Earlier this week, the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, an alliance of groups that support the Muslim Brotherhood, called for a million-man march to protest against the army’s killing of 53 protesters and the deposed President Morsi’s detention. Thousands of other people are expected to come out to protest in favor of the new transitional government. On the eve before the rival protests, I took a taxi downtown around sunset. It was close to Iftar, when all those observing Ramadan were just sitting down for first meal of the day, so there were almost no cars or small buses on the road. As we crossed the bridge on Sharea Tahrir heading toward downtown from Maydan Al Galaa, I could see the Nile stretching out across Cairo, and the giant ship-restaurants just turning on their lights.
I also saw two huge gray tanks on the Zamalek side of the bridge that resembled nothing so much as small RVs. They were blocking a street that led to the Sofitel hotel. At least we know that wealthy Zamalek won’t be experiencing anything out of the ordinary in the coming days.
On our way to a Syrian restaurant, my neighbor and I took a short cut through Tahrir Square, as I hadn’t seen it in person since before the June 30 protests. Because everyone was breaking the fast, nothing much was going on. There was a giant stage with a banner and the word ‘freedom’ written across it, and several other signs with various revolutionary messages. I immediately noticed one sign that I’d seen circulating around the internet proclaiming support for the American people, and rejecting the Obama administration. Small groups of people were scattered everywhere, and some vendors were selling flags and signs and soft drinks.
The city center seemed somewhat relaxed. Lots of people were out smoking shisha, watching mousalsalat (soap operas) and cartoons at outdoor cafes, and drinking chai. Small groups of kids had somehow gotten their hands on a stockpile of fireworks, which they kept setting off in the street.
On the way home, our taxi driver wasn’t able to answer any questions about the ongoing gas crisis except to point at a few empty gas stations and say that there was no problem anymore, which seemed like questionable logic. He then blamed his inability to talk on his bloated stomach, from having eaten and drunk too much at Iftar.
Later that night, I headed to the airport and my new taxi driver railed about the strictness of the Brotherhood and their tremendous organizational capabilities. “If they want a protest to happen, they just have to make one phone call. One,” he said, gesturing with his hands. After the protests on Friday, he told me, Inshaallah, the Ikhwan would be done with their demonstrations. Of course, they should be included in the transitional government. That’s democracy. “But,” he added, “they refused!”
As I wrap this up, it’s 12:45 pm, and the muezzin at our mosque downstairs is giving a rambling Ramadan sermon. There are less people than normal assembled on the prayer mats in the street and small side-yard below. They are all headed to the protests.