Tahrir Square is actually not a square—it’s a circle. And until January 2011 it was primarily a traffic roundabout to many Egyptians. Strategically and architecturally, it was an important roundabout. On one side was the Mogamma government building, which was where you had to go if you wanted any kind of paperwork filed or ID issued. On the other side was the Egyptian museum, ironic because Egypt’s history was nowmoving out of the museum and into the square. Flanking the other sides were the American University and one of the main bridges of Cairo. Blocking the square meant interrupting government paperwork, stopping tourism, and blocking travel from one point of Cairo to another.
Tahrir Square has been the site of political struggle for freedom for almost one hundred years. In 1919 large protests took place against the British occupation of Egypt and the Sudan. In 1946 the square was used to call for the British forces to evacuate the Nile Valley, and the protests were violently dispersed by the British occupation. In 1951 political forces united in the square to call for a militant resistance to British occupation. In 1967, when Gamal Abdel Nasser stepped down after military defeat by Israel, Egyptians took to Tahrir to demand his return. In 1972, during Sadat’s time, students called for war against Israel to return the occupied Sinai. In 1977 the bread riots happened in the square. Years later, in Mubarak’s time, Tahrir was used to protest the occupation of Palestine, the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. In 2008 demonstrations in support of workers’ rights and textile workers spread across the country. In 2010 people protested the violence of security forces, ignited by the unjust arrest, torture, and killing of Khaled Saeed. The photographs of Khaled’s torture were spread virally across the Internet, causing outrage in Egypt. These protests culminated in the uprising of January 25, when security forces were beaten back and protestors overtook the square.