Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Gathering Clouds... Cairo before June 30th

Yesterday, I woke early to go for a run with a friend before the Cairo heat became unbearable. We walked down Shariah at-Tahrir to Midan al-Galaa and across the bridge to Zamalek. We then jogged up Shariah Umm Kulthum along the Nile to the Markaz as-Shaab and did a couple of laps around their track before heading back to Dokki. By the time we returned, both of us were dripping with sweat as the temperature steadily climbed.

We were both struck at how quiet the city was especially after several days of congestion and confusion. It is not unusually for Friday mornings, the equivalent of Sundays in the United States, to be more subdued. Many people sleep in and then head to mosque, resulting in a late start to the day. However, yesterday seemed particularly quiet even for a Friday.

Photo by Aya Abdulaziz Sakoury
While there is plenty of homework to do, my roommate and I mostly hung around, taking the opportunity that the coming demonstrations afforded us to take a break from reading, writing and presentations. Demonstrations were planned for yesterday in Cairo but they were supposed to be relatively small, mostly confined to a few locations - Tahrir Square, around the Defense Ministry and in front of the presidential palace. Al-Jazeera remained on in the background showing images of at-Tahrir and pro-Morsi demonstrations in Nasser City, both images a sea of banners. Both scenes appeared lively but largely peaceful.

Photo Courtesy of Caitlyn Doucette
In the evening, we went on a felluca ride with a few friends, Egyptian and American, down the Nile. As I sat surrounded by friends, my hair blown back and Arabic pop bumping, I was stuck by how peaceful but how surreal the whole scene was after a week of frantic activity and possibility of confrontations to come. We floated by Midan at-Tahrir but the thousands gathered there were not visible from the river. The conversation continually returned to politics but other less pressing matters also wove through the conversations. All the Egyptians guys with us were planning to be in at-Tahrir on Sunday. As we grabbed a taxi back to Dokki, young men sold red signs in the street with the word "Irhal" - Get Out! printed on them.

After some dinner, my roommate and I returned to our apartment to learn that Cairo had largely been peaceful during the day with the two sides remaining separate. This was not the case for all of Egypt. The storm had already broken in Alexandria. Members of the opposition and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood had clashed violently, leaving two dead including an American student. Video showed demonstrators wielding large, heavy rocks and some weapons along with sporadic street fighting. Later in the evening the U.S. Department of State issued a message warming "U.S. citizens traveling to or living in Egypt to defer non-essential travel to Egypt at this time due to the continuing possibility of political and social unrest. On June 28, 2013, the Department of State authorized the departure of a limited number of non-emergency employees and family members."

This morning all appears calm again in Cairo. However, the clouds are gathering and the question seems to be when not if the storm will arrive.