A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January 25, 2011: One Year Ago Today

Everybody in Egypt loves January 25 now. SCAF, the revolutionaries, even the Islamists who sat it out the first time. It's the likeliest date to be celebrated as a new national day, regardless of whose narrative of the revolution comes out on top. One year ago today, I started the day's posting with the following:

Today is Egyptian Police Day, anniversary of a great nationalist moment in 1952 when the police attacked the British, but today too often a moment to glorify centralized authority. Here's my post from last year, but this year this is going to be a day of rage Tunisian style, if the protesters have their way. Let's see what happens.
By later that day I was starting to notice that something, indeed, was going on:
Based on video reports, Facebook, Twitter, etc. the demonstrators seem to have succeeded in makiNG their presence felt, and have occupied Tahrir Square (the central one downtown, shown above at dusk today) and are planning an all-night sit-in. Big turnouts were reported from Alexandria as well.
Note that back then I felt obliged to explain what Tahrir Square was.
Extensive presence of Central Security Forces means the government was able to control and channel the demonstrations to some extent, but they don't seem to have deterred them as has often happened in the past. Perhaps Tunisia really has given people a new determination. By all reports the demonstrators were peaceful and didn't loot or attack private vehicles. The police were not as gentle. This does seem to have been one of the most successful and impressive turnouts for a demonstration; too often in the past groups mustered tens of thousands of supporters on Facebook, but only a few dozen would show up in the street. This seems different.

The real question is whether everything returns to normal tomorrow. The difference in Tunisia was the crowds kept growing and people got angrier and angrier. But the Egyptian government has always allowed an opposition press as an outlet for releasing pressure; Tunisia was far more absolutist in its control. So I'd be surprised to see a replication of the Tunisian results in Egypt. Of course, I was surprised to see them in Tunis, too.
 By the violent upheavals of January 28, three days later, we all were realizing something had changed.

I will certainly have more reflections as the day goes on, but wanted to begin with a reminder of how it looked, from a distance, a year ago.

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