By Lauren Unger-Geoffroy
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.
Where do I start? The people have been whipped up into a frenzy in Cairo since last week—wave upon wave of breathless, conflict-adrenalin, motivated-action, reaction, all subjects overlapping in one will to solidarity.
On Friday and Saturday, in the wake of the sectarian violence in Imbebe, as expected some were caught up in the momentum of the conflict, but the majority reacted in a surge of “Muslims and Christians one hand!” and the cross and crescent symbol appeared again all over, online and in conversations and on TV.
But friends who went down to Tahrir Square to demonstrate for sectarian unity and brotherhood were surprised to find few manifesting for their subject. Instead they found thousands of Palestinian flags and Libyan flags and chanting for the return of Palestine to the Palestinians.
And there were signs. The new symbol was an image of a big, old-fashioned key, representing the properties that the Palestinians were depossessed of when Israel was created. Signs bearing keys and slogans about “give back our homes” were plentiful. And media and speakers were calling for a march to the Rafah border crossing from Egypt to Israel to take back Palestine Sunday on the 63rd anniversary of the Nakba, or “catastrophe”—the day Israel declared its independence and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes.
Thousands of protesters gathered outside the Israeli Embassy on Sunday to commemorate that date and were received with tear gas and rubber bullets and some live ammo, according to some reports. Lots of telephone videos of sad injuries. Many arrests, and many who were injured and sent to the hospital will be arrested upon their release. It is uncertain whether these arrests, trials and punishments will be severe; hanshof. The Nakba moment is already past and Egypt careens forward onto new concerns of all sorts. There are still only some dozen hard-core activists camping at the Rafah border. But Palestine is never completely out of the thoughts of anyone in the Middle East—and it is clear to the world that the people want the liberation of Palestine.
As forced as the key symbol on the signs may be, and although the image may be forgotten shortly in the onslaught of new icons and new matters of solidarity and conflict, both visceral and intellectual, Palestine is the unifying force and focus of the entire Muslim/Arab world: This is the “one hand.” Every sanction and refusal to concede to it reinforces its unified strength and voice.
The military’s aggressive control of the demonstration at the Israeli Embassy in Maadi was dramatic, and there was other local drama, too. Some angry tribal-minded folks continued their Muslim/Christian feud. They did not pay attention to the news; still worked up for fighting in the streets, some burned another church. The opposing sides were left alone by the police and army, and Christians complained about lack of protection. Some people were killed and some injured—the numbers that were reported vary widely.
Had the involved people paid attention they would have heard that the woman who was the cause of the religious conflict in Cairo had been arrested for bigamy. It was contrary to what we had heard at first, that she was a Christian who had run away from her home and husband in Coptic-dominated Assiut (a hotbed of Christian/Muslim tension) to Cairo and converted to Islam to marry a Muslim man and the Christians were detaining her in a church. This story adds fuel to the smoldering resentment from earlier this year over a Christian priest’s wife who was reported to have converted to Islam and as a result to have been abducted by the Coptic Church.
And on and on. Of course many are convinced that most of these conflicts are instigated by the usual infiltrating agitators, using the technique of division and confusion to keep the people weak.
There was also deposed first lady Suzanne Mubarak’s “heart attack.” Most doubted that she had actually suffered the illness, because it came on the day she was to respond in court to charges of corruption and robbing the people of Egypt. She has since “given” some money back, claiming it is “all she has.” Some felt sorry for her, but—as more and more iniquities come to light—not most.
Traffic has been gridlocked in Cairo for the last several days. Working people are disgruntled and fed up, and Sunday’s multiple demonstrations caused an accident on the Nile Cornishe that killed eight, according to the news. As in the USA, the media news here is either true, false or approximative, so numbers and other elements of public persuasion are always measured with a flexible barometer.
I can assure you of this: In the next few days the people will have moved on, thinking about the new government, about the Muslim-Christian conflict, about revolution solidarity, Libya, Syria, the Mubaraks, complaints, restitutions, apologies, compromise, instigations, reconciliations, divisions, hope and planning and drama and blood. Insha allah, less blood and more communication.
But the one thing that always remains on the people’s minds and lips, that pulls this whole wild wave of shift together, is Egypt’s solidarity about Palestine and resentment of Israel. There is no one here who does not want a free Palestine, and somehow this will be done, and then what?—no one knows. But we can feel it coming in the shared passion of hundreds of millions. We are the ocean.
The future is coming and we may not be ready. We pray that it will be good; we believe we can be great. We don’t know what shore we will crash upon, but we are going there finally together.
AP / Amr Nabil
Egyptians gather around a Palestinian flag during a protest in Tahrir Square, the focal point of Egyptian uprising, in Cairo.