Sunday, November 25, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Expat Living amid Turmoil

I had an Israeli friend during my time in NYC who would tell of her life during Gaza flare-ups which was a far different take than what TV portrayed. She discussed getting released from school early, but congregating on rooftops spending time with friends and family while watching missiles pass overhead. I remember her saying, “It really wasn’t as scary as everyone made it out to sound, at least not in my location.”

I can now completely understand.

Hearing of Morsi’s latest decree that gives him absolute control over the executive, legislative and judicial branches was only surprising for one reason: announcing it so soon after taking office. And it’s not shocking to see people taking to the streets. And all the while many of you are seeing things unfold from the only vantage point media seems to provide, Tahrir Square and other parts in Alexandria, it’s important to understand that incidents are widely isolated.

What the media has you believe we're all doing. Source: Associated Press
But really, most of us are just carrying on as usual.
I was watching the news with friends on Friday and we started laughing. The TV makes everything look so horrible yet there we were so non-chalantly enjoying pointless conversations over our respective glasses of wine and beer. And really at this point, the only situation I might blink at twice would be a war between Egypt and Israel. Otherwise, it’s the same rock throwing contest just on a different day.

That being said, there are reports that Tuesday could actually see numbers increase to those 2011 revolution levels – which would be the first time for a protest to garner such figures since the revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) members and supporters will convene in Abdeen Square, attempting to thwart the opposition efforts of claiming another “Liberation Square” victory. Those against the MB will most probably convene in Tahrir, analyze their numbers and then venture to Abdeen. And this is where things could get interesting.

The military is not solely on Morsi’s side, but it has yet to be seen as to what the military does support. So it is unknown if the military will step in or not. The police have been battered for nearly two years and are unable to maintain any sort of control. And if Morsi wishes to implement his plan to establish a constitution in two months by taking authoritarian control, he will need an iron fist to quell the opposition – which seems beyond his grasps. The only thing that he does have is the MB which could play into his favor, but if they react in a hostile way, the international community will lambast the group.

For those of you unaware, the reason it seems like the MB is the majority of Egypt (which is not entirely true) is for simple tactics like all standing together as one unit which bypassed the liberals during elections. Each MB member receives a message, usually in form of mobile SMS or text, to report to a specific area. Often times, members may not even know why they are going, but they do as told (of course, this time everyone knows why they are going) because it is their Godly duty. The MB will probably outnumber the opposition because many are unsure of justifications to stand up against the latest decree (which would have to be another blog for another time).

So for any of you that are not living in Egypt, but have friends/family or are just curious about those of us that do reside here: don’t worry. It’s business-as-usual, at least for right now.

And for those of you that weren’t present during the revolution and are thinking of venturing into these areas, here’s a piece of advice from someone who did attend those beginning protests:

Yes, I went to Tahrir on January 25, 28 and February 11, 2011. It was a different time, and I’d lived here for awhile. Long enough to speak enough Arabic to get me around, enough Arabic jokes to get me past questioning and long enough to understand the culture/situation. It was a different time and while I’m not saying it was right or wrong, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But the situations that take place in the vicinity are different nowadays.

Previously everyone was united in their anger over Mubarak, but now there are varying feelings toward the situation which always results in turmoil. There is essentially no security presence as the police are too fearful to do much and the military’s stance, if available, is uncertain. For the 20-somethings in school here, remember that this is not your country and ultimately not your fight. Your ill-conceived actions (remember the three Americans who were arrested for throwing Molotov cocktails) should not take up valuable embassy time, essentially using tax dollars, to get you released from custody.

For aspiring journalists, there are plenty of stories outside of these areas. Look into reactions of your everyday taxi drivers, see how people in other areas are coping with the increase in food and fuel prices, monitor businesses and their economic strife, etc. There are 20 different angles for a story and there are stories that aren’t in Tahrir or Abdeen. At the end of the day if something happens to you, no one will ever know about the story you were pursuing. And chances are, that story was regurgitated 1,000 times over. Originality is never out of style.

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