It was like arriving in a warzone when I entered Cairo on Sunday.
The streets leading to Tahrir Square, the centre of Egypt’s revolution, were strewn with burnt out police vans and rubble. Soldiers and tanks were everywhere.
There had been days of battles—unconfirmed reports say over 300 people have died. But thousands upon thousands still gathered.
Barricades were set up across all roads leading into the square.
It was filled with people from every area of Cairo, from every walk of life. Some had bandaged, bloody heads, others dusty clothes from nights spent out in the street.
I would trust these people with my future.
Moustaffa, a doctor still in his scrubs, talked of people who died from gunshot wounds during his shift on Friday.
“Mubarak is a killer,” he said simply. “He’s got to go.”
I learned that workers at the Suez steel company and the Suez fertiliser company are on indefinite strike until Mubarak falls.
The steel mill produces 70 percent of Egypt’s steel and is owned by Ahmed Ezz, a central figure in the ruling NDP party.
At two factories in Cairo, Mit Ghamr textile company and the National Printing Press, workers have evicted their bosses. If these workers’ actions are signs of things to come, this could change the nature of the movement.
On Monday there were more people on the streets than at any time in the past week. Some say 300,000 were in Tahrir Square.
People said that the number demonstrating in Alexandria had reached one million. In Suez, hundreds of thousands were protesting.
And reports describe the working class city of Mahalla, where mass strikes took place in 2008, as bursting with struggle. All the textile factories are closed and workers are on indefinite holiday.
The working class in Egypt is the largest and best organised in the Arab world.
Cairo is the biggest city in the region and one of the biggest in the world, with a population of 20 million people.
If the struggle wins in Cairo, it will win in Egypt. And if the struggle wins in Egypt, it will transform the whole world order.
It’s one thing to talk and write about the process of revolution. It’s entirely different to see it.
The enormous resilience, creativity and courage of ordinary working people in struggle is striking. People have been transformed. Right now they will not be satisfied by anything but victory.
They have lost their fear—of the state, the police and Mubarak himself. People walk along with posters denouncing Mubarak. This would have been unthinkable a week ago.
Homemade banners dominate. There are none of the party or campaign placards you would find on many demonstrations in Britain.
But there are political leaflets and lots of them—including socialist ones.
Everything gets read. Groups of people read newspapers together. Ideas are being soaked up like water on a dry sponge.
There is no one political voice of this movement. There is no single organisation that is mobilising. Much of its success reflects the magnificent ability of people to organise themselves.
There are people in suits and others in jeans. There are women in the full black niqab, others in multicoloured hijabs and many with neither. There are poor street kids and people who have come from the countryside to join the struggle.
All Cairo is here.
The Western media usually disparages people like these as uneducated, unintelligent and incapable of running their own lives. In the Arab world we’re always told that people need a “strongman” in government—for that read dictator.
A woman named Megda Sedky told me, “We are tired of this government. It’s like a royal family the way Mubarak wants to pass on control to his sons.
“This is not democracy. He has wrecked this country.”
Street kids run around with posters of Mubarak with devil’s horns drawn on. Women of all ages are at the heart of the movement. This really is a festival of the oppressed.
There are many, many young people in this movement, but for me the involvement of older women and men has perhaps been the most moving.
The sense of liberation is palpable.
They have lived under Mubarak’s dictatorship for decades. They are drinking up the opportunity to denounce him as a killer and a thief to anyone and everyone.
One elderly woman, Dakahlia, had walked in from her small farm in the
countryside, and said this
struggle was her struggle.
“Just like Tunisia, we want freedom,” she told me. “We are not criminals. I am not a political person—I’m an ordinary daughter of Egypt. But we need a different way.
“No emergency laws, no business types in government. Mubarak must go.”
People talk about unemployment and poverty, but the thing they are fighting for most is dignity and freedom.
Ahmed Moamen, an engineer with France Telecom, told me, “I have a job, but what about the others? This is a fight for us—it is not just about poverty. It’s about dignity.”
History is being made on the streets of Cairo.