Mohammed Ayman, a 20-year-old
engineering student, said he felt for the first time that Egypt
belonged to him. Already, he'd noticed a behavior change in security
forces, who must now contend with a population that has shown it's not
afraid to fight back.
"The policemen now speak more softly in the streets," Mohammed told me. "People are waking up. We know our rights."
generations, Mubarak had treated Egyptians as helpless and mentally
infirm; many people told me they had come to act as if they believed it.
After the revolution, though, they believe the popular will can never
return to its old, passive state.
Over the weekend I saw a woman in a niqab,
the full-face covering garment worn by the most conservative and pious
Muslims, enter a tent full of secular protest organizers, all of them
men. Sitting in the tight circle, she told them that her policeman
husband had ordered her to stay away from Tahrir Square. "I had to come
see the revolution for myself," she said. "I was convinced I knew what
was best, but then I came here and smelt freedom." Mubarak's state
security reserved special punishment for the ultra-religious, and this
woman -- who gave only her nickname, Umm Nada -- had been hauled before
state security numerous times. She said she now wanted an Egyptian
democracy free from police intimidation and religious persecution.
"We want more," she urged the revolutionaries. "What will you do next?"
next steps depend as much on the forces of reaction, however. The old
regime still holds many levers of power, and still looks with contempt
on popular forces. Indifference to individual lives, especially those of
the poor, was a signature of Mubarak's order, and that attitude
permeates much of the elite.
Powerful forces of reaction are
arrayed against the groundswell for change, and as it has been since the
beginning, the revolutionaries labor against overwhelming odds. If
anything is cause for optimism, however, it's the paradigm-shifting
union of young and old, elite and working class, creative and
reactionary that prompted a cascade of public resistance on January 25.
The movement not only yoked a people's anger, it also summoned their
yearning to invent a better compact between the governed and the state.
That aspiration was evident as battalions of women in headscarves joined
others in jeans and t-shirts to clean up the revolutionary mess in
Tahrir Square. Unbidden, they fitted cobblestones briefly pressed into
service as projectiles back into the street; they washed and squeegeed
the pavement, and wiped their own freedom graffiti off walls and
Their victory by no means is assured, but there's reason
to hope these revolutionaries, young of mind and spirit, might yet
inspire Egypt to imagine a new way forward for itself and the Arab
Egyptian soldiers remove the few remaining barricades in Cairo's Tahrir square on February 14, 2011, three days after the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. By Marco Longari/AFP/Getty