15 Mar

The forgotten children of Tahrir Square


By Jody McIntyre

The police are back on street corners, guns slung over their shoulders.  They were forced out during the revolution, but have been instructed to return to duties. Children clothed in dirty t-shirts and sandals sell packets of tissue paper out of cardboard boxes.  A man who can’t walk drags himself across the pavement past a privately-owned hospital.  In post-revolution Cairo, some things are returning to normal.Last time I came to Egypt, however, there was no burnt-out building of the NDP, the political party of ex-President Hosni Mubarak.  There were no stickers and fake car license-plates being sold in the streets of Cairo reading “Jan 25; Revolution”.  There were no babies, clothed in tiny military uniforms, being held aloft in Tahrir Square, whilst their friends and family chant in celebration.

Just opposite the gathering of well-wishers is a KFC store.  Outside, a boy selling tissue paper sits against the wall, surrounded by rubbish.  An angry worker comes out of the store and shoes him away; he is not welcome here.

But the boy clearly has nowhere else to go.  He wanders over to the gathering, who are still chanting passionately.  A man pats his head affectionately, but they clearly don’t know the boy and their attention soon drifts away.

He is one of many; the children the revolution forgot.  A military curfew is still in place in several cities across the country.  In Cairo, it is forbidden for people to go out onto the street between midnight and 6am.  With less people out, the street children have less people to sell to.

For many of them, the revolution made their struggle even harder.  Businesses employing their parents closed down, squeezing the tiny incomes their family had, and curfews kept them off the streets.

These children were not the heroes of the revolution in the media, or the spear-head of an uprising, but their continued plight shows how much is still to be done.  Until the oppressive shadow of thirty-years of Mubarak rule is swept away, and the elements of his regime still present are torn from their roots, these children will still feel hungry whilst others walk into KFC, they will still sell tissue paper out of cardboard boxes, and they will still sleep on the streets of Cairo, clothed in faded cartoon t-shirts and sandals.

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