Cairo IV - Riddlin' With Da Sphinx
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This morning I woke up early, still feeling like shit. At ten there was a knock at the door. It was Oliver. He brought me cigarettes and made some coffee for us to drink on the terrace.
“The Egyptian government is saying that the foreigners are trying to instigate the protests?” he asked rhetorically.
“What?" I said. “Do they know how few of us there are?”
Just then someone called him on his international phone.
“Yea, I went to the protests yesterday. It was against my principles. I’m not going to go again. It’s taking away from the Egyptian people,” he said while avoiding eye contact.
When he hung up I said, “You know, I started reading The Wretched of the Earth. It's really good.”
He said nothing and then changed the subject: “The British flights left today. My roommates are going back to Switzerland tomorrow.”
“Seriously, stay here,” I said. “Or leave, if you want to. It’s difficult for us too. We have these same thoughts, but we also have each other. Don’t shut yourself in your apartment alone, watching the news. It’s not healthy.”
A few moments later T joined us outside and I relayed what Oliver just shared with me about the foreigners inciting the riots. “What? But no one will believe that,” she said. “The Egyptian people know.”
“If one Egyptian yesterday asked me to leave yesterday, I would respect that and leave,” I said. “But no one did.”
We discussed this for a while—the parallels with Iran and the symbolic implications of it. Oliver obviously didn’t like our discourse and took off. We both shrugged and went back to our coffee. When everyone woke up we discovered that the internet was back up and our shower seemed to be working again too.
“We should go get food,” L said. It was then that I had a serious debate in my mind. Of course, food is a basic necessity, but yesterday I started to wonder if the internet had also become a basic necessity in these times.
“No, I think that Internet is on the same level as a shower maybe,” T said. I agreed. We spent the morning buying food. I started to feel ill at some point, probably because my sugar levels were very low. When we got back, I had to choose between using the internet immediately or taking a shower. I took a shower, ate some food, and felt better.
T played video from Al Jazeera on her computer. It was cutting out, but we could make out that there were clashes going on in Tahrir. Everyone went crazy.
“I’m not going,” Merc said immediately.
“I’m going,” L said.
T and I looked at each other nervously. “OK, who is clashing?" I asked. "What can we possibly do? Maybe we should have more information first.”
“I’m not medically qualified!” T said.
“We didn’t have information yesterday,” L said. “We knew people were gathering in Tahrir, but we didn’t know what we were getting into," he said looking at me.
“But what can we do?” I said. “If I’m going to fight, I want to know exactly who I’m fighting. We don’t want to make things worse by being there.”
“What do you think, L?” I asked. “You’re the Egyptian here.”
“I’m afraid,” he said.
“I just think that if we’re going to support these people, we have to support them during the peaceful protests as well as the violent,” L started.
“You had me at hello,” I said.
The Middle East in general and especially the situation in Cairo reminds me of the scene in The Neverending Story where Atreyu must seek advice from the Sphinx in order to discover a way to combat the Nothing and this old guy with no teeth tries to convince him that the Sphinx is too dangerous. “Honest men, find they are really liars. Brave men find that they are really cowards.” All of which is no use because Atreyu is already running toward the Sphinx despite the old man’s shouting. "Only those who know their true worth shall pass!”
We left for Tahrir 20 minutes later, and when we got there the streets were totally barren. The few remaining people stared at us in disbelief, probably wondering what the fuck these foreigners were doing. Crossing the bridge, I talked to Muhammad, completely unaware that today was his birthday.
"You know, when we get there," I said to him. "You can leave us. We all understand."
"Oh, I know. I'm totally going to," he replied.
We went in with absolutely no idea what to expect. We knew there were pro-Mubarak supporters everywhere, but they were mixed in with the anti-Mubarak supporters and there was no way for us to tell them apart. A girl passed us with a sign in Arabic. Instinctually, I gave her a thumbs up, like I had been doing for days. When she passed I heard her say "Go Mubarak." Oh shit! I thought to myself.
As we approached downtown we could see the huge crowd and the army checking IDs. Muhammad separated himself from us immediately. I was shoved and pushed back to the bridge. I could see L still trying to press on. There were a lot of shouts.
"Go home! We don't want you here!" they said over and over.
I screamed to L: "We have to leave!" The guys who pushed me to the bridge formed a human shield around me.
"My friends!" I protested.
"Don't worry, we'll get them," they said.
T called and said she was waiting on the bridge. She'd been slapped a couple times and L had his hair pulled. Our 19-year-old Egyptian buddy from yesterday almost got his ass kicked just for being in our presence.
"Don't worry, I still like you guys," he said.
Muhammad somehow found us near the bridge. "Fucking foreigners," he said and grinned. "Don't worry, I couldn't get in either. They're not letting anyone in, but especially not you guys."
On the way home we felt like huge assholes. The message was pretty clear: They didn't want us there and the situation was far more complicated than we could comprehend. It's important to note that what happened to us at the bridge is probably one billion times less hostile than what's happening to the anti-Mubarak supporters protesting in Cairo. I don't even know what to say about the horrible things I've witnessed. It's disgusting. I've heard that the Egyptian government is paying the pro-Mabarak protestors to wreak havoc, which amounts to state-sponsored terrorism against the country's own citizens. The streets are more tense than before, and the fact that they're now targeting foreigners has us all worried.
Also on the Egyptian situation: