I arrived in Cairo yesterday from Frankfurt. It was relatively quiet at the terminal and dear Akram was there to greet me with a big smile, a hug and a welcome homee. It was all familiar and yet there was a sadness in the air. As I looked at the faces around me, there were no attempts to make contact or smile. It was clearly a more somber mood.
En route home the streets were jammed with traffic, bumper to bumper. Akram said that the government denies that there are gas shortages and yet I witnessed long lines of trucks waiting for petrol. Part of the traffic Akram shared was due to a closing of one of the offramps that leads to Tahrir Squres.
It was wonderful to come home to my apartment in Mohamed’s building with big welcomes from Sameh, Chaban, his daughters and of course my dear Mohamed. He looked well and was waiting in the apartment for me. It was like I never left three months earlier. He told me that we were going to take a family holiday to Alexandria today for the week end and so here I am at the Sheraton in the nicest corner room overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
En route our driver Sameh, drove over a large rock in the road that was in front of a pushcart selling juice. The rock was wedged under the springs of Mohamed’s Mercedes and Sameh leapt out in his suit trying to use the tire jack to lift the car. Mohamed did not reproach Sameh although both of us saw the rock as he drove over it. A group of boys and men came around to help but the jack from Mohamed’s car was not adequate and so they hailed an old taxi whose driver opened his trunk and had one that raised the car from the front. I noticed a couple of the young men sporting thick beards and realized that these beards were political statements identifying them as Salafi’s or Muslim Brothers. In all the years I have been coming to Egypt it was rare to see young men as such. It mirrored the head scarves worn by the young women, who when I arrived in Egypt 20 years ago were only worn by the elders or those in Upper Egypt. It struck me then of my own youth when the 60’s revolution began and how long hair and bell bottom jeans were symbols of our beliefs and identity. Truthfully this feels the same. It is not to say that there are not strong ideologies driving the demonstrations, but underneath it all is a desire for economic reforms and jobs. The Egyptians that I spoke with said they are depressed and that Morsi is bringing the country down.
Before the Revolution the Muslim Brotherhood were oppressed by the Mubarak regime and had spent many years in jail. Morsi was also one of them. Now that they are free, their need to make themselves heard justifies their years when they were shut out of the government and the daily life of Egypt. Now that they are in power they have no clue how to run a government but they do know how to be in opposition.
I was told that the recent visit of the Iranian President Admadimajad was not well received by the Egyptian people. The Imam at the Al Azhar Mosque in Cairo greeted him in the hallway of his office, did not invite him in or show him the mosque. The people were throwing shoes at him, a sign of great disrespect. So while there seems to be a side that wants an Islamic identity, it does not share the one held by Iran. And yet Iran, who is suffering under the economic sanctions from the West is wanting to be the benevolent country giving financial support to both Egypt and Syria. Therefore it will have more political clout when there is pressure against Israel or the US.
For most people daily life goes on and yet people are waiting for the government to take the lead and bring jobs and resources back to Egypt. I fear that the leadership has no clue. Most of the people are depressed and feel powerless.
When I asked Mohamed’s daughter Nancy how she was doing, she said she was very depressed. And yet she is working with other activists to bring women’s issues to the forefront. They have planned a demonstration for Feb 12th to bring the plight of women into consciousness. I encouraged her not to give up and that it takes years to create meaningful change. I re-called my years as an activist 45 years ago working for civil and women’s rights realizing that those changes have taken a generation to see.
Right now I am grateful to be here and feel that our presence in this country provides hope and encouragement. I am grateful for all who are making this journey with me.