It’s been a busy January with a lot of travel—hence the lag in posting. I have one more trip in February, then things should return to normal for a while.
Right after New Year, the boys and I went to New York for a week and had a great but hectic time. It was wonderful to be back and to see friends. It also showed me how much Cairo has become home for us in just the few months that we’ve been here. The city felt familiar, of course, but it didn’t make me feel as though that’s where I belong. Living away from New York has allowed us to get off that particular treadmill and freed us from things that seem so pressing when you’re there, from local politics to the latest trend. There’s something liberating in being untethered from all that.
The boys were sad to leave their friends and X started telling people he didn’t like Cairo. On our last day in New York he told me he wanted to move back ASAP. I’d expected that, though, and, overall, he wasn’t as emotional or as nostalgic for New York as I’d feared he might be. During our layover in Frankfurt on our return trip, we bumped into one of his best friends from school, so he started feeling better before we even got home. As we exited the airport in Cairo he sighed a contented, “Aaah, Egypt.” It was the warm balmy weather that cheered him (we’d been in NY for the Polar Vortex), but I figured if he could find things to feel positive about, we’d be okay. After a day or two back in school, he was as happy as ever.
The constitutional referendum took place over the two days after we got back. No one knew quite what to expect, and there had been fears that the Muslim Brotherhood would try to undermine the entire process. They did try, but didn’t manage to cause too much harm. A bomb went off in front of a Cairo courthouse before the polls opened, but it didn’t hurt anyone. About 10 people were killed in clashes during the two-day plebiscite.
Far more worrying was the draconian crackdown on the part of the government. They arrested pretty much anyone they could find who was campaigning for or hanging posters urging a “no” vote. The Muslim Brotherhood, which opposed the constitution, boycotted the referendum. The result? The document was approved by more than 98 percent of the voting public. It’s tough to take results like that seriously. Former President Hosni Mubarak won elections with a smaller percentage of the vote, even when running unopposed.
We were back in Egypt for fewer than 10 days—during which I was naturalized as a citizen of the Netherlands by the Dutch Ambassador (hooray!)—before T and I were on a plane again, this time to Paris for the International Festival of the Circus of Tomorrow. We had been there when the revolution in Egypt broke out in 2011 and this year’s event coincided with the third anniversary of the revolution. Once again, I found myself monitoring events in Egypt while walking the streets of Paris.
What a mess that was—the anniversary, that is, not Paris. Paris was fantastic. The circus was great fun and T ate like there was no tomorrow. But it was difficult to be away when all hell was breaking loose at home. Things look so much worse from abroad. Not that it wasn’t bad—multiple bomb attacks, more than 60 people killed and a staggering number of arrests of people, including activists and journalists, who hadn’t done anything illegal. But I found myself worrying that it wouldn’t be safe to return to Cairo.
We did, of course, and as I’d anticipated, things felt much calmer on the ground than they’d seemed from TV reports. Still, with the new element of random bomb attacks, there’s no question that Egypt is more volatile than it was a few months ago. Many are worried that once General Sisi declares his presidential candidacy, things will get even worse as his opponents seek to retaliate. As it is, there are weekly, if not daily, attacks on police and military targets. The terrorists have, for the most part, avoided civilians, so for the time being I feel safer than I did living in the UK during the years the IRA was active. We just have to hope things don’t escalate.