Some old shit I wrote back in 2011 when I was way more naive yet obviously less bitter. It was merely reflection on a million-man march organised on 8 July, 2011 in Tahrir Square, calling upon the then ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to achieve “revolutionary demands”. It was probably the last time the revolutionaries, the liberals, the Islamists, and the Muslim Brotherhood joined in the same protest.
“We’re all one … our goal one … civil country … country … civil country … civil country”
Thus sings Rami Essam, the “singer of the revolution”, one of his most popular songs on the 8 July, right at the heart of the Square. Meanwhile, a banner stuck at the lower back of the stage above which Essam is singing reads:
“Neither eastern nor western, Islamist country, Islamist country.”
It’s none other than Tahrir Square; with its heat, its grandeur, its sense of humor, its uniqueness, but not with its unity. Unlike before the former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted, when all protesters were gathered around one official demand, “the removal of the regime”, now there is no longer an official demand to bring the people together.
Not far away from the American University in Cairo campus, Muslim Brotherhood supporters assembled around some sidewalk claiming it as their own. I approach as they are gently arguing with a young, veiled woman who’s sweetly scolding them over having the name of the Brotherhood raised on several banners in the square. Organisers of this million-man march had earlier announced no political or partisan banners shall be raised; only Egypt’s flag.
My attention is, nevertheless, drawn elsewhere; close by a woman sits cross-legged on the sidewalk, tending to a stash of little souvenirs, apparently for sale. First, I take it she’s a shop girl like the rest of them all filling the square for need of a few extra pounds. But when a little boy comes closer to inspect one of her little products, a key chain, I notice the picture of Muslim Brotherhood founding leader Hassan Al-Banna on one side, and the Brotherhood logo on the other side. Shock takes over me as my eyes sweep the rest of the products, to find them all representing what could be categorised as “Muslim Brotherhood souvenirs” and tokens of loyalty.
But it’s not just the Muslim Brotherhood who is using the Friday protest to serve personal interests and boost advertising campaigns. Several other Islamist groups are posting banners demanding the release of some of their chief leaders, most notably Omar Abdel Rahman, from prison, even collecting signatures for petitions regarding the matter. Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei’s presidential campaign seizes the opportunity as well to conduct a survey among protesters on where they stand regarding the presidential elections and its candidates.
I wonder what we wanted from this protest if we aren’t even able to agree on one bigger demand. But it’s not until the end of the day that the answer begins to slowly dawn on me: what all those people, regardless of their different backgrounds, ideologies and methodologies, crave is a developed democratic country which is able to contain differences without creating rifts and enmities. What they want is a country where they get to both demand an Islamist and a modern, liberal country, and have that country absorb both of their demands with equal freedom, some compromise and without taking sides.
Yet, how I wish we could all agree on the way to such a country before we lose it.