Monday, 21 November 2011

Here we go again (3)

The atmosphere on the streets of Cairo had been tense lately. Even in my relatively quiet neighbourhood of Agouza. Everybody knew the situation would escalate with the election date approaching, but I don’t think anybody expected it to be this bad.

Since a week or two I have been back in the same building I lived in earlier this year. One of the things I immediately noticed on my walks around the neighbourhood is that the atmosphere on the streets is distinctly different this time around.

In my first week in the new-old place two 'disturbances' took place underneath my balcony and I can no longer walk the streets without being shouted at within two metres of leaving my building.

"Hey, foreigner 'and' Hey, American" are popular, besides the usual obscenities you have to take for granted here as a Western woman walking down the street. It never used to be like that, at least not in this area.


Last Friday night I was out drinking tea at a café with some friends, when a fight broke out among the staff. The Monday before that, whilst on the train back to Cairo from Alexandria, people started fighting in the compartment me and a friend were sitting in.

The reason for each of these fights was trivial: cutting in line whilst boarding the train, a disagreement in a political discussion, and a reckless driver on a motor bike nearly running somebody over.

Baking tray

Sure, such incidents might arouse irritation, but not really a reason to whack someone on the head with a baking tray, or for a group of ten people to jump on someone and beat him senseless.

If you’ve been to Cairo, you know that cutting lines and reckless driving seem to be ingrained in Egyptians’ DNA and is certainly nothing to lose your temper over. Unless, of course, tension is already building up and you’ve come to a boiling point.

And so it happened that a sit-in of a few hundred disgruntled youths in Tahrir Square suddenly turned into multiple day battle with the police.

So far 22 people are dead and more than a thousand injured. The video below provides a good impression of the situation and these series of photos also give a good idea of what it's like out there.

This is a work in progress. I have a full blog (in Dutch) here

Friday, 2 September 2011

'No Egyptian can go against his government'

"People are naïve when they get the idea that we fix elections. Nothing of the kind. It just comes down to the fact we've studied the Egyptian people well. Our Lord created the Egyptians to accept government authority."

"No Egyptian can go against his government. Some peoples are excitable and rebellious by nature but the Egyptian keeps his head down his whole life long so he can eat. It says so in the history books."
"The Egyptians are the easiest people in the world to rule. The moment you take power, they submit to you and grovel to you and you can do what you want with them. Any party in Egypt, when it makes elections and is in power, is bound to win, because the Egyptian is bound to support the government. It's just the way God made him."
Or so one of the main characters in the book The Yacoubian Building by Alaa al Aswany says.
Highly recommended reading for those who love Cairo. It provides an intriguing look at Egyptian society, particularly life in Caïro. The historical descriptions of down-town are a joy to read.
For those who don't like to read: there's a movie too.