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Something Remarkable Is Happening in Egypt

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While Egyptian political parties attempt to gain an edge in the growing vacuum of governance since the resignation of the interim cabinet, it is the people of Tahrir Square who are outmanoeuvring them to win the hearts and minds of the rest of the country.

There are four stories to be told in Tahrir: tear gas suffocation and death; extreme police brutality; incredible acts of sacrifice, and the foundation of a new social contract.

To some, the scenes broadcast through Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr or local networks might at first appear apocalyptic, but I think that is a bit too morose an analysis.

There are those who have told me in recent days that the country is being destroyed bit by bit. I disagree. What I have seen emerge from Tahrir and beyond is evidence that the country is being slowly reconstructed. Bit by bit.

Something remarkable happened in the past days. Civic responsibility has become the norm, not the anomaly. During the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians slipped into a comfortable malaise as the rights and freedoms of the individual and their roles in developing the country were forcibly siphoned into a black hole.

The Egyptian regime, aided by its Soviet-style propaganda State media, convinced the average Egyptian that staying at home was the best option while the authorities took care of everything. From subsidizing food staples to idolizing the security forces as the benevolent protectors of the nation, the citizenry were rendered impotent.

But events in Tahrir Square, to some extent in January/February and more so in the past week, have forced the foundation of a new social contract along the lines of how nations were formed during the Greek city-state era.

The young teenagers, rocks in hand, are at the frontlines battling the Central Security Forces (CSF).

They are the warrior class defending the civilians in Tahrir. The teenage protesters have identified a strategic mid-way, which if breached by the CSF, would put the entire square within range of the poisonous tear gas.

Mohamed Mahmoud Street, the epicenter of all the violence audiences see on their screens, is their Thermopylae. It is here they shout "This is Egypt!"

The doctors, who have flocked to Tahrir to attend to the scores of wounded -- more than 2,000 at the time of writing this -- and trying desperately to save lives, have put themselves at risk. No one asked them to do this. My friend Khaled has gone every day to help treat the wounded; he has saved lives, and he has seen human life slip between his fingers. He does not know the numbers, but he returns again and again, each time inhaling a bit more of the gas.

These doctors are the caretakers.

Then there are the thousands who in recent days have come to Tahrir with food, blankets, and much-needed medical supplies. At my neighbourhood pharmacy, two girls of about 16 walked in, shy and hesitant. One spurred the other to talk; I thought they were asking for birth control pills. Only later after leaving the pharmacy did I realize they were buying supplies to take to Tahrir.

Ragia and Lamees, two of my students, have been making supply runs to Tahrir since Sunday, leaving as soon as their classes are over. I met Salma, another student and activist, on Wednesday; she had rings under her eyes. She hadn't slept in days because of her supply drive for Tahrir.

It is people like Ragia, Lamees and Salma that are the providers.

Then there are the citizen politicians -- those in Tahrir Square, distanced from the frontline warfare -- who have been urging socio-political and religious unity. This is particularly important because of the unease and frustration which surfaced after the October 9 massacre of Coptic protesters outside the Maspiro State Radio and TV building.

Ismail, a cleaner at a public sector company, told me the story of how he and people he did not know would run into the no man's land that is Mohamed Mahmoud Street to pick up young men and women wounded from clashes with CSF or wheezing under the barrage of tear gas fire.

"We didn't care if it was a Christian, Muslim or anything else," he said. "We saw injured and bloodied human beings and just carried them on our shoulders to safety. Blood is blood."

More than 300 political parties, blocs and organizations have emerged from the ashes of the former regime.

But the people of Tahrir, in their various capacities, are achieving what the political parties have been unable or unwilling to do in the past 10 months -- pressure the authorities to understand that a military handover to a civilian administration is overdue and that key government ministries need to be reformed.

It is now that the seeds of a true revolution are being planted. Ten months ago, shortsightedness and political infighting allowed the pillars of the old regime -- the medieval Ministry of Interior and State media -- to survive.

Today, however, protesters in Tahrir and other governorates have realized what it is they failed to do.

By taking to the streets they are creating a new convention between the military and the people, and redefining the concepts of citizenship in their country.

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