10/23/2014, 00.00
EGYPT
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The new face of Tahrir Square: a journey through the streets of Cairo

by Giulia Mazza inviato
Three years after the 2011 revolution, the capital still bears the marks of the revolt that shook Egypt. Chaotic traffic; crumbling buildings that flank luxury hotels; ongoing work on the square, the symbolic heartland of democracy; well-to-do Heliopolis. One Cairo resident: "We support this new government because we want to build a better country."

Cairo (AsiaNews) - "Cairo never sleeps. Don't let yourself be taken by surprise", says my driver Fouad, 57, indicating with a nod the traffic congesting the streets of the Egyptian capital. It is six o'clock in the evening, darkness has already fallen, and the toxic river of traffic that is swarming around his car knows no rules. Occasionally, someone hazards to cross the street: there are no pedestrian crossings and the traffic does not give precedence, so they are forced to make a run for it. No car will stop to let him pass. A motorbike creeps between vehicles backed up in irregular rows: a young man without a helmet, dressed in western style clothes, behind him a girl sitting "side saddle" and wrapped up in a niqab.

Yet, Fouad was not just speaking about the relentless traffic - which is the same day and night - but to the general atmosphere in Cairo. It's been a little over three years since the revolution that shook Egypt to the core. From the fall of Mubarak on February 11, 2011, to the government led by President Mohamed Morsi, until his overthrow and the establishment of a new government, the country of the pyramids has lived many different lives.

Tahrir Square, the heart of the revolts of the past three years and the symbolic center of democracy in Egypt, it is now an open-air construction site, where workers of all ages are busy building a large underground car park. Work on the project began just before the start of the "Arab Spring", but was halted because of the riots. Work resumed with the formation of the al-Sisi government.

Behind the square, behind the Egyptian museum, stands the "skeleton" of Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) building. The walls blackened by the flames that ripped through it during the 2011revolution; the dark windows are like big eyes hollow; its doors hanging on by their hinges or completely gone. "It's still there, it won't budge - asserts Fouad jokingly - but it reminds us of what has been and what we've been through."

However, on closer inspection, much of the capital seems to repeat the same pattern of Tahrir Square: luxury five-star hotels surrounded by crumbling buildings; construction sites that have been suspended for years; billboards of McDonald's next to the insignia of local cafes open 24/7. The only exception seems to be Heliopolis, one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the city, which is home to the presidential palace, the headquarters of the armed forces and some of the most important Catholic churches in the city.

The area of Tahrir Square is already far away, when Fouad says, as if speaking to himself: "We support this new government because we want to build a better country, that is an example of peace for its many realities, but also for the rest the world".

 

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