Tahrir became an emblem of instability and violence - regardless of who was to blame for the fighting. I remember when shop owners and people living nearby started confronting protesters and asking them to go home.
“My store was completely destroyed during various violent incidents over the past year. What is the point of just protesting and damaging people's lives like this?” a stationery shop owner in one of the roads overlooking Tahrir told me. “There is a time for revolution and there is a time for work and politics. You can't just live your life marching in the streets and squares like some demonstrators are doing.”
In 2012, as we waited for presidential elections. The square was transformed into a venue for endorsing Islamist presidential candidates. Then, after Mohamed Morsi's election, the demographics in Tahrir marches started changing. First, Morsi's supporters came out in the tens of thousands calling for an “Islamic constitution.” It wasn’t long before secularists started taking to the square as well, denouncing the president. This time, the revolutionaries weren’t alone in their demands.
“I've always been a long-lasting supporter of Mubarak. I wasn’t even in favor of the 2011 revolt, but now I'm here because I don’t trust either Morsi or his Brotherhood,” a 62-year-old engineer, who was taking part in his first-ever protest, told me in late 2012.
That phenomenon was even more obvious when millions went out to protest Morsi's rule. On June 30, 2013, Tahrir, among many other squares, was once again packed with protesters, and soon the military would topple Morsi.
The revolutionaries of 2011 were in the square last June, but there was no unity about the future. The revolutionaries, who once filled the square with light and hope, were now caught between Islamists’ anger at losing their dream of a religious state and others who long for stability, even within autocratic boundaries.
Today, security is again tight, helicopters circle overhead. The ideal city is long gone and many Egyptians want to see Tahrir exist again as nothing more than a busy traffic hub.
Hassan is a special correspondent. He covered the 2011 uprising in Tahrir Square for The Times.