TAHRIR (LIBERATION) SQUARE
So named to commemorate the 1952 downfall of Egypt's monarchy and the founding of its new republic, Cairo's main public space is a sprawling area ringed by downtown monuments like the Egyptian Museum, the Arab League headquarters, and the old campus of the American University in Cairo.
The square has long been the focal point of public rage, from the 1977 bread riots to the 2003 demonstrations against the Iraq war to the anti-government protests that overwhelmed police forces on Jan. 25 and 28, 2011. The following week, on Feb. 2, the protesters in Tahrir repulsed a brutal assault that included hundreds of armed thugs and dozens mounted on horses and camels. The Tahriris quickly set up makeshift barricades, carting in medicine, blankets, food, and tents, and vowing to stay until President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. Over time, the well-defended square developed its own unique ecosystem, complete with its own newspaper and Facebook page, valet parking, cell-phone charging stations, popcorn vendors, and even a screen for watching satellite television. Today, the square is turning into one of Egypt's most popular tourist destinations, with what one travel writer described as a "slightly carnival atmosphere." The government now says it hopes to persuade Oprah Winfrey to make a visit.