Egyptian protests: Who speaks for the young people gathered in Tahrir Square?

Notes from different corners of the world.
Feb. 7 2011 5:19 PM

Voicing Opposition

Not even Cairo's protesters agree on who speaks for Cairo's protesters.

Read more of Slate's coverage of the Egyptian protests.

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Ibrahim said she attended the planning meetings for the Jan. 25 demonstration but argued that didn't give her the right to speak for the masses. "No one in their mind during those meetings thought this would turn into a revolution," she said. "Post-Jan. 25, nobody was running the show. It was people acting on their own . … I took part as a revolutionary socialist, but I'm not going to say because I made a Facebook group I have the right to represent these people. This is a people's revolution. Facebook and Twitter didn't make this revolution."

There are other protesters who have been on the square for days and have simply never heard about any debate over representatives at negotiations. "I think the system is trying to find any way out without enacting the changes the youth are looking for," said Ali Gheital, a doctor who has been treating injured protesters. "They are trying to find a way out, so they started talking to the opposition, but the opposition doesn't control the people."

Then there are those who are hopeful. "At the end of the day, no one is in control at the moment," Hossam el-Hamalawy, a blogger and journalist told me. "There is a problem of which way to go forward and there are many opportunist politicians who are trying to jump on the movement and trying to hijack it and that would include those who have already gone to negotiate with Omar Suleiman before Mubarak's leaving." Hossam said he is "totally against negotiations with the regime as long as Hosni Mubarak is in power" and opposed any talks with "his torturer-in-chief, Omar Suleiman."

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Yet others, such as Nasser of the youth council, have said they would talk to Suleiman. I asked Hossam if it's possible the movement could spin out of control. "It's inevitable in any revolution, you'll always find divisions, and people with disagreement," he said. "The only referee will be the people here in the street."

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Sarah A. Topol is a journalist based in Cairo. She has reported from Yemen, Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. Her writing has appeared in the Atlantic, Foreign Policy, Newsweek, and the New Republic, among others.