Ahdaf Soueif writes from Cairo for the Guardian.
I knew something was wrong when I woke up to the sound of car horns. It’s been so quiet and peaceful the last few days we’ve even started seeing the bats once again flitting in and out of the fruit trees at dusk. This wasn’t the normal noise of Cairo traffic; this was aggressive, patterned and constant, like what you get after a football match only lots more so.
Out of my window I saw the crowd marching across 15 May flyover. It’s odd: the pro-Mubarak lot are so much more regimented – and so much less civil: the noise pollution, the rude gestures at the street, the sticks, the attitude – and at the same time the perfectly scripted banners, the “stewards” marshalling and directing them.
By midday they had started to attack Tahrir Square; the attacks are continuing as I write now. I’m getting regular updates from the square from my son, nieces, sister and other friends in the thick of it. The people who on Tuesday night were listening to music and debating modes of government are now putting their bodies on the line. It’s all they have. The pro-Mubarak lot, of course, have sticks and stones, and swords and chains and dogs and trucks and … the military stand by and do nothing.
So who are these people? In support of the president, they throw Molotov bottles and plant pots from the tops of buildings onto the heads of women and children. To establish stability and order, they break heads with rocks and legs with bicycle chains. To have their say in the debate they slash faces with knives. Who are they? Well, every time one of them is captured his ID says he’s a member of the security forces. And his young captors simply hand him to the military who are standing by.
So, the regime once again displays its banality; unable to come up with any move that is decent or innovative, it resorts to its usual mix of brutality and lies. On Tuesday night President Mubarak came on TV and patronised the rest of the country by claiming that Egyptians were in the grip of fear, and pretended that his regime which has been de-developing the country and stealing the bread from people’s mouths is now suddenly equipped to “respond to the demands of our young people”. He reminded the people of his (now ancient) history as an air force pilot and added a tearjerker about being an old man who wanted die in his country.
And the next morning, not 12 hours after the president’s emotional appeal, the regime turned loose its thugs on the street. The same tactics that have been used against protesters over the last five years, the same tactics in force at the last elections to scare voters off the streets, appeared and with redoubled viciousness. This is the regime that is going to listen to the people and use the coming months to put in reforms. Sure.
Their next trick will be to say that the young people in Tahrir are “foreign” elements, that they have connections to “terrorism”, that they’ve visited Afghanistan, that they want to destabilise Egypt. But by now the whole world knows that this regime lies as naturally as it breathes. What was it one American literary diva said about another? “Everything she says is a lie including ‘and’ and ‘the’?”
The people here are so way ahead of their government. If you could see the kids on the street telling you that the regime wants to pin the responsibility for this movement on the Islamists in order to scare the west – when actually it was started by 11 Facebook youth groups only one of which has any religious colouring, and very mild at that. If you could see the small field hospital that’s gone up with volunteer doctors – mostly young women – treating the people, and the medicines pouring in from well-wishers. If you could see the young men with their dropped jeans and the tops of their boxers showing forming a human chain to protect what the people have gained over the last week in Tahrir Square. If you could see my nieces with their hair streaming like a triumphant banner tweeting for dear life in the midst of it all … you would know beyond a shadow of a doubt: Egypt deserves its place in the sun – out of the shadow of this brutal regime.
Ahdaf Soueif is the author of the Booker-prize nominated novel The Map of Love and many other books. She lives in Cairo and London.