On 25 January 2011, inspired by the revolution in Tunisia which kicked off the Arab Spring, Cairenes held a “Day of Rage” protest, which steadily grew and eventually became irresistable as more and more people joined in. By 1 February, the crowd had swelled to well over a quarter of a million people (some reports even claimed a million), noisily demanding the resignation of dictator Hosni Mubarak, The next two days saw violent attacks on the protestors by regime supporters – including horse and camel hustlers from the Giza pyramids, mounted on their beasts, thus giving the events their popular name, Battle of the Camel. Among those defending the square were fighting football supporters (“ultras”) of the Cairo clubs Zamalek and, in particular, Ahly. During the battle, rooftop snipers fired on the protestors, and the death toll mounted to some three hundred, but the people stood firm. Eventually, on 11 February, finally bowing to the inevitable, Mubarak resigned. As celebrating Egyptians streamed into Tahrir across the 6th October Bridge, news reports worldwide made Tahrir (Liberation) Square an international symbol of people power, inspiring protestors in Syria, Libya, Yemen and even Spain, the United States and Britain.
Since then, the square has had a semi-permanent encampment of protestors demanding full democracy and the retirement of the army from political life. Violence has sometimes flared up anew, as on 20 November 2011, when police tried unsuccessfully to clear the square, and on the first anniversary of the Battle of the Camel, after the killing of 74 Ahly supporters at a football match in what was seen as revenge for the Ahly ultras’ defence of the revolutionaries the previous year. Foreign reporters have also on occasion been targeted. On the other hand, there sometimes seems to be an almost carnival atmosphere around the protestors’ encampment, with street food on offer and the inevitable revolution T-shirts on sale (on the corner of Sharia Talaat Harb in particular). Nonetheless, it’s wise to exercise caution when visiting the square, take advice from local people such as your hotelier, don’t wave your camera about too ostentatiously, and stay away when there is trouble in the air. Tensions rise on Fridays in particular, especially after midday prayers.