CAIRO: The sight of tens of thousands of Egyptians, taking to the streets, demanding their constitutional right to choose their leader was a turning point in the history of this nation.
No one imagined that the hoards of protesters who risked their lives on that historic day on January 25 would finally move their virtual revolution from cyber space to the street, but it happened and it continues.
The 10,000 Egyptians who were violently dispersed with water cannon, teargas and rubber bullets from Tahrir Square on midnight that day, the thousands who marched peacefully in Alexandria and Suez were the spark that triggered unprecedented demands to topple the regime and end the Mubarak dictatorship.
What has happened since then is history: protesters from all walks of life, social classes and ideologies defied a ban imposed by the Interior Ministry, hundreds were arrested, several were killed, but that only added fuel to the fire. By the “Friday of Anger” three days later, it didn’t matter that Egyptians woke up to find themselves under a total communication lockdown, with no access to the internet and no mobile phones, only archaic landlines.
The naïve decision to cut off communication channels was clearly taken by a regime completely out of touch with the seething anger sweeping the country. The snowball had started rolling and Egyptians no longer needed a Facebook invitation to decide that they’ve had enough and that it was time for change. Everyone was going out, come what may.
The first few hours following Friday prayers were inspirational. Peaceful marches consolidated in key epicenters, protesters calling on residents to join them; residents who watched in awe from their balconies as the swelling crowds rolled out and dreams of freedom suddenly became palpable. Many did, even with their children, and others contributed with water bottles and Pepsi cans.
It didn’t matter when the teargas canisters landed on them like hail, and it didn’t matter if they got beaten. They kept coming back.
That’s why the much-anticipated speech by President Mubarak was such a disappointment. Egyptians who had been chanting calls for an end to the 30-year regime with all its corruption, nepotism, injustice were livid. Introducing the military to restore order was a welcomed move, but off-handedly promising a cabinet reshuffle was condescending. It was too little, too late.
People expected the president to step down, to change controversial articles in the constitution, to repeat the recent legislative elections and to reassure Egyptians that the inheritance scenario was a thing of the past.
Naturally the protests continued and despite the announcement that Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman was to be appointed vice president and that the much-respected General Ahmed Shafik – Minister of Civil Aviation – was to head the new cabinet, people were not satisfied. And their calls for fundamental change continue.
In the meantime, tens have been killed and hundreds wounded, including riot policemen.
But the chaos that ensued has also been unprecedented. Reports of lootings, thefts, and criminal acts filled the airwaves as the police force literally disappeared in the blink of an eye. Not a single policeman was seen as shops in Mohandiseen and a shopping center in Maadi were robbed to the ground, triggering rumors that the armed perpetrators are the very same plainclothes policemen we’ve seen all too often before.
But that’s not the whole story.
The security vacuum has been filled by the honest people of Egypt, the same people who formed a human shield to protect the Egyptian Antiquities Museum from looters and the same people who stood side by side, the doctor with the doorman, the student with the worker to protect their neighborhoods from those who are trying to hijack the incredible revolt of the Egyptian people, who have finally broken the barriers of silence and fear.
Rania Al Malky is the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt.