Monday, April 30, 2012

Cairo, 30 April. Bab el-Louq, near Tahrir Square, Cairo.

From my room in my hotel I could hear the demonstration in Tahrir Square, so I went along this evening to take a look. It seems rather odd in retrospect that it was a completely unworrying experience to walk past several dozen salafi men, beards and no moustaches, carrying clubs and metal poles, whose appearance and whose slogan of "Students of Islamic Law" echoed the Afghan Taliban; but although these were the heavies deployed to guard against any attacks by the police, the scene around them resembled a fairground more than a revolution. There were a great number of food stalls, one of them labelled "Revolution fuul" (like U.S. "Freedom Fries"?)  The only women that I could see were the vendors at a couple of these stalls. A man stood addressing the crowd from on top of a slightly ramshackle-looking tall podium. The whole thing reminded me of Speakers Corner in London as it might have been in headier and more revolutionary days.

The salafis, many of whom are to be seen in the street outside the hotel, are here to complain at the exclusion of their candidate from the Presidential election. If there were other groups using the square, then they were keeping their peace.

Perhaps, then, the scene should evoke a much earlier scene from Cairo's history. The Salafis (who seek to recreate the conditions of early Islam - so perhaps they are conscious of the image) are living in tents in the square, rather perhaps as the Arab armies lived when they first came to Cairo in 640 AD. The stream of cars that still manage to pass by, the concrete bulk of the Egyptian government building the Mugamma', and the salafis' own laminated posters decorating the square (denouncing Amr Mousa, a probable candidate for the Presidency, as a traitor) make the scene indisputably an urban and modern one. The salafis themselves, locals claim, are from the countryside.

Across from the protesters' camp are various stalls selling what they can - one of them sells flags, including ones suitable for salafis and others suitable for football fans (Barcelona, Ahli, Zamalek...) but, said the stall-keeper, football had gone flat lately.

Al Jazeera's cameras were recording the whole scene from a studio above a fast-food outlet.