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The candy store that saved Cairo

Charles Levinson and Margaret Coker had an extraordinary article in the Wall Street Journal last week explaining how the Cairo protests were anything but spontaneous and unplanned—and how they depended on more than Facebook:

The plotters, who now form the leadership core of the Revolutionary Youth Movement, which has stepped to the fore as representatives of protesters in Tahrir Square, in interviews over recent days revealed how they did it.

In early January, this core of planners decided they would try to replicate the accomplishments of the protesters in Tunisia who ultimately ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Their immediate concern was how to foil the Ministry of Interior, whose legions of riot police had contained and quashed protests for years. The police were expert at preventing demonstrations from growing or moving through the streets, and at keeping ordinary Egyptians away.

“We had to find a way to prevent security from making their cordon and stopping us,” said 41-year-old architect Basem Kamel, a member of Mohamed ElBaradei’s youth wing and one of the dozen or so plotters.

They designated 20 protest gathering sites, which were all heavily guarded and prevented by police from reaching Tahrir Square. But there was one more:

They sent small teams to do reconnaissance on the secret 21st site. It was the Bulaq al-Dakrour neighborhood’s Hayiss Sweet Shop, whose storefront and tiled sidewalk plaza—meant to accommodate outdoor tables in warmer months—would make an easy-to-find rallying point in an otherwise tangled neighborhood no different from countless others around the city.

The plotters say they knew that the demonstrations’ success would depend on the participation of ordinary Egyptians in working-class districts like this one, where the Internet and Facebook aren’t as widely used. They distributed fliers around the city in the days leading up to the demonstration, concentrating efforts on Bulaq al-Dakrour.

Read the rest of the article. It’s really a gripping story.