Sunday, February 13, 2011

How the Egyptian Protesters Organized Within Tahrir Square

BBC photographer Yolande Knell did a photo tour of the organization of Tahrir Square when the protests were at their height, and the BBC compiled those photos into this clickable Reuters photo "map" on their site, under the title: Egypt: The camp that toppled a president.

I have included below the photos, to which the labels above refer, with their captions. Together they provide a fascinating portrait of life in Tahrir Square for the protesters; how they were able to keep informed, motivated, focused, healthy, and heal their defensive wounds. Starting at 11 o'clock, and going roughly clockwise:

Flag sellers

A whole economy has grown up in the square since the protests began. Street vendors sell flags and hats in the colours of the Egyptian flag. A large flag costs five Egyptian pounds (about 50p).


Schools in Cairo have been closed during the protests. But there are so many mothers who want to attend the demonstration that many bring their children here - to a kindergarten organised by the demonstrators.

Food Stalls

This bean seller is one of many food vendors who have set up stalls inside the barricades. Protesters have also taken over the Hardees fast food restaurant, where they give out free bread and cheese.

Water point

Drinking water is not easy to come by, so protesters have been filling their bottles at this water point beside a construction site.


Egypt's internet activists have played a key role in the pro-democracy protests and many are camped together on the roundabout in the centre of the square.

Wall of martyrs

Memorials of protesters who died during the uprising have been erected at the "wall of martyrs". Friends of the victims put up pictures and accounts of how they died. Some are very graphic and accuse the police of brutality.

Rubbish bins

Egypt has no formal system of recycling so the demonstrators have set up their own, as part of efforts to keep the square clean.


The camp toilets are here in a shed formerly used by construction workers near the Egyptian Museum. After 18 days, the smell is quite incredible.


Throughout the demonstration, protesters have sat and slept around tanks parked near the Egyptian Museum, to prevent the army from advancing into the square.

Street clinic

This "street hospital", staffed by volunteer doctors, is one of several clinics where injured protesters have their wounds treated. Since Egyptians do not typically have access to free medical care, some say the clinics in the square are an improvement on what they are used to.

Newspaper wall

Every morning Egypt's main newspapers are pasted up on the shutters of this shop, allowing protesters who cannot afford to buy a paper can still follow the latest reports, says our correspondent.

'KFC clinic'

This Kentucky Fried Chicken fast food restaurant has been taken over by protesters and turned into a clinic for the injured and the sick.


This artwork, "Egypt's Heart", is one of many created by the demonstrators. The heart faces down one of the streets through which pro-Mubarak supporters came to clash with the anti-government protesters. Many visitors have had their photographs taken next to the heart.


This platform has become a kind of "Speakers' Corner" for protesters to call comrades to action and pay tribute to those who have died during the demonstrations. The white screen is used to project televised speeches by the government and the army.


This pharmacy near the main stage is helping campers and visitors keep clean and healthy. Some of the supplies are being given out for free.


Though the majority of demonstrators go home each evening, a hard core have set up campsites on the roundabout, pavements and grass verges. Some sleep in tents, while others shelter under plastic sheets and rugs draped across pathways.

This organization was impressive, and took consideration of both basic physical needs, and higher emotional and motivational ones. To me, it helps explain the resilience and persistence of the protesters, and is testimony to the best of the human capacity to create positive order and social structure.

Related Posts:

The Egyptian Protesters/People Triumph! Mubarak Resigns!
Al Jazeera English's Egypt: A Nation in Waiting (2008) on Mubarak's Egypt, An Excellent Backgrounder to Current Events
Egyptian Blogger "Sandmonkey" Mahmoud Salem On His Detention, Going Public, and Wael Ghonim as a (Disappeared) Leader
A Yemeni/Egyptian-Canadian's Personal Story Shows the Current Plight of Egypt's Middle Class
Canada's PM Stephen Harper Hearts Mubarak--Favours Slow Transition Under His Presidency
Egyptian Blogger Arrested and his Account Suspended: Sandmonkey's Most Recent Post Copied Below
Egypt's Uprising February 2-3, 2011: A(nother) Turn of the Screw
Egypt's "March of Millions"; the Obama Administration Begins to Say, "Kefaya!"; and, to Manage the Future of Egypt; Mubarak Announces "8 More Months"
Why the West (the US) Cares So Much About Egypt: Part I The Suez Canal (Oil)

See Also:

BBC's Full Coverage: Egypt Unrest

Your comments, thoughts, impressions?


jaraad said...

Very interesting!
No doubt what happened at Tahrir square will forever be remembered.
I want to mention that the former Egyptian government claimed that the youths at the Tahrir square were supported by America and that they were given money to do what they did. They even stupidly said that those youths eat chickens at KFC.
This is why the people at Tahrir square decided to take over KFC.

Haitham هيثم Al-Sheeshany الشيشاني said...

U know; I have nothing but a ":)" to add/say

these r gr8 times, a history is born, or reborn :)

Wendy said...

Great pictorial, Chiara!!!!

Susanne said...

Very nice post! Thanks for sharing!

Chiara said...

Jaraad--thanks for sharing that information. I was stunned by the label "KFC clinic". I didn't know whether there was an attempt to kill the protesters with a steady diet of KFC or whether KFC had suddenly found its rebel roots! :D Your explanation makes much more sense. I am very impressed by the 2 clinics and the health station. Truly comprehensive thinking, beyond basic needs.

Haitham--ty! :D So true! This Egyptian triumph in forcing Mubarak out gave me such a boost! Hopefully the post-Mubarak era will be a great one!

Wendy--thank you! I was so impressed with this work from the BBC!

Susanne--thank you! This one was a must share as soon as I read it!

Thank you all for your comments.


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