On the first anniversary of Egypt's revolution, the Semiramis InterContinental, a five-star luxury hotel overlooking Cairo's central Tahrir Square, offered an espresso-stained postcard of the deep political and social divides that have emerged since Hosni Mubarak's downfall.
As hundreds of thousands Egyptians converged on the square on Jan. 25, the hotel's café became the locus for discordant symposiums among Egyptians of diverse political and social backgrounds. Protesters, clad with stickers and signs that urged Egyptians to press forward with the revolution, shuffled in for a coffee (and, for some, an alcohol) break. In another part of the café, Egyptian businessmen discussed the construction of new resort hotels on Egypt's glimmering Red Sea with their colleagues from the Gulf. Still, others sought refuge from what one 38-year-old Egyptian restaurant owner described as "the never-ending noise of the revolution."
On that last point, at least, the patrons would get their wish. The noisy chants of "Invalid!" (a reference to the sustained de facto leadership of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) over the country) and "Freedom!" were eventually drowned out by the iconic, moody tunes of famous Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum.
But not even Umm Kulthum could sing over the urgent political questions of the day. In the back of the café, workers watched footage of the packed square on a miniature television propped against the hotel's boarded windows, fretting over "when the clashes will start."
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