The Year of the Protester (Tahrir)

Jan 4, 2012 by

TIME MAGAZINE announced last month that its 2011 person of the year was “The Protester.”  It was a perceptive, albeit obvious, choice (although the editors almost stumbled badly: Kate Middleton was one of the runner ups) . In the Middle East alone, 2011 saw three revolutions — Tunisia, Egypt and Libya — uprisings in Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria, and major protests in Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Oman, not to mention smaller protests all over the region. [skip rest of post and view this month’s Tahrir Square slideshow HERE]

Though the heavy duty action was in the “Arab world,” it wasn’t exactly serene in the other worlds: in Santiago, 200,000 marched calling for more government support for education; in Madison massive labor protests spilled into the statehouse; in Madrid tens of thousands encamped in the central square demanding economic reform and a more representative electoral system; in Greece tens of thousands rallied against fresh rounds of austerity measures; in Jerusalem 15,000 gathered outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s house to protest growing income inequality and high costs of living.

That’s just a sampling of the global rumbling. And of course the year of protest fittingly concluded with the rise of the self-proclaimed 99 percenters and the Occupy Wall Street movement, with offshoots springing up all over from London to Oakland. Arrests for civil disobedience soon became commonplace events and with the ubiquity of cameras, no act of police aggression was left unrecorded (one of the more memorable certainly being the Zen-like composure with which a U.C. Davis campus police officer sprayed seated student protesters in the face with pepper spray, much as if they were garden weed):

Of course, the most brutal and lethal police actions are still going on, unrecorded, in the Eastern Mediterranean (Syria). 2011 may have been the year of the protester but 2012 doesn’t look to be the year of the inert. In fact, what was an Arab Spring of 2011 may prove, in a far less violent and revolutionary form of course, to be the American Spring of 2012 (the cover article of November’s New York Magazine about Occupy Wall Street was titled “2012 = 1968?“).

With the 2011 protester in mind, I thought I’d do a three-part post this month focusing on Cairo’s Tahrir Square and Occupy Wall Street’s Zucotti park, both of which I visited this past fall. Today I’ll post photos from Tahrir Square; on February 4 I’ll post photos from Zucotti Park and Occupy Wall Street marches as well as video footage from Tahrir and Occupy Wall Street.

So here’s Part I. The link below leads to a slideshow of photos I took on October 7 in Tahrir Square while visiting my friend Sean Moylan who lives in Cairo. Sean and I visited Tahrir on a Friday, the day of prayer and protest.  The protest was heated but relatively small and peaceful. After the rally we walked over to the charred party headquarters of Mubarak, which protestors had set fire to during the uprising earlier in the year.

The violence came a few days later, the night before I flew out, when we learned over dinner that a group of marching Coptics had been attacked. At 11pm the television was still showing “live” footage of the event. Finally, unable to watch it anymore on television when it was just 15 minutes away, I hailed a taxi. After negotiating a price to make it worthwhile for him, we set off, only to quickly find out that the “live” video was just a loop of replaying footage. Since the violence had ended and the roads were blocked off, there was nothing to do but turn back. The next morning I learned that over two dozen people had been killed. Upon seeing the footage (on a foreign English-language news station) of military police firing into the crowds and running over people with tanks I can’t say I wasn’t a bit relieved that my Tahrir Square slideshow wouldn’t include tanks:


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