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Dispatches From Cairo: Blood, Money and Revolution

Posted on Feb 23, 2012
AP / Nariman El-Mofty

Egyptian women walk past graffiti depicting a military tank on a wall under a bridge in Cairo.

By Lauren Unger-Geoffroy

We asked Lauren Unger-Geoffroy, an international artist who lives in Cairo, to share her perspective of life in Egypt after the revolution. In this entry, she writes about the NGO controversy and a fuel shortage that are distracting the people from the flickering goals of the revolution.

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CAIRO—A week and a half ago on the corner near my apartment a woman went mad and screamed at the metro entrance for hours. Her regional patois and cheap black abbaya, which flapped in the wind as she raved, indicated she was poor. As people coming out of the neighborhood mosque and the metro gathered around, some tried to calm her with words and gestures. But she would not be calmed.

This differed from the usual shouting and general cacophony of our square in that her shrill soliloquy was carried out without someone yelling back. She waved her arms and shrieked on a newly sand-covered space where a butcher’s stall had stood until the day before.

Police had come and torn down the stall, two trucks carrying away every bloody piece of canvas, wood and metal that had sheltered the men who cut the meat. Periodically the forces of order appear and dismantle fruit and vegetable stands, which are usually just crates and baskets, sometimes a piece of wood or metal or an umbrella. The sellers, who come in from the countryside on donkey carts or in trucks with others, stand back passively after quickly removing their wares with the bustling aid of everyone around. Generally after the police have gone, the sellers immediately put everything back, placing the fruits and vegetables on the ground until new crates and boxes can be had.

The police usually avoid the butchers, who have knives and axes. But when the police came earlier this month, the butchers had their turn. I was not there to see the confrontation, but I was told some of the meat cutters were arrested. The next day a truck arrived and dumped sand and gravel to cover the blood-soaked dirt as a hygienic gesture. The butchers have not returned.


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This area is the intersection of an outdoor fruit and vegetable market and the metro. It is also the hub of the minibuses that are the most popular means of transportation in Cairo. They are small blue-and-white vans that go all over the city and its surrounding areas, carrying passengers for the equivalent of five to 10 U.S. cents each. 

They fill with passengers as they go toward their announced destinations, and people can flag them down anywhere. There are hundreds of these vehicles here, and traffic sometimes gets bottlenecked and the van drivers sometimes are volatile. The requirements for becoming a minibus driver are not rigorous, and it is a stressful job that pays very little.

There are frequent fights among the fruit and vegetable sellers, the bus drivers, taxi drivers, police, etc. Our square is loud and lively, usually with someone yelling about something, donkeys braying. At night packs of dogs bark, and scrawny and filthy cats cruise the garbage piles and the stairs of apartment buildings hoping to rip apart the trash that people put outside their door to be collected by their boweb (doorman).

The fruit sellers sit with their goods usually until about 2 a.m. To keep warm in the winters, they make fires out of trash, as do the doormen/building guards, the flames marking a ragged line of orange lights down the otherwise dark street.

“Why are you talking to those people?” my doting landlady asked me about my conversations with the fruit and vegetable sellers. “They are low people. Not educated, and dirty,” she said disdainfully. “Just buy your fruit and go.” She is well aware that I once let our corner fruit seller’s two wives and children hide out in my apartment during a stick fight between clans. The doorman reports all comings and goings, and the whole neighborhood knows I do not cover all of my hair when I go out and that once someone saw me blocks away in a car with a man who kissed me. Even so, the neighbors consider me a good person, and everyone worried when I was sick last week. My fruit-seller friend sent up his littlest daughter to my apartment with a bag of oranges and bananas for me.

The sellers have little use for politics. They can’t read, in general, and the rare few who have a television and care to watch the news receive only the national propaganda channels.

The subject currently dominating the national media is the purported American attempt to control Egypt through “buying” the military and manipulating the revolution. At the heart of the controversy are U.S. Republican and Democratic nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). In December, offices of 17 Egyptian and U.S. NGOs were raided by Egyptian authorities. Forty-three people, among them 16 Americans, have been charged with receiving illegal foreign financing or operating without proper licenses. Trials are set to start soon. (Many of the Americans are no longer in Egypt.)

Television presenters have whipped up latent anti-American sentiment and associated the viscerally detested policies of Israel with the American agenda and a fuel shortage being suffered by Egypt. They also have tied the issue to continuation of the revolution and the need for national dignity. A typical argument goes like this: Foreign elements have sent agents and agitators under the guise of helping us. We can do it alone. Other Arab countries have offered to help us. We don’t need the USA’s money.

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By truedigger3, February 24, 2012 at 1:43 pm Link to this comment

Re: By gerard, February 24 at 12:01 pm


I lived and worked in Egypt for several years. I have fair command of the language to the extent that I can read the newspapers on the web. It is a different society with its different circumstances and its severe problems.
Democracy is the last and least of importance for most Egyptians right now. What Egyptians want most is jobs and an honest competent government that tackle the country difficult situation.
The problem with you gerard, is that you are too theoritical flying high with the clouds. It is my turn to ask you what make you a judge about the situation in Egypt and the Egyptian?. Just because you read mostly dishonest and biased reporting that make an expert on Egypt??!!

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By jimmmmmy, February 24, 2012 at 1:39 pm Link to this comment

a little strong but almost true. using the term “everybody” assumes facts not in evidence and should be avoided.

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By gerard, February 24, 2012 at 1:01 pm Link to this comment

truedigger3: You are on dangerous territory, rationally speaking, if you think you know what is the “last thing Egyptians” (means the entire society) “think or worry about” is democracy. How could you possibly know?

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By truedigger3, February 24, 2012 at 7:10 am Link to this comment

Tha last thing the Egyptians think or worry about is the so called “democracy”. All what the Egyptians think and care about is jobs with living wages and reforming the stifling government bureacracy and its corruption.
The revolution was not about “democracy” but it was about the unrelenting continuous rise of the price of food, corruption and the lack of jobs.
The Egyptians have eyes and ears too and they see and hear what the so called “democracy” did and doing in Iraq and Libya where it brought nothing but chaos, internal division, destruction and death!!

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By gerard, February 23, 2012 at 6:36 pm Link to this comment

What upsets some commenters so much?  The article is not meant to be specifically political.  It paints an probably accurate picture of this person’s daily life—unsolved problems, oppressive uncertainties, desire for a better future, people trapped by problems so old and so large that they are extremely difficult to solve.  Varieties of types make their appearance briefly, realistically, as though her readers were actually visiting her.  Extreme tensions in the background due to unsolved problems and unanswered needs, plus the implications of independence versus outside influences, the problems of “Westernization! etc.  I think she is very good at what she does, and I apprediate her work.

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By truedigger3, February 23, 2012 at 4:11 pm Link to this comment

That Lauren Unger-Geoffroy is full of shit and she knows it.
Yeah, gerard, she might be a talented writer, but unfortunately, that is not an obstacle against being a dishonest journalist and a grade A bullshitter.
I am sure she know the real situation in Egypt, but she opted to follow a scripted agenda.

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vector56's avatar

By vector56, February 23, 2012 at 2:34 pm Link to this comment

I wrote a post awhile back on the Kos called “Mubarak and What Army” that pointed out that the real power behind the power (America) that oppressed the Egyptian people for 30 years was the Egyptian Military.

Mubarak turned out to be a third string puppet.

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By gerard, February 23, 2012 at 1:08 pm Link to this comment

This woman is a very talented observer and writer.

She should at the very least get the Truthdigger award for the next six months.

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Ronald Thomas West's avatar

By Ronald Thomas West, February 23, 2012 at 10:48 am Link to this comment


In a nutshell, I attacked a specific aspect of her reporting, that is her excusing
with a few passing references these organizations with a long CIA history of
fomenting regime change. I’m sticking to that aspect.

Now, I did quote Phillip Agee for you on the matter and for my readers in my
article which is specific to the subject I have addressed, if you were to go
through Agee’s explanation, it is really quite long. The others not nearly so and
of those, the somewhat longer ones will give you what you ‘might’ be looking
for in a first quick glance.

The article is designed to be short reading with links to back the articles
assertions for those who would care to go into greater depth. You know,
attention spans are not what the were prior to Edward Bernys effect on many
mentalities wink

Speaking of laziness, if you really wanted to know, to lazy to click a link is
pretty bad

Just in case you’d ever like to give my ‘facts’ a real perusal, I’ll post the article
[exposé] on the fraud in these ‘democracy fronts’ for you as many times as need
be wink

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By jimmmmmy, February 23, 2012 at 10:38 am Link to this comment

this is a top notch article the best i’ve read in some time, and i read a lot of them. however , i think it’s kinda mis-labeled . ngo,s were infiltrated by corporate interests about 20 years ago [like planned parenthood was co-opted by anti- abortionists who shape policy] so there may be some some truth in that these ngo,s are working against what some egypttions see as their interest. pretty much the same as whats happening to brad manning and some o.w.s. people that are now jailed in the u.s.. i argue [in the coffee shop] that most of these “risings’  around the mediterrian are food riots and this article supports that contention. wonderful!

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By Evan Stevens, February 23, 2012 at 10:18 am Link to this comment

Ronald, I read that page, seeing that your post did present a link, and in the hope of finding something of use there. You do present a web of intrigue that I’m sure is, if not precise or complete, certainly representative of reality. I should think any serious person would concede this sort of organizational structure and this sort of manipulation has been going on for a very long time.

However, though you might find me lazy, I refuse to go through - what is it, twenty more links? - to finally arrive at a conclusion. On that basis, surely you can understand how I might find you lazy. Couldn’t you have used quotation marks and done some compiling of facts for the benefit of readers? Do these links prove Lauren Unger-Geoffroy, (the author in question), to be a spy or in some way unsavory? Do they prove this report to be false?

You have attacked the creditability of a report. Do you claim this specific report is false? In a nutshell, if you please.

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By sharonsj, February 23, 2012 at 9:45 am Link to this comment

Anti-Jewish and anti-Christian propaganda has been unchecked in Egypt for decades.  The U.S. never did much about that, continuing to fund Mubarak instead.  Perhaps if we’d withdrawn our money, or at least made sure money got directly to the people who needed it, these problems wouldn’t exist.  Meanwhile, the author hasn’t said a word about the violent campaign against the Copts.

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Ronald Thomas West's avatar

By Ronald Thomas West, February 23, 2012 at 9:42 am Link to this comment

Well, Evan, I addressed the “Freedom House” and associated organizations the
author brought up and backed my claims with facts, so love your bacon-
cheeseburger lazy fat American and read the facts provided at the link

Former CIA officer Phillip Agee quote:

”One may wonder why the CIA would be needed in these programs. There were
several reasons. One reason from the beginning was the CIA’s long experience
and huge stable of agents and contacts in the civil societies of countries around
the world. By joining with the CIA, NED and [US] AID would come on board an
on-going complex of operations whose funding they could take over while
leaving the secret day-to-day direction on the ground to CIA officers. In
addition someone had to monitor and report the effectiveness of the local
recipients’ activities. NED would not have people in the field to do this, nor
would their core foundations in normal conditions. And since NED money was
ostensibly private, only the CIA had the people and techniques to carry out
discreet control in order to avoid compromising the civil society recipients,
especially if they were in opposition to their governments. Finally, the CIA had
ample funds of its own to pass quietly when conditions required”

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By Evan Stevens, February 23, 2012 at 9:24 am Link to this comment

I for one have seen far too much incrimination of others evidently based entirely in bias and weakly delivered via innuendo.

Ronald Thomas West and sofianitz:

On or about the 13th of February, was or was not a vendors stall in Cairo violently raided and removed by military force, and has any vendor present at that time since returned to that stall?
Do either of you claim to know the exact routing of money and petroleum products in Egypt?

Your personal attacks against the author of this article don’t amount to a pinch of salt, but please do counter her claims with any facts about the specific events she reported here. Until then, eat salt and bark at the moon.

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Ronald Thomas West's avatar

By Ronald Thomas West, February 23, 2012 at 8:39 am Link to this comment

The author is either ignorant of the facts of the so-called ‘democracy
organizations’ or the article is a shallow effort to deflect attention from the
activities of the known CIA front Freedom House and affiliated groups.

With her apparent familiarity with the [CIA Military Assistance Programs
associated] Egyptian generals internal economy, I recommend ‘truthdig’ begin
digging into the extent it may have been penetrated by intelligence agencies

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sofianitz's avatar

By sofianitz, February 23, 2012 at 7:02 am Link to this comment

Anyone living in Egypt who is not anti-American is either an idiot, a stooge, or a paid CIA employee, of which there are lots, particularly among the journalists there.

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