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Reading faces in Tahrir square

Ron Haviv, one of several photojournalists working in Cairo whom we've been following this week, witnessed the crowd's reaction to Pres. Hosni Mubarak's speech announcing again that he was not stepping down, but handing power to his vice president. "Not speaking Arabic...I was trying to understand what he was saying by reading faces."

Ron Haviv / VII

Egyptians gather in Tahir Square and celebrate based on rumors that President Mubarak will step down.

In anticipation of the speech, protesters were celebrating in the square (shown above). But as the speech started, despite a crowd of tens of thousands, the square turned remarkably quiet. The tone of the speech was soon clear to him as he saw dismay, disappointment and even tears in the eyes of the crowd as they watched. "The look of utter surprise...by that point, they had really convinced themselves that Mubarek would say he was going to leave."

After the speech, the noise and anger swelled. Shoes were held up, an insult in the Arab world, and the crowd quickly returned to the chants of the past two weeks of protests calling for regime change.

Ron Haviv / VII

Egyptians gather in Tahir Square and react to President Mubarak's speech.

 

As he left the square to file his images, he sensed in the crowd a nervous anticipation for tomorrow. "People were saying that the speech is probably going to inflame both sides. They felt the Mubarak regime was trying to get them to be violent to discredit them...and they don't know if they're going to be able to control everyone to be peaceful." Cell phones started ringing, calling protesters back to guard their neighborhoods, fearing a return to the violence that occurred late last week.

Earlier in the day, Haviv recalled a bright moment. "It very rarely rains in Cairo. Today the skies opened up for a few moments. People were looking at this as a blessing from God. They started to pray and chant. They really thought that this was a sign that something good was going to happen."

See images from three weeks of protests