Monday, February 14, 2011

Cleaning Up the Square

A fascinating detail emerged from the popular uprising in Egypt. At Tahrir Square, the focal point of demonstrations in Cairo, among the many people who stayed behind after the government had stepped down were several hundred people cleaning the square, and repainting. It’s a way of “claiming their space,” as one reporter put it. Cleaning up is a conspicuous symbol of change in a place where the government was never able to keep the square clean.

It also serves as a sign that the culture war groups that had a hand in starting the demonstrations in Egypt weren’t the people who finished them. As in the United States, the culture war groups that have been harassing cultural figures in Egypt for years are mostly made up of men over 40 years of age. If you’re younger than 40, it’s hard to relate to the vision of turning back the clock to an imaginary version of the past. But the cleanup crew in Tahrir Square was made up of people in their 20s. This suggests that they were simply citizens seeking a legitimate government for their country, a point that activists have been pressing on Twitter for a couple of weeks.