Friday, July 15, 2005

Yesterday Kifaya staged its unemployment protest in Abdin Square, though the Ikhwan didn’t show up. Kifaya members say the Ikhwan pulled out at the last minute after some high-level negotiations with security personnel, but I haven’t confirmed this reason with Ikhwan people. Abdin of course is the symbolic protest site par excellence. In September 1881, Egyptian colonel Ahmad Urabi led his contingent of mutinous officers and marched on the palace, demanding an audience with Khedive Tawfiq. With three regiments lined up behind him in the square facing Abdin palace, Urabi demanded a more nationalist cabinet, a constituent assembly, and an increase in the size of the army. Unaccustomed to facing specific demands, Tawfiq is said to have countered that he is the Khedive and would do as he pleased. Urabi retorted, “We are not chattel and will not be inherited after this day.” The phrase lives on as a powerful and resonant impulse. As a demonstrator at the protest told Reuters, “Ahmad Urabi came here to tell the government of the time that we Egyptians are free, and we are here to tell our government the same thing today.”