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Melissa BELL

Melissa BELL
International Affairs Editor

Tahrir equals liberation? For women, not always

Le 28-11-2011

In so many ways Tahrir square is much as it was. Lined with posters of fallen martyrs, it has the same smell, the same chants, many of the same faces and even the weather is similar to what it was in those heady February days.

But for foreign women covering the event, it is the difference that is striking.

Last time I spent a week in the middle of the square. Hundreds of thousands of men and women were pushed up againt one another for days on end. And although my head was uncovered, never a hand wandered and never an agreesive word was spoken to me. It seemed extraordinary. This was Cairo, after all. But there really was a sort of magical solidarity, a sense of mission that transcended and transformed all those who took part. Equally.

Indeed it wasn't until after the news of Mubarak's fall had reached the square at 6 p.m. on Friday February 11 that Cairo once again became Cairo. It was then that Lara Logan was assaulted. But up until that point women had been safe, their support and presence welcome.

This time the atmosphere is different. Journalists have been attacked and women targetted. And even Egyptian women are not as free as they were to take part. The only women you ll see this time have their hair covered and travel in groups.

So this time I've been forced to discover the joys of the headscarf. A liberation of sorts in that it makes it possible for me to get from one end of the square to the other unharmed and largely unhassled. But such a shame on a more profound level. As one Egyptian woman put it "true liberation won't happen until women's liberation has".

For now, Tahrir is back, but not quite as it was. And for those watching from as close as they can get, it's definetly lost some of its magic.