Cleanup in Tahrir Square, a symbolic gesture for Egyptians

February 12, 2011

Some picked up brooms and swept the streets, others took down tents, smiling and chatting about their new political era. Among them were those determined to stay, waiting for a clear signal from the army that had promised reforms.

Many Egyptians who had not joined the protest in Tahrir were helping clean up and were congratulating their “brothers and sisters” who had led the 18 days of protests.

“The country is once again ours. For the first time in my life, I feel like the street is mine and together with my countrymen, we will put the nation back on the right path,” said Dina Sayyed, 30, an engineer, brushing up litter in the square.

egyptian clean up tharir sq

“I haven’t protested before but the joy of the liberation is so overwhelming. Cleaning the streets is the least I can do to help those who saved Egypt,” she said.

Groups of men, women, and children, wore vests with a “Proudly Cleaning Egypt” sign pasted on their backs, as national songs blared out of speakers in the square.

But among the crowd were those promising to hold the military council now in control of the Arab world’s most populous country to its promises to meet the people’s demand to have fair elections that will put civilians in charge.

“We won’t leave because we have to make sure this country is set on the right path,” said Ahmed Saber, 27, unemployed. “We won’t let the armed forces ride the success of our revolution.”

In two communiques issued overnight, a core group of protest organisers demanded the lifting of a state of emergency and the formation of a transitional government to prepare for an election to take place within nine months, and of a body to draft a new democratic constitution.


Some sang a 1960s anti-government revolutionary chant from colloquial Egyptian composer Sheikh Imam, chanting “The street is ours. It is our right.” Some had the words pinned to their shirts: “Yesterday, I was a demonstrator. Today, I build Egypt.”

“We will make Tahrir Square and Egypt better than it was before,” said Ali El Beblawi, 17, a student. “But we won’t go just yet, we have to hear some guarantees.”

Ghada Elmasalamy, 43, a pharmacist echoed his sentiment:

“The army is with us but it must realise our demands. Now we know our place, whenever there is injustice, we will come to Tahrir Square,” she said from her tent.

Some tents came down but others were still erected, often made of large sheets of tarpaulin strung from lampposts on patches of grass in the square. Even those who were leaving, said they were ready to return if the army did not deliver.

“Many people are going to stay until they see what the higher military council does but as for me, the mission has been accomplished, we have done the impossible and now we have to wait because it will take time for reform,” Mohamed, 38, said.

“Whoever comes now understands they are shouldered by the people and not driving in on a tank,” he said. “We can’t stay in Tahrir forever, we have to work, but if the military doesn’t respect people’s demands and I doubt that, we will be back.”

Many Egyptians, in a country where some 40 percent of the population lives on $2 a day or less, cannot afford to stop working during the many months of debate over reforms ahead.

“This is the start of the revolution, it’s not over yet, but I have to go back to work,” Mohammed Saeed, 30, said while packing his tent.

But for most, the immediate joy was trumping the worries about what comes next.

“I’m here because I love this country and I will rebuild it with every ounce of energy I have left,” said Rasha Kamel, 28.

“I’m here for the Egypt that we once only loved in the text books but now it belongs to us once more.”