The Revolution Is Not Over
As the protests in Cairo enter their third week, the movement is picking up steam once again.
CAIRO — The revolution is not over.
Waving flags and chanting, "We’re not leaving; he’s the one who’s leaving," huge crowds surged into Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Tuesday, Feb. 8, calling for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and demanding fundamental political change.
It was clear that new faces, including a much larger proportion of women and children, had decided to venture into the square for the first time — perhaps inspired by the gripping television interview of Wael Ghonim, the Google executive and activist who was released from prison on Monday after being detained for 12 days.
"Egyptians are very emotional people," said Dalia Ziada, a local civil rights activist. "After seeing Wael, now they believe it’s about young people loving their country."
By early evening, a Facebook page set up to nominate Ghonim as the spokesman of the "Egyptian revolution" had garnered nearly 140,000 supporters. Meanwhile, a new "revolutionary committee" met to try to hash out a unified front and a set of consensus demands to rally around, according to two people briefed on the discussions.
In another sign that momentum may be swinging back toward the protesters’ side, several hundred professors from Cairo University marched into the square, chanting, "Down with Mubarak." Earlier in the day, the university’s law faculty issued a statement announcing its "complete support for the January 25 revolution" and calling on Mubarak to "comply with the will of the nation" and name qualified experts to devise a new, more democratic constitution.
Meanwhile, Mubarak appointed a commission of legal scholars to recommend changes to the existing constitution, though critics noted immediately that it was headed by a staunch supporter of the president.
"The debate on the constitution is already mature," said Hassan Nafaa, head of the political science department at Cairo University. "You don’t need any time. Everybody knows exactly what has to be done."
A few kilometers away from Tahrir, at Pottery Café, a high-end coffee shop overlooking the Nile in the wealthy island neighborhood of Zamalek, Gucci-wearing young people smoked shisha and spoke with new interest of a protest movement that, for many of them, had thus far been something to fear, rather than welcome.
Zeina, 23, a graduate of the American University in Cairo who works at her family’s charity hospital in Aswan, in Upper Egypt, said she had been to the square once just to see it but still wasn’t sure which side to support. "I’m worried we’re going to be pressured to choose someone we don’t want."
"Everyone here is in the middle," Zeina said, gesturing at the young crowd sitting at the café. "They are all on the fence."
Others disagreed. "I think Wael Ghonim spoke on behalf of everyone," said her friend Sara, 23, who hadn’t been to any demonstrations but said she was "contributing to the revolution in other ways."
Maher, 30, who owns a sporting goods store in the upper-class Mohandiseen neighborhood and wore tinted sunglasses and a white sweater, said he hadn’t gone to any protests yet; he had been protecting his home every night "with machine guns" and was afraid to leave. But after watching Ghonim on television — and now that the police are beginning to return to the streets — he and his friends plan to go to Tahrir Square later this week to show their support.
"Everyone" watched Ghonim’s interview and empathized with him, said Maher’s friend Ahmed, 29, laughing as he pointed to a well-coiffed Chihuahua sitting in a woman’s lap several tables away. "Even the girl over there with the little dog."
"I had never heard of him before, but it really made us feel bad about what happened to Egypt," added Ahmed, an engineering-firm executive whose father is a communications engineer for the military.
At Tabasco, another coffee shop in Zamalek, Karim, a well-spoken 25-year-old activist, said that he and several friends were planning to hold an open forum at a local cultural center on Saturday to help young people begin to get accustomed to their new freedoms. "But we don’t know really how to do this," he said. "Do you know how to organize a town-hall meeting?"