Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Over the hump

Last month was rough. After a trip back to DC in April, I became convinced I wanted to leave Cairo. When I was here, all I wanted to do was be in DC. I couldn't enjoy myself, I didn't feel mentally present. I started laying the groundwork for an inevitable return, thinking Cairo was done for me. Even if I stayed an extra year or two, I thought, what difference would it make? I came here looking for something, and nearly a year after arriving I knew that something was still missing.

No matter what, I know I'll always be a foreigner here. Being part of no world--neither the US nor Egypt--is not a great feeling. I was homesick. I missed my Cat. My friends at home were all having life experiences--boyfriends, engagements, marriages, babies, family deaths--and I was missing it. My best friends here had all left for America and I would wait until late afternoon for DC to wake up so I could talk to those who truly understood me. My friends here are awesome, yes, but I had this feeling they didn't understand me--likely because they are mostly guys and they didn't understand me. Did they really want to hear me obsess about how I should respond to a text from the guy I like, or weigh what to wear to lunch with said guy?

The constant harassment was also taking a toll. It makes you jumpy. I noticed when I traveled to India, every time I would see a group of young boys I would instinctively tense up, the physical reaction to what I thought would be inevitable harassment/assault.

Friends who had lived as expats warned me around the year mark, you will hit a wall. The little things that bothered you before will make you miserable. You'll miss what you know--those with whom you grew up, your parents to baby you when you feel like shit, the food you love and the little things like Luna bars and Take 5 gum that are impossible to get here.

A few weeks ago I ended up going home after the Muslim Brotherhood government was replaced (see?? I said replaced so stop calling me names) by one appointed by the military. Something happened when I was home. I just wanted to be back in Cairo. The thought of not coming back made me sick. I couldn't wait to come back.

There are many reasons why I feel better about Cairo now compared to a month ago. And there is the real possibility of things going terribly wrong both with Egypt in general and things specific to me, and I foresee at least one major obstacle in the near future. But for now, I'm over the hump.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Temporarily evacuated

About a week and a half ago I left Cairo. I did not want to go; I was devastated. Upon takeoff I started sobbing uncontrollably. When I left I didn't bring anything, didn't even tell my friends I was leaving. As I was boarding I let myself think for the first time I may not be coming back.

I have a high tolerance for putting up with crap and difficult situations, but it got to the point where I could not get around the city. Everything closed early. The gym was blocked off by clashes--unfortunate when I have incredible anxiety and no way of alleviating it. My roommate and I would just eat and watch tv and check twitter and do it all again.

Everyone--EVERYONE--hates Americans. I know people will tell you they know the difference between the government and the people, but it just takes one crazy--like the dude who stabbed the American student in Alexandria, or the dude who stabbed the American in front of the Embassy. Seeing as I was one of the only Americans left in Cairo after the evacuation not in the journalism field meant that I may have stood out a bit before, but damn, did I stand out now. I had people randomly walk up to me in the street asking me if I was American. In that environment, such behavior is wicked threatening.

Both sides were feeding into this anti-Americanism, comparing our president to a terrorist, blah blah blah. The people complain that we interfere too much and not enough in the same breath. Even people you would assume would be supportive of the US-Egyptian relationship. It makes me want to bang my head against a wall.

The only thing all Egyptians can agree on is that everything is our fault.

When I was in Cairo, all of the sudden everyone started saying the exact same things. All Egyptians I spoke to were spouting the same talking points--it was terrifying. Where did all of this shit come from? How could an entire nation have the exact same opinion using the exact same words?

It has also gotten to the point where some of those who are supportive of the transition of power/episode of extreme democracy/coup will broker no dissent. If you don't agree with them 110 percent, they will tear you a new one. There is no room for discussion, no room for shades of grey, no room for other opinions. You fall in line behind the military, behind the popular narrative, or else. Who needs a government to censor you when friends on Facebook do it themselves?

Clashes had also spread out of the normal "localized" areas. Yeah, I could stay safe by staying home. But I did that for a week and was going crazy.

I left Cairo the morning at over 50 people were killed at a pro-Morsi rally near the headquarters of the Republican Guard. A friend was driving me to the airport and I knew we would have to leave early, as the main road to the airport, Saleh Salem, had been blocked for days by protesters. We left at 7am for a noon flight, thinking I would get there plenty early. When I awoke at 6am, I looked at my phone and had gotten a text from the office saying those living in the vicinity of Saleh Salem should not go to work that day. Not a good sign, I thought, so I checked Twitter. Details of the clash between the military and pro-Morsi supporters began trickling out at that point. I felt sick. Sad for Egypt.

We left my flat in Zamalek around 7am. Because of the events of that morning, many of the bridges to the downtown side--the side with the airport--were closed. I panicked a little--my mom had expressed worry that I would chose to leave Cairo only when it was impossible to do so. Luckily, one of the bridges was open, which we found out after trying all the others. We had to take the ring road, which was also blocked. To make a long story short, it took us nearly three hours to reach the airport--and my poor friend had to go to straight to work on the other side of Cairo.

Was the situation bad enough to warrant me leaving? For the first time ever, I believed so. Mobility around the city was constrained. Everything was closed. People hated Americans, and lucky me, I was one of the only ones left.

The situation has somewhat stabilized. Ramadan has set in. Two days ago there were clashes and only seven were killed. So tomorrow I fly back to Cairo. Most of me is happy to go back, but part of me is sad for what's happening in a way that I can't describe.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The not-coup coup

Yesterday was zero hour. The military had given the president 48 hours to fix, I'm not sure what to fix but basically everything, or they would introduce a "road map" to move the country forward. People gathered around 4:30pm to watch the expected military announcement. In true Egyptian form, the announcement was late. I went over to a friends house to watch the coverage. Walking over there, the streets were deserted. It was creepy.

Despite the official silence, slowly snippets of information leaked. The president had been told at 7pm he was no longer president. He and senior ikhwanis were placed under house arrest. The military moved its APCs, tanks, and personnel around major gathering sites on both sides and secured important  places.

Late at night, the head of the military, General Sisi, came on TV and announced what we all knew. The president had been removed from office, the head of the constitutional court would succeed him, liberal darling Mohamed El Baradei would be the country's prime minister, and the constitution--much maligned by the liberals and opposition--had been suspended.

Much of Cairo erupted in cheers. People ran around the city, honking horns, bleeping those damn vuvuzelas, shouting, "Masr!" and celebrating the power of successful political organizing and people power to realize change. 

Misr 25, the Ikhwan's TV station, and other Islamist-affiliated stations went black. Al Jazeera's offices in Cairo were raided. Understandably, the mood in the pro-Morsi rallies was reported to be despondent. 

When I woke up this morning, life returned largely to normal. There are still a lot of flags around, still a lot of honking--celebratory, not the normal Cairo honking. I met up with friends for lunch and am making plans for a pool day tomorrow. Here at the restaurant, people are talking about normal things. Twitter and Facebook may be alight with politics, but people are happy and want to enjoy themselves.

The police, absent for months, are now back in the streets. It's a miracle. 

There are a few signs, though, that we are living in a post-not coup coup. I walked by APCs en route to the gym. There are a lot of them on some of the bridges around here. Helicopters continue to fly overhead. 

Many Americans are leaving this weekend, partly because of summer vacation--foreigners flee during Ramadan and the summer months--and partly because of the situation here. I don't quite understand leaving now, though. Leaving before the removal of the president makes more sense. There is the possibility of the ikhwan lashing out.  If they are pushed underground, they will lash out violently. That threat will never go away, but foreigners and Egyptians alike cannot leave Egypt forever. These kind of threats are everywhere, in the US, in Europe--unfortunately today no one can escape them.

People are really pissed at America. Their anger deserves a blog posting on it's own, but I got into a fight with someone on Facebook who threatened Obama. Disagree with his policies, I don't care. But if you threaten my president I will kill you. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

And we wait...

To recap the last 24 hours, last night Morsi got on Twitter (this is for real) and told the military to take back its 48 hour deadline and impending military coup. Unsurprisingly, the military gave him a big eff you. Morsi then went on TV and, after saying shar3eya, or legitimacy, literally 200 times (drinking game!!), refused to make any concessions. We were all sitting there, astounded, listening him say a whole lot of nothing. And why make a major address at midnight?? 

The military then said it had a duty to protect the country from terrorists. 

Note, though, that the Egyptian military released a statement on Facebook and Morsi responded on Twitter. To be fair, there were rumors that the military put the state-run media under its control so he couldn't get his message out. But, wow. 

Simultaneously last night clashes broke out between pro- and anti- Morsi protesters across the Nile in Giza. At least 22 people were killed and 300 injured. 

When I woke up this morning I was halfway expecting to wake up to Morsi under house arrest. But he wasn't. Despite everything going on, things right now are pretty normal. I did not have work, but I went for a run around my neighborhood this morning. People were out, walking around, going to work. Shops were open. I went home and got ready. I sat there for an hour listening to Daft Punk and pissed because I didn't like any of my outfits--this isn't a sign of willful ignorance, but just life continues and people still have stupid, normal people problems. 

I later went to lunch with friends at a nice Italian restaurant nearby. They all came in from different, far areas of Cairo and were able to get around. After pasta, we walked to a nearby bakery and got chocolate cake and tiramisu. We took it back to my flat, where I am right now, awaiting the military's announcement. 

In true Egyptian fashion, Egypt is late for it's own coup. 

Bottom line, despite everything--despite the fact there is a serious crisis, despite the fact there was violence last night--life continues. People are going about their daily lives. Most places in Cairo are safe. Children and families are still going down to protest. I hope the fact that there is still normalcy here, that life is going on, will be of comfort to those worried at home. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

Watching a coup in slo-mo

It has been quite a couple of days. As I'm sure many of you know, Cairo saw huge protests yesterday organized by the Tamarod, or "rebellion" movement, calling for President Morsi's ouster. Millions of Egyptians poured into the streets, united and optimistic in their calls for a better future. Yes, there was some calling the ikhwan sheep, calling for the US Ambassador, an "old woman," to leave. But for the most part, everyone was happy and unified and in good spirits. I could even feel the unity on the streets. People would tell me hello, good morning, normal interactions I have in DC. Doesn't usually happen here.

Yesterday morning, the morning of June 30, it was not so. I arrived late morning from spending the weekend at the North Coast. The streets of Cairo were silent. It was so eerie. I met up with my friend, Jake, a huge, strong manly man who was also freaked out by the emptiness of the streets. Cairo was collectively holding its breath to see what would happen, and had been for days.

We watched the events unfold at a friend's flat. The photos were amazing... millions filling Tahrir and Itihadiya Palace. Kids and old people were out, waiving flags, emphasizing their devotion to seeing the revolution through and unwilling to let another strongman commandeer power from the people. People were telling jokes.

People fill the streets near the Presidential Palace.
People were also really happy about the military flying helicopters above Tahrir. These were the same folks who were so pissed we sold them to Egypt. You're effin' welcome, Egypt (sarcasm).

Military helicopters above Tahrir.

Sometimes--okay, often--people ask me why I moved to Egypt. During bad days I cannot remember, especially after I've been assaulted or groped or dragged from a moving car or called a "dirty woman" by some a-hole on the street. Especially when I compare it to the United States, where I can run around DC in soffee shorts and a tank top and feel completely comfortable, where electricity almost never cuts, and where there are only "first world" problems. But then I spend the day with my coworkers and I love Egypt again. Or Mahmoud at the gym who thinks I kick ass and doesn't hit on me at all. Or my guy friends on whose shoulders I've literally cried when I feel like I can't take it anymore. Or when all of Egypt comes together, sheds the usually rigid social barriers and demands their rights and an improved future.

Tahrir filled to the brim last night.
That was the blog post I was going to write this morning, full stop. Then the opposition announced Morsi had until Tuesday at 5pm to step down or else. Then the military announced on Twitter they would make an announcement. On the bright side, the military announced an announcement on Twitter. That's kind of cool.

The contents of the announcement were less so. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, led Egypt after Mubarak's fall. They were also the ones who massacred Christians protesting at Maspero. They are also seen as the one institution that is on the side of the people--a common chant is "The military and the people, one hand." Many Egyptians are nostalgic for their rule--and that of Mubarak--remembering the past as a time with stability, economic growth, security, etc.

This afternoon the military, which said it did not want a role in politics, would nevertheless intervene in 48 hours with a "road map" should the political elite fail to heed the "will of the people." It praised the Egyptian people for astounding the world and emphasized it's "responsibility" to maintain the safety and security of the nation. In a collective act of amnesia, people are cheering this on.

So, folks, in 48 hours we will probably have a military coup. It won't be obvious--it'll be a sneaky coup. But that's what it is.

My physical safety is not at risk right now, for those at home. I live in the safest area in Cairo, surrounded by embassies--but far from that of the US.