Redan efter sex månader trycks fotoboken Tahrir Square – The Heart of the Egyptian Revolution i en ny upplaga. ”Alla böcker vi gett ut om den egyptiska revolutionen säljer oerhört bra, intresset är stort”, säjer Neil Hewison, min förläggare på AUCpress i Kairo. Här i Kairo finns boken att köpa i AUCpress egen bokhandel vid Tahrirtorget och hos Diwan. I Sverige finns den på Medelhavsmuséet i Stockholm. Den går också att beställa från Bokus och Amazon.
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I couldn’t believe it. I arrived at Tahrir Square without my camera. It was taken at one of the many checkpoints I had to make my way through in Cairo’s downtown area. The center of the city looked like a war zone after a week of clashes. Not all the checkpoints were friendly, and my pulse ran high. Some of them were governed by pro-Mubarak supporters who didn’t want any foreigners, and especially not journalists, to meet with the protesters at Tahrir.
No camera. And here I was finally, eager to see with my own eyes an uprising that until then I had only been able to follow from a distance.
The Egyptian revolution had started while I was busy doing other things. The day before 25 January I was in Amman to open my photography exhibition Gaza Graffiti, and people asked if I thought a large number of people would join the call for protests in Egypt. “I’m afraid not,” I said, and recalled earlier attempts to mobilize people, when tens of thousands had signed the protests on Facebook but only a handful showed up for the demonstrations.
I was totally wrong. Tuesday 25 January was to become the starting point for the Egyptian Revolution. I’ve been reporting from the Middle East for so many years, and still I didn’t manage to read the writing on the wall. The fact that Cairo has been my base for ten years didn’t help either. I should have listened more carefully to Mohammed, the young man I shared a cab with before I left Cairo for Amman. He was totally convinced that the time was ripe, and said: “Tunisia was first, now it’s Egypt.”
When I had recovered from the initial shock of having my working tool taken from me, I started to explore the square. I was surprised to find Tahrir such a welcoming place: it was like being rescued on a peaceful island in a frightening sea. From the media coverage of the first week’s events at Tahrir, I was expecting more of a conflict scene in the stereotyped way we are used to seeing from the Middle East; a square filled with angry young Muslim men. Instead, I found myself in the middle of a well-organized festival of freedom, brimming with creativity and solidarity, and with people from all walks of life, young and old, Christian and Muslim, men and—lots of women.
Behind the protective barricades surrounding Tahrir, I was introduced to an Egypt I knew existed but never had seen so freely expressed, and by thousands of people at the same time. My heart swelled and I was swept away by the happy and hopeful atmosphere. Today I’m glad I didn’t have a camera the first hours at the square; in a way I think I got closer to the general feeling at Tahrir; with a camera you tend to focus more on certain events and people you want to capture. In the end I was lucky to run into a friend and colleague, Cecilia Uddén from Swedish Radio. She offered me her small pocket camera and I was able to start taking the first pictures that eventually became this book.
I followed the people of Tahrir for twenty-one days, from 4 to 25 February. When I started documenting the square the Revolution had been going on for a week, the situation was still tense, the army had moved in and surrounded Tahrir Square with their tanks, but people were not ready to fully trust them; the previous two days of violent attacks by pro-Mubarak gangs had stained the square with the blood of many freedom seekers. But Friday 4 February, which was announced as the “Day of Departure,” became a turning point. Huge crowds gathered again at Tahrir Square and all over Egypt, calling for President Mubarak to leave. The Square was injected with a renewed strength and hope, brought there by the increased numbers of whole families, men and women who came to Tahrir Square to fight for freedom and a better life together with their children.
When I moved around the square I realized to my amazement that the crowd was much more than a protest. I had never witnessed such a demonstration in all my life. The mass gathering at Tahrir Square was not just a rally, a whole community had sprouted up in the center of Cairo. Everything had its place at Tahrir Square. Beside the “tent city,” where the protesters slept who protected the square during the nights, there was a field hospital, there were centers for information, for distributing food, tents and blankets, scribes ready to write slogans at your request, an art corner, slogan exhibits, a blogger’s tent, an open-air place for reading newspapers, and even a kindergarten.
I looked around, almost in disbelief, asking myself “How is it possible?” So many people at the same place, almost standing on top of each other, and nobody is getting irritated, no sound of quarreling, no stress, no litter on the ground, everything in order and kept together by something I can only describe as a mutual sense of solidarity, equality, and—sheer happiness. Maybe it could also be described as a true vision of democracy. Democracy, a word that to most of us has been emptied of its real meaning. Tahrir Square—the heart of the Egyptian Revolution—reminded us all again what democracy is all about: to participate, to be an engaged and vital part of a society. Whoever we are and wherever we come from, oppressed or just comfortably tired and uninspired, the people of Tahrir not only showed us that it is possible to act, they showed the way to a better, more equal and happy future.