Thursday, January 27, 2011
Egyptian Day of Anger
In response to the Tunisian situation in which violent protests ousted a tyrannical regime, Egypt has tried to follow suit. This has lead to some pretty interesting bus rides through town. On Tuesday Egypt had a national holiday, when most folks are off of work. Ironically “Police Day,” the holiday taken in order to pay homage to the police (read-security forces) was the national holiday picked for the protests. That morning the largest Egyptian news paper ran the front page article of the trial and mugshot of the Alexandria bomber-solidifying a government crackdown against any opposition. (The following day after massive protests, the paper discussed such movements, in Lebanon.) Tension filled the air that morning, along with the playful screams of boys. These boys were the conscripted army members from upper (Souther; Nile flows down river/North) with billy clubs being assembled at chokepoints. Egypt has a rule which states one cannot make Egypt look bad abroad. That along with Embassy orders kept our cameras down as we drove past. However it was interesting as the boys blew kisses at our bus and waved. A few hours later some of them would be engaged with rock throwers, a few cars and tires lit on fire, and massive demonstration. Tear gas (wouldn’t that be a cool souvenir?) and water cannons were used against the demonstrators. As we were coming back from the pyramids the following day, we noticed many cars were parked along the side of the bridge we were on. Looking down we saw a small street with a platoon of police with riot gear engaged with protestors who were throwing rocks and sticks. This is the one decent picture I got of the incident, which was safe to take from an elevated and moving position. () As we continued our drive we passed a few gas stations which had all of the workers (full service) standing out in front flagging the entrance so that folks could not buy gas to use. It was all very intense but seems rather ineffective. There is no legitimate opposition to the ruling party. American fears of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover play well into the regime’s strategy, and most Egyptians I have talked to would not support a Brotherhood government. The movement is a step in the right direction, but Egypt is following Tunisia’s lead, which has a significantly smaller population. Will this end in my extraction from some rooftop by helicopter? Not at all. People will complain and make facebook statements and then they will go back to watching soccer. Mubarak had a plane gassed up and ready to bolt, and rumors are his sun has left for London. With these actions the rich leader’s playground of a country is slowly dwindling. The scariest thing is who, or what will the next leader look like?
In other news: Packers won. I searched for an hour and a half walking all over the western parts of Cairo for a hotel to watch the game and have become intimately familiar with the expat bars. No luck however. On my way back I saw a man in a Bass Pro Shop hat, which scream American to me. I asked him if he was American. He said “La Habibi ana msrie” (no my son/love/young one I’m Egyptian) I then asked in Arabic if he knew where I could find the American football game. He said he would recommend New York. We then talked about what I was doing in Egypt and how I found his country. All in Arabic. I am getting much better at the language.
This is a country of contrasts. One day we were at the pyramids- a symbol of strength and old wonder, the next day the largest mall in the Middle East where I had a hotdog from Hardee’s and an Auntie Ann’s pretzel. Right now I am on the road to my new home on the coast. The drive is beautiful with many Mediterranean style compounds with lush (by desert standards) date trees. The two days of protests seemed to have subsided, leaving both sides asking “now what?” For me the answer is simple; go to the coast, learn Arabic, and take good pictures. Things happen here just like the rise and fall of the Nile, it is part of life. Sometimes change happens quickly, sometimes over longer periods of time. I am excited to see what change will come when I get to Alexandria.