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Wonderland on the Nile

So this is what it feels like to slip down the rabbit hole.

I mean, I’m assuming that’s what happened here because, struggle as I may, I can’t find much connection at all between reality and what’s going on in Egypt these days.

Egypt’s transformation to Wonderland has been in process for quite a while, but the country seemed to have finally completed the process the week before last, when all outstanding charges against former president Hosni Mubarak were dismissed, including the murder charges relating to the killing of protestors during the 2011 uprising.

After nearly four years of waiting, the tens of thousands of people who took to the streets to demand his overthrow and, more saliently, the families of the people who gave their lives fighting for a new, better Egypt, didn’t even get their day in court.

On top of that, Mubarak and his sons were also acquitted of corruption charges against them, which heightens the Carrollian atmosphere, because I’ve never met an ordinary Egyptian who didn’t think they were corrupt. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t have jury trials.

Egyptians reacted, of course. A few thousand of them took to Tahrir Square, but security forces shooed them away with tear gas and birdshot before too long. There have since been some more demonstrations at universities and other sites around the country but the massive show of popular will we’ve seen in the past is notably absent.

Apathy wasn’t the most visible response. When the verdict was announced, the courtroom erupted in sustained cheers. Television presenters extolled the decision. Dalia Ziada, the head of an organization called, without intended irony, the Liberal Democracy Institute, told the New York Times the country needed to “move on.”

It certainly seems Mubarak has. Within hours of his acquittal, a picture tagged as his first selfie was making the rounds on social media. And while he’d made all his court appearances on a stretcher because of his supposed poor health, in his own photo he was sitting up and looked surprisingly good for a man of 86.

So here we are, four years after the revolution, if we still want to call it that—although now, apparently, we will have to, because last week President Sisi said he is preparing a law that will make it illegal to criticize either the January 25, 2011 revolution or the revolution of June 30, 2013. I suppose that’s one way to finally silence the debate over whether the 2013 events constituted a coup or a revolution, at least inside Egypt.

I’m not quite sure how the proposed law squares with the constitution Egyptians passed amid much fanfare less than a year ago that guarantees freedom of speech. Or how those enshrined freedoms are reflected in another new law that forbids government employees from talking politics at work.

It’s all part of the confusion here. There’s plenty to go around. For example, Egyptian officials insist that homosexuality is not illegal in Egypt—and it isn’t—but at least 25 men were arrested in a bathhouse this week for “debauchery.” So being gay and saying what you think are officially legal—but if you are or you do, you get thrown in jail.

And it gets even more perplexing. Three people were arrested on a Cairo subway for simply speaking English because, as everyone knows, if you speak English you are, de facto, a spy. That same day prominent U.S. scholar Michelle Dunne, who has been outspoken in her criticism of the current regime, came to Cairo to attend the conference of what she tweeted was a pro-government organization, only to be detained for hours at the airport and denied entry. The Egyptians seem to be trying to minimize the fallout but so far have succeeded only in digging a deeper hole.

While there’s a growing undercurrent of disillusionment about the state of affairs here, Egyptians aren’t saying much about the dismal developments, nor are Western governments. It’s not difficult to see why—the West needs a stable Egypt from which to fry bigger fish in the region and Egyptians are tired of unrest and upheaval. All of that is understandable, but one has to wonder how long the subjugation of people’s rights can continue without repercussions.

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sandra Wentworth #

    Do you & your family speak a language other than English? If not, do you have concerns about being arrested like the three people on the subway? Do you still feel safe there?

    December 16, 2014
    • Hi Sandra,
      We speak English when we’re out and about. We don’t ride the subway, but we haven’t had any problems. The country is becoming more repressive, so I pay more attention to what I say in public, but I still express my opinions and I still feel safe.

      December 17, 2014
  2. Cynthia #

    you are a great writer….and the best in Cullen’s Memoir Class 2013….hope our paths cross again.

    December 16, 2014
    • Thanks for touching base Cynthia! I hope you’re doing well. Warmest holiday wishes to you and yours.

      December 17, 2014
  3. Mike Boutwell #

    First, thank you for this… All of this. I have come to look forward to your emails. Like the next short installment on a story I can’t put down.
    I have to say that what you see there in the rabbit hole is very much how I feel about what is happening here in the states. There seems to be this constant acceptance, ignorance towards the white house, current lies and former. I see a man who is in way over his head. A man who has bad things in store for this country and although caught dead time and time again in impeachable offenses, everyone seems to go on their merry way pretending it didnt happen.
    I will leave my thoughts on the whole 9-11 attacks at the twin towers out of this except to say that I feel the same thing has happened. Its not an Egyptian thing, its an international thing. It seems we have all slipped into the hole!
    Again, thanks so much for writing this ‘story’. I wish you and your family well. Happy holidays!

    December 18, 2014
    • This is such a nice and thoughtful message, Mike. Thank you so much. Happy holidays to you and yours as well!

      December 25, 2014

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