The unseen factor: Egypt’s women protesters
Women bring the chants and song and maternal care to the crowds
Tens of thousands of protesters, demanding political reforms, were standing their ground again in Cairo on the 17th day of the popular uprising in Egypt - and many of them are women. A lot of the news footage from Egypt's Tahrir Square in central Cairo shows men standing and shouting in the front rows of demonstrators, but the impression is misleading. Tahrir Square is full of women, talking, camped out in tents, wrapped in blankets, with children, singing, and chanting for the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
Some of these women are young, some are old. Some are wearing veils or headscarves; others are in tight jeans. They are doctors, bank tellers, housewives, mothers and grandmothers. In Tahrir Square, volunteers - many of them women - have erected portable toilets, brought food and water, set up makeshift kitchens, sound stages and mobile phone charging stations. Central Cairo is now a sprawling tent city, indicating that the protesters have no intention of leaving. Entire families have set up house on "Liberation Square" to demonstrate their support for Egypt's fledgling democracy movement.
Again and again, they shout their discontent with Mubarak to each other and the soldiers standing around them: "he should go; we're not going." Nothing has changed yet One young woman explained that she wasn't leaving because nothing had really changed yet. "They switched a few faces, but the paragraphs in the constitution that we want reformed are still the way they were before. These could be changed quickly. But, so far, we've been promised nothing: no press freedom, no human rights. And until that is done, we don't trust anybody," she said. In the midst of Cairo's tent city is a monument. It is a statue of Omar Makram, who led the resistance against Napoleon in Egypt. Two women are leaning on it: one is in her sixties; the other maybe half that. They have blankets with them, which they plan to distribute to the demonstrators.
Before coming to Tahrir Square they didn't know each other. "Here, everybody is together, rich, poor - suddenly there is no difference," says the younger one, who has a job at a bank and came here right after work. Mubarak has brought us together The older woman said that her daughter had been here with her family from the very beginning and that even the goon squads with their rocks, Molotov cocktails and guns could not budge the protesters. At first, she stayed at home in front of the television, she said, but was worried sick about her daughter and her grandchildren, so she, too, went to the square. "I saw how the people were standing together. That's the best thing Hosni Mubarak has ever done for us: he brought us together."
The young bank worker said she was hearing words she hadn't heard in a long time. "People excuse themselves, if they bump into you. There's a huge throng here, but no man looks at you, or touches you; on the contrary, they make room for you," she said. "This is the future," says the older woman. "A very good future for my children and grandchildren is beginning here on Tahrir Square." "This is the real Egypt" is a comment frequently heard in Cairo these days. It's as if a new country has been born right in the middle of the city. Protesters have called for another "million-man rally" on Friday. Many of them will be women.
By Esther Saoub
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