Record Turnout, Joyful Participants in Egypt Uprising

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer in Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 8, 2011. CBS

CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer in Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 8, 2011.
CBS
It's almost midnight, and I can still hear the sound of thousands of delighted Egyptians in Tahrir Square, just below my balcony. They're making speeches and singing, visiting and chatting. It's a joyful noise.

These crowds confound the skeptics and astound me. Each day I think they just can't keep it up. And yet somehow they do.

(Click through to watch Palmer's report from the CBS Evening News.)

Tuesday was a record turnout, even compared to the so-called March of Millions of a week ago. This is still a male-dominated country and so is the protest movement. But that march included women, children, the elderly, families and even a few diehard tourists who hadn't fled the mayhem of the early days.

In those days when the police were lobbing tear gas and rocks at the protestors, I met an older couple of Americans who were in Egypt to see the pyramids.

"I bet this uprising wasn't on your itinerary!" I said to them in the hotel lobby.

The man looked at me and smiled. "I'm from Berkeley," he said. "All this makes me so nostalgic. I haven't had a good whiff of tear gas in decades."

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Tuesday the lineup to get into Tahrir Square stretched for a half-mile straight out beyond the army tanks and another line ran 90 degrees for hundreds of yards along the Nile. Thousands, tens of thousands of people waited patiently to squeeze past the soldiers and into the vast public space that's become part festival, part memorial.

In the center of the square there is a makeshift monument to the young people who died in the violence last week. It is made of their bloodied clothes.

Egypt's government has been blindsided by this uprising. They have tried to put it down with the old methods of repression: Police brutality; armed thugs; discredit the movement by blaming it on foreign powers.

The blame game has been as clumsily executed as the rest of their moves.

A state-sponsored whispering campaign put out a rumor that protesters were bribed to come to Tahrir Square by foreign (read: American-Zionist) agents who were offering them free Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In the square Tuesday the protesters unpacked their picnic lunches and waved their food: Egyptian flat bread and beans, white cheese and dates. "Look," they grinned. "Kentucky. This is our bribe. As you can see, 100 percent Kentucky Fried Chicken."

They loved the joke.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."

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