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On the Ground in Egypt: The Joy Was Explosive

When the roar erupted from the crowd in front of the presidential palace in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, I thought it was another false alarm. Thousands of people marched there from Midan el-Tahrir and other points downtown, chanting slogans the whole way that Mubarak had to go. The night before had been disappointing and frustrating after it looked as though he would surely resign and then psyched the crowd out by announcing he wouldn’t. Rumors circulated through the crowds and people were susceptible, eager to hear the news that they were all waiting for. This time it was for real.

The joy was explosive. People rushed to hug each other and jumped up and down. A middle aged woman wiped tears from her eyes with a tissue. Chants of “Freedom! Freedom!” and “It’s finished! The people brought down the regime!” echoed throughout the street, just a few hundred feet from the building that was, until that moment, Hosni Mubarak’s official residence for 30 years.

By the time I arrived at the palace after marching from downtown, the protesters had already established a similar set up to the one they had in Tahrir. They were prepared to stay. Civilian guards checked IDs upon entry, a makeshift hospital treated people’s soar feet and dehydration, tents were pitched on the concrete. The sit-in infrastructure evaporated in minutes as the protesters joyfully dispersed themselves throughout the streets of Heliopolis.

They banged drums and sang songs and waved flags and rode on top of cars and blocked traffic and blared stereos and chanted and screamed and danced. They celebrated. The people had brought down the regime.

I asked a young man, Mohamed Abdel Rahman, how he felt. “Free,” he said, as he stood on the base of a lamppost and watched the crowd dancing in a circle in the middle of a usually-busy intersection. “This is a new Egypt.”

I rode the metro downtown toward Tahrir. When we arrived at the closest station and the doors opened everyone sprinted toward the exits, eager to get themselves to the square that has been the epicenter of the pro-democracy movement for 18 days. The whole station sang together, “Free Egypt! Free Egypt!” as they marched through the gates. The exit was packed and as people excitedly, but patiently, filed out they sang the national anthem.

Tahrir Square was madness. Thousands and thousands of people jam packed together, barely able to move but continually saying, “Congratulations!” An old man was perched on a concrete barrier watching the scene. “I haven’t seen Egypt like this since ’73,” he said, referring to the Egyptian army’s successful attempt to retake the Sinai Peninsula from Israel. At another downtown traffic circle (they had all been overtaken by revelers) a loudspeaker played a well-known song that celebrated the Egyptian military after the war.

The euphoria was everywhere last night. No one was concerned about the political process ahead (which will surely be difficult) or what the government was made up of now (essentially a military junta). Mubarak is gone and the people made it happen.

Photo by Frame Maker

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