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Overheard In Tahrir - Cairo's Pro-Democracy Movement Reclaims Its Roots

Article illustrative image Partner logo Cairo's Tahrir Square on Nov 27, 2012

CAIRO - “Shave your beard and show us your face, so we can see your true disgrace: you look just like Mubarak!”

It didn’t take long for protesters to fill Tahrir Square, or the air above it with similar chants aimed at Mohammed Morsi. When the president issued a series of decrees last Thursday drastically expanding his powers while robbing the judiciary of its own, the consequences were immediate: a weekend of renewed violence, a nosedive in the stock market, and the widespread branding of the nation’s first elected leader as a tyrant. As a further result, numerous opposition groups arranged for a collision of marches in Tahrir on Tuesday.

“Freedom. It’s as simple as that. We want freedom,” Omar Khaled Hussein tells Egypt Independent shortly after arriving in the square with several friends. The 20-year-old says he is “astonished” by what he sees as a blatant power grab by the president. “We had our revolution. It’s like Morsi doesn’t understand that, or he doesn’t know what the word means. It’s like he thinks we just elected him to replace Mubarak.”

“Morsi was in jail during the start of the revolution; he must have missed what it was all about,” his friend quips. “So we should tell him.” He launches into the familiar chant of “bread, freedom, social justice,” before being cut off by his friends’ laughter. It continues behind him, though, floating out from clusters of protesters and, occasionally, the square’s single stage, along with more recent compositions condemning the Muslim Brotherhood, and rejecting its supreme guide.

“Today, we’re here as Egyptians and nothing else,” one declares. 

It’s a notion repeated by Khaled Youssef between turns rallying a crowd of journalists toward the square. Youssef, deputy editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Al-Shaab newspaper, says, “We Egyptians are all one and the same; our only problem is that we’re misinformed, so it’s easy for misunderstandings to thrive, and for ignorance to be manipulated by those with an interest in doing so."

There are similar sentiments in Tahrir, and the procession of journalists arrives at 3 pm to be greeted by a group of young men passing out signs that read "EGYPT IS THE GRAVEYARD OF THE BROTHERHOOD…" Chants carry threats to the “illegitimate” organization, banners prohibit its members from entering the stage, and there is plenty of overheard talk of the “bastards” and “how to deal with them.” But there is little aggression to match it. Instead, the square is alive with beating drums, ear-piercing horns, and on at least two occasions shortly after sunset, fireworks.

“Of course I’m upset about recent events,” 18-year-old Mohamed Amin Idris insists, with a tablet in one hand and the colors of the flag streaked across both cheeks. “And that’s why we’re all here. But we’re all happy to be here because we took back the square. The Brotherhood tried to hijack it like they hijacked the revolution, but they need to understand Tahrir is Egypt, and it belongs to Egyptians.”

Mostafa Mahmoud Okasha agrees, having come all the way from Qena for what he knew would be an impressive turnout. The 23-year-old, who claims to have frequented the square in the early days of the revolution, recalls the despair at seeing “what had happened to it” in recent months. 

“This is right, being able to agree,” he says. “Some of us voted for a president with ties to the Brotherhood, some of us didn’t. But we can all agree that nobody voted for a tyrant.”

A running theme throughout the day’s protests, compare Morsi and his supporters to mindless members of the supreme guide’s herd, and much of the street art and homemade signs mocking the opposition’s need for a leader to idolize. 

Across the square, Abdel Kader Ahmed holds up his sign — a poster of Anwar Sadat above the caption, "The Great Peacemaker" — for all to see. When asked about Sadat, however, he promptly begins to list the similarities between Morsi and a more recent former president. “How is [Morsi] different than what we overthrew? And the people who say ‘give him a chance’ — how can I when the man is so clearly insisting on going in the wrong direction?”

He then cracks some jokes at the current president’s expense, and our own.

“It used to be soccer distracted us from lousy presidents. Now lousy presidents are distracting us from soccer.” He stares up at Anwar Sadat. “Rest in peace,” he shouts.

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