creature has no place in my Square — three times on Friday in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. It was the Friday of reclaiming Tahrir: a square that became the Revolution’s epitome and personality. Tahrir was Revolution and vice versa. To protect Tahrir meant to protect the Revolution, and now to reclaim what many see as a stolen Revolution.

“It was in Tahrir and precisely in Muhammad Mahmoud Street that I learned politics, that I became a revolutionary,” says Abir, an 18 years old girl, who “had an empty life before January 25 [2011] and before Tahrir, and only cared to go out and have fun. Tahrir and being involved in Tahrir changed my life”

On Thursday night, Abir feared for her square. Her voice is insistent and earnest: “This is not their square and what do they have to do with the square or with the revolution. They were not here in January 25, they were late, too late. When they saw the revolution is winning, they joined in, and they stole it. It is not their square as it was not their revolution. They took the revolution, and now they want to take the square. We are not giving it back to them, and we will reclaim the revolution from here, from Tahrir, where they came only to steal the revolution.”

The Muslim Brotherhood contests this narrative. “We participated in the January 25 Revolution,” its spokesperson told al-Jazeera, “and we were a major part of it.” He was asked why the pro-Morsi demonstration was to be held in Tahrir and not elsewhere. “We were in Tahrir then, and we have a right to demonstrate again in Tahrir…We chose to demonstrate in Tahrir because of its symbolism. Tahrir has become the symbol of the revolution, and it should stay for all the revolutionaries. No revolutionary party can exclude other revolutionary parties from Tahrir!”

A young man in Tahrir responded vociferously, “Which revolution did you participate in, son of a dog? When were you revolutionaries? Those Muslim Brotherhood are always like that. They always claim what is not theirs.” A chant began, underscoring his frustration, El Banna 3ameel el Ingliz, Morsi habibo li Perez (Banna was a British agent, and Mosri is a friend of Peres – Banna being the founder of the Brotherhood and Peres being the Israeli President).

On Friday morning, the Muslim Brotherhood changed their venue from Tahrir to Nahdet Misr Square (near Cairo University). Despite this, the popular committees at Tahrir took unprecedented security measures. Checkpoints at the entrance of the now sealed roads that lead to the square were constructed by the committees and people were asked to show identification before they were allowed in – especially to the already tense areas around Muhammad Mahmoud Street and Qasr el Ayni Street. The committees erected three watchtowers to monitor Brotherhood activity. The youth formation, April 6, released a statement, “The decision of the Muslim Brotherhood to demonstrate in Tahrir was going to lead to their end: Blood For Blood.” A banner hangs low, “Watch out, my brother the revolutionary: Watch out for the Traitor, an Intruder, an Agent trying to break in our Square. The Square is Egypt. Protect it.” Voices carry: “we are here to protect the Square,” “We are here to protect the revolution,” and “we are here to reclaim the revolution.”

“We did not chose the Square, the Square chose us,” says Basel Adel, one of the members of the coalition of the youth of the revolution on Friday night. Mahmoud Awwad, another member of the coalition, agrees. “The Square was watered by the blood of the martyrs of Egypt – it it not only for the Ikhwan. Today we are all spending the night here to protect it.” Mohammad Atiyya, another member, decided to start his speech from the podium by asking how many demonstrators plan to spend the night in the Square. Thousands raise their hands. He then asked who would be willing to give their blood for the revolution. A chant rose up, al Marra dee bigad mish ha nseebha el had, This time, for sure, we will not leave it to anyone.

I ask Abir what they do not want to leave. It can be the “revolution,” she says, or “the square.” They stand in for each other.

An organizer at the podium announced the names of members of the coalition of the youth, one by one. “The youth of the revolution are here. They made the revolution and the youth who love Egypt are here, in the square. The revolution is here, not there.” Tharwat, a photojournalist, tells me that both the youth and the square have become symbols. “They became like an ornament. They bring it out when they want to say that we are the revolution and put it back in the box and put it back when politicians say that they are in charge.” In opposition to the Brotherhood, the youth emerged absent their own political commitments.

The major political figures had talked before the youth and also emphasized the role of the state. Hamdeen Sabahi, the Nasserite, said, “Tahrir Square is the most beautiful and important place in Egypt. Not only in Egypt, but the whole world.” Mohamed ElBaradei, leader of the Dostur Party, ended his speech calling on people to stay in the square, to “be steadfast in the square.” Khaled Ali, whose credentials set him to the left of the other figures, began his speech by saying that “the square is full without the Muslim Brotherhood.” He was met with a raucous chant, questioning the Brotherhood’s participation in the January revolution, al meedan malyan men gheir el Ikhwan.

Their Constitution, Our Square.

Karima, from Kefaya (Egyptian Movement for Change), began her speech with the challenge, “Their Constitution is illegal.” She compared Morsi’s Constitution to an illegal building being constructed in the darkness, before she started to shout, “No No to THEIR constitution, we say it from here from our Square. From our square we say it loud/strong, we do not want a Muslim Brotherhood constitution” (Men Meedanna min3oulha awiyya, mish 3ayzinha ikhwaniyya).

“Tahrir is our square,” said Karima, and theirs should be in the Zoo. “They are illiterate and stupid, and none of them is qualified.” Liars, Liars, “went the crowd, responding to her acidic language. When Karima announced the call for a general strike for Tuesday and then escalation to a total civil disobedience, Ahmad the tea vendor who is by profession a plumber, shouted” Be Merciful Be merciful” (Irham Irham instead of Irhal Irhal, Leave, Leave, the other chant of the square). Karima’s strong language about illiteracy rankled. Is this what Ahmad was responding to? I asked him why he was shouting this and to whom? He said, “I am telling those who are in this square, to the Muslim Brotherhood in whatever square they choose to be, Enough is Enough! They should think of us, he said, be merciful to us. We want to work, we are tired.” The us for him are the poor who “have nothing to do with the Constitution. Their Constitution, Our Constitution, Their meedan, Our meedan. What do I have to do with all this. We want to work. We are tired.”

Another tea vendor, at the other side of the square, and who a minute ago fought with Ahmed over clientele, joined in with him and said, “They call for strike. They earn their money at the end of the month. If they work or not, because they have salaries, they do not think of us. I have been on an obligatory strike for almost a year now, on and off work in all sorts of things. It is becoming unbearable. They should think of us. They are fighting over the square. So if the Ikhwan came to occupy the square, does it mean they are the revolutionaries?” he asks.

“Tahrir is the square of the revolutionaries,” Rami Issam says before singing his Ikwani song for the third time. “There were people who were objecting to the presence of the fouloul [regime remnants] in the Square this week. I just want to tell the fouloul if they are in the square because they started to rethink their position against our ongoing revolution; if they are on the side of the revolution because they know its importance for the Egyptians, because they want to build a new Egypt with us, then they are welcome. But if they are here only because they are against the Muslim Brotherhood, we tell them you are not welcome. Tahrir is only for the revolutionaries, and if you are one then you are welcome here, if not then leave the square.” He began his song, “The Ikhwani Creature has no place in my square, we made the revolution, why would he claim my place?” (EL Ka2en el Ikhwani Ma loush Makan fee Meedani, Ihna elli 3amalna el Thawra, Leh yakhod huwwa makani). The response is powerful. The square decides who is a revolutionary. The square decides the revolution’s future.

“The people decided in Tahrir Square: Down with the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood” (al Sha3eb 3arrar fil Meedan, Yaskot Yaskot el Ikhwan).

“The Square is full, Down with the Muslim Brotherhood” (Al Meedan Malyan Malyan, Yaskot Yaskot el Ikhwan)

These banners flutter along the side of the Museum of the Revolution that occupies one side of Tahrir Square. It has most of the slogans of Tahrir. Tahrir was the incubus for teaching today’s Egyptians about the importance of occupying public spaces, bringing down regimes, calling for change. “It was in Tahrir that the Egyptians learned ‘politics,’ learned to be revolutionaries,” says Abir. The Egyptians discovered their power in Tahrir and other public spaces all over the country. Will they again find their power to bring back the language of social justice to the square?

Bread, Freedom and down with the Constituent Assembly (Eish Huriyya Iskat el Ta3esisiyya)

Bread, Freedom and Sharia Law (eish Huriya Shari3a Islamiyya)

Slogans in Tahrir and Meedan Nahdet Misr fly back and forth. They have both altered the unified slogan of January 25, Bread, Freedom and Social Justice (Januaray Eish Huriyya Adala Igtima3yya). Social Justice has gone. Tahrir added “down with the Constituent Assembly,” and the Brotherhood added “Sharia Law.” These visions are in confrontation. The air of unity against the old regime is now gone. Between the two squares, there is silence, as the working-class areas and the slumlands negotiate their politics of survival.

Mayssoun Sukarieh lives in Cairo.

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