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(Pause: 30 June, one year on)

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A year and two days ago, I left Cairo after a two-week visit, ahead of a more extended stay planned for after Ramadan, during which the office was mostly shutting down. I’d been advised to leave a couple of weeks ahead of the start of Ramadan, as everyone was talking about the protests that were planned for June 30, the first anniversary of Morsi’s inauguration. Those two weeks were electric with excitement; all of my Egyptian colleagues were strongly opposed to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, and were full of hope that the Tamarod movement would change things. Rumours changed on a near-daily basis. Some people thought that it had all been overhyped, and would come to nothing; others were certain that this would be the end of the MB. Sometime towards the end of June, one of my colleagues told everyone else that he had heard that the army had gone around to all major news outlets in Cairo, telling them that if they got enough people out on the streets for June 30, the army would act to remove Morsi.

Which, of course, is what ended up happening. I watched it on television and online: the crowds in Tahrir, the tanks rolling over the bridges, and I didn’t really know what to make of it, other than that my MB-opposed Egyptian were overjoyed. A little over a month later, I was back in Cairo and utterly unable to leave my Downtown hostel due to the level of unrest on the streets outside, after the dispersals of the sit-ins at Raba’a and al Nahda. A 7pm curfew was imposed, gradually relaxed to 9pm, then 11pm – except on Fridays, when there were always protests. I moved to Zamalek, where I was a lot more insulated from it all, but I still worked ten minutes’ walk from Tahrir, and was often unable to get to the office because of unrest – or, worse, unable to leave it. One of my colleagues was accidentally tear-gassed when she was working over the weekend and stepped outside to grab some lunch. One evening, a colleague and I were trapped at work by protesters; coming out of the office around 7 or 8pm, the air was heavy and alkaline with teargas, and my colleague drove both of us through a dispersing crowd of MB. A few weeks later, it was an April 6 Movement protest in Talaat Harb square that I stumbled into, despite my taxi driver’s attempts to help me avoid it.P1050531

Downtown Cairo under curfew, August 2013. Creepy.

By August the city was covered in heavily photoshopped posters of Sisi, stating in English that Egypt was ‘fighting terrorism’. Where there weren’t Sisi posters, there was ‘fuck CC’ graffiti. People’s conversations seemed equally polarised: those people don’t appreciate what it is to be Egyptian. Those people aren’t really human. Protests continued. People were arrested – first the MB, and then activists, and journalists. The organisation that I was working for published a bimonthly Media Monitor, and every time there would be lists of names of journalists and media professionals arrested, detained and sometimes brought to trial. An Egyptian television presenter aired tapped phonecalls of activists to ‘prove’ that they had taken ‘foreign money’ around the 2011 revolution. (The presenter in question, I was told, is known to be a member of the intelligence service.) My Arabic teacher, who taught at Cairo University, told me about students injured in near daily protests. There were a series of bombs around the city on the anniversary of the 2011 revolution, and shortly afterwards I was on my way to work when I passed a controlled explosion. It was never reported.

I left in early February, and have since been watching, again, from a distance: the hundreds of death sentences meted out to MB members; the three arrested Al Jazeera journalists sentenced to years of imprisonment. They’ll be pardoned, people say. They probably will be – but on top of the sentences and the utterly risible prosecution process is the fact that Egypt is making itself ludicrous in the eyes of the world. “Egypt is the mother of the world, and will be as the world” is a slogan often attributed to Sisi. The Egyptians I know are enormously proud – deservedly so – of Egypt’s place in world history. Watching the behaviour of Egypt’s governing elite is kind of like watching a much-respected older relative get drunk and make a fool of themselves at a family wedding.

There is no neat conclusion. I still believe in change and in progress, because what’s the alternative? I still watch, and hope, and wait.


Sisi banners hang from a Zamalek building, January 2014


Written by Jess

June 30, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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