« | Home | »

In Cairo

Tags:

A few days ago I went to Tahrir Square for an iftar, the breaking of the fast during Ramadan. It had been organised by Tamarod, the youth-led movement which, with the backing of the army, ousted President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government at the beginning of the month. Tamarod were hosting the iftar because of the ‘danger to Islam’, a juice seller told me as he set up his stall, ‘from the Muslim Brotherhood’. Meanwhile across town, the deposed president’s supporters have been camped out for more than two weeks defending what they call democratic principles.

On the way into Tahrir I saw a sticker on a railing that said: ‘No to terrorism.’ On the face of it, an uncontroversial statement. But in the last two weeks state and independent media have been denouncing Brotherhood supporters as terrorists.

‘Are you with the legitimacy of God or the legitimacy of Hassan el Banna?’ another sign asked, referring to the Brotherhood’s founder. ‘Legitimacy’ is a buzzword of the pro-Morsi camp, who call his ouster an illegitimate coup.

Many of the people I talked to said they were there because the revolution’s aims – ‘Bread, Freedom, Social Justice’ – had not been realised. ‘We feel injustice, we feel we are not Egyptian,’ said Rada Omran, whose 13-year-old son drives an auto-rickshaw to earn extra income for the family. ‘But when we come to Tahrir we feel we are Egyptian.’

Mamdoh Mouradi, an artist sitting nearby, said there was another iftar closer to his house, ‘but the revolution is here.’

Young men can’t find work and haven’t the money to buy food or get married. ‘We look at meat from afar,’ Ahmed Darweesh said. ‘We look at girls from afar too.’

Ahmed Magdy, who has been sleeping on the street for two months with his family, showed me deep gashes on his leg from an accident the day before. He can’t afford to pay hospital fees. ‘God is my hospital,’ he said.

Thankfully there wasn’t much talk of ‘terrorists’. Instead, people talked about losing faith in the Brotherhood during their year in office. ‘They wanted to control everything,’ said Afaf Mouradi, who voted for them in the parliamentary elections and studied at a Brotherhood mosque for nine years. ‘Anyone who didn’t agree, they called them unbelievers. But they can’t. We’re all Muslims.’

Two nights later, I went to the pro-Morsi sit-in in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square. A man at the entrance was painting Egyptian flags on little girls’ faces. At first everything looked much the same as in Tahrir. But people have been camping out there for more than two weeks, and it was beginning to show. Drying laundry hung between tents where people lay resting or reading the Koran. They said that Egypt’s first freely elected president deserved to see out his term. But with a new government in place and plans being laid for a new constitution and elections, there seems little chance that their demands will be met – particularly since the other side has an army.

Talk-show hosts say that the Rabaa sit-in is riddled with disease and human waste, but that isn’t what I saw. People were handing out dates and juice. Women arrived carrying large pots of food. Someone brought me a meal and a newspaper to sit on – a copy of Horeya wal Adala (‘Freedom and Justice’), the Brotherhood’s party paper. This is one of the few places you can still get it.

At the sound of the call to prayer, everyone started drinking water, eating dates, taking long drags on cigarettes. I sat with three members of the Muslim Sisterhood, who were sharing a plastic bag of water. One broke a piece of meat in two and handed me half.

A few days earlier the army had flown over the encampment and dropped pamphlets on the demonstrators, advising them to disperse. ‘They are acting like a colonial army – if our Egyptian army wants to say something to us, it should be through the media – on television or on the radio,’ says Walaa, who spent eleven days sleeping in Tahrir Square during the 2011 uprising. But unlike in Tahrir, there are few cameras here to tell their side of the story.

Comments on “In Cairo”

  1. Sam Muller says:

    The only way one can avoid an abyss of despair over ongoing events in Egypt and the current condition of the Arab Spring is by seeking refuge in the long-view. The Arab uprisings were compared with the European upheavals of 1848, correctly in my opinion. In Europe, 1848 was followed by confusing and confounding times, in which revolution and counter-revolution, hope and betrayal, progress and retrogression were ubiquitous. But in the long run, the relatively more democratic, free and progressive Europe of our times could not have happened without 1848 and its less than salubrious aftermath. Perhaps some day, decades from now, Egyptians – and the world – will look back at the current events and recognize in them the agonizing but necessary birth-pangs of a better Middle East/North Africa.
    Perhaps; hopefully.

Comment on this post

Log in or register to post a comment.


  • Recent Posts

    RSS – posts

  • Contributors

  • Recent Comments

    • UncleShoutingSmut on Goodbye, Circumflex: Unfortunately this post is likely to leave readers with a very partial idea of what is going on. Firstly, there is no "edict": all that has happened i...
    • martyn94 on The Price of Everything: If it's a joke at anyone's expense, it's surely at the expense of any super-rich who take it seriously. I used to skim it occasionally as a diversion ...
    • mideastzebra on Swedish-Israeli Tensions: Avigdor Liberman was not foreign minister November 2015.
    • lars hakanson on Exit Cameron: Europe will for good reason rejoice when the UK elects to leave. The country has over the years provided nothing but obstacles to European integration...
    • Michael Schuller on Immigration Scandals: The Home Office is keen to be seen to be acting tough on immigration, although I'm not sure that the wider project has anything to do with real number...

    RSS – comments

  • Contact

  • Blog Archive

  • From the LRB Archive

    Chris Lehmann: The Candidates
    18 June 2015

    ‘Every one of the Republican candidates can be described as a full-blown adult failure. These are people who, in most cases, have been granted virtually every imaginable advantage on the road to success, and managed nevertheless to foul things up along the way.’

    Hugh Pennington:
    The Problem with Biodiversity
    10 May 2007

    ‘As a medical microbiologist, for example, I have spent my career fighting biodiversity: my ultimate aim has been to cause the extinction of harmful microbes, an objective shared by veterinary and plant pathologists. But despite more than a hundred years of concentrated effort, supported by solid science, smallpox has been the only success.’

    Jeremy Harding: At the Mexican Border
    20 October 2011

    ‘The battle against illegal migration is a domestic version of America’s interventions overseas, with many of the same trappings: big manpower commitments, militarisation, pursuit, detection, rendition, loss of life. The Mexican border was already the focus of attention before 9/11; it is now a fixation that shows no signs of abating.’

    James Meek: When the Floods Came
    31 July 2008

    ‘Last July, a few days after the floods arrived, with 350,000 people still cut off from the first necessity of life, Severn Trent held its annual general meeting. It announced profits of £325 million, and confirmed a dividend for shareholders of £143 million. Not long afterwards the company, with the consent of the water regulator Ofwat, announced that it wouldn’t be compensating customers: all would be charged as if they had had running water, even when they hadn’t.’

Advertisement Advertisement