Cheering for Sisi, patriotic crowds return to Tahrir Square
By midday, the Square was filled with hundreds of civilians and security forces
He’s 79-years-old, frail and a recent widower, but today he surrounded himself with the blaring sounds of celebratory horns, speakers blasting out hip-shaking tunes and spirited crowds.
The man, who goes by the name of Abu Ashraf and lives in Cairo, was standing at the city’s iconic Tahrir Square on Sunday, just hours after President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was sworn in and officially became the country’s seventh president.
“I’m here for Egypt,” Abu Ashraf said, staring at an army tank nearby in which an Egyptian soldier was sitting and waving to passersby snapping pictures of his vehicle.
“This reminds me of when I was in the army, and more specifically, Sisi reminds me of my youth. When he asked Egyptians to show support for him and protest (last July), I came by myself too to join these people,” he said, tugging at two pictures of the new president that were dangling around his neck.
“My wife died a year and a half ago, but I’m happy being here with all these people and not alone,” he added.
By midday, the square was filled with hundreds of civilians and security forces. The occasional sound of fireworks would drown out the drums and chants for a second, before the hubbub resumed.
Walking into the Square, the crowds were offered flags, the chance to get their faces painted in red, black and white and pictures and posters of the new president.
While today was special for Sisi’s fans, this was certainly not the first time Egyptians have celebrated the former army chief in such rhythmic arrays.
‘A message to the world’
Since leading the ouster of Islamist President Mohammad Mursi last July, Sisi has called for citizens to show support for leading a crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, to support a constitutional referendum and to support his candidacy for presidency.
Sisi’s backers – desperate to suppress Islamist rule in the country – have since repeatedly thronged to Tahrir Square, the site of mass protests in 2011 which led the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak.
Army tanks had cordoned off the entrance into Tahrir on Sunday for vehicles, yet the public were still able to walk in after being searched by officers as security forces were on high alert for any attempts to “disrupt” celebrations, as said by the interior minister a day earlier.
“We want to laugh, dance and sing with these people, but we have to keep a straight face,” one army officer told Al Arabiya News on condition of anonymity.
At the entrance of the Square, another man – an aspiring poet named Hazem al-Masry – stood with a banner titled a “Message to the World” which nicely demonstrated the level of patriotism gliding through the crowds.
Masry loudly read out the poem written on the banner: “I am Egyptian. During my life I am courageous and frank, I race against the wind. I am not frightened or threatened."
“I also have another poem, you know,” he told Al Arabiya News. “It’s called ‘Egypt is a red line’ and is a warning to all those who wish to destroy Egypt or the Arab world.”
Along with political and economic upheavals, security has been a primary concern for Egyptians in recent months as a wave of deadly militant attacks have targeted soldiers and policemen and new jihadist groups have emerged, such as al-Qaeda inspired group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis.
A number of Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, have already designated Ansar Beit al-Maqdis as a terrorist group. They were quickly followed by Washington.
“Sisi will have to decisively combat terrorism and militancy, always present in Egypt in certain areas, but especially significant after the ouster of Mursi,” Walter Armbrust, an Egyptian political expert and lecturer in Modern Middle East Studies at Oxford University, told Al Arabiya News.
“But Sisi will have to combat militancy not just through the military solution, but also through fostering an inclusive political environment where all Egyptians feel as if they have a stake in the system,” Armbrust added.
For one Egyptian woman, Amal Abdallah, a teacher from the outskirts of Cairo who was at Tahrir with her husband and a three-year-old daughter, inclusion in the country’s political system is just what she wants.
“I was here in Tahrir in 2011 to oust Mubarak. Today I am not only celebrating our new president, I am here to prove that this is where Egyptians can come when we want to democratically express ourselves.
“We want to have a voice and this is where we can have a voice,” Abdallah said.
Thousands are expected to pack Tahrir Square later at night, when temperatures cool and planned celebrations get underway.
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