Anniversary in the city

Wednesday was the anniversary of Egypt’s January 25th uprising. Today is the anniversary of the Day of Rage, January 28th, when the people beat back the police and state security forces who had for so long cracked down on dissent and gathering in Cairo’s streets. The continued ability of Egyptians to mass mobilize, and to transform urban space into expressions of popular will and determination, is remarkable. This is my favorite photo from the revolution’s first anniversary:

Larbi Sadiki’s recent op-ed on al-Jazeera English on “January 25th and the republic of Tahrir,” captures the centrality of space and urban control in Egypt’s uprising and ongoing revolution. And images like the one above demonstrate the persistence of public gatherings and of an altered urban environment in Egypt. The city as the arena for mass protest, the millioniyyah (the millions’ march), reflects a new popular, political and social order. Gone, hopefully, is the era of authoritarian urban planning and rule.

Agency was displayed in multiple colours, prayers, words, shapes, cries, songs, dances and slogans. Perhaps, nothing equals the beauty of such creativity than Egyptians taking over the public square to make it their own and taking charge of time. That is when 31 years of dictatorial urban planning and of regimented timing ceased to have an effect.

When they re-fashioned time and space to suit the moment of liberation, the state was thrown into complete disarray. Never before in the history of humankind was there a Friday of anger. Every Friday, there were the security forces lining up the streets leading up to Al-Azhar mosque and other places where the state kept a watchful eye on citizens it distrusted and controlled via fear. Time was designed to worry about livelihood and the rest of it was apportioned between commuting, working and looking for ways to escape thinking about the things that mattered most at the subliminal level: tahrir from hunger and from tyranny, from Mubarak and from the expanding Gamal club and co.

When Egyptians, like other Arabs, discovered that to topple a state required wresting time and space from the state, they realised they found the antidote to misrule. It was licence for liberators and for liberation, inverting authoritarian orders, resisting in rebellious terms, and in ways no police force in the world was ever trained to sabotage much less handle.