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Posts tagged ‘Tahrir Square’

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.

The Fun of it All

I had an interesting work week last week. I made it out of the Maadi bubble and up to Tahrir Square, where I interviewed one of the pastors at the Kasr El Doubara Evangelical Church, the largest evangelical church in the Middle East. They have some compelling programs, including several drug rehab facilities. Apparently they have a contract with the government and are the primary trainer of drug rehab personnel here in Egypt.

Domestic life continues to progress—at the pace of dripping molasses. I still don’t have my couch. I have a couch—two, in fact—but neither is the one I ordered. We have a loaner, and we have what was supposed to be our couch but was made with the wrong fabric. I have kept it covered in plastic so the cats don’t destroy it. They told me I would have the correct couch on Saturday, then Sunday. Now they’ve pushed it to next Tuesday. I just want somewhere comfortable to sit…

The advantage of such slow movement is that every little step forward seems like a huge accomplishment. I learned, for example, that my ATM card works as a debit card at a few places. Doesn’t seem like such a big deal, I know, but one of the biggest annoyances here is that, with a mostly cash economy, I am continuously running to the ATM machine, which is a 10-minute walk away. Okay, it’s a minor annoyance, but a constant one. So finding that I could use my debit card at the local grocery store was transformational. In the absence of significant progress, one must celebrate the baby steps.

The boys are still happy. X told me that he wants to stay here until he graduates from high school and T has discovered that he has a talent for the theater, so has been having great fun with that. He has potentially good news on that front, which I am not allowed to disclose until it is official, but if it comes off it would be very exciting for him. And he’s loving his Global Affairs class which, as far as I can tell from his description, will involve traveling around the country to do volunteer work. I’m sure there’s more to it, but that’s the part that has him excited.

X’s birthday party is next weekend. I have managed to put together the kind of party that would leave me slightly nauseated in the U.S. –entirely over the top. Things are just so much more reasonable here. We’re having a giant bouncy slide, playground games and a popcorn machine, plus the requisite pizza, hot dogs, french fries and birthday cake. I drew the line at the cotton candy machine. I figured I didn’t need to throw unadulterated sugar into the mix.

The kids in X’s class have been out of control as it is. They were all given school email accounts (what on earth were the tech people thinking??), and let me tell you, a bunch of 8 year olds can cause a fair amount of mayhem on Google Hangouts.  Thankfully the school told the kids they weren’t allowed to chat anymore, but X with email is still a scary sight. I can see a serious BlackBerry obsession in his future.

Thursday they had a pajama party/social. I dropped him off in the school gym, which was pitch black save for colored disco balls. The music was blaring. Some pretty good dance tunes—I was tempted to go in myself and take a spin, but he would have killed me. Parties certainly didn’t look like that when I was in 3rd grade—this was more along the lines of the Black Banana (a club in Philly, for the uninitiated). He was so excited.

I had my first all-Arabic phone conversation when I called a carpet cleaner to try to get a rug cleaned. I wasn’t at all sure I had adequately relayed my request but, sure enough, the next day the cleaner in question showed up on my doorstep. I guess my Arabic is coming along—although it wasn’t exactly a complex conversation. We’ll see if I get the rug back.

Curfew ended this week. It’s great news for Cairo and for all of Egypt, but I’m going to miss the quiet. The MB has marched by us a couple of times recently and they are LOUD. Apparently they have more planned in the coming days.

I just got a disturbing phone call from someone asking for “T’s mom” and identifying herself as being from the trauma clinic. My heart froze, until she explained herself. I was out of town last week and T had a sore throat. The lab is far away, but they make house calls, so someone from the lab came here to take a throat culture while I was away. The results are ready now (never mind that it’s a week later and we have already figured out that it wasn’t strep), so they want me to trek out to their facility to pick up the results up and pay the bill. That part, the seemingly easy part, they can’t do on the phone. The more I start think I have this place figured out, the less it makes sense.

And therein lies the fun.

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