Life seemed to regain some level of normalcy throughout Cairo today as the protests against Hosni Mubarak come close to reaching the two-week mark. Traffic once again clogged main roads. Metal carts selling fuul, the Egyptian breakfast of mashed fava beans returned to their posts. Many of the checkpoints — both civilian and military — seem to have vanished overnight. Stores re-opened, people returned to work, even banks starting to do business again, albeit for only a few hours. “Normal life made a surprise comeback today,” a friend told me. “I need to do laundry.”
Meanwhile, much of the political momentum has moved off of the street and into the backrooms. Pundits are now discussing the constitution and legal mechanisms for a transfer of power and newly-appointed Vice President Omar Suleiman held meetings with opposition figures including the Muslim Brotherhood and members of the youth movements that helped launch the current uprising. The protests in the streets, it seems, have become a secondary concern.
That is, except for the people there. Yet again, Midan el-Tahrir, or Liberation Square, was full of thousands taking part in the continuous protests emphatically demanding the removal President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. They continue to line up at the military checkpoint to pass by the tanks and through the concertina wire into the square, even though the wait can last hours.
Inside the square things have taken on an air of permanence. Vendors have set up shop selling roasted sweet potatoes and cigarettes and phone cards. The field hospital looks better equipped and more firmly ensconced than it did two days ago. The tent city that occupies the center of the square is muddier than it was but, like the people, shows no sign of leaving. A band played patriotic songs from a stage with a massive sound system as a crowd of thousands sitting in the dirt listened and sang along.
The crowd’s chants of “Down with Mubarak!” are as loud as ever, though they have added, “Mubarak is expired!” and “He is leaving, we aren’t leaving!” and “Leave means go, what don’t you understand?” The new chants reflect the feelings of frustration and determination. How much longer do they need to stay before the president gets the message?
Today was also marked by a focus on Christian-Muslim cooperation, including a Coptic mass and numerous signs featuring a crescent and a cross next to each other. Members of the crowd insisted that I understand that it is President Mubarak who keeps Egyptians of different faiths divided. And today was the day of the martyrs. In Lebanon and Palestine it is common to see posters commemorating those killed in war. They typically feature a head shot, a name, some religious imagery and a few words about the deceased. It has been 37 years since Egypt’s last war, but today the martyrology common elsewhere in the Arab world appeared in the streets of Cairo, paying tribute to those killed in Egypt’s own occupation.
After exiting Tahrir and heading elsewhere in the city, for example the posh neighborhood Zamalek, located on an island in the middle of the Nile, it is almost easy to forget the current state of unrest. The reminder comes when the radio is turned on and the state-sponsored station plays a steady stream of nationalist anthems and ballads or the television in a coffee shop features an Egyptian flag in the corner under which is written, “No to violence, no to destruction.”