The area surrounding Tahrir Square is usually an exhilarating place to be. It’s the hustling and bustling center of Cairo, which is in turn one of the truly great Capital cities of the world. So when early this week the army, along with the Ministry of Interior, began setting up concrete and barbed-wire blockades on a few of the main downtown arteries – Qasr El-Aini, Mohamed Mahmoud, Sheikh Rihan, and Youssef El-Gendy – they didn’t just attempt to stem violent altercations, they dramatically affected the day-to-day life in the usually vibrant area.
Add to that the fact that all of the tents set up around Tahrir Square, including those belonging to Syrian, Bahraini, and Yemeni protestors in front of the Arab League were destroyed when the army sieged Tahrir on the 16th, and what you get is a stunning change to the landscape of this incredible city. It’s not the demonstrations that are scary, it’s the negative, empty space that haunt the city as reminders of conflicts past.
Take Mohamed Mahmoud Street. Just one month ago, the violence that erupted between security forces and Egyptians was plastered across televisions and newspapers around the world. Now, Mohamed Mahmoud is dark and abandoned except for the Pizza Hut and McDonald’s that just in the last couple of days re-opened their doors across from the American University of Cairo campus.
Beyond that, there is a small local cafe where at most a handful of men can be seen smoking sheesha. Then, just a few hundred meters from the entrance to Mohamed Mahmoud on Tahrir Square, is the gigantic wall of concrete blocks that prevents any traffic – car, foot, cat, you name it – from going any farther East. Turn South, and another similar wall blocks entry on to Youssef El-Gendy Street.
On the wall of AUC’s campus, graffiti artists have plastered the likenesses of those injured in what has come to be known as “The Battle for Mohamed Mahmoud.” Closer to Tahrir Square, the words “FUCK SCAF” are scrawled over revolutionary slogans and images. Lit only by the lights from the fast-food chains across the street, it can be eerie to think of how the crowded, blood-covered road is now abandoned, a relic to history less than 5 weeks old.
All the way across Tahrir Square, on the West side, where Tahrir Street feeds traffic from Giza and Zamalek, you would never know that just one week ago there were giant tents parked outside the Arab League to protest the Syrian, Yemeni, and Bahraini regimes. These tents had been completely ransacked once before, when security forces destroyed property including a few laptops in November, but protestors had rallied to set their camp up once again. Now, there is not a single remnant of the communities that once stood their ground there.
Photos: Downtown, Cairo – December 21.