Tahrir Square: One Year Later

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: I'm Lisa Mullins, and this is The World. A co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH in Boston. One year ago today, the crowds started gathering slowly at first, in Cairo's Tahrir Square. First, a few hundred, then a few thousand. And eventually, hundreds of thousands of people turned out for a massive anti-government demonstration.

Man 1: I'm protesting for hope. I'm protesting for change. I'm protesting against a government that doesn't listen to it's people.

Man 2: Incredible scenes here. I never thought I'd see this in Cairo. This is President Mubarak's governmenting headquarters, and it is in flames. This was a symbol of Mubarak's power, of Mubarak's regime.

Man 3: This regime has remained in power for thirty years. We had more than enough. My son is not going to suffer what I had to suffer.

Mullins: What started on January 25th last year and ended with long time president Hosni Mubarak's resignation. Today crowds gathered once again in Tahrir Square, to mark the first anniversary of the uprising. Reporter Noel King joins us from Cairo. One year ago today, Noel, Cairo was filled with a sense of hope and change. What has it felt like in Tahrir Square today?

Noel King: Well it was a pretty extraordinary scene in Tahrir Square today. You had tens of thousands of people, possibly even hundreds of thousands, although I'd hate to venture a guess on the exact number, packed in tight to the Square. Overwhelmingly the mood was one of jubilant celebration. People were proud to be there, they were happy to be there, and that was mixed with a fair amount of cynicism and pessimism from some people who said, "We are absolutely thrilled that we overthrew Hosni Mubarak and that we're standing here twelve months later. At the same time we just don't think Egypt has moved quickly enough toward the kind of democratic transition that we were hoping for when we came out in force twelve months ago."

Mullins: We heard that there were some rival stages that were set up in the Square with some banners carrying conflicting messages. The Islamist groups are celebrating the anniversary. They now make up a majority of Egypt's parliament. On the other side, pro-democracy supporters who want even more change, including the resignation of the ruling military council. Were the two sides, how were they interacting, or were they even interacting with each other?

King: Well that's a very apt description. What you saw today in Tahrir really depended on which side of Tahrir you were standing in. The Muslim Brotherhood did a wonderful job, as they are known to do, of organizing people, of getting them out in huge numbers. They were singing songs, they had lots of chants, they were a sea of Egyptian flags as far as the eye could see. On the other side you had the youth activists, who said again and again from the top of their stage, "The Revolution isn't over yet. We haven't seen the end of the January 25th movement." For the most part, I would say people were sort of circulating between those two groups. The conservative Salafi Nour Party had their own stage. Not such a great turnout, at least in the early morning and afternoon, for them, and some of Egypt's liberal political parties were similarly neglected. I'd say the Brotherhood and the youth activists had the big numbers today, but for a lot of people, it was a day of observation. You saw families with young children walking in between the groups, and just sort of taking it all in with a sense of awe and wonder. And again, quite a bit of pride.

Mullins: You say there were families with young children. We know that last year there were families on Tahrir Square, there were women that were out as well as men. I wonder if there is much of a presence of women out on the Square today.

King: You know, I spent a lot of the day talking to women about where they think Egypt stands a year after the revolution. Women have faced extraordinary challenges. They've been some of the victims of abusive by police and security forces. They put in a very poor showing in the parliamentary elections, just about 2% of the incoming parliamentarians are Egyptian women. However, overwhelmingly the women I spoke to said, "Look, we're in a good mood today. We know that there are challenges that remain, but for the moment, let's just remain optimistic and positive and see where we can take it after today." And there was a young woman who I thought really summed up the day really well. She was a student. She was only seventeen years old. We were talking for a long time about some of the challenges that Egypt is facing, and she was very representative, I think, of Egyptians on the whole. She's a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, a veiled young woman but fairly moderate in her beliefs. And I said to her, "You know, there are so many people out here today who, despite their optimisms, say they're worried about Egypt's transition to democracy, they're concerned about the military council, the staff holding onto power." And she said to me, "Well I know what my plan is. I'm seventeen. I'm gonna graduate high school, and then when I graduate, I'm gonna run for a seat in the new parliament, and I'm gonna help turn things around." I was really struck and impressed by that, both because of her youth, her optimism, and the fact that she had a pretty firm plan, which you wouldn't always have seen in Egypt, but you sure see now.

Mullins: Alright, Noel King, joining us from Cairo, where she has spent hours today on Tahrir Square. Thank you.

King: Thank you, Lisa.