Monday, April 6, 2015


After a long hiatus, I'm back at the blog.

Last June, I returned to Egypt from Turkey. I was burned out from my job in Istanbul. I had no time to make friends or enjoy the city that people told me was awesome. I was generally unhappy. I missed my crew in Cairo, missed the sense of community and the way of life. Things are more difficult there, but at the same time more real.

After six months in Sisi's Egypt, I left and returned to Istanbul. I had been there for his takeover, but this time it was stifling. The cult of personality, the hostility toward those who did not accept the official narrative without question, became too much. People began to joke about being disappeared, informed upon, detained--jokes that are only actually funny when there's a chance it may happen. One day, traffic was stopped for a VIP on a major street in the middle of rush hour. The driver I was with started irately honking--the cabbie next to us half-jokingly told us to stop or we would all be detained. Friends would post things on facebook with the disclaimer "Don't inform on me" (haha).

One night I was out to dinner with friends and we started talking about politics. I told them to hush, to speak quietly. They thought I was being paranoid. We went home and read about how that day, journalists were arrested in a cafe downtown for the same crime. And don't even get me started about journalists. Journalists who do not have international attention--Al Jazeera guys--are left in prisons, forgotten, held indefinitely without charges and without any venue to justice. By virtue of being "only" Egyptian, of having the wrong passport. Of working in their own country.

I wasn't the only one who left. My Egyptian friends began to leave in droves--for masters, for jobs, for anything. Those who stayed largely disengaged from politics. It's the only way to stay sane, one former activist told me.

On the fourth anniversary of January 25, I came home from dinner with my friends, opened Facebook and Twitter, read about a peaceful protester getting killed by bird shot. Social media circulated a photo of her, blood coming out her back and mouth, a shocked expression, with a friend frantically grasping her waist. Later, we learn the police attempted to accuse one of her party members with her murder. Then the Muslim Brotherhood. Police refused to call for help for the shot woman, and also arrested those who tried to help her. They dragged the men away, left her dying, slumped on a plastic chair in the middle of downtown Cairo.

Now, her party members have been slammed with charges of participating in an unregistered protest, with up to six years in jail. This, as the likes of the Mubaraks and Habib al-Adly walk free.

I finished a bottle of wine by myself that night. Her death was the nail in the revolution's coffin.

It of course didn't end with me leaving. Ahmed Samih, the director of the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, a leading human rights activist, was detained following a raid on his office. He is also the head of Radio Horytna and, incidentally, my first employer in Cairo. His case is just one of many in an attempt to stifle civil society. Radio Horytna is a nonpartisan, unaffiliated online news portal. Because Egyptian news is controlled by the government and total shit.

Egypt had become like that--an endless cycle of lost hope, repression, jumpiness. I would open the news and get angry every day. I would drive to my house from the gym--maybe 15 minutes--and get stuck in multiple checkpoints. When I was with Egyptian males, they would get pulled over and harassed by the police. The police were making the point--we are back, and we are back with a vengeance. Their presence was ostensibly about protecting the people, but in reality their presence is keeping the people down. I see that here in Istanbul too-tens of heavily armed police standing in the middle of Istiklal, a pedestrian shopping street, with their hands on their automatic weapons, riot gear in hand. Who are you protecting? Who are you serving? The people you are only too antsy to shoot?

Turkey recently passed a law allowing security forces to use live fire against protesters with firecrackers or anything like that. In the middle of the afternoon on Istiklal, surrounded by shoppers, tourists, and random passers by, I've been in the vicinity of a protest that erupted and firecrackers start going off. What is to happen then? Judging by the police's use of tear gas and water cannons (indiscriminate), I--and many others--are less than comfortable.

There are also reports Turkey just banned Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. It's a losing battle, my friend. The information is out and people will always find a way to access it. You will just be chasing your own tail.

But when it comes down to it, who are these governments afraid of? What do they fear? Is it the very people they serve?

NOTE: I write this with recognition of the limitations and acts of violence of the police in my own country. I am writing about MY experience. I don't live in the US so don't accuse me of ignoring brutality elsewhere. 

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