Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Powerful Message

“What is happening to the people? Now we walk around in fear. Everyone [is] angry and think they can just take what you have because it is their right,” said an Egyptian friend yesterday. On her way home from work last week, she hailed a cab and simply said “Autostrad.” She was on her way home to Helwan, but the taxi refused to take her the entire way.

He said that he must turn at the next right because if he kept going, he would have to travel for awhile before he could turn around again. She offered to pay him more money, but he refused and dropped her on the Autostrad after 8 pm. While she was standing there waiting for another cab or microbus, a dark colored Mitsubishi Lancer came with men and they attempted to grab her. She caught onto something and they were forced to drive off. When they grabbed her, they said, “We will f*** you and leave you.” She said, “I knew that they would have done that and let everyone take me. I wouldn’t last.”

I think with writing these blogs, the only people who understand the gravity of the situation are those who have lived here. There is another major problem with the above situation that many of you wouldn’t even contemplate – an Egyptian man would NEVER let a female get out on the Autostrad at night by herself. Egyptian men are proud. Women are delicate and need extra care, a sentiment that is commonplace in this society. I asked her, “Why didn’t you say something to the effect that it was too dangerous and if anything should happen to you, God will hold him responsible?” Using religious rhetoric almost always gets you farther.

 “He didn’t care. People don’t care anymore. You think that matters?” She added, “If I went to the police, they would just blame me. Say it was my fault and that the men in the car were just my ‘clients’ (insinuating she was a prostitute).”

A friend shared a blog called “Dear Seif, Mother-to-Son Letters about the Egyptian Revolution.” Rania’s blog yesterday, A Dirty Game of Jenga, One Human at a Time, highlighted the tragic events and how it’s affected her school and family. The children of recently murdered Dr. Hany Louka and Nermeen Khalil attend this school, as does a young boy who lost his brother in the incident that occurred in Port Said after the soccer match. She wrote, “A year ago today, people would screech to a stop, get out of their cars and would seat their children on top of a tank. Sometimes the soldier in the tank would carry the child and pose for a happy picture. I wonder when people look through their numerous tank pictures and video clips captured on their phones… do they wear that same smile of nostalgia on their faces?”

I’ve also wondered the same as I posted this picture numerous times of the old man shaking hands with military personnel after Mubarak left office on February 11. She noted that the term “civil disobedience” has not been used since the 1919 revolution (when Egypt and Sudan rose up against British occupation). Her blog noted that many believe that the military wants to send a powerful message to anyone who opposes them: support them or face chaos.

“Who writes the script that it’s okay to beat an elderly woman with a baton? Or to kick a woman repeatedly – sole of a shoe on bare skin – in the chest instead of covering her exposed upper body? Who writes the script that it’s okay to have no security protection in a heated soccer match and to seal shut exit doors? Who writes the script that it’s okay for a man to be killed then dismembered and burned right after he drops his wife at the airport? Or that a single mother gets shot twice in the head on her way to work at 7:00 in the morning? Who can come up with such a scenario?”

The violence is taking a toll on everyone. In my cab from a business meeting in Heliopolis last Wednesday, I got nervous looking out my window and not recognizing the route that my taxi had decided to take. Up ahead a truck was pulled over on the side of the road and the only thing I could think was, “My pepper spray isn’t working and I don’t have another weapon.” I’ve never had these feelings prior.

It saddens me to see the situation coming to such a climax, and I imagine that good, honest Egyptians must feel devastated. On Saturday (February 11 – the year anniversary of Mubark stepping down) numerous people were carjacked in the parking lot of the Citi building in New Cairo during midday. Rania said, “I say a prayer before starting the ignition – I usually do that anyway – but I say it more often every time I find a truck slowing down in front of me and another truck closing in on me from behind.”

“My mind wanders every Monday, thinking whether or not it was the right decision to allow you (her son) to stay an extra hour in school for your paper mache club. Yesterday, while driving to pick you up from school, I saw an ambulance with its blaring siren going down the same street. I kept following it with my eyes and pleading, ‘Please don’t take a left… please don’t take a left… please don’t take a left!’ It didn’t take a left. May God protect who the ambulance was going to pick up.”

She signed her letter “Love you, Your Mentally-Exhausted Mom.”


  1. This seriously shakes me to my core- this is also not the Egypt I have known and love. Be safe.

  2. Thanks for your excellent posts about the situation in Egypt. It is all being downplayed in the US. We hear very little about Eygpt anymore. I've also spent time in Egypt (not nearly as much as you) and felt the overthrow of Mubarak would bring turmoil. I'm glad to have this first hand account of the situation. Are you frightened for your own safety? What would convince you to actually leave?

    1. I can understand the US media not focusing much on the internal problems playing out in Egypt at the moment; however, if an American gets killed then you can expect to see the story as well as the background of what’s led up to it. For the 19 Americans arrested, I just heard moments ago from a contact that they will be charged for working in the country without a visa – but take that with a grain of salt as I can’t specifically confirm this. The point to that is to send the US a message, but we’ll see how far it’s carried out.

      Am I frightened? I just left a friend’s house on a Friday night at 8 pm – although in Maadi – because I can’t take taxis too late anymore. I stayed home last night because I also didn’t have a ride. I was just on the phone with a friend discussing how we were both bored, but it was too late to venture out (it’s only 9:07 pm). And anyone that tells you different is usually too busy drinking at the Ace Club (the expat club) to remotely know what’s going on around them or they’re just oblivious entirely.

      Yes, it’s getting to the point that I am preparing for my departure, but I felt that my time in Egypt was coming to an end anyway. It doesn’t help that in the past month I’ve had to say goodbye to five close friends in my inner circle – four unexpectedly. I just said goodbye to a friend on Tuesday who just returned to Egypt, only to have her company (which is a huge company) relocate her within four days because of the deteriorating situation. The murder of the Siemens executive and the UN freelancer has really caused concern. What makes me wonder is how out of all the schools in Cairo, both murders had children at the same school – I think the odds of that are astounding. Some would say it shows the increased crime, but I think there could be more to the story. Maybe that’s just the speculating journalist in me, who knows?

      I’m sad that I know my time is nearing an end even sooner than I imagined. I will definitely miss Egypt although I complain quite often, but this isn’t the Egypt that I knew. Tension on the street has reached epic proportions. I felt tension surface around April, but now you can cut it with a knife. Even going to City Stars in Nasr City seems too risky, much less trying to visit friends in Alexandria – who proposed I come stay with them since they said it wasn’t as bad there. I can’t risk trying to catch the train. Am I scared? Well, I’m not going to completely stop my life, but I do try to make it home and lock my door at 8 pm – a far cry from how I used to be.

  3. You should add scary to the list of reactions. Even Sharm which for a long time was considered "safe" has been having problems. In the resort next to mine, there have been numerous robberies and attacks on the residents. Neighbors have come home to find their places occupied by people who do not belong there. I am desperately trying to find a buyer but understandably no one wants to risk Egypt right now. I have Egyptian friends that are desperate to leave too.