In a police state, officials are able to treat people with contempt. In Tahrir Square, the young, well-educated English-speaking demonstrators talk a lot about freedom and human rights. Everyone talks about corruption. But the poor and the religious talk mostly of dignity, pride and justice.
I nearly tripped over the plump man lying on the pavement. Hidden beneath a blanket, he was snoring loudly as his comrades marched up and down outside Egypt’s parliament shouting anti government slogans. I guess that after 15 days and nights of protest, he could have slept through anything.
But this camp on the street between the People’s Assembly and the Prime Minister’s Office is a new front in the unfinished revolution. Until now, the demonstrators have confined themselves to Tahrir Square.
Mohammed el Nagdy was standing right in front of the main gate to Parliament, his wife and three children sitting on the ground at one side. Two days ago, they travelled from Damietta, an industrial town about a hundred miles north of Cairo, where he works in a furniture factory.
“At the beginning this was very personal,” he said. “All my life I have been beaten and humiliated in police stations. This was how it started for me. But I was surprised that the young people took this action. First I went to Tahrir Square but last night I decided to come here because I heard that there are changes in the constitution to be decided here in the People’s Assembly. We don’t accept the legality of this place anymore. When you have a revolution, the constitution no longer applies.”
His wife, Rania Fouad, clad head to toe in black, added: “I am one of those who was exposed to injustice personally. I lost my dignity, my pride. I was humiliated in my own country. The least I can do is come here to express my feelings.”
She was reluctant to tell her story, but it’s well known that one way the police get confessions from men suspected of being part of the banned Muslim Brotherhood is to bring their wives to prison and threaten to remove their clothes, or sexually harass them. I suspect that’s what happened to Mohammed and Rania.
It made me wonder how many protestors have a personal grievance fuelling their anger. In El Kharga, the main city in the remote desert region of Wadi el Gadeed, on Monday people vented their anger against the police chief, who allegedly had a reputation for torturing prisoners.
I wonder how many of the people in the crowd which set fire to his car, and then his police headquarters, had suffered personally, or seen their family members suffer. In Port Said, the governor refused to see protestors who were angry about housing conditions. In days gone by, they would have been arrested. Today they occupied the governorate building and set fire to it.
In a police state, officials are able to treat people with contempt. In Tahrir Square, the young, well-educated English-speaking demonstrators talk a lot about freedom and human rights. Everyone talks about corruption. But the poor and the religious talk mostly of dignity, pride and justice. They have been humiliated for decades by those who were supposed to serve or represent them, and they are not in a mood to forgive.