Tourists Crowd Revolution Site, as Many Nominate Victims for Nobel

Tourists Crowd Revolution Site, as Many Nominate Victims for Nobel

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Photo Credit: Amr Emam

CAIRO Tahrir Square, only days ago the seething center of a revolutionary movement determined to overthrow the 30-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, is now a tourist site, a new Mecca for the uprising’s admirers.

The tens of thousands of revolutionaries who had occupied Cairo's main square for nearly three weeks have returned home, satisfied—for now—with the military's promises of democratic reform and free elections in six months.

Today, Tahrir (Liberation) Square is a meeting point for thousands of Egyptians and a few foreigners who want to see the epicenter of the historic revolt.

“I was curious to see what has become of the square after the demonstrations came to an end,” Ahmed Nabil, a computer engineer, who brought some friends to the square on Tuesday, told New America Media. “We need to keep the spirit of the revolution alive.”

The spirit remains very much alive. In the center of the square, hundreds of photos rest on a mammoth stone, a makeshift memorial to the estimated 300 people killed during the demonstrations.

Egyptians from around Cairo and the Egyptian Nile Delta are streaming to the memorial to show their respect for the victims of the revolution, most of whom were shot dead by Mubarak’s riot police during the 18-day revolt that started on January 25. More than 5,000 people were seriously injured during the mass demonstrations; some remain hospitalized in critical condition.

“These people have sacrificed their lives so that other Egyptians can lead the rest of their lives in dignity,” said Saad Aboud, a former legislator and a political activist. “They are dead now, but they have infused a new life into this country.”

The gratitude Egyptians hold for the revolt’s victims is palpable. Already there is an organized bid to nominate those killed or injured during the revolution for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“The Nobel is given to people for outstanding contributions in politics, economics, the sciences, and literature,” said Ayman Abdou, a sales manager, who together with a group of activists launched a Facebook page and e-mailed the prize nomination to the Nobel Institute in Norway.

“These victims have done the thing that will alter the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the Middle East and billions of people across the world,” Abdou said.

Abdou, who was at the center of the anti-Mubarak demonstrations, lost four of his friends. Tens of other friends received crippling injuries and now lay in hospital beds in Cairo and other Egyptian cities. “I am mindful of the fact that the prize goes only to people who are still alive,” he said. “But the Nobel Institute needs to make an exception this year.”

In the center of this chaotic, packed city of 18 million people, the quiet stillness at the memorial is almost surreal. Egyptians from all walks of life stream here to pay tribute for a few minutes or for an hour. Some are in prayer, others in contemplation. Many leave in tears.

Amr Ghonem, a 38-year-old tour guide from Alexandria who had traveled the 300 kilometers to Cairo with his wife and two children, gazed upon the images of the dead.

 “I came to show the photos of these great people to my children,” Ghonem said. “They are dead now, but they will continue to live in us forever.”

Around him, traffic into and out of Tahrir Square made its way in abrupt starts and stops as motorists lingered to see the memorial and pay their respects. Many of them raised their hands in silent salute.


Amr Emam is the senior correspondent for the Egyptian Gazette, Cairo's only English-language daily newspaper.