Amid the violence and the curfew; Surviving Egypt


"I've watched all the new, AND old, movies, several times" ... "And I think I don't need to count the floor's tiles for the 69th time"

“I’ve watched all the new, AND old, movies, several times” … “And I think I don’t need to count the floor’s tiles for the 69th time”

The number-one question that bombarded me from every foreigner who contacted me since the violence which followed the dispersal of the pro-Mohamed Morsi sit-ins was always:

“What’s happening on the streets of Egypt now?” or “How is it like living in Egypt now?” or “How is it like to be on Egypt’s streets now?”

Some even have gone as far as ask me; “How is your family taking all that’s happening in Egypt now?”

Obviously, other than the death toll, the assailants and the calls for reconciliation, everybody, outside Egypt, is mostly curious about Egyptian’s day-to-day activities in light of what’s happening.

And I don’t blame them.

Ever since I started reading about wars, especially civil wars, my greatest challenge was to visualise the daily lifestyle of people living in the backdrop of such conflicts. Not that what’s happening in Egypt is a civil war … yet. But I think it’s safe to say it’s the closest thing to a civil war we’ve experienced in Egypt’s modern history.

While at first I felt so terribly sorry for those individual citizens who had to endure residence in a country torn with strife, by time I began to realise it can’t be too bad. Now I know it isn’t.

But it wasn’t always like that.

On 28 January, 2011, almost all Egyptians, who weren’t out protesting, locked themselves inside their homes, huddled in front of their television screens to watch the news, and scared out of their minds. Scared of the looting, scared of the fire taking over the capital, scared of the sound of gunshots audible through their thin windows; Egyptians, most of them, spent 15 days of terror until Hosni Mubarak gave up power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) on 11 February.

Since that day and for at least a year, things never really peaked again, yet, the ghost of that terror and tragedy was always there. Every single month until perhaps the next year, some tragic incident of some sort would take place, the people would get scared, and the shadow of being trapped in our homes to be sheltered against the outside fright would come back to haunt us.

I remember the day the Maspero “massacre” took place; 9 October 2011. A protest for Copts’ rights outside the Maspero building in Cairo suddenly turned violent after army forces violently attacked protesters with gunshots, run a few over by Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and killed dozens.

I was out attending a training with friends that night. As soon as we heard the news, panic began to take over us as we wondered if the streets would be safe for us to go back home. It was a horrendous night. Yet, the next morning, I woke up to a new scene; it was all gone. People were naturally out on the streets, tending to their daily businesses without the least fear in the world. The shadow of entrapment was slowly losing its clamour.

This new trend became more obvious than ever during the black week of the Mohamed Mahmoud Clashes (19 – 24 November, 2011). That week coincided with my midterm exams’ week; I went to my exams in the morning, visited Tahrir square in the evenings and tried to steal some time to study in between. There wasn’t any fear or temptation to cave inside our houses, but most of us were overcome with grief. During that week, I cried for my country like never before, or after.

As time went by, more tragedies arrived, but the peoples’ skin immensely thickened. Up until the clashes between pro-Morsi and anti-Morsi demonstrations in December 2012, strife on the streets still prevented me from arranging outings with friends. Not due to fear of leaving my house, but due to agony regarding the strife.

Since the 25 January 2013 clashes between anti-Morsi protesters and security forces, even that agony was gone. The week after 25 January witnessed clashes, deaths and road blockages almost every single day. It didn’t stop me from going to work or from enjoying my time elsewhere.

A friend of mine lived in Nasr City, Cairo, yet still managed to come to work in Dokki, Giza every single day despite the blockage of the 6 October bridge – which connects Giza to Cairo – also every singly evening. Once done with work, he would simply check Bey2ollak (a mobile app which updates its users with traffic news), usually the bridge would turn out to be blocked. He would go out with friends in the neighbourhood until nearly midnight, when the bridge would be working again.

Even after Morsi’s ouster on 3 July, when the two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo (Rabaa Al-Adaweya) and Giza (Al-Nahda) blocked several roads and paralysed traffic around them, Egyptians still managed to find their way around the traffic and go to their work, go out and have fun.

On 14 August, I woke up to news of battlefields nationwide. Watching an Egyptian news channel portraying the “terrorism” of pro-Morsi supporters against the security forces during the dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in, my mother sincerely begged me not to go to work that day. Heedless to her pleas, I got into my car and off I drove, thinking how so much has changed during the past two and a half years.

Even with the nighttime curfew enforced and the month-long state of emergency announced, even with blood flooding the streets and violence reigning over the country, Egyptians’ desensitisation clearly peaked during the past week.

We spend the few morning hours we have roaming around our cities, trying to get our errands and businesses over with before the dusk falls. We eat out, meet up, go shopping, and those of us trapped in the coastal cities spend their mornings out on the beach and their nights out clubbing, having fun, or doing whatever they’re allowed to do within their vicinity and outside the grip of the vicious curfew.

Driving through the Gamaet Al-Dowal street and near Al-Batal Street in Mohandessin, Giza, yesterday, I couldn’t believe this is the same street where a battle between Morsi supporters and security forces left around 39 killed only a week ago. All that’s left of the battlefield are the few barbed wires protruding outside the island in the middle of the street. At the other side of the barbed wires, Egyptian families sit in the Island, enjoying the sun and getting a breath of fresh air.

The first couple of days of the curfew almost had no toll on me whatsoever. Apart from the rare bouts of conscience awakenings when reporting on all the violence and killings, I spent all my off-duty hours watching lame television shows, following up with the new movies I haven’t watched before, and chatting with friends about immigration plans.

Perhaps the first shock came when, on Friday, we were unable to order take-out due to the curfew, which left all decent restaurants incapable of delivering us food. Never mind take-out, my friends and I decided we have all the time in the world to cook whatever it is we craved.

Enter the kitchen phase; a phase any Egyptian enduring the curfew has to go through. Be it a male or a female, a kitchen lover or a newbie, we all landed there somehow. And we all finished up the food in front of the television screen; couch potato style, and amid the sound of gunshots and explosions in the backdrop, usually coming from our windows.

Two more days and the kitchen started lagging behind when it came to feeding our cravings. We don’t only go out to marvel at the good food, we mainly do it to enjoy each other’s company, and that has become out of the question when we all have to be tucked at home by 7 pm.

The newspaper business seemed exceptionally insane. Our flexible 6 pm deadline in the newsroom was suddenly moved to 3 pm. By 5 pm, the entire newspaper is running around, freaking out about the unfinished stories, and rushing the editors to get their pages over with regardless, or else we won’t make it for print. It’s not the best work atmosphere in the world, and with such haste, the chance of error is definitely on the rise.

Uhmmm … midweek into the curfew, things aren’t looking so good.

Bit by bit, the tension starts getting its toll on us. I personally find myself fighting with my family, my friends and even perfect strangers out on the streets. Starting 5 pm, the streets are crazy; the traffic is terrible, with everyone trying to drive at full speed to get to their homes before the curfew. I was a millisecond away from obnoxiously crashing my car into another vehicle at least once during the week.

We try to organise slumber parties to keep ourselves busy, since late night hang-outs have now become out of the question. The night starts with fun on the rise, yet bit by bit, we realise the night is LOOONG and there’s only so much we can do to keep ourselves engaged.

And through it all, do we constantly cry over what has become of Egypt? Do we crouch at home in fear of the “violence” flooding the streets? Do we find it dangerous to be in the country?

No; as long as you’re neither personally invested in the Muslim Brotherhood’s cause nor in the cause of the military-backed regime, like myself, you couldn’t care less about the battles out on the streets.

Because by now we all know; in Egypt, if the violence doesn’t kill you, the boredom most definitely will.

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