“The army is the people’s army and Mubarak is no longer our president!”
On the 13th day of the uprising in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the anti-regime protesters’ chants still ring loud.
I walk briskly toward the square, past the long queues of people impatiently waiting to get in, and join the protesters who have now set up makeshift camps. Today’s “newcomers” have to pass several security checkpoints before they are finally allowed in. Army personnel and volunteer citizens conduct body searches and look through people’s belongings for weapons. They also check personal IDs.
Amr Khalil, a 22-year-old student, tells me he has been waiting for more than an hour to get in. But the long wait seems to have only strengthened his resolve: “They want us to give up and go home,” he says. “But we’ll just keep coming back ― until Mubarak steps down.”
The crowds inside the square appear to have thinned out as a semblance of normal life returned to Cairo. On Sunday, banks reopened and Cairo streets filled up with vehicles. The city’s notorious traffic jams were a welcome sight for many locals unaccustomed to the sight of their bustling city void of cars as it has been in recent days.
“We’re achieving gains here,” says Amal Mahmoud, a 30- year-old pharmacist. “They are small victories, but victories all the same.”
The regime has made some concessions since the start of the revolution. First, President Hosni Mubarak reshuffled his Cabinet, then the leadership of the ruling National Democratic Party resigned. On Saturday, Safwat el Sherif, secretary-general of the NDP and highly unpopular with most Egyptians, also stepped down.
There are more victories at this historic protest: On Sunday, a national dialogue started between Vice President Omar Suleiman and the Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition force in Egypt. The talks also included representatives of other political forces in the country, including the liberal Wafd party, the leftist Tagammu and members of a youth committee chosen by the activists who launched the protests calling for the ouster of Mubarak. Independent political figures and businessmen have also been invited to join the discussion on constitutional amendments and the way out of the crisis, which has taken a heavy toll on the country’s economy.
For some, the biggest gain is the spirit of unity and solidarity that now seemingly binds all factions of Egyptian society. The common cause of bringing down Mubarak has united Muslims and Copts like never before. Egypt’s mostly Muslim population and its minority Copts, who make up about 10 percent to 15 percent of the nation’s inhabitants, have experienced sectarian tensions in recent years. But today a Coptic priest and a Muslim sheikh stand side-by-side during a mass for the “martyrs of the revolution.” Fingers entwined in a show of interfaith solidarity, they chant “We are one.”
I, too, am walking away today from Tahrir Square with my own prize victory: The presence of camera crews from Egyptian state television filming the protest. I quit my job on Egypt’s English-language satellite channel (part of state television) last Thursday for what I considered to be its biased coverage in favor of the regime. Angered by my inability to tell the story as it is because of media censorship, I walked out determined not to be part of the regime’s propaganda machine.
Foreign networks raced to air my public criticism of the state media’s misleading coverage. Its presenters were telling their audience the Muslim Brotherhood had instigated the protest when it had been young activists from the 6th of April Movement and the “We are all Khaled Saeed” group, named after the young man in Alexandria who was beaten to death by police in June last year. The focus of state media coverage was the pro-Mubarak rallies, rather than the revolution itself.
My resignation after 22 years as senior anchor and correspondent on state TV captured the attention of the international media partly because it happened to coincide with a government crackdown on foreign journalists in Egypt. Many were attacked and their equipment destroyed in an effort to hamper their reporting of the crisis.
Following criticism by the West, newly appointed Premier Ahmed Shafik appeared in an interview and urged TV authorities to do away with the censorship. He asked them to present all sides of the story ― apparently giving the green light for airing the views of the anti-regime protesters.
For state television, this is a complete turnaround and I was pleased to see a shift in the way the story has been covered over the past 72 hours.
As I left the square, I saw a mother lean over her seven-month-old baby. “Papa and I are here for you today. We have not known freedom but we want to make sure you will.”
That, I told myself as I walked to my car, is precisely why tens of thousands of Egyptians are gathered here. For them, even death is a small price to pay.
By Shahira Amin
Shahira Amin is an Egyptian journalist who resigned from state-owned Nile TV during the protests in Cairo. The opinions expressed are her own. ― Ed.