Framework

Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

There are multiple stages where people get up to speak to the masses assembled in Tahrir Square, but the most crowded and popular lies at the square's southeast corner.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Crowds gather in front of the stage. Mornings see small groups, but by midday their numbers swell into the tens of thousands, with people jostling to get to the front.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Political neophytes to heavyweights, like Ayman Nour, center, come for a chance to grab the microphone. Nour, a member of the Tomorrow Party, ran as the opposition candidate in the 2006 presidential election. He was trounced by Hosni Mubarak.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

A hopeful speaker tries to bypass a barrier to the stage by going under it.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

A pro-Mubarak supporter, who made his way into the center of a massive anti-regime crowd, was silenced after shouting his support for the beleaguered president.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

A man jots down the names of people hoping for their turn at the microphone. Each hopeful speaker received a number to get his chance on the stage.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Mobile phones are powered up backstage. This was a revolution that spread by social networking and text messages. For a few days at the beginning of the protests, the government shut down all mobile phone service and Internet access.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Each hopeful speaker receives a number and a chance on the stage when that number is read.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Using a bullhorn to be heard over the din of the massive crowds in front of the stage, a man calls out the number of the next speaker.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Backstage, a man holds up a sign with a clenched fist symbolizing the Jan. 25 movement, named after the starting date of the protests against the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

There was little organization backstage, but there were designated personnel for security, taking names of speakers, music and escorts, like these men who helped an elderly speaker to the stage.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

A young girl takes the stage for her chance to address the crowds. The stage became a free-speech zone in the center of Cairo.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

A boy takes time out from sweeping up the area near the stage to hand an Egyptian flag to Asma, a law professor at a local university.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

In the early days of the protest, it was simply a microphone. By day 13 of the protests, a keyboard player was added to help pump crowds up between speakers with anti-regime songs.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

People stood in front of the stage for hours, taking in a scene that was all but impossible during the last 30 years.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

A speaker raises his arms in triumph after addressing the crowd. Some speakers were seemingly more popular than others, depending on the message they were delivering.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

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Behind the stage at Tahrir Square in Cairo

Los Angeles Times photojournalist Michael Robinson Chavez recently returned from Cairo, where he  documented the uprising that forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from office. His images offer a perspective on the grass-roots movement that sprang to life on a ramshackle stage in the city’s historic Tahrir  Square. Here’s his report.

The 18 days of protests and clashes that brought down Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak were centered largely on Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. The dramatic battles, massive rallies and joyous celebrations played out in newspapers, online publications and on television sets around the world.

One small section of Tahrir Square, in front of a branch of the American fast-food chain Hardee’s, was transformed into the nascent opposition headquarters. A stage was erected, and former opposition leaders, average citizens and grass-roots organizers gathered there to speak to the masses via a scratchy public address system. Names were jotted down and numbers given out so citizens could take the stage and begin practicing free speech, an art lost for the last three decades of authoritarian rule.

There were debates, arguments, laughter and, in some cases, a quick muzzle as some of the “free speech” angered anti-Mubarak protesters. Religious leaders mingled with politicians, tea vendors, auto mechanics and intellectuals. Day after day, the stage area became more organized and energized. However, now the real challenge for this mélange of opposition groups truly begins. The Egyptian military, now in power, is calling for elections in six months, and the opposition must hope that it can get organized as quickly as it ousted an entrenched dictator.

 

More images of the uprising in the Middle East and North Africa from Robinson Chavez, and Times photojournalists Rick LoomisCarolyn Cole and Luis Sinco, can be viewed here.  An audio slideshow by Robinson Chavez recounting the violent clashes in Cairo is available here.

 

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