Friday, June 28, 2013

The Revolution Continues?*

Headline: The Last Dance of Satan

As I sit in my apartment in the Dokki district, a middle class neighborhood on the Western bank of the Nile across from Downtown, traffic crawls through the major streets. The gridlock has gotten so bad that many taxis refuse all together to take people to the area. The cause of the congestion is the a gas station situated on the Midan al-Galaa at the corner of Shariah at-Tahrir, the main east-west corridor, and the Nile Corniche. Trucks, vans and cars line both sides of the street, blocking the flow of traffic from all directions. The drivers fan themselves in the hot afternoon sun, hoping to buy gas on which many of their professions depend. This is just the most obvious evidence of the gas shortages that plagues Egypt's faltering economy. Tempers are short and fistfights are not uncommon.

This scene of frustration that has dragged on for days is adding to the general tension in Cairo. In the best of times, Cairo is a lively and chaotic city of over 30 million people, the largest in Africa. It often seems to walk the fine line between joy and insanity. In the last few days, its hard not to feel the tension is about to boil over. On Sunday, 300 Salafis in Giza dragged four Shias from their homes and beat them to death, lighting their home on fire. Evidence of deep rifts that are brewing below the surface. On top of this violence, clashes broke out between regime supporters and opponents in the city of Mansoura on Wednesday resulting in one deaths. More clashes were reported overnight outside of Cairo and an office for The Tamarod (Rebellion) Campaign was burned down.

At times it is hard to understand this potential for violence along side the passion that Egyptians feel for their country and the creative ways in which they are expressing their discontent for the current government. The Tamarod (Rebellion) Campaign  have gathered 13 million signatures demanding early presidential elections and promising to uphold the goals of the revolution in order to achieve a society of dignity, justice and freedom.

A few weeks ago, dozens of prominent artists and intellectuals broke into Egypt's Ministry of  Culture, declaring an open-ended sit-in inside the building until the controversial Minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz was replaced. The street outside of the Ministry became an open air carnival for several days as artists and activists preformed in the street. After a Shura Council MP calling ballet "art of nudity," dancer preformed the Zorba ballet as part of the protest. Video

On Wednesday, President Mohammad Morsi gave a two hour long address, admitting that mistakes had been made but also denounced enemies of the Egypt for sabotaging the democratic process. Either way, he not did provide any concrete steps forward. Before the speech, I was watching Al-Jazeera. They were live broadcasting the opposition gathering in Midan at-Tahrir to watch the speech one side of the screen and a pro-Morsi rally be Islamic Forces on the other with giant banner behind them that read "Yes to Shariah." It struck me as how representative this image was of the current political situation and the political divide in Egypt. The speech did little to convince the opposition. In fact, a professor of mine claimed it... زايد الطين بلة.  Roughly translated, it added insult to injury.

I have met almost no one here that claims to be a supporter of the Morsi government. In fact, the majority of people I have asked plan to join the demonstrations on Sunday. This may be partially a productive of the kind of Egyptians with which I am in contact. However, there seems to be deep rooted anger about the lack of security, the weakness of the economy, the gas crisis, growing fundamentalism and the general lack of solutions. More than one person has claimed that 70 percent of the country is against Morsi now. A cab driver told me that all of Egypt will join the protests on Sunday because people are tired and things are getting worse. The majority of people are clearly holding the Muslim Brotherhood responsible. When discussing the situation, a friend said يقتل قتيل ويمشي جنازته when referring to the Brotherhood.  This roughly translates as "murdering someone and then going to his funeral." It is used to claim that someone is deeply hypocritical which seems to be a sentiment shared by a lot of Egyptians about the current government.  
This is the context for a massive demonstration planned for Sunday by opponents of the current President Mohammad Morsi, calling for early elections.  Small political actions and demonstrations have been happening throughout the week. Today rally is planned to start from Cairo’s Al-Azhar district, marching to Tahrir Square protesting the use of mosques in urging people not to rebel against the president. Political representatives for the opposition said that several demonstrations are planned to snowball through the different parts of Egypt culminating in the massive demonstrations on Sunday that may continue into next week.

While activists get ready to challenge the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood,  we are planning in our own way. Many expatriates are evacuating Cairo all together, heading for elite beach communities that are unlikely to be effected by the demonstrations. The rest of us are planning to bunker down and wait to see what happens. Currently, we are being advised to limit our movements to familiar neighborhoods and avoid area in which demonstrators are likely to gather including Midan at-Tahrir. The American University suggests that we have food and water for a week on hand as well as phone credits and flashlights. The CASA program has taken the extra steps to map the location of all of our apartments and is prepared to send people out to check on us in the event that the cell phone and internet are taken down. Preparing for several days in our apartment, we also ordered a healthy supply beer and wine to survive the coming week. The only thing that I can compare these last two days is to a hurricane preparation. No one is really clear what to expect.

While I am not usually a worrier, this last few days have been pretty tense in the CASA program as they try to make sure we all stay safe. In contrast, I have been designing a menu of possibly dishes to cook, including chicken with freekeh, pumpkin curry and couscous with summer vegetables in case we are at home for several days. I am making sure my kindle is charged in case we loose power. All the while Al-Jazeera plays on a constant loop behind me. Honestly, there does not seem to be much else to do. At times like this, I am acutely aware of the ways in which I am outside of Egyptian society. Like many Egyptians, I would like to be down in Midan at-Tahrir but I will be watching the unfolding events on TV rather than first hand. To stand at a moment of possible revolutionary change and to not be able to participate, is deeply frustrating.

I have been asked a number of times in the last couple of weeks about my opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood. I usually reply that I stand with the interests of the Egyptian people. Right now, I am hoping for the best both in terms of the immediate events and in terms of the future of Egypt. These are likely to be the largest demonstrations since Mubarak's government fell in 2011.

In the mean time, I mostly wait... wait to see what the next few days will being....

*Disclaimer: While I have lived in Egypt and the Arab World previously and I speak Arabic fairly well, I only arrived in Egypt a few weeks ago. This blog is generally the perspective of an outsider. I apologize for any lack of nuance or mistakes. They are mine alone.