On the Ground in Tahrir, Egyptian Politics Appears Poised for Real Change

On the Ground in Tahrir, Egyptian Politics Appears Poised for Real Change

CAIRO — Here’s a secret: Until right now, many journalists in Egypt had gotten tired of covering protests. They’re hot, you know what protesters are going to say, and they never seemed to carry any potential for change. Starting June 30, that just changed.

Protesters have gathered in Tahrir Square and outside the presidential palace in the neighborhood of Heliopolis to call for the departure of President Mohamed Morsy’s administration. As evening fell in Cairo, the capital braced for demonstrations that seemed set to carry on until late in the night. For the first time in months, Egyptian politics seems to be on the cusp of real change.

The daytime crowd in Tahrir crossed religious and socioeconomic lines — old women in black hijabs shouted irhal, or "leave," next to youths carrying crosses, who chanted "Christians and Muslims are one hand."

Protesters carried red cards — both a reference to a soccer penalty and a message to Morsy that they wanted to force him from the political playing field. "This is not a warning, this is a red card, you donkey," read one poster (it rhymes in Arabic).

The reputation of the Egyptian military has also undergone a significant revival among anti-Muslim Brotherhood forces. Cheers erupted from the crowd when army helicopters flew over the square; one protester turned to me to explain, "They’re here to protect us."

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has become the bête noire of protesters, who blame Washington for propping up the Morsy administration. Tattered pictures of U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson, with a giant red "X" through her face, littered the ground of the square. Meanwhile, a large poster declaring "Obama Supports Terrorism" had pride of place at the center of the demonstration.

The ideological divide among the protesters is very real, but they have united behind a shared hatred of the ruling Islamist government. "Morsy, you are my shoe," "Down with the government of the murshid," and "leave, leave you sheep," are all popular chants among the crowd at Tahrir. The door of the iconic Café Riche, a short walk from the square, features Photoshopped pictures of Egyptian intellectuals Rifa’a al-Tahtawi and Taha Husayn holding Tamarod ("rebel") petitions calling for Morsy’s downfall.

What comes next is still unclear. As protesters converge at the presidential palace, many fear that the country stands on the precipice of violence between the government’s supporters and opponents. A roadmap for the country, should the protesters force Morsy from office, also remains vague. But one thing is clear: Egyptian protests suddenly got interesting again.