1 Feb 2011

Uprising in Egypt: speaking to opposition figures in Tahrir Square

Am in Cairo’s Freedom Square amid massive crowds. Tens of thousands and more streaming in. But there are reports that police are preventing others from coming in to the centre of the city.

I’ve just run into one of the key protest leaders, Professor Mohammed Abu Al Gharar who is a professor of medicine at Cairo University and a pioneer of test tube baby development. More importantly he has been a political activist against the Mubarak regime for the past 30 years.

Last month he was one of one of hundreds of leading opposition figures who was nominated for an informal parliament. It was this group that formed a committee of 10 (of which he is one) who have been asked to negotiate Mubarak to go. He said they would negotiate with Vice President Omar Suleiman, appointed by Mubarak a few days ago, but that he would only be permitted to remain in any transitional arrangement for a matter of weeks or a few months.

He gave me a fantastic insight into how the protest movement is working. He says only one of the 10 in the committee represent the Muslim Brotherhood and that whatever happens the revolution will not end as an Islamic takeover.

I have also just run into an Egyptian author who was euphoric about what is happening here in the Tahrir Square and like many here hugely optimistic.

But nevertheless there is still a fear that contrary forces may yet attempt to disrupt what is happening.

Sorry for all the detail here but we’re beginning to understand this revolution more clearly with each passing hour.

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14 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:


    This is the third Egyptian “revolution”/coup since the 1950s. I predict (after initial euphoria has worn off) ultimately it will be no more successful than the other two.

    And while professor Al Gharar may be right in the short term, it wouldn’t do to forget the real engine to this protest is the poverty inflicted on Egypt’s poorest citizens. They are also the ones most vulnerable to the Muslim Brotherhood – if their problems are not dealt with the middle classes will be swept aside by a last-resort religious fervour.

    These are similar conditions to the Iranian revolution. The middle classes will then be faced with a choice: Join the religion-based revolution or ally themselves with a secular junta. The Iranians chose the former and there was nothing the West could do about it. And Egypt is a good deal poorer than Iran.

    I am still suspicious of the West’s role and motivations in this. Mubarak has behaved thus ever since he succeeded Anwar Sadat. So what has changed? It can’t just be Mubarak’s age.

    1. Nagwa says:

      Sorry Philip, but you dont understand how this revolution has started and you know nothing about the egyptian people. You are just one of those ignorant people who are afraid that an islamic country might be strong enough to decide its own future without waiting for the west to tell us what to do. So please have some sense. I am egyptian by the way

    2. Moonbeach says:

      Nagwa is absolutely correct. Hardly anybody in the West knows anything about the Egyptian people. I lived and worked in Cairo for an Egyptian Company for 3 years from ’96 to ’99. I rarely mixed with the ignorant ex-pat community but saw many British and American businessmen make complete asses of themselves.

      Egyptians are not a violent people. They are very tolerant. Jews, Christians and Muslims live together in peace. In fact, there is a church that welcomes all 3 groups in Cairo.

      It is axiomatic that there is incredible wealth and abject poverty in Egypt. I do not, however, believe that the extremists will take over although it would seem time for change; but change along an Egyptian model.

      Arrogant western politicians refer to Egypt as part of the 3rd world. It is not. Its civilisation has been developing for more than 5000 years.

      Let us hope that the millions of reasonable Egyptians win the day.

  2. Hannah says:

    I hope this is the end of all dictators in the Middle East. It has always been shameful that the West has supported this man. Now, maybe the Egyptian people and the rest of the Middle East will be allowed to be in control of their own destiny. Attempts to portray this as an ‘islamic revolution’ are ridiculous. This is a people’s revolution and we owe it to them to respect and support their demands for freedom and justice.

  3. margaret brandreth-jones says:

    Tony Blair was interviewed as Middle East Envoy yesterday. He was unsure how the uprisings would develop and like everyone else, the big worry is that divide and rule may allow the growth of a religious autocracy. It is therefore good to hear that the committee comprises of no more than 1:10.Will it stay this way?

    Being interviwed on TV now are members of the public ,a women who spoke openly about her lack of enthusiasm to allow religion into politics and a man who in opposition supported fully a more religio/political government incorporating more numbers of the Moslem Brotherhood.

    On C4 laSt night one of the protesters said that the US goes with the flow of winner takes all and just underlining that is the news that Senator Kerry is calling for Mubarak to go.American personnel are being moved out of the local buildings.

    King Abdullah of Jordan is sacking his government in the wake of the uprisings. From an outsiders view there doesn’t seem to be a surity about anything

  4. Y.S. says:

    Wow, possibly a democracy without the west’s help. Perhaps all these Arabs are not militants after all Mr Bush and Blair.

  5. Britt_W says:

    In a crowd of thousands of euphoric, excited Egyptians… how is it even possible to err… ‘run into’ one of the 10 people who negociate Mubarak to go? A coup in itself, defying all likelihood statistics.

    Keep up the good work! In the words of Spencer Davis Group: “Keep on Running… into even more interesting people!

  6. Jobeda Ali says:

    Dear Jon,

    I came to visit you at the ITN studios with a bunch of Muslim kids when we produced the iMuslim series two years ago; you did the spoof article about Muslim men helping an old lady cross the road :-) I’ll be in Cairo on my own from Thursday morning 3rd Feb for four days. I decided to come because I heard absolutely no women’s voices in the whole week+ that the press has been immersed and reporting, so I decided to go there to capture these marginalised voices. I’m a little apprehensive being on my own. Any chance we can meet up to give me a bit of support and courage? Best regards, Jobeda Ali (jobeda@fairknowledge.co.uk)

  7. Levy Ben says:

    the protesters have only one objective to get rid of Mubarak.

    the problem with Egypt is that they have a constitution that foresees a change in government. this is Mubarak and his associates.

    we have many Demonstrations in the west like the ones against Thatcher which force her party to remove her. nobody was suggesting that America or France force her out. So we should let the Egyptians manage their own political change.

    I am very much in agreement with Philip that the euphoria is there now but nobody has offered the day after Mubarak leaves.

    I don’t really think it should be our concern if the Muslim Brotherhood takes power but it should concern the Egyptians who should govern them.

    Look at what happened in Venezuela. One day the people will also rebel because anyone that the destroys a constitution that does leave room for a change in government is doomed to end like Egypt.

    hopefully Egyptians will benefit from this demonstrations.
    I don’t think this is a revolution but a demonstration of fed-up citizens


    The crowd in the square must be encouraged to institute a provisional government in that square, one that declares (1)the New Republic of Egypt, (2) the sovereignty of the people, (3) the unlawfulness of the Mubarak Regime. We, in Ireland, had to setup a provisional government (1916/1918) in opposition to the unlawful Bristish regime in Ireland. That parliament (Dail) affected in popular demonstrations, warfare the withdrawal of the British military and civil forces in a major part of Ireland (1921). The crowd in Tahrir Square seem to be leaderless. Its parliament should (a) appear to convene in the square actively (b)engaged in drafting the constitution of the New Republic, and (c) preparing to receive recognition by foreign states.
    Yours sincerely, Diarmuid Shiel. diarmuidshiel@live.ie

    P.S. The commanders of the Egyptian Army should not be trusted.

  9. phil dicks says:

    Are we missing the point? Tunisia, Egypt.. This feels like a Prague Spring, but could it be Day One of what we’ve feared since the 70s? Water-wars, food-prices, etc.
    This may have less to do with a dictatorship that, let’s face it, sort-of worked for 30yrs, and more to do with the price of wheat/oil etc.
    Let’s embrace these changes, but they may not be good news as such. Maybe the Unsustainability-Apocalypse is beginning to bite.
    Maybe this is our Warning.

  10. Will says:

    Absolutely superb coverage today in Cairo from John and the team on C4 News. Amazing footage of the violence; great interviews with the new (finance?) minister; Great touch going to the bakery and seeing the tanks on the road to the palace, and then finally with the interview with the guy at the end from the pro-democracy campaign, an explanation that pulled it all together, explaining why the pro-Mubarak people came out.
    Great work.


  11. Aya says:

    The revolution of the Egyptian people is not motivated by anything religious and not shaded by political parties. The people from all social, educational and religious backgrounds participated in it. They have enumerated and posted their demands very clearly on the tahrir square’s main building. The Egyptian people call for changing the whole regime including the parliament, the constitution and other demands related to finding who was behind the withrawal of police causing terror and the emergence of chaos and robberies in Egyptian streets.

  12. Diarmuid Shiel says:

    Dear Sirs,
    Since the Arab League understands that African Nations are not equipped to impose and police a NO FLY ZONE over Libya, I must conclude that the league is anxious to secure a continuation of the Gaddafi Regime. A continuation of the regime would secure for the conservative (qua non-democratic) members of the league the satisfaction of knowing that the pan-Islamic movement for democracy could be contained. The containment of that movement would be temporary. Inevitably, the movement would react by using its energy to dissolve the regimes represented by non-democratic members of the league.
    Gentlemen, I assure you that your suggestion that African Nations can affect a NO FLY ZONE over Libya is silly. It will provoke the wrath of youthful Islam. I am not a member of your faith. If I were, I would respect the youth of Islam. I am a Christian familiar with the revolutionary movements against Monarchies and Theocracies in Europe. I tell you now that your silly suggestion offends the rational mind. The time has come for all conservatives in Islamic States to read history, consult the moral texts of Islam, offer restitution and bow politely

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