Snapshot of a revolution
CAIRO — The temperature in Cairo’s Tahrir Square at 3pm — the moment that Egypt’s election had promised to reveal the country’s next president — hit 97 degrees Fahrenheit. And as the crowd baked in the summer heat, there was still no announcement. In an hour and a half, the commission would declare that the ...
CAIRO — The temperature in Cairo’s Tahrir Square at 3pm -- the moment that Egypt’s election had promised to reveal the country’s next president -- hit 97 degrees Fahrenheit. And as the crowd baked in the summer heat, there was still no announcement.
CAIRO — The temperature in Cairo’s Tahrir Square at 3pm — the moment that Egypt’s election had promised to reveal the country’s next president — hit 97 degrees Fahrenheit. And as the crowd baked in the summer heat, there was still no announcement.
In an hour and a half, the commission would declare that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi had won the presidency with 51.7 percent of the vote, becoming the first non-military leader of the Egyptian Republic. The results come a week after balloting ended in the run-off election — the delay in announcing the results spurred speculation that the ruling military government was negotiating with the Brotherhood to protect its political influence. Politics had once again been taken into the back rooms, far from the sight of those who cast their votes. As FP contributor Marc Lynch put it on Friday, there is “no legit outcome anymore.”
But before the results were announced, all the Morsi supporters in Tahrir could do was speculate — and try to stay cool. Underneath a makeshift tent near a Kentucky Fried Chicken, Sheikh Khaled, a preacher from Giza wearing a black gallabeya, welcomed me to sit with him. He had been jailed, he said, from 1994 to 2005, “simply for preaching Islam.”
Khaled, a member of the Salafist Nour Party, had supported Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh in the election’s first round, in line with his party’s decision. Would he trust Morsi to represent his interests, should he be elected president? “Yes,” he smiled, pressing two fingers together. “We’re one hand.”
The scene in the tent bore him out, at least for the moment. Taha, a clean-shaven Muslim Brotherhood activist sporting a Morsi campaign badge around his neck, sat listening to the conversation -– his toddler, Manal, peered in from outside the circle. Ayman, another Salafist who praised Khaled as the man who “had taught him all he knows about Islam,” handed me a sticker for disqualified Salafist presidential candidate Hazem Abu Ismail. The message was clear: Egypt’s various Islamist currents had found their standard-bearer in Morsi.
Ayman saw the choice between Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s former prime minister, as an economic struggle as well as a religious one. “The businessmen manipulate the system, the laws go for him,” he said. “If I want to go to work, he already has my resignation in hand,” implying that he could be fired without cause.
Ayman had arrived in Tahrir on Thursday, and said even Morsi’s victory would not cause him to leave. He enunciated the Brotherhood’s demands to the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces: The reopening of the Islamist-dominated Parliament, which had been dissolved by court order; the annulment of the constitutional amendments granting the Egyptian military political power at the expense of the presidency; and a general withdrawal of the army from politics.
It wasn’t only the middle-aged men in the tent who affirmed that the protesters were there for the long haul. Iman, a member of the Brotherhood and a college senior studying political science in Cairo, arched her eyebrows above her oversize sunglasses when asked if the crowds would leave any time soon. “No,” she said. “This is just the beginning. We will stay here for 10 years if we have to.”
The Brotherhood had patched things up with the Salafists: Had they done the same with the “revolutionaries,” the secular groups opposed to the ruling military junta? Iman nodded and repeated the same rhetoric of the Brotherhood and the revolutionaries being “one hand.”
Esraa, her friend who gave her political affiliation as “Egyptian,” had listened to the conversation silently. But on this exchange, she spoke up: “What about Mohammed Mahmoud Street? What about Abbaseya?” — clashes between Egyptian protesters and the Egyptian military where the Muslim Brotherhood was notably absent.
“No, no,” Iman said, running her hand across her white veil in what looked to be a sign of genuine distress.
The conversation would have continued, but at that moment a roar erupted from Tahrir. Crowds of young men hurtled past us, cheering, over the green dividers and into the center of the square. Women in the crowd started ululating; one impromptu march chanted, “God is greatest,” another chanted, “Down with the military government.”
Morsi had won. Esraa hugged Iman, whose pressed her hands over her face as her eyes went wide with delight. A group of youths joyfully waved a yellow flag of the Kefaya movement, one of the original civil anti-Mubarak coalitions. An old man walking with a cane walked by, shouting “Nobody leave the square!”
Nearby, on Talaat Harb St., the crowds were swelling and the chants disparaging Shafiq and Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the military government, grew louder. From the middle of the crowd, someone brandished a silver pistol and emptied the clip into the air in celebration, and the crowd cheered its approval. Tahrir Square was again united in victory, if only for a night.
David Kenner was Middle East editor at Foreign Policy from 2013-2018.
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