As they promised they would, Egyptians by the hundreds of thousands flooded into Tahrir Square and were out in force elsewhere across the nation, demanding the ouster of Hosni Mubarak and a new constitution.
Having been glued to the Al Jazeera live feed and Twitter for days, it’s been hard for me to avoid a contact high from the crowds. Their resolve has been enormous, heroic, in the face of concerted attacks by armed government rent-a-thugs. The goons knew they were facing unarmed protesters, because the latter had insisted on it, searching all who joined them, allowing no weapons in the square.* They rode in on horseback and camelback, wielding machetes, whips and straight razors. They drove vehicles at speed through the crowds.
And the pro-democracy Egyptians stayed put. Makeshift clinics were set up; doctors came down to the square to offer their services. Food and water were brought. The more they were slashed and beaten, the more determined the protesters became.
We are seeing democracy in action, a tipping point, call it what you will. Copts joined hands to protect Muslims at prayer; women reported that sexual harassment, a fact of life in Cairo, was absent from Tahrir Square—until the rent-a-thugs arrived.
I search through my rag-bag of academic concepts: Sartre’s group-in-fusion, Durkheimian effervescence, Turner’s liminality, Ibn Khaldūn’s social solidarity (asabiyah). None of it is abstract any more. It’s being performed before our eyes. Out of the classrooms! Into the streets!
And our wretched, wrong-headed government, speaking for a minority of Canadians as it always has, is throwing its support to Hosni Mubarak. Beatings, killings, a brutal round-up of foreign and domestic journalists—how do you like the first few days of “democratic transition?”
We’re so far behind the curve that we can’t even see the curve. When the new regime arises from the ashes of the old, I hope they send our ambassador home on the very next plane out of Cairo.
Talk about time for a regime change. How many people can fill Confederation Square and Parliament Hill?
We’ve seen short-lived attempts at spin by various commentators, attempting to argue a kind of equivalence between the pro-democracy protesters and their attackers, talking about the “silent majority” as though, like their chattering predecessors, they have privileged access to the views concealed in that silence.
Here is the Jerusalem Post:
So far, the brunt of the bloodshed has been suffered by the anti-government protesters, but the violence and brutality cuts both ways. While it is true that they were set upon while trapped in the square, the anti- Mubarak crowds were quick to use violence when the time came, beating and lynching men suspected of being undercover police or paid provocateurs. These men were carried off on several occasions by the mobs, to God-knows-where.
While the protesters were acting largely in self-defense as the square came under siege, and the evidence against some of the men they dragged away was sound, in some cases, the breaking of their bones was audible even over the din of the crowds.
Ponder this farrago of falsehoods for a moment. There is not a recorded instance of pro-democracy protesters “lynching” anyone. Captured pro-Mubarak thugs have been confined to a makeshift jail in the square. And hearing bones break over the din of a crowd of tens, even hundreds of thousands? Pull the other one.
Just keep watching the live feed, and judge for yourselves. There are too many images, too many articulate protesters, for the liars to prevail. The whole world is watching. And we know what we’re seeing.
A “day of departure” indeed, and I appreciate the brilliant pun. Maybe at home, as well as abroad.
* As a semi-comical aside, an American reporter asked demonstrators why, at one point, they were separating the men and the women—you could just hear her unspoken assumptions. Answer: women were searching women; men, men. “Oh, I get it,” she said, the penny dropping.