Socialist Worker

A year on from the Egyptian Revolution: Socialist Worker editor reports from Tahrir Square

Socialist Worker editor Judith Orr reports from Tahrir Square in Cairo a year after the fall of Hosni Mubarak

Issue No. 2288

The crowd in Tahrir Square on the anniversary (Pic: Hossam el-Hamalawy)

The crowd in Tahrir Square on the anniversary (Pic: Hossam el-Hamalawy)


Friday 11pm

Hundreds of thousands marched today, Friday, in Cairo and across Egypt.

Today was deemed a “day of anger” in defiance of those who said that Wednesday’s anniversary was a celebration of a revolution that was completed.

As a write at 11pm, the roar of the many thousands in Tahrir Square and marching on the streets of Cairo can be heard all around.

This afternoon marches tens of thousands strong came from different areas of Cairo to converge on Tahrir.

As the march from the Maadi district went through working class areas people clapped and cheered from balconies and windows.

“Come down, come and join us,” the marchers called. Outside the state TV station at Maspero thousands surrounded the building once again.

The message dominating the day is, “Down with Scaf, down with the military”. The spectacular success of Wednesday’s protests has helped renew people’s confidence that they can finish off the military council.

Today the Muslim Brotherhood also faced open hostility for being seen as collaborators with the military.

They just won the majority of seats in parliament, a sign of their roots and support. But although parliament only sat for the first time on Monday, they are already seen as letting people down.

One slogan of the 18 days in Tahrir that brought down Mubarak had been “Raise your head up high, you are an Egyptian”.

Today this was turned against the Brotherhood. “Raise your head up high you are only a chair,” protesters shouted – meaning they had sold out on the revolution just to gain a seat in parliament.

In the square tonight the Muslim Brotherhood stage is facing an angry crowd. At one point demonstrators shook their shoes at the stage to show their anger.

Some even threw their shoes in bitterness and carried on marching in bare feet. “This is a revolution not a party,” they chanted.

One speaker tried to calm the crowd with slogans about all Egyptians being one hand saying, “We need to go back to how we used to be”.

The crowd roared back, “We will never go back to how we used to be”.

People’s ideas are changing by the week, by the day.

I meet a family wearing the masks of people who have died during the revolution, each with a different name.

One of them, a teenage woman wearing a hijab, has the mask of Mina Daniel. He was a Christian Copt who was killed at Maspero in a massacre in October when the military killed 27 demonstrators.

She says that people were giving out the different masks at the start of their feeder march. “I chose Mina because I want to send a message that there is no difference between a Muslim and Christian,” she says.

Another man stands in silence on a wooden cart selling oranges. He holds up a sign, “There is no dignity for a hungry man, no safety for the homeless,” then simply, “Port Said”, where he has come from to protest.

This square has become a symbol of revolution. Tonight the people have come here not to make symbolic gesture, but because their futures depend on victory.

The stakes are high. People have seen what the regime that replaced Mubarak is prepared to do to hold back the revolution. That is why the mood against the military has become so intense.

Socialists have always said that people change the world – and in doing so change themselves.

This is what is happening in Egypt.


Thursday 9pm

Tahrir Square tonight, Thursday, is buzzing with activity. The stage of the 6 April movement has a crowd of hundreds around it. They all have their backs to the stage because footage of the revolution is being projected on to a huge white sheet held up on poles like a trade union banner at the edge of the crowd.

Verses from the Koran are being read out from a PA system on another side, dedicated to the “shaheed”, those who have been killed during the revolution.

There are some cars still driving through directed by volunteers.

But most of the road has been taken over by people milling around, families, groups of young people and dozens of food stalls dotted all over the place.

An impromtu march gathers people as it goes by chanting against the military government, “Don’t be afraid. Scaf must go”.

In the weeks leading up to yesterday’s demonstrations, the military had been scaremongering with claims that “dangerous domestic and foreign conspiracies are seeking to burn the country on 25 January”.

People showed they weren’t afraid, and the country didn’t burn. Instead growing numbers of people are labelling Scaf as a group of liars and murderers.

What was a minority position is becoming common sense for many of those out on the streets.

Activists say yesterday shows that those who made the revolution won’t be satisfied with a parliament and Scaf leader Mohammed Hussain Tantawi’s few concessions.

“What use is a parliament that is not going to prosecute officers who killed protesters,” one protester said.

Headlines in some of today’s newspapers reflected this mood with headlines like “unfinished business” and “no closure”.

Tomorrow promises to be another big day.

The Revolutionary Socialists are busy in the square with a new leaflet that’s just been photocopied.

Piles of A4 copies are being cut in half in the dark at a stall as people crowd round to grab copies.

The leaflet calls for people to mobilise tomorrow and demands the downfall of Scaf. It makes demands for a maximum and minimum wage, lower prices, an end to military trials for civilians and says the revolution must continue.

Raising the demands about inequality, living standards and poverty are a vital part of deepening the revolution.

Many protesters say, “Political change is not enough”.

“We have not yet won what we fought for,” Ahmed, a student said in the square today. “The poor are still poor, we need jobs for everyone. Life has to change. That is what this revolution is about.”


11.20pm

Today has seen a massive mobilisation in Cairo. And the news from Suez and Alexandria and other Egyptian cities is of huge demonstrations there too.

This has been another historic day in a year of historic moments in Egypt.

Scaf wanted a day that would be about the achievements of the revolution, which they think they can take credit for.

They wanted everything to settle down and for people to accept that the revolution was over.

But that is not what happened today. If anything, people were reminded of all the hopes and dreams they had held when they set out to challenge Mubarak's dictatorship.

All day people repeated the phrase, 'We need to complete the revolution.' The concessions the military have already made, such as lifting the long hated emergency laws, are not enough.

Field Marshall Tantawi, the head of Scaf,has made it clear that the emergency laws will remain in place to prevent 'acts of thuggery'.

As university teacher Mohammed pointed out, 'Scaf refers to strikes as 'thuggish'. We know they want to target workers who take action against their bosses.'

Workers' struggles are picking up again. Today was a public holiday, so the next days and weeks will be critical to see if the workers' movement can drive the revolution forward.

Parliament has already become a focus for discontent. Activists predict that workers and the poor will increasingly organise protests there.

It's coming up to 1am in Cairo. There is still a roar of noise from Tahir Square as thousands remain there and in the surrounding streets. Many have bedded down in doorways and on scraps of grass on traffic islands. They don't want to go home. 

No one knows what tomorrow will bring. But one thing is certain. Whatever the military or government say, the people have spoken once again. This revolution is not over.


8.00pm

There has been debate all day about what to do next. Some want protesters to 'stay in Tahrir Square until Scaf goes'. Meanwhile the Muslim Brotherhood and Salfist organisations are calling for people to 'celebrate – and then go home'.

Whether or not staying in square would work would depend on numbers and on what demands were put up, argues Manar, a revolutionary socialist.

She adds that the revolution is not solely about the square: 'The revolution needs to be made everywhere, not just in Tahrir.' The slogan used by The Socialist newspaper is: 'The square and the factory are one hand'.

A large group of protesters have set up an angry demonstration outside the state TV building at Maspero, just along the corniche from the entrance to Tahrir Square.

'The TV station is important for every dictaorship,' says Khled Ali, a doctor in philosophy. 'It's a way of controlling the people. Nothing has changed here since the first 25 January – it's the same people, the same words.'

The army is protecting the TV building behind barbed wire. Troops stare impassively at the protesters. Traffic passing along the corniche toot their horns in support of the protest.

Veteran socialist Kamal Khalil is here. He told me that the military is the problem – they are part of Mubarak's regime.

'Scaf wants to make it difficult for workers to organise unions,' he says. 'They keep putting obstacles on our way. They want to make sit-ins illegal.

'But the Egyptian revolution can still be won if workers get organised and fight. We need political strikes where every worker stops and refuses to work until we achieve victory.'


6.15pm

The temperature has fallen now that it's getting dark, but the day is far from over. People have laid out newspapers where they are to talk, rest and eat. Every bit of rubble can act as a stool. People weave around the impromptu meetings trying not to disturb them.

About 20 young people have sat down in the pavement opposite the Egyptian museum. 'We're here because we are the people who started the revolution, the young people,' says Youssef, a student, and his sister Rodino, who is at high school.

'It's been too slow. It feels like nothing has changed. This was a revolution for the poor, but so far the poor have not won. We need a completely different system. Better pay, better healthcare, better public transport. That's what today is about. That's what still needs to happen.'


3.15pm

A dense march of football supporters, known as the ‘Ultras’, goes up Talaat Harb Street, one of the main streets leading into Tahrir Square.

Many of them had played heroic roles in the street battles against Mubarak’s forces.

Today they shout the slogan of one year ago—'Bread, freedom, justice'.

Amina is watching from the side. 'They are using the same slogan because we have not won yet. The army council is crushing us. We need a second revolution

'I don't like what is happening after the elections. I am a Muslim, I wear a headscarf, but I do not want an Islamic state. We have 8 million Christians in Egypt. What will happen to them?

“We need an Egypt for everyone. It's not just about political changes—We need social change. Better education, health care. That's why we are still on the streets.”


2.30pm

It is getting very difficult to move around the square because the numbers are so enormous.

Time and time again people say, 'This is not a celebration'. One young man, Ahmed, stands solid against the crowd surging around him. His face is painted in the colours of the Egyptian flag. He holds up a sign calling for justice for those who have been killed in last 12 months.

He said, 'I'm here to remind people about those who died. They are the real heroes. They died because they believed in a better Egypt. That's not too much to ask is it?'

Just off the square the newly painted wall of the American University is getting a makeover. Teams of young graffiti artists are spraying anti-Scaf slogans while older demonstrators sit on the pavement edge beside them resting their legs.

The volunteers who are searching people as they arrive in Tahrir Square struggle to keep up.

Is there anyone in Cairo not out in the streets today?


12.30pm

Every avenue leading to Tahrir Square is filled with people chanting and marching.

Already there is debate about what will happen when the day is over.

The Salafists and some leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood are saying that people should celebrate then go home.

State television and the channel which supports Scaf say its a day of celebration and then everything should go back to normal—whatever normal means in Egypt under military rule.

If the numbers are big enough then maybe there will be a new sit in. But, say activists, 'The revolution is not just the square it is in the factories and in the universities.'

The struggle for the future of the revolution has to go on in every workplace, school and community.

As one headline in the Revolutionary Socialists’ (RS) paper says 'the square and the factory one hand'

People buying copies of their paper and taking leaflets surround the RS stall. There are also leaflets to fill in if you want to join their organisation.


10.30am

The sun is shining in Tahrir Square. People are starting to arrive—families with food and blankets, people in wheelchairs, children in buggies.

Scooters piled high with bread and water squeeze past to stock up the stalls in the square.

Everyone is searched and ID checked by volunteers as they enter. Several stages have been constructed overnight and some sound systems are already at full tilt, playing music and speeches.

Around the city at least 12 different demonstrations are assembling to march to the square.

Only one year ago Hosni Mubarak sat in power, fully expecting that he and then his son would continue to rule for decades to come.

Now he and his son are in prison and protesters delight in mocking his image. This day last year the people lost their fear and took to the streets and held them.

It took only 18 days to finish Mubarak. But on 25 January 2011 the Egyptian people began something that they still want to finish.

I speak to Mahmoud, a young man who has brought with him a blood soaked T-shirt from the battles on 28 January. “We have not come here to carnival and then depart,” he tells me.

“We want to complete our revolution. Mubarak is down but the system is not.'

So they are coming back to Tahrir in their tens of thousands to show they still have the power to break the rest of the regime.

Crowds surge past the Egyptian museum to join the many thousands already massing in Tahrir Square.


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