CAIRO, (Reuters) – The protesters whose uprising against President Hosni Mubarak forced him to step down defeated all the weapons his administration deployed against them.
Their victory over Mubarak’s tried and tested tools of control is a source of great pride among the protesters, united by a sense of purpose that grew as the protest wore on.
It also sends a message to governments around the region who govern in a similarly autocratic way.
“The people are stronger than anything else,” said Mohammed al-Sheikh, a 22-year old protester at Tahrir Square, the heart of revolt against Mubarak.
First, the government sent in the riot police. Not only did they fail to quell the protests, but, massively outnumbered, they simply disappeared from the streets. With its main tool focrushing protests blunted, Mubarak was immediately left exposed.
Then, it cut mobile phone lines and the Internet, hoping that by disabling the means used to organise to protests, they could weaken them. But that failed too: ever more Egyptians arrived, including many who had never been online.
Then, the government sent F-16 fighter jets to buzz the protesters, an attempt to intimidate them that backfired by further hardening their resolve. In Egypt and abroad, it seemed a crude attempt to bully the demonstrators.
When all else failed, Mubarak loyalists unleashed another method to crush opposition, deploying men in plain clothes, some of them members of the police force, to attack the protesters.
Known as “beltagia” in Arabic, or “thugs”, they also failed.
The protesters rallied to defend their positions in Tahrir Square, repelling two days of attacks by men armed with sticks, knives, guns and petrol bombs, some of them charging the protesters from the saddles of horses and camels.
The battle of Tahrir Square, which claimed a number of lives and more than 1,500 injured, was seen as a crucial moment in the uprising. Being dislodged from the square would have been a major blow to the protesters’ morale.
Instead, increasingly confident the military would not act against them, they came back stronger again. The offensive triggered more sympathy for the protests, the deaths drawing more demonstrators to the square.
“They came at us with everything they had,” Sheikh said. “We didn’t have weapons, but we had the will. Rulers must understand that the dignity of the Egyptian citizen is more important than anything,” he said.
“The regime gave the impression that it was strong, but it was weak,” said Khaled al-Sheikh, 45. “They had weapons, power but we were victorious because we had principles,” he said.