Saturday, December 31, 2011

What a Difference a Year Has Made

It's the last day of 2011 and I honestly can't say that I'm sorry to see this year go. Last year at this time we were looking forward to a winter of visitors who would be coming to see Egypt and ride with us to get to know the countryside. The weight of the moribund political system here was a familiar didn't talk politics, it was easier not to think about them, we just got on with our lives. As we moved into January, there was, however, an odd sense in the air. There were the protests over Khaled Said's murder, very unusual and moving protests with thousands of people lining the river and ocean walkways dressed in black and speaking to no one. Something was happening and none of us really knew what, but given the stagnant quality of life in Egypt, everyone was more curious than fearful. When the protests were announced for Jan 25 last year, I had a feeling that they were likely to be something more than normal. I took a friend from our area into town for supplies on January 24, and we basically stocked up on necessities like rice, sugar, tea, Cheetos, know what I mean. We ran into another friend in the grocery store who said that she'd been thinking of taking some visitors to the Egyptian Museum the next day and I told her that I couldn't really justify my feeling, but I thought maybe that the next day was not going to be the best day for a downtown trip and that they might want to keep an eye on the news. We are still laughing over the warning, but she and her family are being moved back to the US soon as her husband's company is downsizing in Egypt.

Like virtually everyone else in Egypt I was totally blown away by the events of January 25 and the following three weeks. We stayed on the farm glued to Jazeera English, CNN and BBCWorld. Time went into a strange form with calls checking in with my kids in New York twice a day when the phones were working, and manic rage when the internet and phones were cut here. Fear and anxiety for young (and old) friends in Tahrir and other protests in Egypt became the overwhelming emotions as story after story of the horrors being inflicted on prisoners, citizens, and protesters flowed in. After a while, the horrible became disturbingly normal. People I knew from internet connections were arrested and beaten, friends of friends were shot by snipers, and one of my closest young friends was attacked and nearly killed by a mob of thugs near Kasr el Aini hospital when she went to give blood. The local neighbourhood watch committees filled us with pride at the willingness of the Egyptians to care for themselves came to the fore, since it was pretty obviously that the part of our government that was supposed to be a source of order was in fact a source of disorder. I'm old enough to remember where I was when John Kennedy was killed, when the Berlin Wall was built and when it fell, what I was doing on the morning of the Cuban missile crisis, to have gone to classes in university through clouds of tear gas...I've seen plenty of excitement, thank you, in my life, but nothing ever came close to those three weeks.

Like many in Egypt, we wept with delight on February 11 when Mubarak stepped down, thinking also like everyone else that this would mean some real changes. On February 12 we drove down to Beni Suef to buy some new goats for our herd, a maie Google and two females, Twitter and Horreya. And then we began watching events unfold. Oh my, what a year. What disappointment. We did have a few brave visitors who came to see a post-revolutionary Egypt, and most of them were fascinated and delighted. But as summer came on and events became more complicated and less visitor-friendly, fewer and fewer people came to visit Egypt.

This fall has been a time of watching elections, protests, strange responses to protests, and much worry about the future of our country as it isn't clear that the military really have any intentions to follow the work of Jan/Feb to its conclusions. Tonight I understand that a prayer/vigil is planned for Tahrir to commemorate the martyrs of the struggle. Hopefully, it will be peaceful. I'm hoping for an improvement after the elections, but the signs are not so brilliant. We may have another interesting January to find our way through. Guess maybe it's time to stock up on Cheetos.

copyright 2011 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani