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Empty Tahrir

An Egyptian child with a police costume in Tahrir square. January 25, 2016 (Photo by Jonathan Rashad) An Egyptian child with a police costume in Tahrir square. January 25, 2016 (Photo by Jonathan Rashad)

Five years ago, thousands of Egyptians called for protests on the 25th of January to demand "bread, freedom and social justice" and challenge the security apparatus' vast human rights violations. The protesters managed to topple thirty-year autocrat Hosni Mubarak after eighteen days of protests and clashes with the police. Before that day in 2011, January 25 was the national commemorative day of the police. What does that day mean to Egyptians today?

Ahead of the anniversary of January 25, authorities arrested activists, shut down cultural spaces, and conducted mass searches of flats in downtown. I decided to cover the situation in the spot where more than 800 protesters where killed--Cairo's Tahrir square. Contrary to the previous four years--where I would see thousands in the square for the anniversary, whether to protest or 'celebrate'--this year was shockingly different. As it started to rain, I arrived to Tahrir late in the afternoon to find it 'occupied' by security forces. To show their support for the government, only a few dozen people were walking near police patrols to hand out flowers, praise them, take selfies, or chant for the police. Then they were asked to promptly leave. I was asked by police several times to stop taking pictures so I would not "mobilize people in front of the camera." I kept walking around until I came across a woman who was, by herself, shouting and chanting against the uprising with a few people behind her.

While many Egyptians still consider that day to be the 'day of the revolution' despite the fear of protesting or celebrating anymore, many others have reclaimed the day for the police. The decision to mark 'police day' isn't just a referendum against the revolution, but has come to represent those who opposed the uprising all along and those who lost their livelihood as a result of the turmoil. Some Egyptians consider that day to be the 'day of the police' only as they have been against the political movements from the beginning or because they lost their jobs following political events. Yet many others still hold on to January 25 as the 'day of the revolution' but are too fearful of making their views public. Some have lost hope in the possibility of realizing and fulfilling the dreams set out on 25 January 2011.

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