Every fifteen minutes or so there’s a low humming sound from the crowd, a hooooooooooo, which means something is about to happen near the front. If the hoooooooooooo gets loud enough – and it doesn’t have to get very loud, everyone begins to race off in the opposite direction. Those on mopeds do the same, honking their horns, adding to it all, weaving in and out of the crowd. It’s amazing how fast everyone runs at times like that. Also amazing how hard it is to stay put when a heaving crowd to which you belong runs in a single direction.
A little later everyone stops before heading back. There’s a defiance to this part of the cycle, the return. Everyone seems to walk back a little taller than they were before, hands often aloft, palms open. There’ll be more Allahu Akbars (when everyone’s static in the square the chants are more political).
What else? In the midst of it all you find men with stalls selling nuts. During one lull I watched two towers of pink candyfloss meander through the crowd like overgrown feather-dusters.
Other thoughts: men breaking off for prayers on the concrete (laying out Egyptian flags and newspapers to pray on); the buoyant look on people’s faces when they enter the square; most people there in small groups (unlike the European equivalent where you see more solo protesters); riot protection (ranges from nothing to paper dust masks to swimming goggles to state of the art gas masks to bits of cardboard).
One last word on the geography of it all – of Cairo and Tahrir. I feel like I’ve read endlessly about how the layout of Tahrir and its environs lends itself to protest. But what I hadn’t appreciated is that you can be only a few hundred yards away on the Nile and as long as there are no shots being fired in the square you’d have no idea that anything’s going on in there.
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