2011, Egypt, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Tahrir: The Shadow on Egypt’s Poor

These pieces under the tagline “Ringside at Tahrir” were first published in The Telegraph in February 2011

Feb 14, Cairo: The downtown is an anywhere city, a glittering boredom of globalised similitude; the same bodywear brands, the same engineering of sanitised food, the same waft of cloying perfume that has accosted you in the malls of Delhi and Calcutta, pervasive market surrogacy.

Even the women look part of the tedium, as if they’d all rolled off the democratic factory floors of worldwide fashion — streaked hair, carmen lips and scarlet talons, eyes dilated by the itch of mascara, tip-to-toe in black. This isn’t a tribute to the hijab, but when you come across one — and like our sari, it has evolved into mesmeric hues and contours — it intimates you of a culture that is still its own. Continue reading “Tahrir: The Shadow on Egypt’s Poor”

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2011, Egypt, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

How I made a mistake and then realised breathing free itself was the revolution

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
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.

Continue reading “How I made a mistake and then realised breathing free itself was the revolution”

2011, Egypt, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

The Brotherhood waits, Group tiptoes for role after Mubarak

These pieces under the tagline “Ringside at Tahrir” were first published in The Telegraph in February 2011

Feb 12, Cairo: They are acutely aware they are under watch and they don’t want to set a finger wrong, much less a foot. Tectonic shifts are underfoot in Egypt and the region and the Muslim Brotherhood, arguably the country’s oldest and most influential socio-political entity, is in the midst of dextrous manoeuvring to ensure it doesn’t fall through the gaps of history on the march.

Last Sunday, they joined Coptic priests, locking their Crescent with the Cross, at a salient solidarity show in Tahrir Square. Two days later, they pulled out with alacrity from talks with the Mubarak regime, sensing disapproval from the youth uprising and effecting correction. On Wednesday, they tore into both al Qaida’s call for a jihad in Egypt and Iranian leader Ayatollah Al Khamenei’s exhort for renewed Islamic revolution.

“We must ignore and denounce all such calls from al Qaida forums or Islamist forums,” Khaled Hamza, the editor of the Brotherhood mouthpiece, said. “What’s happening here is about the people of Egypt and their aspirations, we believe Egyptians are well capable of guiding their destiny.” Continue reading “The Brotherhood waits, Group tiptoes for role after Mubarak”

2011, Egypt, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

SPHINX CRACKS Mubarak hands power to army, decamps to resort

These pieces under the tagline “Ringside at Tahrir” were first published in The Telegraph in February 2011

Feb 12, Cairo: The dramatic and dogged Egyptian Revolution has claimed its great trophy; it is now faced with the greater challenge of picking through the chaotic debris of Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship to make good its promise to itself. History has unfolded, casting a tyrant aside; the future now dares Egypt to embrace the gift of opportunity.

As the ashen-faced Vice-President Omar Suleiman appeared on Nile Television shortly after 6pm local time to announce that Mubarak had decided to “waive his office as President and asked the Supreme Army Council to take over”, a quake of exhilaration tore through Tahrir Square, the unrelenting eye of the 18-day uprising that brought down the entrenched despotism in the Arab world’s most populous nation.

“Allahu Akbar! Egypt is Free! Egypt is Free!!” they yelled in a heady, rippling rapture, setting off waves that must reverberate even stronger through this ferment-ridden neighbourhood. Continue reading “SPHINX CRACKS Mubarak hands power to army, decamps to resort”

2011, Egypt, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Mubarak mocks Halfway offer enrages Tahrir ahead of Friday march

These pieces under the tagline “Ringside at Tahrir” were first published in The Telegraph in February 2011

Feb 11, Cairo: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said tonight that he was handing some powers to the Vice-President but refused to step down, hours after the army appeared to be closing in for a takeover to avoid bloodshed.

Protesters in Tahrir Square waved shoes in rage as Mubarak ploughed through a speech that fell far short of expectations ahead of what could turn out to be a decisive Friday in Cairo.

Mubarak did not specify the powers he would hand over to Vice-President Omar Suleiman or when he would do so. Such a handover is unlikely to pacify the protesters as Suleiman is considered too close to Mubarak.

Earlier, the army’s Supreme Council, headed by defence minister Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and chief of military staff Gen. Sami Anan, said they were acting to “safeguard” the interests of Egypt. Continue reading “Mubarak mocks Halfway offer enrages Tahrir ahead of Friday march”

2011, Egypt, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Wassup? Rule nothing out – Escape theories swirl, so does discontent in Egypt

Feb 10, Cairo: News, as we know it, scarcely ever emanates from secretive seraglios such as the one President Hosni Mubarak continues to command at the fenced-off Heliopolis Palace in north Cairo.

Often what eventually becomes information starts off as an unsourced, though inspired, leak and is allowed to float about till it becomes, at the very least, a believable rumour, as opposed to boudoir gossip.

One such — birthed on credible German websites and currently in frenzied word of mouth circulation here — is that Mubarak might invoke failing health to fly off to a posh infirmary in Baden-Baden as a best-of-both-worlds solution to the tense Egyptian deadlock.

He’ll remain President in title, but not in effect, and leave newly appointed deputy Omar Suleiman to grapple with the mess at home until he can ‘honourably’ retire at term-end in September.

Should you believe the Cairo bush telegraph — even some of its private television networks and newspapers — the great escape is one of the deadlock-breaking possibilities the army and the self-appointed group of “wise men” has been discussing with Vice-President Suleiman, even as the regime maintains a grand façade of being in control. Continue reading “Wassup? Rule nothing out – Escape theories swirl, so does discontent in Egypt”

2011, Egypt, Reportage, Telegraph Calcutta

Protester in battle as long as it takes

These pieces under the tagline “Ringside at Tahrir” were first published in The Telegraph in February 2011

Feb 9, Cairo: For the first time since anti-Mubarak protests exploded on Egypt’s streets on January 25, she was headed for work this morning, to the labs in Cairo University where she is a cancer researcher.

“But be sure I will be back in Tahrir by the afternoon,” she hastens to add as if to allay any impression she had tired of what she insists on calling the “Egyptian revolution”. “We have not come this far to back off, Egypt will never be the same again after what has happened over the last two weeks. It might take more time than we initially thought, but the change will come.”

Mona Seif Hamad might seem an unlikely revolutionary lunging at the foundations of an entrenched police state masquerading as democracy —- slight of build, soft of speech, her mop of ringlet hair and her sophomore’s manner verily belying the reality of a 25-year-old scientist locked in the throes of a turbulent street enterprise. You’re almost tempted to ask what’s a nice girl like you doing in a rough place like this? Continue reading “Protester in battle as long as it takes”