The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Update from Tahrir

I went out to Tahrir today for the first time in a couple of days. Beforehand, I had neither the patience to wait in the long queues on Qasr al-Nil bridge and could not walk around the corniche and Abdel Moneim Riyadh Square to get to Downtown. The situation eased today, with more people finding ways to get around the city, Abdel Moneim Riyadh and Sixth of October Bridge opened for traffic, and the army controlling a tighter perimeter at Tahrir Southern and Western entrances. The quickest way to enter by far is from Champollion, Talaat Harb and Bab al-Luq entrances. 

The mood in Tahrir is, as ever, uplifting and ebullient. It's a veritable tent city in the grassy parts, and the atmosphere is reminiscent of a moulid — the celebrations of saints that are part of the more Dionysian side of the way Islam is practiced in Egypt. Or, in Western terms, it's Glastonbury out there.

The food and medicine shortages have for the most part stopped. What people are eating won't win any nutritionists' recommendations — it's mostly ready-made foods like chips — but at least it's there. A few days people went hungry, but persevered. One amusing fact is that the Tahrir people have come up with their own nickname for all types of food: al-Kentucky. The questions asked at the gates are, "did you remember to bring in al-Kentucky? Where's your al-Kentucky?" This reminds me, as a friend once observed, that Kentucky Fried Chicken has a special place in the contemporary Egyptian imagination. I don't know whether it's because KFC was the first of the fast food chains, but al-Kentucky has now graduated from signifier of middle class arrivisme to the staple food of the Cairo Commune of 2011. 

Of course, they're not really eating fried chicken. It's still basic stuff out there, just like the accommodation is basic. Most people have just been sleeping on whatever free bit of grass or asphalt they could find, huddled together for warmth.

The big news today, for the journos trying to figure out where this story was going, was that several factions met with Omar Suleiman to negotiate. Except that these are not negotiations, at best they're the negotiations to determine whether negotiations will take place. And the people in Tahrir, the only people who really matter in this whole business, won't leave until Hosni Mubarak is gone. Then the politicians and technocrats and grandees can offer their solutions out of the impasse. They've made their point clear: the people want to bring down the regime. That begins with Hosni Mubarak. I don't think they'll easily be convinced otherwise.