Panic and Fear in Tahrir Square


“I’m still at work. I’ll be late, maybe by an hour or two,” says a young man to his dad.

When I looked in surprise at him, he winked and asked me to be quiet. It was in Tahrir, the young man was sitting sipping tea and talking on the phone with his dad. When he finished he looked at me, and said, “I’m sorry, my dad will kill me if he knows I’m in Tahrir today. You know how the situation is.”

Fear and anger prevail today in Cairo. A drive that usually takes more than hour from Maadi to Tahrir in a busy day took only twenty minutes. Streets are empty and people’s faces are grim. Tahrir itself is a mixture of sadness and fear. The podium where speakers are lined up is totally empty, and the Quran recital took the place of the chants. Black ribbons are everywhere in Tahrir. “It is a day of mourning, mourning our martyrs, no chants today please,” says an old man to a group of young people who were walking and chanting.

More towers were constructed around Tahrir, and barbed wires enclosed the streets around Tahrir. A state of panic prevailed. Fireworks rattled the popular committee, charged with protecting the square. “In the name of God the Merciful,” says someone near me, heaviness in his voice as he reacts to what on other days had become normal; a sense of carnival. Today is different: there is fear, there is panic.

Men dominated the square. Very few women came out. I saw two who entered and left. I remained. “When there is violence, streets are not for women. Are you not scared?” asked Ismail. No, I said, not yet. “But what do you think of what’s going on? What do you think will happen?” he asked. This reminded me of Beirut, my hometown, after each eruption of violence: the anticipation of war and violence hangs heavy in the air after each eruption of hostility.

Mahmoud, his friend, said, “nothing will happen. It is a long road. But what do you think will happen if Morsi leaves, and who is a good alternative?” Ismail and Mahmoud start to discuss the different candidates. They conclude that if Morsi leaves now the Muslim Brotherhood will be angry and there will be no hope for stability.

A man walks by, carrying a large banner inscribed with what he has seen over the past two days: “The Muslim Brotherhood came with weapons. It was easier to fight the army. We knew that the army had weapons. This year the Muslim Brotherhood had guns and sticks. We did not know where their blow would come from.”

To Ittihadiyya

“What! Did we arrive at the West Bank? We are not even aware of it!” says Magdi when he first came to the presidential palace in Ittihadiya. Barriers of barbed wire enclose rows of security forces armed with batons and taser guns. Tanks and other military vehicles stand behind them. Ambulances huddle near the protestors, waiting for the violence to restart. Protestors are unarmed, but some have worn helmets just in case.

Some friends walked near the soldiers, flashed victory signs as the Palestinians do at Israeli checkpoints and chanted, Shalom, Shalom, Shalom. No more chants about to end the constituent assembly. They demand more, focusing on the fall of the government. “It is the last warning march,” says Moustafa, “before the ‘red card to Morsi’ march tomorrow. They killed six and injured hundreds. We accept only the ouster of Morsi. It is either us or them.” A guy went by with a banner, “The Muslim Brotherhood are Terrorists.”

In the Revolution, you were a burden. Now you are acting as men (Feel Thawra kunto 3ala, deel Wa3eti ba3eto rijjala), chants a young man. He is engulfed in the pent-up crowd, which claps louder, chants louder. “I hear the mother of a martyr saying, the dogs of the Muslim brotherhood guide, killed my kid” (Same3e ummi Shaheed bitnadi, klab el murshid 3atalo wladi). As in Tahrir, this demonstration is male-dominated. At the corner of Merghani Street, two women stand. “They are all men. Let’s leave.” I said, walk with me. “Where are the women, where are the cries of joy?” yelled Kamel, one of the activists, as a group of young men holding symbolic coffins walked by in a demonstration that originated in the Abasiya Mosque. “Egypt is not only a father. Egypt is a daughter. Egypt is a mother. Egypt is a sister,” cries an old man. “They understand from Sharia, keep women inside.” “These are the indigenous flowers, these are the daughters of Egypt, my son” (Dola el Ward el Horr el Baladi, Dola banat Masr ya Waladi).

“Come from your houses. We are coming to take your rights” (Inzilo men biyoutkom gayyin nakhod hou3oukom). Chants call upon the residents of the well-heeled areas of Heliopolis to come out of their homes. “The khawagat [upper class] hide like women when there is a violence,” says Abou Ahmad, “They only come when it is all clean and polite like the day before yesterday. Like them, Like the Ikhwan, they ride the revolution, we pay the price, and they come to enjoy the freedom afterwards.”

“No dialogue, No dialogue, till the donkey is ousted” (La hiwar, La hiwar, hatta yaskot el Humar).

“They said his fall will cause a crisis: Leave son of a shoe” (3alo Raheelo byi3mel Azma, Erhal Erhal Ya ibn el Gazma).

“Oh what a shame, an Egyptian shoots at his brother” (Ya dee el zol w ya deel £ar Masr byidrab akho bel nar).

“We said politics should be separated from religion; they said where will the funds come from; you who play with politics, Father Morsi loves America” (Oulna siyasa b3eed 3an deen; 3alo el Tamweel hayigee mnein; yalli btil3ab bel politica, baba morsi byi3sha3e America).

The chants of the demonstration that marches from Nasr City, comes close to the presidential palace. Fawzi, up on the electric wires, announces, “It is huge. Men and women. Young and old.”

“The Muslim Brotherhood guide is not ours; The Egyptian Army is ours” (El morshed mish bita3na el geisha el masri bta3ena). Biscuits and water bottles are thrown to the Egyptian army standing on guard behind the wire. One hand, one hand! A young man disagrees, “this is not right! The army is not with us. It is theirs. Dirty hand! Dirty hand!”

“Be happy, you holder of the gun and the helmet, why do you like to kill the youth?” (Ifrah awe ya bu rim7h w kab; ghawee leih 3atel el shabab).

The Nasr City demonstration came closer with their own chants,

“Open your chest for gunpowder, we learned to say no” (Iftah Sidrak lil rosas 3ete3allimna el la3a kalas).

“Arrest me Arrest me; you won’t see fear in my eyes” (I3takilouni, I3etakilouni, mish ha tshoufi el khof fee eyouni).

“The more they get violent,” says twenty-five year old Mahmoud from the Ultras, “the stronger we become, the more determined we get to oust him. No more dialogue. There is innocent blood now. He has to leave. We are strong revolutionaries. We are not scared of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

“The Revolutionary Spring is the autumn of the Muslim Brotherhood,” read some of the banners.

“I’m scared, but at the same time I am so angry,” says Ali, a fifty year old man who holds a banner that reads, “The Awakening is Genocide” (it refers to the Muslim Brotherhood project for the rule, which they name the Awakening). “The situation is getting unbearable. I am scared it will get violent and a civil war will erupt, but at the same time I’m so angry and I feel we should not shut up now and leave it to them, it does not work by force.” A passerby sees the banner. “Uncle, Morsi thinks he is a white man. He will bring us awakening along with the blood and tanks. And occupation too.” Another asks that the US or the Israelis take Morsi. They seem to love him.

On the Metro.

“I feel sad for the owners of the shops,” says Lama, looking at the shattered glass which filled the streets leading to the presidential palace where the fights took place the day before. “Why would they break the windows? Is it right?” Fights broke out on the metro between different groups. “What are you going to do there at the presidential palace?” a man in his thirties asked the protestors. “Why are you not going?” responded Fawzi, one of the protestors. “Are you not angry at what happened yesterday? Are you happy we are killing each other now?” “Why don’t you give Morsi a chance?” says another man. “Give him a chance and see what will happen. Didn’t you vote for him?” A woman amongst the protestors responded, “No, we did not vote for him. We voted for him because we had no choice. Not because he represented our revolutionary dreams. No my brother, we had no option.” She is interrupted by a friend of hers, “Why would I give him a chance while he does not respect me? Why did not he come out to talk to us till now? Why when the presidential election results came out, he gave a press conference at 4 a.m. and it takes him more than a week to even address us? Why did not he immediately come out yesterday after the blood was spilled? Egyptian blood was spilled! Is his presidential chair more important than the blood of the Egyptians?”

A Morsi supporter said, “He is going to give a speech tonight…” A Tahrir protestor cuts in, “What is he waiting for? Maybe till the speech is delivered to him by the Muslim Brotherhood guide! You can listen to him if you want, you believe all what he says, we do not, not anymore.” Talk began to heat up: “you supporter of Morsi,” “you who belong to Tahrir”…. An old man said, “Enough, enough. Since when do we Egyptians talk to each other this way? You and Us. There is one and only one God. This country is not going to be reformed. The country is divided. There is no hope.” A protestor began to sing. His friends joined in. A passenger cut in, “I do not want to listen to your songs. This is public transportation. Go chant in Tahrir!” A passenger hugged him as he seemed ready to lunge at them. He calmed down.

“Fights are interrupting everywhere these days: in the microbuses, in the streets in the same homes. There is no tolerance anymore,” said an old woman from her seat.

At Tahrir people awaited Morsi’s speech. “I hope he cancels the presidential decrees and postpone the vote on the constitution,” said Sayyed, a Nasserite. “We thought we made a revolution and it is over, we will relax, raise up the kids, and have a dignified life. Now, we are back to square one. Hopefully he will retreat today and all this will end: may God lead him to the right way.”

Tahrir has new tents for supporters or friends of those who died in Ittihadiya. Ain Shams University has one to protest the death of two of their friends.

“What would Mursi says in his speech” and “would he back down” and “if not what will happen?” These are today’s questions. Some jokes fly by, such as “he is late because he needs to finish the five prayers because he is godly, and then he will address his family and clan” or” he still needs to get the final touches from the Muslim Brotherhood Guide.”

Anticipation and jokes were replaced by curses as Morsi started to talk. He accused thugs and some of the nationalist leaders without naming them for causing the killings. He said he would not allow murder and sabotage or coups against legitimacy. Morsi promised that the prosecutor general would uncover the instigators and financiers behind this recent bout of violence. He said the political disagreements could have been resolved through dialogue. He sad, “sadly” that some of those arrested were linked to political groups. He defended his constitutional declarations: prompted, he argued, by dangerous circumstances that posed a danger to stability. He again stated that the declaration was not intended to deny the authority of the judiciary or deprive citizens of their right to pursue justice through the legal system, but rather to protect sovereign decisions related to the state and national security. He insisted on the vote for the referendum on the fifteenth, and addressed his rivals by saying, let the majority decides. Is this not a democracy, the rule of the majority over the minority, did not you want democracy? He called for a dialogue, ignoring the call from the Front for the Salvation of Egypt (which includes the opposition parties) to withdraw the constitutional declaration as a prelude to dialogue.

“Either he is a CIA or he is stupid in denial,” says one of the protesters immediately after the end of the speech. “Is he deaf, does not he hear?” said another. Chants filled Tahrir, “Down with the Muslim Brotherhood Regime, Down with Morsi the beloved of the USA, Down with Morsi beloved of Israel!”

Between them and us, blood and revenge (Idrib riglak, talla3e nar, beyna wbeynhon dam w tar). Anticipation and fear returns to Tahrir. Preparations begin for Friday’s demonstrations.

Mayssoun Sukarieh lives in Cairo.