CAIRO – Saturday’s optimism on the streets of Cairo for imminent political
change gave way to anger on Sunday, as thousands of demonstrators became
increasingly frustrated with the lack of response from major world leaders,
especially the US.
During the main protest on Sunday in downtown Cairo,
one man painted a 20- meter-long message in flowing Arabic cursive that echoed
across the square: “Go Away, Mubarak, you are from the Americans, and you’re
working for them!”
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Egyptians understand that the world is waiting to see if President Hosni Mubarak
falls to popular pressure before major leaders decide which side to support. But
this is infuriating the demonstrators, who realize that six days of unrest have
not accomplished their goal and that they need united international pressure in
order to topple the almost-30-year incumbent.
The protests have lacked a
clear leader to unite them and provide an alternative to Mubarak, and
demonstrators are beginning to focus their wrath not just on Mubarak and the
country’s widespread corruption, but also on the United States and, to a lesser
extent, Israel. They blame Israel and the US for supporting a government because
it is convenient for them, not because it is good for the Egyptian
“The USA does not support democracy; they’re supporting Israel,
which is like their baby,” said Ahmed, a 26-year-old Cairo resident. “They think
Egypt is functional because it’s in favor of their considerations.”
don’t care if we have peace [with Israel] or not,” Ahmed continued, echoing the
indifference of many demonstrators who don’t have a clear agenda for what they
want a future Egypt to look like, as long as it does not include Mubarak. “But
will Israel allow us to have a real president? For example, Turkey elected an
Islamic government, but it was their choice. Will Israel give us the freedom to
make the same choice?” he asked.
Demonstrators are relying on the foreign
press to get their message to Obama.
“Isn’t this democracy?” they asked
me over and over when I said I was a journalist from America, incredulous that the country held as the pinnacle of world
democracy could ignore such widespread popular sentiment.
“Obama has to
be on our side. Where is your democracy?” asked Osam L, who works at a foreign
bank in Cairo.
“You say Arabs are just donkeys, but the USA is supporting
the system, not the people.”
The Jewish community in Cairo and Alexandria
both declined to speak with the media, but told The Jerusalem Post that all of
its members were safe and going about their daily routine as normally as
Life is slowly returning to Cairo streets after nearly a week
of unrest. Many of the stores in the downtown area remained shuttered, but
convenience stores and cell phone kiosks were doing brisk business. There was
significantly more traffic on the roads, and public transportation and trash
collection were partially operational.
At 3:55 pm on Sunday, two fighter
jets flew low over the city half a dozen times, ostensibly to remind everyone of
the 4:00 pm curfew. The scare tactic was successful – by 4:30, the streets were
mostly empty of cars as throngs of people headed on foot toward Tahrir
Sunday’s protests were much less violent, although there was more
anger directed at international leaders.
“What you are seeing here is an
explosion. We have no other choice,” yelled one demonstrator.
protest in Tahrir Square continued to be attended by thousands of demonstrators
from all walks of life – toddlers with small flags draped around their shoulders
raising a fist in solidarity, old men in traditional garb walking slowly with
canes near the sidewalks, giggling school girls, whole families marching arm and
arm, young professionals as well as laborers.
“Those people that say
we’re out here because of food or oil prices, that’s not true,” said Osam L. “I
have enough to eat, thank God. I’m here for my freedom.”
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