February 11 is a special day—for many reasons. First and foremost, it’s my dad’s birthday. (Happy Birthday, Dad!) Also Thomas Edison’s birthday. It’s the date Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990. And Wikipedia tells me that Benjamin Franklin opened the first American hospital on February 11, 1752.
And oh, it’s the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran too.
Of course, the 11th is also a huge day here in Egypt, which is marking the one-year anniversary of Hosni Mubarak’s resignation. Unlike January 25th, which was commemorated with mass marches/celebrations/protests across the country, with hundreds of thousands overflowing Tahrir Square, activist groups have called for a general strike to pressure the ruling military council to speed up its handover of power to civilian authorities.
I have to confess to being a little disappointed with this plan. After missing the 25th chasing fellowships back in the States (alas, in vain), I was kinda hoping for a replay. My selfish disappointments aside, it is a shame to think that a day as glorious as the 11th should have come to mark not the victory of a revolution but only the opening salvo in a drawn out power struggle that has already claimed far too many lives.
Lucky for me, festivities weren’t in short supply. In Tahrir, the largest crowd I’ve seen since I’ve been here massed on the east end of the square. People seemed a little antsy at first. A false alarm of some sort sent a group of young men scurrying from a small embankment alongside the road. But the chanting soon got going, and the crowd was in fine voice. There was the usual “Yasqut, yasqut hokm el-askar! “ (“Down with military rule!”) and the “People demand the downfall of the Field Marshal!” (shouted in an unusually high pitch, owing to a very strong turnout of little kids), but also cries of “Baladee baladnaa!” (“My country is our country!”) Unlike some of the other protests I’ve been to, which have seemed almost perfunctory, there was an enthusiasm at this one commensurate with the day it was marking.
Off on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, site of deadly clashes in November and then again last week following the Port Said stadium tragedy, the cement wall erected during November’s fighting lay in ruins, hacked down by protesters during the most recent fighting. A few people took advantage of the new arrangement to strike a pose atop the wreckage.
Still, there was a definite edge to the demonstration. The soccer ultras were out in force, waving their red Ahly flags alongside the Egypt tricolor. On Mohamed Mahmoud, where freshly spray-painted graffiti depicted the martyrs of Port Said with angel’s wings on their backs, a dummy of Field Marshal Tantawi, battered and defaced, hanged in effigy. Massive banners railing against the military council adorned the center of the square. The called-for strike didn’t appear to have materialized (though it still could in the next few days)—shops were open, people were out—but the protest movement, coming off yesterday’s sizeable march to the Ministry of Defense—looked reinvigorated.
On a personal note, it’s been something thinking back to last February 11. I was still in college, in the midst of writing my first ever article about Egypt, not quite sure where I was headed with it. I’d been wondering what would happen if maybe just maybe these protests succeeded in toppling Mubarak. Like everyone, I watched on TV as the uprising surged and then stalled and then surged again. And then suddenly, Mubarak resigned. And I raced to call every single contact I could find who could possibly tell me anything about the prospects for a prosecution. I stayed up most of the night writing. The next day, two spots below the Huffington Post homepage’s humongous headline announcing the news was my story: “Will Mubarak Be Prosecuted?”
Thence was born my fascination with this country. One year later, I’m here, in the thick of it. Crazy.