Erasing the Remnants of a Revolution

Erasing the Remnants of a Revolution
The NDP-building after the fire, with the Egyptian Museum in the back / © dedmaxopka/livejournal

Friday, 28 January 2011. Three days after the start of mass demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, protesters called for a ‘day of rage‘ to invigorate the demands of a nascent revolution. After midday prayers, up to a million people descended on Tahrir square from all corners of the city, resulting in a long day of bloody fighting with the police. As the evening fell, the police seemed to be losing control in most places and started to retreat from the streets. While protesters entered Tahrir square, news agencies made their first reports about a fire at the headquarters of former president Hosni Mubarak‘s leading National Democratic Party (NDP). The building, located between the Nile and Tahrir, had become a symbol of 30 years of oppression and was suddenly burning spectacularly, lightening up Cairo’s evening sky.

Until today, it is unclear whether the NDP-building was set on fire by protestors, or by someone who wanted to erase all evidence of decades of dictatorship. What did become clear the next morning was that the physical manifestation of a much hated regime had turned into a heavily scarred ruin.

The charred, concrete skeleton was still standing and would from that day on overlook the rest of the events on Tahrir Square, from the joyful celebrations as Mubarak stepped down on February 11 to the violent clashes that would follow in the years to come. Its prominent position in the urban landscape has always made the building impossible to ignore, but from January 2011 onwards it would also constantly remind people, from commuters on the 6 October bridge to tourists visiting the adjacent Egyptian Museum, of Cairo’s recent history. In particular in recent times, with demonstrations in Tahrir becoming increasingly rare, the former NDP-building seems to have become the most obvious memorial to a landmark revolution. []