Tahrir Microeconomy

War, Shopping

Is Cairo in flames yet? For those watching the November revolution on TV, this city can seem littered with thrown rocks and empty shells. But the majority of Cairenes are doing what majorities usually do: tending shop, going to school, driving taxis, baking bread, waiting for news. The real action is limited and spot-specific:  battles on Mohammed Mahmoud Street, gunfights on Talaat al-Harb, occupation in front of the Cabinet building, encampments at Tahrir Square. 

Even within Tahrir, ordinary pleasures and pastimes are important. A micro-economy has grown up in the occupied traffic circle. Street vendors supply revolutionaries with popcorn, cotton candy, koshary and candy apples. Were it not for the occasional whiff of teargas and outburst of chanting, parts of Tahrir Square could be mistaken for a really tense carnival.

Anticipating the needs of overnight occupation, carts circulate with blankets, cigarettes and tissues for sale. Then there are souvenirs: revolutionary sunglasses, miniature national flags and Tahrir t-shirts. Postcards of Colonel Ghaddafi and Saddam Hussein lie next to postcards of Che Guevara. Pop-up cafés sell tea, and teaboys deliver cups to revolutionary discussion groups. Although the merchants can be crowded out by retreating protestors or Friday assemblies, commerce has an approved place in Tahrir. Especially the sweet potato salesman.


"Friend who was in #tahrir last night says sweet potato sellers told them to make fires – heat and co2 raise nerve gas".

"I don't care if they get #Ganzoury or the #Tahrir sweetpotatoes vendor as PM. Is #Scaf stil in power? Yes? See you in the street."

"You can get kiwi in #Tahrir! That's an advancement. It was only sweet potatoes, corn & for some reason cotton candy".

"When #tahrir is a war zone and there are people selling gas masks and sweet potatos, how can I believe that we can't have a high economy?"

(Above: selected Twitter search results for "tahrir sweet potatoes")