Friday was a day of joyous protests, with Egyptians united in their show of solidarity and buoyant nationalism by a simple demand: We want democracy and we want it now.
Though the protest in Tahrir (Liberation) Square was called the "Friday of departure" by organizers, Egyptian President Mubarak is showing no signs he's going to give up the presidency before elections – currently scheduled for September.
Around Tahrir today, the Egyptian Army took a harder line with demonstrators, slowing entry into the square to a crawl and starting to dismantle some of the barricades erected against attacks from pro-regime thugs that took place earlier in the week.
Protesters worry about what comes next.
Away from Tahrir, there are growing signs of protest fatigue among average Egyptians who are largely supportive of the notion of forging a more open society and a transition away from the rule of Mubarak, who has held power here for almost 30 years. But the disruptions of the past week have driven up prices for bread, vegetables, and other staples. "We've gotten most of what we've wanted. It's time for things to settle down now," says Mohamed Nassar, who has helped run a "popular committee" protecting his neighborhood in the Cairo working-class district of Shubra for the past week, getting only about three hours of sleep a night.
The fear of chaos – fed by a state media and officials like Vice President Omar Suleiman warning of "foreign plots" behind the democracy protests – has taken hold in many minds. "We've lived with Mubarak for 30 years, what's six more months?" asks a man who asked to only be identified as Ashraf, who opened his small candy and drinks kiosk for the first time in three days on Saturday morning. "Maybe people who hate Egypt are trying to stir things up further."
What comes next is hard to say. Mubarak leaving power in September is easy; rewriting the Constitution and electoral laws to allow for fair elections is hard. Will a combination of ongoing protests and outside pressure – the US has increasingly spoken about the need for political reform in Egypt – convince Mr. Suleiman and Mubarak to carry out real reform, as promised? Time will tell.
Still, the atmosphere at Tahrir has remained largely optimistic, with protesters worried that if they pack it in now, their ultimate dream will die. I left Tahrir yesterday afternoon, which means I missed this wonderful call-and-response, anti-Mubarak chant led by a guitarist last night, that captures the psychological shift of the past week and the mood of the protesters better than words ever could: