A Tahrir Stroll

From what I’ve heard, Tahrir Square isn’t the kind of place one strolls about. More of a place for dodging and weaving against a ceaseless onslaught of oncoming traffic, overzealous street vendors, and, of late, rocks and Molotov cocktails.

After my plan to trek out to Cairo’s eastern outskirts to cover the resumption of Hosni Mubarak’s trial this morning fell through, I settled for checking out what was up in Tahrir, the now world famous epicenter of the revolution that toppled the now world’s most famous criminal defendant. Maybe the restart of the trial—suspended for the last three months as the court considered a request to replace the presiding judge—had breathed some life back into the place since I last passed through on Saturday, when I’d found it strangely quiet mere hours after tens of thousands had rallied against the ruling military council on Friday.

I walked down to the square from my hostel around 10:30, perhaps an hour after the day’s proceedings had commenced. Entering from Talaat Harb Street, one of the main traffic arteries downtown, the fairly lifeless square bore little resemblance to its explosive alter ego commonly seen on TV. A few vendors half-heartedly hawked black “January 25” T-shirts, though their persistence lagged far behind their counterparts at Cairo’s tourist attractions. In the center of the square, where an encampment of around 20 tents remains, small groups of men gathered in circles to discuss I wish I knew what in hushed, dispassionate tones.

Tents in Tahrir Square.

I pressed on, onto Mohamed Mahmoud Street, site of the urban warfare between protesters and police back in November that killed more than 40, and Qasr el-Ainey, the thoroughfare to a series of government offices, where almost 20 died in clashes with the military earlier this month. Both have since been converted to cul-de-sacs, sealed off a block from the square by hulking 20-foot concrete masses now decorated with various spray-painted iterations of “Fuck SCAF.” Ordinarily, they bustle with Cairo’s familiar complement of honking cabs and zigzagging motorbikes. Now, they’re possibly the only streets in the entire city you can cross without fearing for your life. A steady trickle of pedestrians seemed happy to take advantage of the traffic holiday. They ambled along the middle of the street toward the wall up ahead.  Every so often, one would pause to point out some graffiti here or a hastily-painted mural there. Then they’d turn off in search of the nearest detour.

Meanwhile, mention of the trial was conspicuously nonexistent, save the newspaper stands, where a couple dailies led with shots of the former president and his codefendants. After gripping the nation back in August, the trial has ceded the limelight to more immediate concerns. Tweeted one Egyptian journalist a few minutes ago: “I remember Cairo on the first day of #MubarakTrial. EVERYONE was watching. Today, most aren’t even aware it’s happening.” Outside the courthouse, where thousands gathered during the summer, fewer than 100 showed—in comparison to the 5,000 police reportedly deployed. Following today’s largely procedural session, the court adjourned until next Monday, when the meaty portion of the trial is expected to get underway.

After snapping a few photos on Mohamed Mahmoud, I returned to the square and turned right, back onto Talaat Harb and toward my hostel to complete the final leg of my morning stroll.

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