Akhem Hassan came so late to the revolution he thought he might have missed it, but on Saturday he discovered that it is far from over. For days, Hassan watched events unfold on television. Or rather, he fumed as the state broadcaster spewed forth a stream of lies about the protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
“They said the demonstrators were paid by foreigners and agents of Israel,” the 41-year-old driving instructor said. “They said they only went to Tahrir Square because there was free Kentucky [Fried Chicken]. But we Egyptians were afraid of the government since the day we were born and no one would go against it just for free Kentucky.”
It took then-Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s television address, though, to get Hassan down to the square. Like many of his countrymen, he had been expecting the president to quit on Thursday night. When he didn’t, it was too much.
“I decided that for my sons’ future, I too must be brave,” he said.
Hassan arrived in Tahrir Square on Friday morning as the growing crowd seethed with anger at what was widely regarded as the regime’s duplicity after the near euphoria of the day before at statements from the army and politicians that Mubarak was about to quit.
Protest organizers were discussing how to ratchet up the pressure with civil disobedience and mass strikes, while hundreds of thousands of people, like Hassan, poured in to the square.
A few hours later, a spasm of disbelief and stunned silence gave way to a roar that swept Cairo and cities across Egypt as more than 30 years of Mubarak’s rule was ended in a terse 30-second statement. The army was now running the country. The revolution was won. Or perhaps it wasn’t.
Hassan was still in the square with many thousands of others on Saturday morning, still not quite believing the emotional rollercoaster of the past 24 hours as he read a paper with a large picture of Mubarak on the front under a contemptuous headline.
“I was going to go home now,” Hassan said. “But people here told me to stay. They’re telling everyone to stay. They said the revolution isn’t over yet.”
The morning after Mubarak was forced out, Tahrir Square was busy with protesters clearing up the detritus of revolution — neatly piling the stones ripped from the ground to resist any attempt to force the demonstrators from the square and sweeping the road as if this was the first step to building a new Egypt.
On the edge of the square, fathers lifted their children on to tanks and clicked away with their phone cameras. Young women in headscarves edged as close as modesty would allow them to the soldiers as their friends took pictures. Older women delivered cakes to the men in uniform. Their husbands hugged the soldiers and thanked them for saving the country.
These revolutionaries — ordinary Egyptians, old and young, middle-class and poor, Islamists and secularists, who could never have imagined publicly criticizing the government just a few weeks ago — marveled at the enormity of what they had achieved.
Egyptians have surprised themselves with the power and orderliness of their revolution. During 18 days of protest they endured police attacks with live rounds and rubber bullets, a camel charge by pro-Mubarak thugs and times when it seemed as though their struggle might take months.
However, the violence that cost more than 300 people their lives all came from the state’s brutal, but failed attempt to break the uprising.