Middle East

Egypt after Mubarak: A clean start

Boy with sign, Tahrir Square, Cairo (12 February 2011)
Image caption Egyptians of all ages and from all walks of life have been cleaning Tahrir Square

The day after the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the revolutionaries are back in Cairo's Tahrir Square for another dust-up. This time, however, they are armed with brooms, dustbins and disinfectant. But for many of them, this is not just about cleaning up the rubbish left by the encampment, but building a new country, from the ground up.

Alia Bassiouni, science teacher and writer

Finally, we have a fresh start. It's such a relief. I was born 26 years ago. I've been through my education, started work and got engaged and I've only seen one president. The last 10 years have been the worst ever in Egypt.

Image caption For Alia Bassiouni, the clean-up is symbolic of wider changes

The poverty is increasing; the education and healthcare are getting worse. The revolution was something that I expected and once it started, I was sure that people would stay here in Tahrir Square until the president was gone. I used to come here each morning to help out with my friends and my fiancé and others. Sometimes they needed volunteers to do cleaning or work at checkpoints at the entrance to the square so I played my part.

Sometimes I would spend all my morning singing and shouting before going home, like a traditional Egyptian female, to be with my family. Today it's time to clean. After 18 days of people living in Tahrir Square, it's got quite dirty, but still this is not just about cleaning.

We want to prove to people that this revolution was not only to remove the regime, we want to rebuild Egypt. We are going to start with cleaning the pavements, we're going to clean the square, we are going to make things better. We will take this spirit to our work and to our children.

Rami Ali, British-Egyptian university researcher

One of the things that emerged from the last two weeks is that people feel a sense of ownership of the public space. I think for the first time people feel it's worth cleaning their own streets and taking pride in where they live. It is a simple thing but it's been totally absent here for a long time.

Image caption There has been a "huge sense of solidarity" in the square, says Rami Ali

There was a campaign on Facebook but it's not organised as such. Most people have just come out with brooms and binbags and are doing what they can. Tahrir Square and the bridge are now very, very clean.

Looking forward, I hope that the army is cautious about taking power and they are very keen to hand over to a civilian government. We don't want to be under military rule for the indefinite future. Also, I hope people in the square will be patient. As yet, their demands for better lives have not been met but this will take a process. That's why we need elections and a government with good economic policies as soon as possible.

Mariam Hussein, architecture student

Image caption In the past, "we always felt powerless", says Mariam Hussein

What we're doing here is cleaning up after all the partying yesterday when we celebrated the removal of Hosni Mubarak as president. What we want to do is to rebuild Egypt, rebuild everything. There is a campaign we've had going for a couple of weeks to get everything clean and fixed. We're now making Facebook groups, some people are trying to raise money for the clean-up and to organise things.

This is a huge task but this is our revolution and it is our country, so we can do it. In the past, things were always in the hands of the authorities and we felt powerless. Finally now we have taken back the power and we will make things right this time.

I was born in 1991, so I've never witnessed any president except Mubarak. I've always been against his agenda which created an Egypt where there was a lot of unfairness and inequality. All classes have suffered from corruption. Now the president has left his throne. I never thought this day would come. Really, it's like I've been born again today. I keep thinking, "Wow, just wow".

Ahmed, tour guide from Sharm el-Sheikh

Every day we came to clean the square during the protests, but today is something different. You feel camaraderie, like everyone is your brother and sister.

Image caption "Yesterday, Egypt gave birth to a new baby," Ahmed says.

This is the revolution of the young people. Each day we have felt more and more powerful. There had not been big protests since 1977, so this was a first for our generation. We feel we have achieved something wonderful for Egypt.

We want to send out a message to all the world. Our aim was only to achieve freedom and make better lives for ourselves. We don't want to make trouble with other countries, we don't want them to dictate to us what to do, but we do need their support.

Yesterday, Egypt gave birth to a new baby. Right now we're not sure what it is going to grow up like but we all have a responsibility to do our best. Our civilisation goes back 7,000 years and now we want to complete our destiny.