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Scenes from Tahrir Square's New Year

A panoramic view of the crowds (click image to enlarge).

A blend of the somber and the carnivalesque dominated Tahrir Square on New Year's Eve, as large crowds gathered to inaugurate another year and hope for a new chapter in Egyptian politics. Before midnight, a dual-faith ceremony solemnly celebrated the memory of those killed since 25 January 2011, ending in a message of unity: "We stand undivided as Egyptians, irrespective of religion." 

As the celebratory hubbub died down shortly after the clock struck twelve, former state television personality Gamila Ismail, the evening's host, announced a surprise performance by the prominent singer Ali El-Haggar. There was only one problem, however -- exuberant revelers had occupied the platform en masse during the programming vacuum of the previous few minutes, making it impossible for El-Haggar's team to set up his equipment. 

In a tragicomic reminder that the revolutionary vanguard does not employ event security, Ismail openly plead with the crowd to ask the revelers to step off the stage. The transgressive group slowly thinned out but never fully dispersed. The cries of snack-and memento-peddlers wafted through the air for a few uncertain minutes. El-Haggar then took to the stage for a short set, combining songs inspired by the revolution with generically celebratory classics.  

At around one o'clock AM, Ismail returned to the stage to bid everyone good night: "Ali El-Haggar, and the rest of us, would now like to go home to celebrate the new year safely and quietly with family. We urge you all to do the same." A number of families that had remained for the concert made their way to the edge of the square, heeding the announcer's advice.

But the professional soundscape was soon replaced by a decentralized cacaphony of Vespa-mounted speakers and portable stereos. For the mass of young people that remained, the night went on.

* * * * *

Lines of illegally double-parked cars snaked back for kilometers along the streets leading to the Square.A tent, walls lined with images, memorialized the lives lost in 2011.

A poster, held aloft, honors the deceased.

Near the back of the crowd a man sells koshari, a popular Cairene street food.

A koshari transaction is negotiated.A peddler of various nuts makes his way.

Zany cone-hats were among the many baubles and trinkets offered by vendors.

We recommend the sweet potatoes, roasted cart-side.

Ali El-Haggar's performance was captured by an army of glowing mobile devices.

Can I kick it?

A boy wearing a Santa mask sits on his father's shoulders. For no apparent reason, Santa Claus masks and hats are huge New Year's Eve accessories.MH