Tahrir Square

Photo: Rena Effendi/Institute

Even before it was spattered with the blood of revolutionaries, Midan Tahrir was the Arab world’s most famous urban space. Now, after a brief period of relative order, it’s reverted to danger and chaos, say Khaled Fahmy, an Egyptian historian, and Negar Azimi, an Iranian-American journalist. “You see barbed wire and debris everywhere, army trucks on fire,” says Fahmy. “These are things we have not seen even at the height of the revolution.”

Photo: © 2011 Google

1. Egyptian Museum
In February, bandits stormed the building and ripped off two mummies’ heads. Protesters linked arms to protect the neoclassical building. It’s now reopened but ringed by military and police, says Fahmy.

2. Omar Makram Mosque
The protesters set up a line of defense here during the revolution, ripping up stones around the mosque to use as ammunition. They left the mosque intact, though. “During the most recent clashes, people sought refuge there,” Fahmy says. “But the mosque is now open.”

3. Semiramis Hotel
The international press joked that this hotel never had fewer requests for Nile views than when reporters piled in to watch the battles from Tahrir-side rooms.

4. Hardee’s
A few years ago, this fast-food joint was a prime source of empty calories for the Gucci-clad students of the nearby American University. During the protests, revolutionaries turned it into a station for drinking water. That cooperative spirit has faltered during the more recent violence, Fahmy says. “Now there are young people with blood on their faces.” But last week’s imprisonment of Mubarak and his sons has helped buoy spirits.

5. The KFC
The Colonel watched over the revolution from start to finish, his smile and string tie a reminder of calmer times. The KFC later became a rallying point for Egyptians intent on seeing Mubarak and his collaborators not just deposed but put on trial and humiliated. On April 8, it was the site of death, when two protesters were shot and killed by Egypt’s security forces. Near there, Azimi says, “people were pointing at one of the bullet holes. It was dramatic, very Shakespearean and very depressing.”

6. Sadat Subway Station
The Cairo subway system puts New York’s to shame—it’s clean, orderly, and as cheap as a falafel. Which makes it all the more jarring to remember the repulsive pits of filth the stations became during the revolution, when the protesters used them as makeshift prisons for captured pro-Mubarak fighters. Reeking of blood and excrement, they housed dozens of badly beaten men at a time, until for security reasons the demonstrators had to let them go or risk a prison break. Now, the metro system is running again, but Mubarak’s name has been removed from some of the station names.

7. The Circle
In February, tents went up, lampposts were hacked to charge phones, and protesters snoozed on this circle. In February and March, Azimi says, a “celebratory mood” prevailed, “with lots of ice cream, flags, and nationalist paraphernalia.” Usually by now the grass would have grown up on this patch of Tahrir. But continued protests have pounded that grass into submission, and protesters are planning to erect a monument to the revolution’s dead here—if the revolution ever stops long enough to let them.

Tahrir Square