"Tahrir" means "liberation," and when you liberate something, you take responsibility for it. The heroes of Liberation Square have shown they intend to take responsibility for building the democracy they worked so hard to see born.

Before the bloom of the lotus rebellion fully gives way to anxiety about Egypt's post-Mubarak future, let us celebrate the heroes of Tahrir Square.


A Facebook page invited friends to gather in the center of Cairo, and they kept coming back. They were beaten and tear-gassed. They were arrested. They were patronized and scolded by their president of 30 years and their vice-president of three days.


But they kept coming back.


They were attacked by thugs on camels and police who drove emergency vehicles into crowds. At least 300 of them were killed, Human Rights Watch determined by visiting hospitals.


But they kept coming back.


The government jammed their phones and shut down the Internet. It stopped the trains and buses from running to downtown Cairo.


But they kept coming back.


The demonstrators were as diverse as the country they came to reclaim. But they didn't break into factions. They fed each other and tended to each other's wounds.


They organized on the fly. When vandals threatened the National Museum, they formed a human chain around it. When they needed barricades, they built them.


They never turned on the press. They were eager to tell the TV cameras who they were and why they were there. They kept their message simple: They wanted freedom and democracy, with participation by all; they love their country and respect its military; Mubarak must go.


So when Mubarak called them dangerous extremists and warned of the chaos they represented –– that only he could protect the country from ––everyone watching knew he was lying.


The citizens of Tahrir Square knew the world was watching, so they policed themselves. After the police withdrew, there was little vandalism. They set up checkpoints to keep weapons and provocateurs out of the square. Just inside the checkpoints were lines of people greeting and welcoming each new arrival.


They came in peace, and they kept on coming. But when push came to shove, they shoved back.


Mubarak's police couldn't clear the square, and the army refused to apply the brute force that would have been required. So Mubarak sent in his thugs, who targeted journalists and made clear they were there to fight, not debate. The demonstrators fought back, hurling paving stones from behind sheet-metal shields, meeting fist with fist, Molotov cocktail with Molotov cocktail.


When the smoke cleared, they still held Tahrir Square. They had done more than turn back Mubarak's hired thugs –– they had overcome their fears. So had their supporters, who came back to the square, knowing the next assault could come at any time.


They came back in ever-greater numbers. Day after day, reporters described the crowd in Tahrir Square as the biggest ever. As the days went on, crowds formed in other parts of Cairo, and it wasn't just Cairo. Huge crowds sent the same message from Alexandria, Port Said, Suez and other cities. By the last day, there were crowds gathered even in the rural villages of the Nile Delta. Tahrir Square covered all of Egypt.


They could not be ignored, by the world or by the crusty old tyrant or by the leaders of Egypt's other institutions. After the people of Tahrir Square shed their fears of Mubarak, all Egyptians shed their fears of the future. Party bosses, union leaders, the business elite and, decisively, the generals, joined to push yesterday's dictator out the door.


And the day after their great victory was sealed, the heroes of Tahrir Square came back, with washcloths and brooms. They cleared the streets of the trash a million protesters had produced. They scrubbed years of grime off the huge stone lions guarding Kasr el-Nile Bridge.


"Tahrir" means "liberation," and when you liberate something, you take responsibility for it. The heroes of Liberation Square have shown they intend to take responsibility for building the democracy they worked so hard to see born.


If Egypt's generals and other leaders don't deliver on the commitments they have made to reform, the people know the way to Tahrir Square, and they'll come back.


Rick Holmes, opinion editor of the MetroWest Daily News in Massachusetts, blogs at Holmes & Co. (http://blogs.townonline.com/holmesandco). He can be reached at rholmes@cnc.com.