On Friday, the headlines read that Tahrir Square was burning.
Soldiers and military police raided the square in an unprecedented bout of violence and brutality, firing weapons and using batons and teargas to chase protesters, burning blankets, tents, medical supplies, and anything else that stood in their way. Thirteen people have been killed and over 400 wounded in a series of violent assaults that eventually forced the protesters to leave and decimated Tahrir Square.
Now, five days later, Tahrir Square has burned and all that remains are the scattered remains of charred tents, blood stains on the pavement, and an imposing line of military police encircling the square to ensure that above all else, it is not reoccupied.
These particular clashes, which led to this final bout of violence that raided and evicted the square, began on Friday. However, these clashes are only one of many confrontations between the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) and the military police versus the people that began in mid November. These clashes have made the beloved Tahrir Square of the Egyptian Revolution spiral into a blood bathed nightmare.
The Egyptian Revolution—in it’s first stage—created a reel of unprecedented images of Egyptian society. Egyptian women, once marginalized by traditional Islamic gender roles and the fear of street harassment and gender based violence, took to the streets in equal numbers as men. Coptic Christians, a religious minority, linked arms to form a human shield to protect the Muslim protesters from the military police during the call to prayer. Even the army stood with the protesters, united not only in solidarity with the people, but as one collective force against the injustices of the regime.
Egypt showed themselves and the world that they were a people united—and that they would not, and could not be defeated. Not only did thousands around the world march in solidarity with Egypt’s struggle—they were also inspired to list their own demands, take to their own streets, and reclaim institutions away from their respective dictators to re-imagine a politics that truly is of, by, and for the people.
Protests demanding an end to dictatorial regimes erupted in neighboring Libya, Syria, and Morocco. Wisconsin, inspired by the radical perseverance of the Arab Spring organized to fill the streets to protest and recall Governor Scott Walker for his blatant attack on unions. Israelis camped in the streets to protest the unsustainably high cost of living in Tel Aviv. Greece and Spain took to the streets to rise up against austerity measures, and the dismal economic prospects facing the youth. Chilean students filled the streets protesting the unjust and unsustainable privatization of education.
In the United States, the Occupy Movement began, becoming national and then global in only a matter of weeks. Though many of these protesters see themselves as part of one movement in a massive, interconnected global uprising, many attribute their primary inspiration to the Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square.
Now, as the world rises up largely in response to Egypt’s bravery, we look to the recent developments in Egypt in shock and horror as the idealistic images of unity and solidarity that we once revered as symbols of hope and radical possibility are violently torn to pieces by the SCAF. Religious clashes have erupted between the once united Coptic Christians and Muslims. Women, who once took to the streets in equal numbers as men, are now targeted and abused by the military police. As more and more women are physically and sexually assaulted, their presence in the square diminishes making the face of this stage of the Egyptian Revolution predominantly male.
The Egyptian Army—who once stood alongside the people against Mubarak—are now the army of the SCAF as it turns on the revolution it once fought for, violently beating and indefinitely detaining innocent protesters as it divides and conquers, crystallizing into a hideous reincarnation of the old regime.
Still, despite the clashes, violence and deaths—and now the loss of the square–Egyptians are continuing to demonstrate, now united against the military rule that has revitalized Mubarak’s regime. Today, many are gathering for the Women’s March, a march protesting the SCAF’s violence towards women and dismissal of concern for female protesters’ modesty. Tomorrow, there is a call in the United States and around the world for marches on every Egyptian embassy, showing solidarity with those who have been violently evicted from Tahrir Square. Similar protests are constantly being planned, bringing Egyptians together to fill the streets, rather than the square as an unstoppable voice shaping the demands for the future of Egypt.
Despite the absence of the iconic central gathering point of Tahrir Square, the culture of demonstrating, protesting, and uniting to realize the radical lives on. Egyptians, not discouraged but mobilized by the actions of police brutality once again must convince the world that despite the forceful injustice of the institutions of the state, it is impossible to evict an idea whose time has come.