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Posts tagged ‘Cairo bombings’

Dark Days

A sandstorm has had Cairo under a blanket of grit for two days now. It’s pretty awful. Just a couple of minutes outside leaves you with a coating of dust and sand in your hair. Visibility is down to next to nothing and the whole city is cloaked in a jaundiced pall.

The external drabness fits the mood here. People in Egypt seem more despondent than they have been in a long time. It’s been clear for a while now that the government under the nation’s beloved President Sisi is as repressive as any that came before it. Random bomb attacks against military and police still take place in Cairo and its environs, and the insurgency in Sinai against the security forces there continues. Militants dealt a particularly debilitating blow at the end of January in coordinated attacks that killed at least 26 people. And on the fourth anniversary of the revolution, the mother of a 5-year-old boy was killed by police birdshot while marching to lay a wreath of flowers in Tahrir Square.

That’s not the end of it. This week at least dozens of soccer fans were killed when police fired teargas at a crowd trying to storm a stadium. The victims were almost all young men, between the ages of 19 and 23. The senseless deaths seemed to be more than many here could take. One friend of mine said his cab driver was fighting back tears while talking about the tragedy the next day. For the moment, the love affair between the people and Sisi’s government is cooling.

There was one positive development: the release of Peter Greste, one of the three Al Jazeera journalists who have been in prison here since last December for, well, doing their jobs. They were accused of being in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is outlawed in Egypt, and of reporting false news that damaged national security here.

The charges were preposterous. Greste and his colleagues were well known among the press corps as reputable, mainstream journalists who had worked with a number of international news outlets, including BBC and CNN. And while much of the Egyptian public believed the three were guilty (why would they have been arrested otherwise??), plenty of those in power here knew the case against them was nonsense. Prosecutors were unable to produce a shred of credible evidence against the trio. And yet, Greste languished in jail for 400 days and his colleagues are still there.

The pressure to free them was constant and considerable, and Sisi felt it. Eventually, it paid off for Greste, an Australian citizen, who was released under a recently passed law allowing for the deportation of foreigners charged with crimes. His colleague Mohamed Fadel Fahmy is Egyptian-Canadian; there were reports that he will renounce his Egyptian citizenship so he, too, can be deported. The rumor mill was in full force earlier this week, predicting that he’d be released within hours, but as of this writing he remains in jail.

The most worrisome case is that of the third journalist, Baher Mohamed. He is an Egyptian citizen with no other nationality, so the law allowing deportation doesn’t apply to him. His fate will be decided during his retrial, which is set to begin tomorrow. If Fahmy isn’t out by then, and it looks like he won’t be, he, too, will be retried. Amal Clooney (yes the heartthrob’s wife) is one of the lawyers defending Fahmy and is reportedly coming to Cairo this week to push for his release. Given how things have gone for them with the Egyptian legal system so far, I can’t imagine either man is feeling particularly positive about their prospects in court, but at least Fahmy has a possible get-out-of-jail card in his Canadian passport. And a higher court said this week that it had ordered the retrial because of a lack of evidence in the earlier proceedings, so that could be a good sign.

The whole thing has been a PR disaster for Egypt, leaving many Westerners scratching their heads as to why the government didn’t find a way to release the three a long time ago. From a local context makes more sense; it has little to nothing to do with the men who were arrested, and far more to do with a feud between Qatar and Egypt. Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera, supported the former Islamist regime in Egypt, putting it at odds with the current government here, which outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood and is doing everything it can to suppress the group. What’s more, Al Jazeera, which is owned by Qatar, operated an Egyptian channel, which was sympathetic to the Brotherhood. Given that, in the eyes of ordinary Egyptians, the three men were guilty simply by association.

Recently, though, relations between Egypt and Qatar have thawed a bit, and Al Jazeera shut down its Egyptian channel—a move that some believed paved the way for Greste’s release.  One can only hope that the other two men will be freed soon as well. Sadly, there are plenty of other journalists languishing in jail in near anonymity.

UPDATE: They’re out on bail. Good news, at least for now.

http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/retrial-remaining-al-jazeera-reporters-open-egypt-28911884?via=newsletter&source=CSAMedition

Digging In

Our departure from New York became more definitive this week; I flew in on Monday night to move all our personal belongings to Cairo.

It was one hell of a week, and I am glad it’s behind me. I find moving emotionally draining at the best of times; this time I was dealing with it all alone and in terrible weather to boot. I was worried the movers wouldn’t be able to get there with all of the snow, but they managed. So now we’ve taken what we want from our apartment and our storage facility is empty. Our ties to New York are far more tenuous than they were a week ago.338

I’m not at all sure everything will get to us intact, but I don’t know that I really mind. I went to scope out the storage facility the day before the movers came, and was so overwhelmed that I was ready to just leave it all behind. We’ve been living without most of our things for nearly six months now and while there are a few items we could really use (duvets and pillows, for starters) we haven’t missed most of it. Still, I know how this goes, and when it gets to us we’ll be glad to have it and sad about the things that have inevitably broken in transit.

Moving out of storage

Moving out of storage

 

Empty

Empty

Or maybe not. Our perspective is a little different this time. I think being in Egypt, where the standard of living is so vastly different from anywhere else we’ve lived, has changed all of us and our relationships to material goods. We’ll see. I am looking forward to having a proper dining room table, though. When it will all get there is anyone’s guess. It’s scheduled to arrive in Alexandria at the end of March, but then has to clear customs and get shipped to Cairo. I have no idea how long that process will take.

I’m writing this once again from the lounge in CDG while I wait for a flight—this time back to Cairo. I can’t wait to get home, not least for the warm weather. New York was a frigid, slushy mess while I was there, which made the task of moving all the more grim.

Slush

Slush

Not that Cairo doesn’t have its own grim elements. Yesterday a bomb went off on a bus carrying tourists from Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, killing at least three people. The event was tragic in itself and ominous in what it portends. It’s the first bomb in the recent wave of violence that specifically targeted tourists; the previous attacks were directed against police and military forces. The fear is that this signals a new phase in the conflict between Islamists and the government.

Presidential elections are the next step in the roadmap, although a date has still not been set. Many Egyptians believe that General Sisi, who is the presumptive next president of Egypt despite having yet to declare his candidacy, will be able to bring about stability. I’d like to think so but I’m not at all sure it will be that simple, and one can only imagine that the cost of stability will be quite high in terms of human and civil rights.

Okay. Short post this time. I’m wiped out after the overnight flight and have some duty-free shopping to do.

Holiday Travel

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 017a5daab36d2f7570cff6544314c97b43c1f41058wonderful 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.

Susannah Snow

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.

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