May 20, 2013
Dispatches From Cairo: Revolution One Year Later
Posted on Jan 31, 2012
The Tahrir Friday noon prayer from Al Azhar mosque, observed by thousands in the square, urged the people on. “Our right is to dictate the decisions of the revolution,” the imam Muzhar Shahine proclaimed from the “revolutionaries” stage, not the MB stage, as the crowd cried “Allahu akhbar” (“God is great.)”
He continued with the people’s list of demands. State media must be purged, there must be a constitution that is “shared by all political parties and that gives rights for all of Egypt’s children,” and Christians must be given the same rights as Muslims. He cried out to responding chants, “A year later, has state security really been dissolved? Has our land been freed?”
Afterward, as the Muslim Brotherhood started to once again take over the center stages and the sound space of the square, blasting religious doctrine, there was a surprise to many, mostly to the MB. The people began to shout down the fundamentalists. “Hey Brotherhood, hey Brotherhood! No Shariah in the square! Get out!” And “Go out and read the Quran to the SCAF!” “This is the revolution’s square! You are not the revolution!” “We want freedom! You want power!” “The Brotherhood deals with [Field Marshal] Tantawi!” People yelled at the stage, which was protected by handholding MB security people. Some in the crowd held up their shoes, a heavy insult. The speaker begged, “Brothers, don’t do this! We are the people! One hand! … We want civilian government.” Then religious music was turned up in order to calm the chanting. The crowd chanted louder, some scuffling broke out.
Meanwhile, in nearby areas thousands occupied the sites of violent martyrdom like Mohamed Mahmoud Street; some demonstrated at Maspero, the site of the horrible and shamelessly denied massacre of Copts and the home of Egyptian National Television, source of propaganda and media manipulation. There were projections of the film “Liars” on the side of a building. Protesters chanted—and an announcement came through that the film would be shown on national TV! And guests from the revolution were to be invited on shows! The shift has begun.
I still do not have running water most days in my apartment. Air, water and land pollution plagues the city, and the people are as yet unaware of the advantages and mechanisms of waste management and industrial rigor. Egyptians are in ignorance of what goes on behind the opaque curtain of government, and of the extent of the material wealth of this nation and how it is used and what the government does exactly. There are still vestiges of primitive behavior and custom marbled through this huge population, which also contains enough brilliant, talented, forward-thinking and pure-hearted men and women to lead a global phenomenon mobilizing millions of diametrically opposed social strata in an explosion of creative potential and hope that inspires and worries the world as it stumbles in its newness.
The taxi driver whose brother owns the shoe store downstairs from my apartment was not voting Sunday and gave me a ride to the hospital.
After the long weekend of revolution participation here, I had to pay 13 Egyptian pounds—the equivalent of three U.S. dollars—to have an X-ray of my stress-fractured ankle. The hospital was part of a labyrinthine and crowded complex, and I had to ask directions repeatedly. But eventually a cast and a containment brace were put on my ankle, all for the cost of the equivalent of an additional 45 U.S. dollars. I tsk-tsked and said to the young doctor, “That is expensive! Much more than last year.” He replied apologetically, “Yes, I know, I am sorry, but now we are using some American products.”
I did not mention that these American products would cost at least 300 times more in the U.S. than they cost here, or that in America I would have to pay $600 to health insurance extortion every single month for life in order to afford medical treatment. As I limped back to the taxi, accompanied by the typical sympathy, offers of help and well-wishing of strangers, I reflected on the strange chasm of values, self-interest, the evils of capitalism, human decency, pragmatism, social unity, and the vacuum of understanding into which can rush ... anything.
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