At the start of the protests some asked: how could the Egyptian people even dream to take on the strongest, oldest, most brutal state in the Arab world?
Three weeks later, the old dictator is gone, crushed by the greatest popular uprising for thirty years.
It started with protests organised by underground opposition networks, bloggers and democracy activists, trade unionists and socialists.
Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Egyptians had held their breath while demonstrations and strikes rocked Tunisia and celebrated surreptitiously when the dictator there was overthrown. Suddenly they began to believe that they too could remake Egypt from below.
On the eve of the demonstrations, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s biggest opposition group, said it would call its members into the streets.
In the capital Cairo, and in Mansoura they marched in their tens of thousands. In Nasr City, in Giza, in Shubra. In Alexandria and Suez and Luxor.
Suddenly the police found themselves facing not hundreds of protesters, as they expected, but tens of thousands in every town and city.
Over the next few days the protests grew, but the first real turning point came on Friday 28 January. The regime cut the phones, blacked out the internet, and brought tens of thousands of riot police out to stop the demonstrations.
Mosque preachers were told to toe the regime’s line in their sermons. But tens and then hundreds of thousands
gathered, prayed and marched. They fought police for every street corner in central Cairo, facing tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition—but they won back Tahrir Square.
The liberation of Tahrir from the police was another milestone. Across the country police stations were burnt to the ground and their torture chambers gutted.
The security forces vanished, leaving cities in the hands of the people. It was then that the army tanks rolled in to be welcomed by cheering crowds as liberators.
But it was not the tanks that broke Mubarak. It was the hundreds of thousands, and later millions, who stayed in the streets.
They fought back against the government thugs who tried to take control of the streets with fire bombs, knives and stones. They held Tahrir Square, held the streets of Alexandria and towns across the country.
They built barricades, armed themselves with broken paving stones and showed that they would rather die than bow their heads again.
Even the millions on the streets might not have been enough, without another turn in the struggle.
As the regime began to offer concessions, tried to make a new face for itself composed of “liberal politicians” who would negotiate and do deals behind closed doors, the millions in the streets stood firm.
The final push from below came with a huge wave of strikes and workers’ protests which broke the generals from the president and seemed to threaten a fracture in the army itself as soldiers began to join the revolution.
So it was left to the generals to bundle Mubarak onto the plane. But it was the people who made him history.
Rabab, who has been in Tahrir square told me, “The process of revolution has changed things for me as a woman.
“I have been on the streets 24/7 for two weeks, and never been subjected to a sexist comment.
“Something has really shifted in the collective memory, and everyone has noticed it.”
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