For a boy on the streets in Egypt, revolution is his only hope
Ibrahim Shaban said he was 15, but he looked much younger in his pajama pants and sweat shirt with the worn-away rhinestones, dirt caked on his bare feet, a knife scar on his face. He strolled through the crowds in Tahrir Square the other day, watching banners unfurl, listening to speeches. He sometimes sounded like a miniature rebel, distilling the nation’s rage in his narrow body.
“My father died a month ago, so I’ve been living in the square,” he said. “He had heart problems. He sold cups and glasses in the street. I used to help him. He’s gone now. My mother died too. A few years ago. I don’t know what of. She just died.”
He looked over at the makeshift hospital at the mosque. A man overcome by tear gas lay unconscious. Another was bleeding. Police were firing birdshot in the streets. Mobs surged toward them. More wounded would be coming. A cleric bent to pray.
Ibrahim waved to an ambulance driver.
“I want to be part of this protest,” he said. “I want my own rights one day.”
His bed is cold dirt beneath the stars. There are many like him, orphans who have found a home in rebellion. You almost don’t notice them. They slip like small, ragged spirits through the square. They lived poor before the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak in February; they live poor now. They are the legacy of his failure, and of death, broken homes and slums filled with families whose burdens are too big to bear.
“Me and boys like me work together. We clean cars. Sometimes, someone will give us a blanket. I sleep here in the square, but other boys sleep other places,” said Ibrahim, one of Egypt’s estimated 3 million street children.
The crowd protesting against military rule grew in the square. Ash piles and stones littered the ground. Young men with cotton in their noses ran toward security forces and then quickly fled clouds of tear gas, which swirled around a bearded man wearing a tunic and a gas mask and carrying a walking stick, as if a gnomish figure from a “Star Wars” movie. Black-clad riot police took shape when the smoke cleared. They reloaded and waited at the corner.
“I used to work six days a week with my father,” said Ibrahim, who quit school when he was 7. “He bought me a bicycle. We saved money once for a long time, and one day he surprised me when he came home with a TV and a satellite dish. My mom was alive back then. “