World & Nation

Amid strident Egyptian protests, civility reigns

A man walking in Tahrir Square fished his last cigarette out of a pack, dropped the empty box on the ground and kept walking.

Passing him, a man in a suit jacket looked back at the litterer with disapproval and picked up the pack himself and deposited it in a side area where trash was being collected.

It was a scene Friday that would have been rare in other parts of the Egyptian capital.

Despite the thousands of protesters who have made it their home for 12 days, and the even greater numbers who stream in each day, the downtown square that is the epicenter of the anti-government movement is free of giant piles of garbage.


That’s thanks not only to the tidy volunteers periodically moving through the square with garbage bags, but also to protesters who are making an obvious effort to put trash where it belongs.

Even on the Qasr el Nil Bridge near the square, young men and women wearing plastic gloves picked up garbage Saturday. Passersby thanked them.

Since the protests seeking President Hosni Mubarak’s resignation began, the square has become a different world, where the normal rules of Egyptian life don’t necessarily apply.

Things such as a disrespect for public cleanliness or lack of chivalry appear to get left at the security checkpoints everyone must pass through to enter. Protesters said they hadn’t heard of anyone being robbed, either, despite personal belongings lying around.


Protesters complain often that state news media are portraying them as lawless and destructive, and this concerted effort toward civility seems motivated at least in part to counter that image.

“We are all brothers.... If there is water, we will all drink one sip and share it instead of drinking two sips,” said Islam Abdulhakim, a 23-year-old French tutor.

As he spoke, Ayman Mohamad, a 21-year-old art student, opened a cigarette packet and offered one to several strangers before pulling one out for himself.

Mohamad acknowledged that in the everyday streets of Cairo, men are prone to making comments or catcalls to women (even as he suggested that it was because many women wear tight clothing).

Indeed, Egyptian men have a bad reputation when it comes to their treatment of women in public, with one survey showing that a majority of women say they have been subjected to sexual harassment in the form of comments or groping on the streets or public transportation.

But in Tahrir Square, other social laws are in order.

“It’s impossible for us to see that a guy will say something here,” Mohamad said. “There would be something wrong with him.”

Even in the at-times-crowded square, where men and women are pushed together or sleep outside in close quarters, women reported experiencing no trouble.


Rabab Ahmad, 24, spent her first day in the square Saturday after her father told her and her sister, Hind, what he had witnessed: “No boy harasses a girl, no one disrespects another.”

“Everyone here has a goal in mind, and that’s it,” said Ahmad, who works in human resources. Hind Ahmad pointed to a group of young men nearby crowding around a man who had allegedly committed an infraction as an example of how little tolerance the protesters have for troublemakers.

In one video titled “A New Spirit of National Pride” posted online by the Daily News Egypt, men work together to mop the water left in the street from the previous day’s demonstration and another volunteer wears a sign reading, “I keep Egypt clean.”

“Everyone who has come here is here for change,” said Yomna Sharony, an 18-year-old engineering student. “And if you want change, you change first with yourself.”

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