On my first evening back I went to the local street where I buy my food etc. and the next day I took a stroll up Talaat Haarb to get my usual fantastic Schwarma Sandwich at Felfela takeaway. I had not kept up with events in Egypt on Twitter, Facebook, Blogs etc. while in Ireland so I knew nothing about the trouble that had happened in Tahrir on Friday morning. There was a tangible change of atmosphere in Talaat Haarb St, I don’t know if anyone else has noticed but as I had been absent for the two weeks it is very apparent to me.
The usual shoppers are out in the evening at the furthest away from Tahrir Square but as you near the square there is a noticable decline in the number of people in the street. The nearer you get to Tahrir the more threatening it gets. Never before, even during the revolution did I feel unsafe or the need to clutch at my bag. Now it is different I sense the need to be alert and careful about my bag.
About half way up Talaat Haarb there are numerous street traders screaming (yes, screaming) at the passers by to give them their attention and look at the wonderful clothes the men on the tabletops are throwing in the air. This area is very congested with people stopping to watch and littered with plastic bags and rubbish. I can just imagine how the shop keepers paying high rents beside them are feeling……Pre-revolution the street traders would have been moved by the police. Personally, I don’t like them screaming at us as we pass by – I find it intimidating and disorientating.
Then I pass the little boy selling tissues while doing his school homework, the man with the missing leg, the lady with the big swollen leg and the old man prostrate begging for money and of course the woman with the baby…….
The street hassle of women is back but this time instead of getting the usual “I am sorry!” when I say in arabic “I live here” I was aggressively told “This is my country and I can say what I like!” and in perfect english!
At Tahrir Sq. for the first time I was afraid to cross the street into the middle of the square. All roads leading to the square have been blocked off with barricades by the people there. I am not calling them protesters because, of the people I spoke to, I did not find any protester. I found poor, uneducated, poorly dressed and mostly either teenagers/early 20s or over 50’s to be the age group. When I asked why they were there I got answers ranging from “Iam here for Allah!” to “We want Mubarak etc. dead” and “We want our money back” All said they were there for 25 Jan movement but I don’t believe them. One man listening to a conversation I was having intervened to say “No, you are not from 25 Jan people – they are all at work now – it is the middle of the day, and you should go home and stop making trouble here!”
A couple of weeks ago I was telling friends and tourists that Tahrir had become a public meeting place with nice atmosphere and they should take a look. Today, I am saying to everyone “Do not go to Tahrir – especially at night”.
There is no more good-natured political discussions – there is rabble rousing and aggression. One man told me I should get out of Egypt, back to my own country and everyone who is not a muslim is a bad person – only interested in money and not in Allah! Everytime there is a noise in one of the streets leading into the square there is a stampede of youths in that direction.
All over the square there are people passing through and speaking to the people inside – telling them they need to open the road and go home. These are business people and ordinary people. I could feel all around me from shrugs and gestures of the people that there is a growing resentment which will soon turn to angry violence I believe towards those in the square. This is bad for the revolution, bad for the army and bad for the government.
But nobody is speaking out. – the people in the square are looking for Egyptian money in foreign banks to be returned and former ministers, Mubarak etc. to be tried and executed – there you see the problem…..tried and executed, not just given a trial. The middle ground has been eradicated. These same people have no idea whatsoever about either their own economy much less the global economy. They have no idea that as long as the foreign press is broadcasting the daily hassle and skirmishes in Tahrir the majority of tourists will stay away. They are screaming for dollars while putting the country long term in the toilet.
It is time for the leaders of the various political parties that are formed, being formed and already in existence as well as the Muslin Brotherhood, the Immams in the Mosques and the Coptic Pope to make a clear decision on whether they are in Tahrir Sq., or standing behind the people in Tahrir Sq.
If they are not behind Tahrir Sq. daily protests then they should announce it loud and clear on the TV, in the newspapers, on Twitter, Facebook, and their blogs. It is time to stand up for Egypt and be counted! I am a foreigner here and maybe that is an advantage because I can look at the over-all picture. Not that I am claiming to see or understand the whole picture – this is just how it looks to me.
It seems to me that
- there is a rabble of unsavory character building in Tahrir Sq.
- they are claiming to be revolutionary protesters
- they are never going to leave – why would they? they have food and fellowship here!
- they army cannot move them because if they do then those real revolutionaries would probably incite anti-army feeling and emotion among the people
- the government are afraid to move – again for the same reason – fear the real revolutionaries will call for their removal as they do every time someone says something they don’t agree with. But in a democracy this would wait for due process and the election box.
Tahrir Sq. has lost it’s symbolism as being the heart of the revolution and the People’s Place. It is rapidly turning into a melting pot for every one with a grievance, every homeless person, every jobless person, every thief , liar and perhaps murderer in Egypt. Here they are feeling safe and powerful. They know that the speakers and leaders of the revolution will take their part if there is trouble with the army. Even if they are not true revolutionaries the REAL PEOPLE are allowing them to use the Revolution Platform to defend their lawlessness and acts of civil disobedience. I am not saying they don’t have the same rights as everyone else. I am saying they are hijacking the revolution and preventing a recovery of the Egyptian economy while doing what might turn out to be irreparable damage to Tahrir Sq and Downtown Cairo in terms of how it is seen by the world and the families of Egyptians who normally enjoy their evenings here.
I would like to point out that the expected road to recovery for the Egyptian economy has not materialised and is not showing any signs of doing so.
Egypt now has more than one hinderance to economic recovery – it has several
- Foreign perception that the country is neither stable nor safe.
- It was only an emerging economy anyway when it got knocked on the head by revolution.
- Global economic recession means less foreign tourists and less foreign investment
- A largely uneducated population
- War in Libya and possible occupation looming to the West, ongoing violence throughout the countries to the East – not to mention the unease of the Israelis, then there is the Sudan and the countries to the South who want to lessen the flow of the Nile through Egypt
(Not to mention the possibility of earthquake and tsunami to the North and the Red Sea as all the Earth’s fault lines seem to be moving these days!!)
Surrounded on all sides …….. I think it’s time for Egyptians to start pulling together if the Country is to survive and not topple into starvation and anarchy (long term possibility if things keep going as they are). Use your imagination.
Luxor and Aswan are peaceful and getting on with daily life. Tourist are coming in small numbers, but the overall recovery of the tourist industry in these towns is hampered by the media coverage of Tahrir even though hundreds of kilometers away from Cairo.
I don’t even believe that the regular Friday meeting – see it is not even a protest anymore – it is just a meeting place, I don’t believe these Friday gatherings are doing anyone any good. Because of the simple fact that they are regular and predictable they have lost their impact. Even worse the numbers are dropping every week, the excitement has gone and the illusion of togetherness has been broken. It is like the child who is constantly whining and crying to his mother – eventually the mother tunes out, becomes immune to the sound and pays no attention. That is what has happened Tahrir. There are other places in the world now demanding attention – like the earthquake in Japan where there is radioactive material being dumped into the ocean……which will affect the entire world much more than the squabbles in Tahrir Sq. or even the Egyptian Revolution itself.
It is way past the time for the thinkers, planners and those earnestly wanting a democratic Egypt to leave the streets, clarify their goals, publish their aims, gather support and be ready – be ready for the next battleground should be the Election Box again. I know everyone was not happy with the results of the last referendum, but that is what a democracy is – there are always winners and losers and if you are a loser this time then you make sure you are better prepared to win the next time. Democracy is a never-ending process for success and failure as a country defines itself through it’s popular voice.
Time to speak up and get Egypt on the road to recovery.