Egypt: seven days, seven demos
- 15 June 2013
- From the section Magazine
Since Egypt's revolution, protests have erupted covering a huge range of issues - from anti-government outbursts, to actresses wanting freedom of expression. There have been thousands across Egypt, and in Cairo they are becoming a part of everyday life.
Almost immediately, I regretted saying I would visit a demonstration a day in Cairo.
On Day One we had heard of a protest outside the world-famous Egyptian Museum.
But by the time we had navigated the Cairo traffic the demonstration was over.
And that, I thought, was that, for our short-lived project.
In this city though, I need not have been so despondent. As we drove back we passed a small gathering outside the Arab League building.
"We're just about to get started," they told us, unfurling their banners and chanting their opposition to the European Under-21 football tournament being held in Israel.
Reporters started arriving, and in the end, far outnumbered the demonstrators.
Day Two started with reports of protests at the airport, by staff upset that customs officers, who had protested the previous day about working conditions, had managed to get a better deal.
Fifteen people were sacked for blocking the runway.
But we headed to a more high profile protest in the centre of the city.
A small group of people had gathered outside the court to demand the release of an activist who had been convicted of insulting the President.
He had appeared on a TV show calling President Mohammed Morsi a murderer after protesters were killed at anti-government demonstrations.
Those types of protests are the ones the world gets to see. Violence, tear gas, rock throwing, sometimes death.
But this new-found Egyptian trait of taking to the streets is about more much than that.
On a previous stint here, in 2006, I remember going to a small demo against then President Hosni Mubarak. It lasted no more than five minutes before the notorious hired thugs piled in to beat up the protesters.
Since the revolution, and after so many people gave their lives in winning their right to express themselves when they feel oppressed, Egyptians are now far less tolerant of being told to keep quiet.
We saw an illustration of that on Day Three - residents of poor areas of Cairo awaiting housing documents from the governor's office decided they had had enough of the slow pace of bureaucracy. They protested outside the governor's office, then stormed the building.
On the same day teachers in southern Cairo were threatening to stop exam papers reaching their school if they were not given permanent contracts.
On Day Four we saw a few thousand people gather outside a mosque, expressing solidarity with the Palestinians. As the protesters marched the short distance to Cairo's Tomb Of The Unknown Soldier it caused a traffic jam but we saw no fuss from drivers, this is just how it is now.
Some of the demos have become semi-permanent. On Day Five we visited a group of people beginning their 104th consecutive day of protest outside the interior ministry.
Inside his tent, Captain Walid Hosni told us he was a police officer, demanding to be allowed to keep his beard, something the police are not allowed in Egypt at the moment.
It seems no segment of society is left out of the desire to protest.
On my walk home from the office in the well-to-do Zamalek neighbourhood, on Day Six I wandered through a very Zamalek protest.
The well-dressed demonstrators were mainly actors, writers and intellectuals.
I even spotted a few toy dogs and at least one hired dog-walker.
Muataza Salah, an actress, told me the demo was about the ruling Muslim Brotherhood's attitude towards the arts: "We're here to say we own the culture, not any government.
"They can't tell us what to act, or sing, or dance or publish. Our stage is there, on the street," she added.
I thought we would fall at the final hurdle. On Day Seven we had not managed to get to a protest.
But then, a group of elderly people decided to occupy the island in the centre of Talaat Harb Square in downtown Cairo, demanding a rise in their pensions.
An 80-year-old man told me he was not going to stop protesting until it happened.
So is all of this a sign of a sick society with all its ills - and there are certainly many of them - finally being exposed?
Or is it a very healthy new aspect of Egyptian life?
I have to say, this week has given me a sense of admiration for those making their voices heard on issues they feel so passionately about.
I suspect many Egyptians will be proud at the suggestion theirs has become one of the protest capitals of the world. They may not want to give up their right to take to the streets ever again.
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