Welcome to Free Cairo!!
Egypt is free. FREE! Liberated. Born again (as several signs around Cairo proclaim). People have taken their country back. The youth – to whom all credit is given, by people of all ages in Egypt – are everywhere: standing on tanks, cleaning the streets, directing traffic!!, painting the medians on streets, and of course walking and celebrating their great victory. Many Egyptians call them the “Facebook Shebab (Youth)” and credit them with “organizing all of this” and fighting the regime, peacefully, and refusing to accept anything but the total abdication of “he who will not be named” (a take-off on Voldemort, who is “he who must not be named”). My friend Abduh told me – “we don’t use his name or even think about him.”
Egyptians lost their fear (everyone tells me this); they stand up to the Police (a notorious force for evil, doing the will of the ugly Mubarak regime); yet they obey and respect and honor the Army.
There is a spirit, an “electricity” in the air, among every person you meet. As soon as I landed today (Saturday), I went to Tahrir Square (where all the action was for 18 days, from 25 January when protests began until 11 February when ‘he who will not be named’ was deposed) and just walked around, talking to anyone who would talk but mostly listening to people. I took pictures and absorbed as much as I could the reality that on this hallowed ground a revolution was fought; a few hundred young people died in sacrifice to this cause; and a 30-year old dictatorship was sent packing – peacefully (except for the pro-regime thugs) and ultimately with the support of the Egyptian Army, which finally came out and enabled the Youth to achieve their objectives.
In Tahrir, there were groups everywhere, people everywhere, parents holding pictures of their martyred daughters and sons, Christians and Muslims, slain in the final days of a dying, corrupt dictatorship. “The People” have taken Egypt back!! And the People have taken their streets back. The Police are hardly seen anywhere – and wherever they are, they are deferential to “the People”. And sometimes the army – which is everywhere – has to come to help the police from the angry taunts (verbally abusive, but non-threatening) of everyday people.
Tanks are on the outskirts of Tahrir, and atop them stand kids holding flags, having their pictures taken by their parents. Young kids – 2, 3 years old – and big folks; all sitting or standing on or next to the tanks. And whenever possible, getting their pictures taken with the army guys manning the tanks.
There is – in all of this Revolutionary spirit – a normalcy to Egypt, a calmness, even a bit quiet. There are areas of less traffic than before (a huge issue for a city of 18-20 million souls). So if life is getting back to normal, it is actually much better. People are not only fearless, they are happy! They are able to dream again, to dream about a better future, to dream about a better life for themselves and their children.
The damage to property around Cairo is much less than I thought, based on the pictures on CNN and al-Jazeera. Mohandiseen and the Gama al-Duwal al-Arabiya Street is in great shape. The only storefronts I saw looted and damaged belonged to the Duty Free shops – Heineken and 2 others near it. Police offices around town were burned, as was the NDP building in Tahrir and on the Corniche. Destroying these symbols of power of the dead Regime are major achievements; but in the life of the city, they are minor realities now.
Trade and industry and services seem back to normal. Shops are open; people are in the streets buying and selling. The Banks are supposed to re-open Sunday, and the schools are to re-open later next week.
The Revolution has become the latest tourist attraction. People all over Tahrir are selling Egyptian symbols – flags, arm bands, martyrs’ remembrance cards, Pyramids with flags on top, almost anything with the Red, White, Black & Eagle-on-White colors sells.