Where Egypt Made History
A report from Tahrir Square on the day Mubarak resigned.
Out of nowhere, Hezam El Sisi is back in the thick of things. Last night he was cracking jokes about how short he was. But his voice more than makes up for his stature. It carries over the group. He's standing and singing in the middle of the seated crowd. He climbs over everyone in an effort to reach me.
"I am so happy, so happy, so happy," Hezam keeps repeating. "Yesterday I was so sad! You remember?" he shouts. And I do, but before I can answer, Magid seizes him in an embrace. He kisses his shaved head and shoves Hezam over to me. "This is the best moment of my entire life," Hezam yells. Everyone is yelling. It is the only way to be heard.
Hezam tells me he heard the news of Mubarak's resignation over the phone from his sister as he was standing outside the presidential palace. He told Tarek Nowar, a friend from college. But they lost each other on the way back to the square, and Hezam isn't sure where Tarek is. Minutes later—everything seems to be working out for the best today—Tarek appears. "I didn't believe him," Tarek laughs. "I kept screaming at him, 'Are you sure?'"
Last night, after hearing Mubarak address the nation, Tarek looked as if he was about to slit his wrists. "Why didn't he resign yesterday?" Tarek asks, shaking his head. "What the fuck was he waiting for?"
When I first met Tarek in October, he was a political neophyte. An interior designer, Tarek was moved to participate in politics by the return of Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel-winning ex-chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Tarek's mother didn't like his newfound hobby, and his wife wasn't thrilled, either. He told them he didn't care what they thought and started agitating for change.
I ask Tarek what will happen tomorrow, and he takes it literally: Everyone will clean up the square, he says. No, I respond. What happens to you after all this? Egypt's youth has been politicized. Can they go back to being doctors, engineers, small business owners?
Tarek isn't sure. "When I first started this, I remember clearly, I was talking to my friend. He asked me, 'Are you in politics now?' I said, 'No, I just want to change Egypt for the better.' But now, I'm not sure." He gestures at the celebration all around him. "I had a role in this," he says. "My role will not stop here."
Then I see another face from last night, Mohammad El Tayeb, a natural-born comedian with an expressive face. He runs up to me, shakes my hand and starts flapping his arms. "I want to fly!" he says. Then he runs away. Last night he was almost in tears.
All around us in the square, it's mass pandemonium—whistling, singing, chanting. It's hard to talk to anyone for more than a few minutes. I have more questions, but no one is interested in answering them. They're too busy hugging and cheering. "There's a proverb in Arabic," Tarek tells me as I struggle to keep his attention. "Today we party, tomorrow we think."
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.
Photograph of Egyptian protesters by Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images.