Winds of Unrest

wallSeptember 19, 2013 (I wrote this a few weeks ago, finally got around to posting):

When I opened my heavy green balcony shutters this morning to let in the light, I  noticed that the hot, dry air that is a mix of pollution and Egypt’s summer heat had lifted a bit. The wind was stirring the trees and agitating the neighborhood stray dogs. I hoped (sort of hopelessly) that this meant a change in the weather was coming.

The political atmosphere has been calm here for the past few weeks – if you can call random arrests of Muslim Brotherhood members, political dissidents and journalists, an escalated assault on armed gunmen in the Sinai, an assassination attempt on the interior minister, several small protests and the detainment and consequent killing of a spy bird calm – but it goes without saying that there is much simmering below the surface.

Our curfew has been lifted so that it now begins at 12 pm and ends at 6 am on most nights, except for Fridays, notorious for protests; then we’re back to the familiar 7 pm curfew. I’ve started my classes again at the American University in Cairo campus in Zamalek and so have barely noticed the change in curfew. Work takes up almost every spare second.

That being said, it’s not difficult to notice that we still live in a city that feels for all the world like it is under military occupation. I was downtown with some friends this weekend in an area called Boursa, where hundreds of people sat outside in a maze of colorful plastic chairs, smoking cigarettes and shisha, drinking hot sweet tea and juice, playing on their phones and laughing hysterically at something their friend just said.  We joined in and took over a few tables and accepted a ladies’ offer of a handful of peanuts for a few guinea, an offer my husband and I would come to regret later when our stomachs fiercely rebelled.

While winding our way through the maze of people to another part of downtown, we stumbled across a tank situated in the front end of a square. I had the uncanny feeling of being on the set of a play, because inside the tank, one man sat manning a gigantic gun and staring, unblinking, at the people milling about, buying soft drinks and laughing.  Another soldier in fatigues stood nearby, talking and joking with passersby. The tank-man’s face was completely blank. I kept walking and we eventually passed the square filled with laughing people and a tank, but I looked back a few times.  The solider was still frozen at the helm of his gun, staring into nothingness.

In all honesty, I’m not sure how to confront the fact that the country is under military rule in everything but name these days. It’s an uncomfortable reality that everyone seems to be embracing as best they can, with a few exceptions. Twenty more people were arrested today for attempting to protest at metro stops. I continue to go to classes, watch the tanks warily, and return home before curfew.

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