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The joyful theater of Tahrir

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Many people had warned me not to go to Tahrir Square, not to talk politics. Things are tense now– you’re foreign, American, they don’t want interference!

But the moment you set foot in Tahrir, everyone wants you to take their picture!

And as I walked around the square 10 days ago, I was most surprised by its joyful theatricality. One reason we love politics is that it is entertaining — and Egyptians like the girl at left are now leading the world in the citizens’ art of getting entertainment into politics.


So take my tour.

I have no idea what these guys are saying, but I love that guy’s smile. He’s so pleased to finally be expressing himself. And that’s the Tahrir spirit. 

I’m betting this guy below is concerned with political prisoners. Awesome lid. 

tahrirhandsYou gotta love the noose. I’m waiting for a commenter to tell me what the Arabic says. “Mubarak is a mummy, not a pharaoh… execute [him]” (Thanks to Siegried al-Haq!)


A lot of people are sporting Che stuff. I don’t know if you can see the Che figure on this guy’s hat. He’s holding up a red card to tell the SCAF (army command) to get out.

tahrirchehatHere are a pile of books they’re selling on the revolution. One of the pictures on ttahrircamelhe cover is from the Day of the Camels. February 2. You’d never know from our media, but the Day of the Camels has become a legendary event in Egyptian history. Right now a trial is going on for the thugs ordered by Gamal Mubarak who rode the camels into Tahrir. I heard that they got 3000 Egyptian pounds (about $500) to ride em. Now they’re getting 8-12 years…

One of my favorite demonstrators. He’s wearing a sack covered in his slogans and chains draped on his hat. I believe he’s a Copt. Help me, Arabic speakers!

tahrircoptFor a while he was dialoguin’ with a Muslim woman. And that’s Tahrir in a nutshell. Earnest debate.tahrirdialoguAgain, not a clue what she’s saying, but I loved how elegant her sign was, how it fit her wingspan, and also the fact that she was on her own, bopping around Tahrir. Oh, she’s holding up a sura from the Quran: “verily the victory of God is near…” (Thanks Siegfried)

tahrirwomanThis guy had a lot to say!tahrirpole2OK, now we’re coming to the Israel stuff. There’s a lot of Israel stuff in Tahrir. First, here’s a cartoon showing the Israeli embassy running out the Exit in fear of the Egyptian eagle. I think the eagle is standing on a bunch of bodies. I hope you can see the details.tahrireagleThis guy was intense, with the Ray-Bans. And you’ll see he has a little English language section in his teaching which includes the statement, “It is behind Israel.” Which I think translates to: Israel is behind it! Hey pal, J’agree!

tahririsrael 1

This is funny. There’s a grownup crouched behind this poster– but he has his kid on the side holding it up for World’s Funniest Home Video purposes. The sign says, “Film of the season, ‘the embassy’…” and goes on to celebrate the demonstration at the Israeli embassy (Siegfried, on the case). tahririsraelkidNow the puppetmaster is standing up, holding another kid on top of the poster, even as the first kid holds on. Sorry about my cropping. That’s a Scandinavian guy taking a photo, at left. EVERYONE in Tahrir wants you to take their photo! tahririsraeldane

OK, now you know: This girl was my favorite demonstrator. I loved her poster. I agreed with it without knowing what it meant. And now Siegfried tells me it says, “Riding prohibited” and the horse is labelled, “The Jan 25 revolution.” There’s a military guy flying off the horse and a mullah. (See top of post.) She was holding it up all over the square with her feet set just like that and that same serious look, and yes I like secular people, and I think that’s her dad at right.

tahrirhorseThe girl was part of a group of demonstrators who taped their mouths to symbolize the punishments for free expression under army rule. tahrirtape

This is funny. Some people came up to argue with the taped-mouth demonstrators, and the girl’s dad pulled the tape away from his mouth to argue back!tahrirtape2

This bush is burning up with slogans:


Here’s a close-up, with gallows for Mubarak!tahrirbush2

This one requires some explanation. I believe that’s a mother (in black) and daughter (purple hijab) demonstrating on behalf of a political prisoner (poster on the ground). When I came up to them, a guy warned me away. No pictures! I got frightened and walked away quickly. Remember, I’d been told, Do not get involved in Egyptian politics. Even friends warned me. Well, when the mom and daughter saw me walking away, they got really angry, and started yelling, and told that guy to STFU, they wanted me to take their picture. So I took a picture. Wish it was better…


This is the best part. The give-SCAF-a-red-card demonstrators formed a march out of Tahrir into the commercial streets. They were led by a couple of callers on horseback– on other guys’ shoulders. The horse guys all take turns, but the caller doesn’t. He’s the talent. And this guy was amazing. I hope you get a feeling for how charismatic he was from my photos. Clapping and waving. rabblerouserrabblerouser2

He was on fire. He had me going and I didn’t know what he was saying. rabblerouser3

Their little march came back into Tahrir as the sun was going down. Nice shot, huh. That’s my guy in the middle. TAHRIR!tahrirsilhouette

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13 Responses

  1. annie
    October 17, 2011, 11:24 am


  2. Seham
    October 17, 2011, 11:39 am

    These are awesome pictures Mr. Weiss. The people demand more.

  3. Siegfried al-Haq
    Siegfried al-Haq
    October 17, 2011, 11:44 am

    i’m running late but a few translations…

    the guy with the noose has a sign reading “mubarak is a mummy, not a pharaoh… execute [him]”

    the lady in blue is holding a sign with a sura from the quran, “verily the victory of God is near…”

    the sign with the star of david says, “film of the season, ‘the embassy’…” and then goes on to celebrate the attack on the israeli embassy through mimicking a film poster.

    the girl’s sign says “riding prohibited” and the horse says “the jan 25 revolution”… but i can’t really see what the figures are. if we had a higher-res version?

    others can fill in!

  4. AhVee
    October 17, 2011, 11:45 am

    Makes me wish I was there, too. The atmosphere must be monumental, I wish them all the best. Whatever government they eventually end up getting, I hope it’s one they actually voted for, and that it works hard at fulfilling some of their key demands. They deserve no less.

  5. Walid
    October 17, 2011, 12:49 pm

    Good pictures. Mostly everything about Egypt is theatrical; this probably comes from Egypt being the cinematography capital of the Arab world having produced over 75% of all Arabic movies; everyone wants to be in the movies or have his picture taken. Exaggerated tragic or comic situations in real life are referred to as “Egyptian movies” that never seem to end.

  6. Kathleen
    October 17, 2011, 12:54 pm

    Great pictures does that go “a picture worth a thousand words” Egyptian people holding Mubarak accountable for crimes against humanity. Far more than what the American people have pushed for in regard to the Bush administrations crimes against humanity. Americans are learning from Egyptians.

    One thing I object to is some of the OWS organizers trying to spin the myth that they started these world wide protest. Hooey. Stop trying to take credit for these uprisings. Just get on and stay on the justice and accountability bus…no need to try to spin that they started this movement.

    One of the organizers at the Dayton Ohio OWS rally on Saturday announced that these protest around the world were the largest of all recorded times. I went up to her later and let her know that the protest in the states, Europe and around the world before the invasion of Iraq were the largest of all times. When have 30 million marched against a war before a war? Not that the US MSM noticed, covered or cared. So so sad.

    Anyway glad the MSM is covering the OWS movement but will always wonder if they had acutually let folks at home know how many millions nationwide were marching etc, how many world wide if that would have changed that rush to an immoral and illegal war. So so sad how many have died and been injured.

    On Saturday I attended the Occupy Wall Street movement in Dayton Ohio. I stopped counting the crowd at 300 people. Yet there was nothing about this gathering made up of union members, retired teachers, students, unemployed some by choice and some by circumstance. I spoke with incredibly articulate participants and some not so much. Clearly the common thread was Justice and accountability for those who brought the US economy to the brink of bankruptcy as well as a demand for fair paying jobs, access to health care etc.

    But in Sunday’s Dayton Daily News not a mention about the largest crowd that has turned up yet. No interviews with the protesters there.

    I talked with a retired Cargill worker who was 61 and talked about why his son is making an hourly wage that he made 20 years ago. He talked about how during the 90’s the new Cargill executives moving in demanded larger incomes, struck out the automatic cost of living increases in Cargill workers ipaychecks and raised their incomes by 10%.

    I talked with a laid off teacher who was working two minimum wage jobs to supplement her income.

    I talked with one fellow who had been laid off from a GM plant in Dayton who had applied for a job at Wal Mart.

    There were also young people who had chosen not to work and those who could not find work after entering deep debt for college.

    All kinds of folks some incredibly articulate and others not so much.

    But not one person was asking for a free ride. Not one. People demanding a level playing field. Fair ride. Accountability for the Wall Street Banksters who knowingly socialized their losses with little to no interest on those loans and continue to privatize their profits and protect their wealth at all cost

    The overwhelming theme was justice and accountability. But guess what the Dayton Daily News was not there that day covering the very diverse crowd. They have covered this group when fewer people and less diveristy exist during the week

  7. Kathleen
    October 17, 2011, 1:01 pm

    “The girl was part of a group of demonstrators who taped their mouths to symbolize the punishments for free expression under army rule. ”

    Will never forget when peace and justice activist Art Gish came into a middle east forum where two Jewish professors on Ohio University’s campus had kept Art Gish from being on the panel with his mouth taped and sat in the front row directly in front of the panel.

    One of those Professors Ureili was on the panel. He said one inflammatory thing after the other about Palestinians. I stood up and objected to his successful efforts to keep Gish off the panel while he repeated inflammatory and untrue things about Palestinians. Had never heard Gish say anything Anti Jewish….Never ever.

  8. radii
    October 17, 2011, 3:02 pm

    creative displays are always a healthy signal of a society’s intentions – they want freedom and the situation is clearly still fluid with the extremist right not able to gain control – the young won’t have it … Muslim Brotherhood and their type are tired and played out … their time has passed them by already and they are the last to realize it

  9. Mndwss
    October 17, 2011, 3:14 pm

    A friend was was in the UNIFIL-forces in Lebanon 2 decades ago. She and her boyfriend traveled to israel to take a plane to Cairo for their holiday.

    The UN soldiers were not very welcome in israel, but in Egypt it was much worse. Everywhere they went there was always young men groping on both of them. They just had to leave Egypt and went to Eilat (the lesser of two evils) for the rest of the holiday. And then there was no more problems. (I wonder if the gropers were israeli travel agents trying to convince UN tourists that Egypt is bad, israel is good).

    She still describes israelis as the most arrogant people on the planet and egyptians as the most horrible people on the planet.

    I heard an interview with a young woman from Tahrir earlier this year, where she said that this was the first time in her life that she could walk among men without being afraid.

    I told my friend about that and she said she hope things will change…

    The people in thees pictures is hope and change we can believe in…

    • mig
      October 18, 2011, 1:24 am

      “The UN soldiers were not very welcome in israel, but in Egypt it was much worse. ”

      ++++ We also visited Egypt ( when i served Unifil ), but we didnt get any notice from locals. Normal ” were are you from” etc. but that was all.

      In fact, situation was completely different in Israel. When they heard that we serve in Unifil, then those verbal attacks started. But of course, i cant speak behalf of all served staff. Just what i personally saw and heard.

  10. Ines
    October 18, 2011, 10:23 am

    Thank you so much for this. I try to make it to Tahrir at least every Friday, but on October 7 I was away for the long weekend. I go there to cut through all the lies and confusion in the state (and most private) media. There, the only chant that is guaranteed to attract all the voices, in crowds big or small, is: “Down with the Field-Marshall!”

    And yet, there he still is, our absolute military tyrant, overseeing Egypt’s descent into chaos, economic ruin and violence.

    At least the US administration is full of praise for his performance!

  11. annie
    October 18, 2011, 10:40 am

    i love the photo of the guy peeling back the tape on his mouth so he could argue his position.

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