Tahrir Square, in the center of Cairo, was first called Ismail Square after an ambitious ruler who sought to develop a “Paris on the Nile” in the 1870s. Ismail’s schemes for refashioning Cairo into a modern metropolis backfired. Laden with debt, Egypt succumbed to British occupation in 1882, and then stumbled into a long postcolonial twilight of autocracy. Almost 130 years later, on Tuesday January 25, 2011, activists inspired by pro-democracy protests in Tunisia filtered into Tahrir Square—now a rather scruffy traffic circle with a patch of green in its...
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