These pieces under the tagline “Ringside at Tahrir” were first published in The Telegraph in February 2011
Sankarshan Thakur, who reported on the Egyptian uprising, recounts an unforgettable lesson he learnt at Tahrir Square
Feb 13, Cairo: Revolutions don’t reserve the right to admission; everyone’s welcome, including those they rise against, the more the merrier. Revolutions, as opposed to coups d’etat, are driven not by the dark deceit of a few but by the daring embrace of the many. They aren’t hatched in the shadowy backrooms of power, they are audacious things that roam the streets and arrive to explode at power’s guarded precincts: a palace, a prisonhouse, a wall, a ship deck, or, as in Egypt the past fortnight, a townsquare. They can’t be a crafted plot, they are a propulsion force laser-guided by the unjust nature of things. Revolutions don’t demand rights to admission. They erupt, the rest follows.
Egyptian Troops take a briefing before deploying in Zamalek, Central Cairo
On my fourth evening at Tahrir Square last week, I lapsed into an error of judgement induced by critical gaps in my understanding of how revolutions work. There isn’t a standard guide anywhere on revolutionary symptoms and practices, of course, that reporters tasked to the ringside can pack in their in-flight bags; there probably can’t be.
Revolutions are not science, they are, if anything, a work of art in progress. But art is probably more demanding of understanding and interpretation because formulas don’t fit. Between one revolution and another very little fits. Mikhail Gorbachev survived to become extant world statesman, Nicolai Ceaucescu ended up shot and strung on a pole.
On the other hand, between a failed revolution and a successful one, a lot can seem similar. Tiananmen and Tahrir both began with angered youth facing off against tanks in the capital’s heart. They probably rolled over that one man — and much more — who stood in the tank’s path in that iconic photograph from Tiananmen; at Tahrir, human bodies rolled into the treads of tanks to immobilise them.