The Egyptian rebel who 'owns' Tahrir Square

Tahrir Square

Mahmoud Badr "owns" the Egyptian street. The 28-year-old activist in sneakers, jeans and a worn-out polo shirt invented the magic formula that drew millions of Egyptians out to demand the overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. Now he is determined to ensure all their demands are met.

On the day the army stepped in to remove Morsi last week, Badr and his two twenty-something co-founders of the "Tamarud - Rebel!" movement got a phone call from a general staff colonel, inviting them to meet the armed forces commander-in-chief. Speaking to Reuters in a bare suburban high-rise apartment lent to his protest movement by an obscure political party, Badr said it was their first contact of any sort with the military.

They had to borrow a car to drive - unwashed and unshaven - to military intelligence headquarters, where they were ushered into a room with generals, a grand sheikh, the Coptic pope, a senior judge and political opposition leaders. Far from being overawed, Badr was soon arguing with General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi about the military's roadmap for a political transition, and rejecting his suggestion that Morsi should call a referendum on his continued rule.

Millions of people were demonstrating for the recall of the president, not for a referendum, the activist told Sisi. "I tell you, sir, you may be the general commander of the Egyptian army but the Egyptian people are your supreme commander, and they are immediately ordering you to side with their will and call an early presidential election," he said.

The general surrendered. A bunch of kids in T-shirts had changed the course of the Arab world's most populous nation by mobilising mass protests against the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, then threatening to turn on anyone who resists their demands. "We own the streets because we stand with the people and the will of the people, and we will always do so," Badr said.

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