39. Creating a space of resistance

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Article summary: 

Henk-Jan van Maanen, a researcher, came from The Netherlands to research places of Islamism, Liberalism and Christianity in post-Mubarak Egypt. He met with AWR's Managing Director, Mr. Hānī Labīb, who helped him with some contacts from whom he can benefit.


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'Yesterday I kissed the ground of the spot where I used to sleep on Tahrīr', Imān Hāshim said.

Hāshim, a young female doctor, is one of many Egyptians whose eyes start to sparkle when I ask how they feel when they walk in Tahrīr Square three months after the start of the January 25 Revolution.

From being a normal square in the center of a massive city, 
Tahrīr Square has changed into an almost sacred place. When speaking of the square, the protesters that ousted Mubārak
invariably use terms such as 'the best days of my life' and 'we should make a monument of Tahrīr.'

Two years ago I visited Egypt as well. During my vistit I do not recall ever discussing politics. Now, after the January 25 Revolution, this has completely changed. Taxi drivers and shop owners raise their thumbs when asked what they think of the revolution. Young revolutionaries would talk to me for hours in small cafe's about the biggest victory of their lives.

The stories of these young men and women make a big impression. They speak of violence and suffering, of getting beaten, hurt and of friends dying in front of their eyes. Horrible as these stories are, they fade away once these protesters start talking about Tahrīr's unity, respect, dignity, fearlessness and ultimately victory. But how did this victory come to be?

Revolutions are never only a social or chronological event, they are also spatial. Being a student in Human Geography I therefore focused my research on how Tahrīr turned from a normal square into a space of resistance and a place of change.

During the revolution, the square turned into a city in itself. Tents were erected, food and water was brought in, The entrances to Tahrīr were secured, restrooms were set up, the mosque turned into a hospital, stages were erected for entertainers, encouragement and prayer and even provisional kindergartens were created.

Most interesting about this was how naturally this change took place in Tahrīr. Although a coalition of leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood, the youth movements and the leftist organisations organised some of the logistics, the new Tahrīr came largely into being through the efforts of ordinary people who took up random tasks. United by a single purpose, the protesters lived together and shared food, blankets and other necessaties.

Unique about this was the fact that people from different backgrounds, social classes and religions worked and lived together so well. The pride Egyptians take in that is more than justified. However, this unity may be relative. Even though people mingled, at night people of similar backgrounds slept together in their own areas. Tensions between Christians and Salafi Muslims grew again in the months after Tahrīr.

So will the unity and achievements of Tahrīr last? The revolution has brought Egypt to a new junction. The country now faces the task to choose which exit on this junction it wants to take. Tahrīr was a cry for freedom, democracy, equality and an outcry against corruption and bad governance shared by many.

However, fears among Christians and women about the future role of the Muslim Brotherhood have to be taken seriously. The only one that can tackle these concerns is the Brotherhood itself. All in all, it is my experience that hopes are still high among the former revolutionaries but much work remains to be done. Only the future can tell if the voice of Tahrīr will be truly heard.

Doing research in Cairo was a pleasure. The traditional Arab hospitality, warmth and openness mixed with the pride over a historical victory made it very special to talk to the people that turned Tahrīr from a normal square into a place that toppled a president.


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