Democracy Now! correspondent Anjali Kamat was in the streets of Cairo as Egyptians erupted with joy after learning President Hosni Mubarak had stepped down following 18 days of street protests that began on January 25. In this video report, Kamat takes us to Cairo’s Tahrir Square, where people are not only cleaning up the streets but are also maintaining their rights to public political expression and involvement in Egypt’s uncertain future. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Following 18 days of continuous popular protest, President Hosni Mubarak resigned as Egypt’s head of state Friday. His vice president Omar Suleiman announced the President’s departure.
VICE PRESIDENT OMAR SULEIMAN: [translated] In the name of God, most merciful, most beneficent, dear citizens, in these difficult circumstances that this country is passing through, President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from his post as president of the republic and has empowered the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the affairs of the country. We seek God’s help and guidance.
AMY GOODMAN: As jubilation spread across the country, Democracy Now! correspondent Anjali Kamat spoke to protesters in Tahrir Square. That’s Liberation Square.
ANJALI KAMAT: Well, it’s a historic day in Egypt today. It’s the first day for the new Egypt for millions of people around the country. In the city of Cairo, the entire city is celebrating. Mubarak just announced that he would resign. His resignation came about as a result of three weeks of unprecedented mass protests across the streets of Cairo, across cities and towns in Egypt. It’s absolutely historic. There’s crowds everywhere, as you can hear. People are celebrating, waving flags. The mood is just jubilant. It’s one of victory. People have been waiting for this all their lives. It’s a dream come true for many people. It’s something that people can’t even believe is actually happening.
BAHAMIL: My name is Bahamil. Today, I think, in my point of view, that Egypt is starting today. Now today is our — where we are born today. You can see all people are happy. Now they feel that now no constraints, no more constraints. Everything will be all right. They can do anything. They can respect each other. They can develop. They can make everything whatever they want to do. Hosni Mubarak was a problem. Now we have a problem with Hosni Mubarak; now Hosni Mubarak is gone. And we will start today to build our Egypt.
AHMAD: My name is Ahmad. To be honest, still I feel it is like a dream, or I’m going to wake up after five or six minutes and realize that Mubarak is still here. It is just like a dream, you know? But in the same time, it is amazing. You can find everybody here from each layer, each socioeconomic layer of the community.
DEENA: My name is Deena. And there are no words to describe how I feel. We’ve dreamt of this day every single day of our lives here. We can’t — it’s unbelievable. It’s not even conceivable for us.
ANJALI KAMAT: Have you been here on the square for the past three weeks?
DEENA: I’ve been here for the past week. I don’t live here at the moment, but I flew back just to be here and to be part of this.
ANJALI KAMAT: Where did you fly back from? And describe why you came back.
DEENA: I flew back from London, where I currently live and study. And I just came back to be part of this, you know? We were doing a lot of mobilization from London, but there was a point where you felt the point is not just to, you know, get the support; it’s just to be part of it. And there is no role to play here. You know, once the revolution starts, you being part of it is the best you can do for revolution, you know?
HEBA: My name is Heba. I’ve been coming for nearly every day the past two weeks. And it’s wonderful. It feels like a festival. For the first time in my life, I actually feel free in my own country. It’s like — I can’t even describe the feeling. It’s something I’ve never felt before. I was born into this regime. And tomorrow I’ll wake up, and I’ll say that Hosni Mubarak is not here anymore. It’s wonderful. It’s really great.
ANJALI KAMAT: What brought you here to the protest in the first place?
HEBA: We had enough. We all had enough. Like I said, I was born into this regime. I’ve never seen anyone else except for him as the president of Egypt, and it was really time he left.
ANJALI KAMAT: Well, tonight is a night of celebration. The entire country is partying. As you can hear, traffic has come to a standstill. Everyone’s celebrating. The mood is victorious. But tomorrow, the questions remain of what will happen next. The president has been forced to resign because of the demands of the protesters, the fight they’ve put up over the past two-and-a-half weeks. But the protesters’ demands went far beyond the mere resignation of President Mubarak. They’re also calling for a complete change to the political system that has ruled this country for the past 30 years. They’re calling for a repeal of the emergency law. They’re calling for the parliament to be dissolved. They’re calling for a number of other demands. So it remains to be seen whether all of those demands will also be met and how long the activists in Tahrir will stay there.
Well, it’s Saturday, the day after Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign, and people are flooding back into Tahrir. They’re going this time armed with brooms, with cleaning materials. They’re going to clean up the square that they’ve camped out in for the past three weeks. There’s a massive cleanup campaign underway here. Right behind us on the pavement, people are painting the pavement, repainting it black and white. I mean, none of this was really destroyed because of the protest, but people have taken it amongst themselves to really reclaim their city and beautify it in every way possible.
MAY: My name is May, and I’m here to help cleaning up the square and to help celebrate also the beautiful occasion.
ANJALI KAMAT: What brought you to the streets?
MAY: What brought us in the streets? That we want to have our country back. We want to regain our country.
ANJALI KAMAT: Do you feel like you have your country back right now? Can you explain that feeling?
MAY: This is just the first step. We still have a very, very long way and a lot of hard work, but I think we will get there.
ANJALI KAMAT: Do you feel that people will continue to stay in the square?
MAY: The square will have to be like a symbol for some time. That’s for sure. We never thought that we could come out in the streets and say how we feel about our country and about what’s been happening in our country. But finally, when people got together and said that they will go in the streets, we all came out. I cannot say that I was one of the people who stayed here for 18 days, but I came in and out quite frequently. And I’m very proud of them that they did have the will to stay and stand up for their brothers and sisters from Egypt.
ANJALI KAMAT: Well, we’re here in the middle of Tahrir Square. It’s Saturday afternoon, and it’s still packed. Mubarak has left, but people here aren’t leaving. They’re still camped out here. We had a chance to speak to a number of the activists here. Some of them are planning on leaving, but a lot of them are not going until they’re absolutely clear that all of their demands will be met.
How long will you and your friends and people here continue to stay in the square? Are there other demands that need to be met before you leave?
RHONDA HAGEG: Well, I’m Rhonda Hageg. I’ve been here for — we’ve been actually here, me and my now very close friends, for 18 days. We’ve been talking about this today in the morning. I’m one of those who’s not going to stay in the square anymore, because the army so far hasn’t failed us. They haven’t supported us, on Wednesday, the black Wednesday, when the looters were just killing our people, but they haven’t really failed any of their promises. So we’ll give — my opinion and people around me, we’ll give them a chance. And I think it’s fair for them to remove some pressure, because we know how much pressure they’ve been put under and trust them. We’re opening a new page. We don’t want revenge. We don’t want hatred. We want to build a new country with trust. So I think at least a good half, at least, of people in Tahrir will leave. But I know very well if, few months down the road, things don’t change the way the population expect, people will come back. We are not going to give up and go like, "OK, whatever. We’re going to spend another 30 years under military government." No, this is not going to happen, and I think they know that, as well.
RAHM IBRAHIM: My name is Rahm Ibrahim. We can’t just leave it in the hands of the military, because this is our revolution. We started it. We fought for it. Our people died for it, OK? And I mean, we can’t just leave it up to that. We still have demands. We need the emergency law to be lifted. We need assurance that whoever is going to run the temporary parliament, that he’s not going to run for reelection again. We need to know that there’s going to be — the law is going to take care of the elections and, you know, supervise it. So, yeah, we need to ensure that all those demands are met. But we’re all very happy that Mubarak’s gone, the regime. The head of the snake has been lifted, and that means a lot to us. What we need to do now as people is — not as a government, as people — is to clean up the place, to start loving each other more, now that the country has come back to us.
AMGAD BARDADIM: My name is Amgad Bardadim. I’m Egyptian American. I’m alerting the people by what I’ve written on my forehead, my front head. "Madaneya" means "civilian government, not military government," because we don’t want to see the abuse of the military like what happened in 1952. They took over and start handing it from one to another. We need our freedom. We need democracy. We need a government. All, from Congress or whatever, senators, we elect them by ourselves, so the Egyptian, as a human, will be treated not as something that’s not important.
ANJALI KAMAT: By the end of the day, the army came in and started clearing some of the barricades, started letting in the first traffic into Tahrir Square in two-and-a-half weeks.
It’s Sunday afternoon, and traffic is almost back to normal here in Tahrir Square. The army came in earlier this morning and removed most of the tents that have been here for the past two weeks. There’s a small group of people, however, who are still insisting that they’ll stay here. They don’t want to leave until all those who were arrested and detained during the uprising are released. They don’t want to leave until there’s justice for the martyrs of this revolution.
But most of the people here are ready to go home. They want to move on with the political process and see what comes next. This young man here believes the people must focus on two things: cleaning up the square and then leaving Tahrir so that no one is inconvenienced. We spoke to another woman who is worried about the lack of jobs and rising prices. She wants people to get back to their lives and leave the square. Another man we spoke to said it’s important for people to leave Tahrir Square and move on to the more difficult task of rebuilding the country and transitioning to civilian rule.
But across the street, a few hundred people say they’re not leaving, not just as yet. This man wants justice for those killed in the uprising and all those who were detained during the uprising to be released. Well, we spoke to one woman whose brother was arrested on January 28th. He still hasn’t come home. Her husband says the debate should go far beyond whether or not protesters remain in the square. It’s about keeping up the pressure to lift the emergency law, releasing all political prisoners, and guaranteeing freedom of expression for all Egyptians in this new Egypt post-Mubarak.
For Democracy Now!, I’m Anjali Kamat, with Hany Massoud, in Cairo, Egypt. Special thanks to Mina Walid.
AMY GOODMAN: And you are listening to and watching Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. When we come back from break, we remain in Cairo, Egypt.