Sky Hearts, Aerial Shows and Trouble in the Sinai

It’s Friday morning. The sounds of various muezzins performing the azzan (call to prayer) are starting to filter in through my window, echoing off of the tall buildings of Cairo. In the face of all of the dire U.S. media coverage of this purported coup, the Egyptian people continue to celebrate Morsi’s ouster, and Cairo feels for all the world like a city victorious.

As I sat down to write a few minutes ago, I heard the now-unmistakeable sound of whirling metal, and the shadow of a helicopter  flying the Egyptian flag fell over my balcony. This was followed by an impressively loud aerial show: five fighter jets performed daring stunts and released red and white smoke into the sky. They also drew hearts:

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Egypt Heart in the Sky

(This photo was taken by a friend of a friend, and posted on Facebook.)

Yesterday, my roommate and a former Casawiyy and I picked up a cab near the Corniche on our way to classes and I learned a new phrase:  تحيا مصر or “Viva Egypt!” When we arrived at the Zamalek campus, I said my usual hello to the security guards who check our bags every day. Instead of “Sabah al-Kheir” or “Sabah al-Fool” (good morning), one of them responded with “Sabah al-Thoura!”  –  roughly, “Happy morning of the revolution!”

In keeping with this general mood of merriment, there are still Egyptian flags everywhere. On my way to visit the ATM in Maydan Feeny a few blocks away, I came across a hastily erected sign on our street celebrating the new President, the head of Egypt’s supreme court, Adly Mansour. The sign says: the nation of Egypt belongs to everyone.

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sign1

I also saw a similar sign outside of the Department of Police in Doqqi on Maydan al-Gal’a about an hour ago, but this sign was backed up by three tanks and over a dozen military personnel, who were milling about and making kissy faces at Agnabiyat. It was unclear whether there were tanks in the square to reassure people that the military was in charge or intimidate anyone who might consider protesting after Friday noon prayers (both reasons are likely true).

I struck up a conversation with a man who was reading the paper and watching the tanks. He owned a tourist shop up the street with old papyrus paintings and kept inviting me in for chai, but I wasn’t interested in buying any papyrus. I did want to know what he thought of this sudden military presence. “God willing, all will be well,” he said, a sentiment I’ve heard a lot over the last few days. My local newspaper seller, Ali Abd al Illa, said the same thing. He also added that Morsi’s overthrow was a good thing for the country. People in Doqqi seem to be reading a lot of newspapers, gathering in coffee shops, and having lots of excited discussions about recent events; the overall feeling tends to be positive and hopeful.

Yet in the face of all of this positivity, the study abroad programs here in Cairo are being quickly shut down. The same evening that the popular movement to overthrow Morsi occurred (the term coup has quickly become politicized), our program announced that CASA fellows were going to be evacuated on Friday. Bizarrely, this announcement arrived in our inboxes around the same time that we learned we were going to have classes as usual the next day. I can’t help but feel like this is premature, since every Egyptian (and a good number of expats) that I’ve spoken with feel that the situation has been stabilized. Of course, things may devolve over the weekend…no one can really be sure. In another surreal twist, the UT Austin insurance company offered to evacuate people to any city of their choice, so my colleagues are flying off to spend five days in Amsterdam, Rome, Istanbul, Paris, Tunis, the Greek island of Santorini and elsewhere.

All of the CASA fellows hope to return within a week, but whether or not that is going to happen probably depends on this weekend’s events. Everyone seemed really reluctant to go. I chose to stay behind and try to freelance, since this is one of the reasons why I came to Egypt in the first place. I know a fair number of other people outside of the program who are staying, and it seemed idiotic to flee the country right when most journalists are hammering on the door to get in.

Things are also changing very quickly here. An Egyptian friend described the recent events as “a second wave, yanni, a continuation of the original revolution,” and while many people are jubilant, there have been a few worrisome developments since the people kicked Morsi out. The new transitional government closed four TV channels they deemed too sympathetic to the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood), and most of the Ikhwan’s leadership has been detained, at least temporarily.  There have also been reports of gunmen attacking the airport and various military checkpoints in the Sinai today. That’s far from Cairo, but worth noting nonetheless. Friday prayers are traditionally a time for protests, so there will most likely be more events later today.

As of right now, though, people are still trudging along, performing their mundane day-to-day tasks. Earlier this morning, I watched our husband-and-wife boab team hanging a green banner on the street outside my apartment. We have a tiny mosque on the first floor of our building, and they usually roll out mats on the street so that people can pray there during Friday noon prayers. I usually only see Bata (the female half of the boab team) around our building; she is swarthy, loud, and tried to carry our suitcases up four flights of stairs when my roommate and I first arrived. She’s offering some constructive criticism to her husband in the picture below.

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2 thoughts on “Sky Hearts, Aerial Shows and Trouble in the Sinai

  1. Jane Hoelker says:

    Hi, Alexis, I taught with your Mom and Dad until last July when I left the program to join another program. Your Mom sent me your blog and I had sentiments similar to yours when listening to the CNN report yesterday. They hooked onto two words, “coup” and “democracy” and all the events were being interpreted through those two filters. I feel it’s more complex than two words and more simple than the interpretations being offered by CNN who seem more impressed by each other’s witty banter than by presenting a greater variety of facts and a more in-depth comprehension of the history behind these events. You seem to have expressed a sensitivity to the events lacked by CNN! I really enjoyed your blog, including your photos! Keep writing! Cheers, Jane

  2. Kimberly Kunkel says:

    Thank you for your eloquent description and commentary of what you are experiencing. It’s very helpful to hear your first hand perspective. Thank you.

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