Friday, September 14, 2012

Letters from Egypt: My Experience for What It’s Worth

While many of you are watching the news feeling angry at what’s happening, I want to remind you that news organizations seem to only focus on certain areas. During Egypt’s revolution, the only stories came from Tahrir Square (which the US Embassy is very near, like a five-minute walk).

I’ve avoided the news because also, during the revolution, I was dismayed and angry at what was portrayed as I felt there were other areas of focus that should have been covered for a more well-rounded perspective. There are other stories out there, but it seems like many journalists and their employers forget this. I just turned on the news for the first time and saw that a KFC in Tripoli was set ablaze with workers injured and how protestors attacked the German (setting it on fire) and British embassies in Sudan. Then the news feed froze and was quickly transitioned to the “State of the Euro.”

I will reiterate that maybe I’m not the best source at this time to discuss anti-American sentiments in Egypt because as it stands now, that hasn’t been my experience. But again you must also note that I haven’t ventured out to other areas within Cairo because the atmosphere is very unstable (although I have to also admit that my area is on alert because we do have the highest amount of Americans and expats residing). Unlike the period during the revolution when some of you either thought I was crazy or brave, that wasn’t the case at all. I know Egypt and I know Egyptians. I speak enough Arabic to get by, able to make jokes if questioned (which Egyptians love their jokes), etc. Egyptians for the most part are relatively peaceful. You’re more likely to see a bunch of them yelling giving off the impression that a physical fight is about to ensue and then turn, get in their cars and drive away. That doesn’t mean there aren’t those that can inflict harm as you can see from other stories on my blog detailing the increase in crimes (you can’t go from a 100% police state to nothing – chaos will undoubtedly result).

*QUICK UPDATE* I was just told that embassy-plated vehicles are being moved from the area.

I expect certain actions to take place in Libya, Yemen and Tunisia (and apparently, Sudan), but I did not expect things to escalate as much as it has in Egypt. An old colleague commented on my post yesterday saying how much he liked the point that I made about Arabs judging all Americans for the actions of one man and westerners judging all Arabs for the actions of a few Islamists. The reason I anticipate such actions from Libya, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen is mainly for one reason: they’re still very tribal (remember what the Libyans did to Qaddafi’s body – now that was barbaric and completely against Islam). Egypt is more evolved. Laugh all you want, but compared to those other countries, it’s true.

I do one of two things on Fridays (which is our Saturday in the Arab world): I order delivery of Eggs Benedict and orange juice from one of my favorite restaurants or I take a walk and sit at my usual cafe drinking coffee and reading. I chose the second option today and made the 10-minute walk, stopped at the kiosk to pick up cigarettes, passed the mosque during Friday prayer and sat for four hours at the café. Nowhere on my walk did I incur harassment or screams. The kiosk delivered my cigarettes and correct change. The café guys greeted me as usual with my coffee already made before I ordered. Another Egyptian whom I’d met as I sat outside that same café listening to the election results came over to me to say hi. And I sat with an old friend chatting as though nothing was wrong.

However, that friend had just come from another area within our neighborhood and discussed how the nearby mosque was screaming such animosity (her Arabic is much better than mine). Let me be clear though – that mosque has always been like this ever since I’ve lived here. My friend, once married to an Egyptian, has been here over 20 years and also admitted that this was its usual MO.

I left the café and went to buy flowers for a dinner party tonight. I was met with excitement and even when I told the shop owner in Arabic that I was cheap so don’t get too extravagant, he laughed hysterically, told me that my Arabic was very good and charged me around $5 for this arrangement. I walked home and nothing out of the usual. The only thing I heard was, “You’re beautiful” and if I didn't hear that on the regular, I would be worried.

This isn’t to say that the atmosphere is safe and that nothing is going on, but this is to remind those of you not located here that the news focuses on what it wants. And while I can give you many complaints about Egypt, I also have to tell you that not everyone is the monster that you’re seeing on TV. What’s even worse is all the hate I see spewing from other Americans. Please remember that you only make the rest of us look horrible. I don’t believe in spreading hate, nor do I justify the actions taking place right now. But when you comment on articles that contain such racist speech, you only serve to further animosities.

I know that you’re upset, hell, so am I. I can’t believe that this is the same country I moved to four years ago, it was much different then. Please be mindful of what you say because at the end of the day, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Here is a comment I lifted from the US Embassy vs Muslim Brotherhood article in which I liked the message:

A "million man march" against whom? The real film-maker (alias) Sam Basile? Then, they should march across the Atlantic to Hollywood. We can only hope devout people are not being encouraged officially by the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) to find innocent targets: the US embassy in Cairo (which has condemned the film) or any local groups. We hope calm, adult heads will prevail and prevent exactly what film-makers hoped would happen: Muslims in the region would turn to mob violence to defend the prophet and target non-Muslim targets such as Copts and Americans locally, defaming themselves further in the eyes of their audience: Western nations and non-Muslims. Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood), the whole world is watching. Now is your chance to show your honor.

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