Cairo awakens to Tahrir Square clean-up – and plans to carry on the party

Brotherhood’s top men are in flight or detained and in no position to guide fightback

Military helicopters fly overhead as jubilant protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square show their support for the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood president. Photograph: Steve Crisp/Reuters

Egyptians wake to a new day, many bleary-eyed and exhausted. All night they either celebrated or commiserated after learning that president Mohamed Morsi had been sacked by the military in concert with the secular opposition to Muslim Brotherhood rule. Morsi's opponents grin and gently knock fists and say, cheerily, "Mabrouk! Congratulations."

Loyalists bow their heads to avoid eye contact. A friend whispers, “They don’t want to be identified or talk. They are desperate, in despair, and disgusted over the Brotherhood leadership’s failure to provide guidance.”

But the Brotherhood’s top men are in flight or detained and in no position to guide their flock.

Julia, a young Italian studying Arabic, is delighted. “My mother was ringing all the time, asking when I am flying home. I was worried that the airport would close and I would be stuck here during a civil war. I feared the banks would run out of cash so I got lots to keep at home. I bought food for a month. Tins, rice, pasta and frozen food.” Many Egyptians did the same.


My driver Michael, a Coptic Christian, is unshaven and weary but ready for another night of partying. He and his friends will go to Cairo’s central Tahrir Square around 7pm and to the Ittihadiya presidential palace at midnight, and stay until three.

For the winning opposition side in this power struggle, the demonstrations provide occasion for non-stop celebration. Michael's community, in particular, feels relieved that Brotherhood rule has come to an end. After the Brotherhood came to power, fundamentalist attacks on Copts increased.

Traffic is light on the highway to Nasr City, where Brotherhood supporters continue their sit-in at Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque. Cars of political tourists jam the roads as we near the site. Two small country buses filled with people transported here to demonstrate in favour of Morsi slip away. A few men stand at the entrance to the wide boulevard leading to the mosque but burly self-appointed traffic wardens prevent cars from stopping and direct us to a narrow side street to see us off. Misery does not want company. “It’s very dangerous here,” mutters Michael, determined to leave this place as soon as possible.

We pass two sand-coloured armoured troop carriers and a fire engine parked on the side of the highway as we make our way to the wide buffer zone created by two lines of these vehicles and armed soldiers ordered to keep the two sides apart. Two dull green-brown helicopters fly overhead, twist, turn, and make for another location, as helmeted soldiers tell sightseers to hurry up.

Elsewhere the army’s deployment is low profile, and few policemen are about. The elegant white Ittihadiya Palace has disappeared behind walls made of backward-bending, graffiti- covered cement blocks and shipping containers.

Sitting outside tents, anti-Morsi campers doze on plastic chairs in the warm afternoon sun at the small mosque across from the compound. Most people have gone home to bathe, eat, sleep and prepare for Friday’s expected mass demonstrations. This has been a week of Friday holidays for many Egyptians who have not bothered to go to their offices or jobs. “Last night there were five million people here,” says Michael, “now no one. We had to park far away and walk to the palace.”

On the way to “downtown”, we pass three children, two boys and a girl with hair a thick plait, leaning dangerously out of the windows of a car while holding Egyptian flags.

There are few people in Tahrir Square, mainly families treating it as a patriotic fair ground. Flags sell for 20-30 Egyptian pounds (about €3). Small red squares of paper printed with the word, "Leave," directed at Morsi, cost 10 pounds. Rubbish collectors sweep up the leavings of the millions who cheered his fall. As we cross the bridge to Gezira Island, war planes swoop low over the city, making it clear who is in charge.