Dec 7, 2013
Dispatches From Cairo: Ramadan, Revolution and Rumors
Posted on Aug 9, 2011
Editor’s note: We asked Lauren Unger-Geoffroy, an Arabic-speaking American who lives in Cairo, to share her perspective of life in Egypt after the revolution.
Ramadan Kareem, my friends. This year’s month of fasting and purification, healing, reflection and prayer has fallen in the hottest month, August, and comes amid unprecedented earthly distractions in Egypt, the ongoing tragic massacre in Syria and crazily careening instability around the globe. There has been such a rush of events that before I can finish checking the truth and sources of any one report, rumor or development, another big one arrives. For example:
Mubarak is in the accused cage! In public court! The people are in awe that they have actually achieved this, and it is a stroke of karmic irony that Mubarak’s hugely viewed and commented-upon nose-picking has rendered him less sympathetic and quelled much of the anticipated wave of regret and vestigial emotional attachment of the people who might have protested against the ignoble treatment of their historic tyrant/father figure. The pro- and contra-crowds outside throwing rocks at each other were anticipated and abruptly controlled. The location of the trial, in an area difficult to access for most, made the melee manageable. Friends told me that after the nose-picking images went viral on Twitter, the rock-throwing seemed to decrease.
It was incredible and surrealistic to see Mubarak in his bed, flanked by his sons and the detested former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly in the cage—though videos of al-Adly leaving the court show him smiling arrogantly and officers treating him with great respect and deference! Is this a show? What will happen? It doesn’t matter. The people did it. They will not let it go—they will have satisfaction. Sunday’s proceeding was just the roll call and list of accusations and pleas, of course in Egyptian flavor, with dozens of lawyers all standing, speaking at once, waving handfuls of paper and shouting sometimes ridiculous statements over each other. The real trials will begin next Sunday, inshalla.
Iftar is the evening breakfast meal of Ramadan, the breaking of the daylight fast, after not eating or drinking even water from 4:30 a.m. In Cairo this year iftar is at 8 p.m. Traditionally people join with friends and family to share food and drink in a joyful meal. Last Friday, 150 to 300 people met in Tahrir Square for iftar. For many in Cairo, over the months the square had become the people’s place to gather and meet, hang out on Fridays and in the evenings. And having taken up the habit of protesting, last Friday they did begin some “Hang Mubarak” chants after eating, but they were violently dispersed by military police. This was an unfortunate and sad follow-up to the previous Monday’s zealously aggressive emptying of the last tents of the sit-in. The people say ouch when they are beaten back, and another seed of resentment toward the military has been nourished by violence in the name of order versus chaos.
The people are uniting again, joining with the million-person rally planned by numerous Sufi orders, Copts and Liberals and various pro-democracy political forces that are discussing ways to respond to this rising tide of conservative Salafist and other Wahhabi-oriented Islamist forces calling for a religious state. (Sufism is the mystical, spiritual, esoteric branch of Islam. In Egypt, at least 6 million people—one in at least every four young men—belong to one or another of the more than 40 Sufi orders. Millions of followers of Sufi orders, both men and women, attend more than 40 massive moulids (festivals that honor specific spiritual iconic figures of different orders) throughout the country). Well-known Sufi singers and Christian choirs as well as performers such as Ali El-Haggar, Azza Balbea, Rami Essam will hold a concert in the square following iftar.
Organizers said that they hope to set a Guinness record by mobilizing the largest number of people for a public iftar in the history of the Muslim world.
Many Islamist and Salafist political forces charge that Sufi rites and practices, especially gender-mixing, are un-Islamic.
The Salafi demonstration in Tahrir on July 29 brought in Salafeen in large numbers, elevated through Twitter, Facebook, websites, textos, emails, chats and TV channels. Buses were lined up from all over Egypt. Yes, they filled the square with bushy beards and religious clothing and slogans. Yes, they were many, and, yes, they want an Islamic Egypt and, yes, they were chanting “Obama Obama, we are all Osama” and “Shut up, shut up, you seculars. Egypt will continue to be an Islamic state.” All the entrances to the square were guarded by members of the Salafi movement and the Muslim Brotherhood, who were wearing orange uniforms with Quranic verses written on them. Thousands of groups adhering to the Salafi movement arrived at Tahrir Square in buses from different regions to take part in the protests. They chanted, “We want it Islamic” and “People want Shariah to be applied.” (Conflict was expected, but the ambulances stationed at three locations were largely unnecessary, alhumdulalla, as the military did not intervene. Hmmm.)
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