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Web-Exclusive ReportFebruary 15, 2011 20:28

Cairo: Keeping an Eye on the Army

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ABOUT Charles M. Sennott

A longtime foreign correspondent for The Boston Globe, Charles M. Sennott is the executive editor of GlobalPost and is reporting for FRONTLINE from Egypt for a broadcast that will air on Feb. 22.

CAIRO - The revolution keeps rolling forward like the swirling, unpredictable waters of the Nile, redefining the contours of this land as it goes.

We've watched the U.S.-funded Abrams Tanks of the military pull back from Tahrir Square in a phased stand down of force.

The hulking machines are menacing, but in the last few days they've become Egyptians favorite backdrop for a snapshot of the revolution. They hoist their kids up onto the tanks and the soldiers smile and wave for the cameras.

Most Egyptians and most of the protesters in the square say they respect the military and the way it showed restraint and good judgment in the revolution. But the smiles of the army soldiers on the tanks are not necessarily the true face of the military.

They are in charge of the country and dissolved the parliament on Sunday. It was another stunning development that will pave the path for elections.

The army has much to prove to the protesters, who are still watching carefully to be sure the military turns power back to the people.

Otherwise, the popular revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak will not be remembered as a revolution, but a military coup of sorts.

Sunday also saw a big clean up in the square. There were beautiful scenes of families and bands of co-workers and friends flooding into the square armed with their own brooms and dustpans to sweep up the trash and debris left behind by 18 days of occupying the square known as Tahrir, which means "freedom" in Arabic.

There were also powerful metaphors like the small back hoe scooping up piles of trash and debris in front of the burned remains of the Mubarak regime's political headquarters. The huge piles of trash were lifted high and then dumped into a container truck, relegating the refuse of the regime to the ash heap of history.

By Monday, as we rushed around doing some final reporting on our last day, the cleanup was largely complete apart from the ransacked and looted stores along the side alleys of the square. Heavy traffic had returned to Tahrir, a four-lane circle that is a hub for the central arteries of Cairo. And once again the pace of this ancient city was a chaotic swirl of traffic and car horns blaring and vendors shouting and pedestrians risking their lives in on coming traffic to cross the square. In other words, Cairo was starting to return to the normal pace of life.

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posted february 15, 2011

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