Marching to Tahrir Square: 'Welcome to liberated territory'

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 4, 2011 

CAIRO, Egypt — Dozens of Egyptian women spilled out of a mosque in the Dokki neighborhood Friday, only their eyes visible from black veils that flapped in the breeze.

Marching in formation, they set off for downtown Cairo, where they hoped to join hundreds of thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square who were calling for the removal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

When pro-Mubarak youths jeered at them from a balcony overhead, the women raised their voices louder. "Go home!" the youths yelled at the women, who replied by chanting, "He's leaving! We're not leaving!"

The three dozen or so women, who had met for their regular Quranic study group, trekked about a mile toward a bridge on the Nile, their numbers swelling as people in nearby apartment buildings rushed down to join them. Two men carrying boxes of water bottles fell in step. So did an unveiled woman with a large bag of croissants and a white-coated doctor with a load of bandages and gauze.

Down a side street, another group of hundreds of marchers advanced, waving Egyptian flags. The veiled women and their followers froze and braced for a showdown, thinking the other demonstrators were Mubarak supporters.

That was until the other marchers got close enough for the women to make out their chant: "The people want the fall of the regime!"

"It's OK, its OK; they're with us!" a man yelled.

People in the new group were welcomed with cheers and embraces and they, too, began marching behind the women's procession.

As the women from the Dokki mosque headed toward the square, others from across the sprawling city also were under way, small streams that merged into a river of people.

Across the bridge, military tanks blocked a main road into the square and the women's impromptu parade disintegrated, as men and women were directed to separate search areas.

"Get out your IDs!" an Egyptian soldier shouted.

"And get out your foreign agendas, too!" a man shouted in response, drawing laughter from both soldiers and protesters. He was referring to the assertion by government officials that shadowy external powers had infiltrated the demonstrations to serve foreign interests.

State television Thursday went so far as to claim that Israeli and American intelligence had fomented the uprising. The protesters threw back the accusations in a chant directed at the president: "Mubarak, you spy! Mubarak, you agent! You're a slave to Israel and America!"

After the soldiers' checkpoint, the women encountered a six-tier search system that protesters had set up for everyone entering the square at that point. The women, who numbered far fewer than men, zipped through easily. Women volunteers rummaged through purses and conducted full-body pat downs of all female protesters.

The men's lines stretched for at least a block, and they'd packed for the trenches. Some of them wore construction-style hard hats to protect against flying stones, and others carried boxes of supplies such as canned food, bread, water and juice.

Nearer to the square, there were men who bore scars from Wednesday's fierce clashes: an arm in a sling, a bandaged head, black eyes, and torsos wrapped in bloodstained gauze. The injured were treated as heroes by many protesters, who greeted them with the Arabic equivalent of, "Thank God you made it."

The veiled women, still chanting, finally made it through the search. All along the main path, protesters formed a welcoming committee, praising their compatriots for their bravery. The women and other new arrivals flashed the peace sign and exchanged hugs and greetings with other protesters.

Calling "God is great!" the women edged their way into the mass of kindred spirits who'd reclaimed the square after fighting a bloody battle against government-allied mobs.

"Welcome," the protesters said, "to liberated territory."

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McClatchy Newspapers 2010

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