Dispatches From Cairo: Tensions Mount in Revolution Central
We asked Lauren Unger-Geoffroy, an Arabic-speaking American who lives in Cairo, to share her perspective of life in Egypt after the revolution. In this entry, she writes about a coming protest and ongoing tensions.
Wow, what a jittery, hair-trigger, emotional week in Egypt, the heart of the revolutionary world.
We woke up Monday to find an Israeli Wall in Cairo! A concrete barrier in front of the Israeli Embassy, roughly 8 feet high. Within hours the graffiti was declaring “The people want the fall of this wall” and construction workers had painted the Egyptian flag on it and wrote “Egypt at all times.”
Israel — which is going through its own “March of the Million” protest — has refused to apologize to Turkey for killing eight Turkish activists and one Turkish-American in the 2010 raid in neutral waters on the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla, even after the U.N. issued a report last week saying Israel had used unreasonable force (the report also found that Israel had acted legally). As a result, Turkey has expelled the Israeli ambassador and suspended all military agreements with Israel. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Egypt next Monday to meet with the head of the Egyptian military council about strengthening military and diplomatic ties and discuss a strategic cooperation agreement between the two countries, the Egyptian daily Al-Shorouq reported Sunday.
Important events keep rolling in for Egypt. On Wednesday, the fourth session of ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s trial will be held, and on Friday the first post-Ramadan million-person protest will take place here. The Tahrir Square protest, aka “9/9,” should be an epic point among the peaks of Egypt’s Arab Spring.
The murder trial of Mubarak and former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly resumed Monday, and riots broke out outside the court building (no big surprise). Lots of rock-throwing and hitting. One of my friends (whom I fortunately was not standing beside at the time) was arrested for filming and was punched a bit, but was released.
On Tuesday at a match between Ahly, Cairo’s favorite football team, and the KIMA team from Aswan, a huge fight involving the Central Security Forces broke out. According to Ministry of Health sources, at least 130 people were injured in the violence at the stadium in Nasr City, including 67 police officers and soldiers. All of the injured may not have been counted: Some football fans who were hurt were afraid that if they went to the hospital they would be arrested.
Apparently, fans began to chant against Mubarak and el-Adly to tease members of the Central Security Forces (as usual), but this time as soon as the game was over, the CSF started hitting people, and the mass of Egyptian football fan/revolutionaries fought like, well, participants in a football stadium riot.
The whole country is on edge as regional tension builds again, despite a brief, happy moment over the Libyan football team’s qualifying for the African Cup by defeating Mozambique.
The riots in Syria continue, and we anxiously wait to hear that the war in Libya has ended. The EU is banning imports of Syrian crude oil. More detainees joined the hunger strike in Bahrain. Demonstrations in Algeria. A government airstrike on a mosque in Yemen killed seven. Egypt is facing a petrol shortage, and state authorities spoke to the media about the possibility of borrowing from the savings of the household sector in the Egyptian banks to finance the deficit.
Yeah, the people are getting worked up as 9/9 and its planned million-person “back to Tahrir Square against the army” protest approaches. Thousands of tweets and messages about the event are helping increase the steam. The people’s blood is up. Every day another agitation, more fuel, pressure building. The ongoing Mubarak trial will bump things up another degree.
There was further chaos and confusion as thousands of Egyptians finally returned, after their luggage was misplaced, from their Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for Ramadan. They had been stranded for two days at Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah airport. Yes, they stood up and protested, chanting, in familiar solidarity, thousands of Egyptians together.
Saudi Ambassador Ahmed El Katan claimed on the Al Hayat TV channel that the Egyptian pilgrims and their traveling customs — baggage that consisted of clothes wrapped in string — had been the reason for the delay, but Saudi civil aviation authorities said Saudi airline problems were the reason, according to an official statement published Tuesday in Al Riyadh newspaper [click here to see an account at Ahramonline.org]. Saudi Arabia’s own growing tensions were not helped by the ensuing tweet and media storm from Egypt’s master social networkers.
Many Egyptian travelers demanded and received an official apology from the airport and Saudi airlines after they conducted a small protest in front of the Saudi Embassy on Monday.
We are Egyptian, don’t mess with us. We are awake now, we are strong, and we won’t take anything lying down anymore.
Yes, we have some conflicts with the Saudis. Politically, they support Mubarak, and their brand of Wahhabism doesn’t sit well with the majority of Egyptians. But they are the owners of Mecca, and a huge financial system, and their king, long tenuously supported by the people, is ill and dying.
We are having some religious strain as rumors circulate in the media about the supposed Christian origins of Suzanne Mubarak, the ex-president’s wife. (Shall we expect some new Coptic-Muslim scuffles?) And there are tensions about the eventual rise of a Sufi political coalition to counter the Sufis’ religious antagonists, the Salafi political entity. Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam, is considered heretical by the Salafi and many traditional and hard-line Islamic schools.
Saad al Katatni of Freedom and Justice Party, the general secretary of the Muslim Brotherhood, addressed tourism industry representatives in a speech on “beach tourism,” saying tourists must conform to the values and norms of our society. He proposed introduction of restrictions on clothing, particularly bikinis and other swimwear, and enforcing restrictions on public behavior and alcohol. This was attempted in Turkey, but rejected after the tourism industry balked.
Every day more splinters, sharp and glistening in the sun.
“The people and the army one hand” hasn’t been heard in recent weeks despite the emergence of Israel as a military aggressor against Egypt, stirring vestigial pride and respect for the Egyptian military, and reinforcing the position of the military leaders, who quietly own vast amounts of money, land and industry.
The military guys who will be at Tahrir Square on Friday are gearing up for a big confrontation. On the other side, the people are creating volunteer people’s checkpoints and security forces and preparing medical supplies and anti-tear-gas vinegar — improvised riot prep. We hope the military leaders are clever enough to take it easy and let the steam blow off without killing anybody. Insha allah.
Even in light of all this, don’t think for a moment that we have lost faith that after the smoke clears we will have a much better country. The people could not even speak out before. One look at the articulate, engaged and savvy 16-year-olds assisting this revolution keeps us believing that they will take this country into a bright future in the Arab Summer. Insha alla.
By the way, this from Reuters Economy on Monday. (The Egyptian market may go back down, but, just saying. …)
“Egypt outperformed other Middle East markets, with its benchmark index gaining 1.16 percent, on optimism that company results will begin to improve after a popular uprising damaged Egypt’s economy.”
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