A Tale of Multiple Egypts

It’s dusk on Sunday evening here and the nightly protests have just begun. I just saw a family with flags in hand (the mom had a sign tucked under her arm) heading off down Basha Sabry street.

A few minutes ago, the normal cavalcade of air vehicles flew by my balcony – the security guard at the building below me barely glances up anymore. A few Apache helicopters ornamented with Egyptian flags, then eight or nine jets that release colored smoke and spell out things like “Egypt” and draw hearts for the supportive crowds in Tahrir, and finally, four very fast, very loud F16s, to “show some muscle” as my neighbor put it.  Morsi is officially deposed, but the protests, and the battle for a legitimate representative of the Egyptian people, continue.

A lot has happened in the last day and it’s hard to keep up with all of the news. Today, Al Masry Al Youm’s headline read  “Secrets of the ElBaradei Assignment Crisis.”almasryalyoum77 Since my last post, Mohammed ElBaradei, the liberal darling and ex-head of the UN’s IAEA, was reportedly assigned to the position of Prime Minister. A conservative Salafist party (the Noor Party) categorically refused this appointment and he was just as quickly unassigned. The press (and liberals) were justifiably not happy about this development.

Also earlier today, thousands of pro-Morsi supporters gathered for an extended sit-in outside of the Republican Guard building where Morsi is reportedly being held to protest his detention. While watching footage of other marches around the city, I noticed a fair amount of anti-American and anti CNN signs, claiming both CNN and Obama are supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and therefore terrorism. I’m no big fan of Obama, and think his decision to deploy drone strikes deplorable, but I find this particular brand of criticism odd because Obama has (to my knowledge, at least) refrained from calling the army’s move a coup, thus treating the new transitional government as a legitimate entity. Yes, Ambassador Anne Patterson made some comments about her skepticism toward the protests and in favor of the Brotherhood, but I can’t pinpoint what it is exactly that Obama is being blamed for.  An Egyptian friend is stopping by later after he leaves Tahrir Square to update me on what’s been happening, and I’m hoping he can explain this further.

*Update: Egyptian media reported today that on top of the anti-revolutionary and pro-Ikhwan comments, the US ambassador held two meetings with the Salafists before they rejected ElBaradei as PM. This, combined with Obama’s reticence and refusal to come out strongly on one side or the other, is seen as America playing the sly puppet master behind the scenes. The fact that the U.S. gives $1.3 billion to the army only reinforces this. People are really angry about the U.S. intervening, and I can see why, considering our historical support for dictators here. People are also asking questions about why the US evacuated so many people right before all the violence on Friday. It definitely doesn’t make Obama look good. CNN and much of the US media have been decrying what happened as a military coup, hence the anti CNN signs.

The CASA fellows, Fulbright fellows, Boren fellows and some AUC students have been evacuated and remain scattered in various locations. The CASA fellows are composing a letter to show their strong support for returning and continuing the year-long program, though so far, it’s proven a bit challenging for 29 opinionated, advanced Arabic students to agree on terminology. Our email chain currently numbers 31 and continues to climb.

On the point of terminology, Egyptians who are supporters of Morsi and the deposed Ikhwan government insist on calling what occurred after the June 30 protests a military coup which lacks legitimacy (legitimacy is one word I will never, ever forget in Arabic, not least because Morsi mentioned it 57 times in one of his speeches). The other side, the anti-Morsi protesters, liberals, revolutionaries, millions of ordinary Egyptians, etc., insist that it is not a military coup. Their preferences range from calling it a revolution, the second wave of the first revolution, or a people’s coup. I tend to think it was a bit of both; there was obviously a popular mandate to depose Morsi, but if we want to get technical here, the army was the actual actor that deposed him. Everyone is still holding their breath, waiting to see if the army is going to hand power back to the people or do what they did last time, namely, rule the country via SCAF (the Supreme Council of Armed Forces) for a year and a half.

 Egyptian news stations may have pioneered this technique of covering multiple protests of once.

Egyptian news stations may have pioneered this technique of covering multiple protests at once. Then there’s that guy in the middle.

It is unquestionably odd to be in a city divided, however uneven the divide. One large segment of the population is celebrating, while another smaller segment is mourning and vowing that they will not go quietly into any good night. This dichotomy has played itself out in protests.  On Friday night, I watched clashes at sit-ins and marches on the news. The army shot some people with bird shot, including a BBC reporter, then hung back while people fought in different locations around the city. 30 people died across Egypt. It made me feel a sense of loss and sadness that I can’t remember feeling since Israel was shelling civilians near my apartment in Beirut in 2006. I know worse happens in Syria and elsewhere every day, but there is something different and more immediate about being a few blocks away from the event. Perhaps it’s because they are part of my imagined community in Cairo; I’m here, and I feel like we are all in this historic, messy, exciting moment together.

This is not completely true, though. Among the expat community, many people seem desensitized to the violence, and much of life continues as if nothing is happening. I’m sure I’m guilty of this as well. Cairo Scholars (a useful listserv community with about 3000 subscribers) continues to post emails about Agatha Christie novels to sell and apartments to lease and felucca trips to upper Egypt, even as protesters die for their beliefs in legitimacy, rights, and competing concepts of democracy. It’s all quite surreal and chilling, and gives one the feeling that we are living on tiny islands in Cairo, only dully aware of what is going on around us.

As I conclude this post, Doqqi is still quiet and calm, though I can still hear the occasional celebratory honking. A few of the helicopters just returned in darkness to wherever they came from. I hope that the army has more to offer than aerial shows,  and forms a transitional government that is better than the last, and then gets out of the way. We’re all waiting and watching to see what will happen.


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