Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Day of Long Marches

A thoughtful protester waves a flag exemplifying the hope and worries of us all
I had a lot of reasons to move to Egypt and a lot of reasons to stay here after my husband died. One quite significant reason was the sunshine. I'm one of those solar powered people who do infinitely better when there is bright sunlight, a commodity that is rarely in short supply here. It is mirrored in the smiles of the people of Egypt and just seeps into your soul. But in the days leading up to January 25, sunlight of almost any sort was in short supply. Rainclouds were blowing in from the north coast and temperatures (balmy by Canadian standards)were dipping into fleece jacket levels and people were huddling around space heaters shivering. The internal temperatures were not much better.

Everyone I knew was wondering what lay ahead for Egypt. The parliament was being sworn in, a mass of bearded Islamic mn who were not really reassuring most of my very secular friends. I felt a bit more comfortable having had conversations with my staff out here in the villages about the voting. When I asked them what they were looking for in voting, they told me they would vote for the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists, and the liberal coalition....what an unlikely menu! My staff are not exactly a bunch of religious fanatics and the addition of the Kotla, the liberal coalition, seemed really intriguing so I asked for the rationale. Oh, it had nothing to do with religion, they told me, but was all about finding people to sit in parliament who were definitely NOT part of the old power machine. But did they worry about strange strict policies that could affect tourism...the base of the living that they make with me. Oh no, they reassured me, and if the new parliament didn't do right by Egypt, now they knew they could get rid of them and find people who would. I suspect that this logic had a lot to do with the election results, but many people who worry about the Islamic State of Egypt are still very concerned.

An Islamic protester who had been chanting against the military

The military did an excellent job of telling everyone that on January 25 the "thugs" (aka, protesters) would run riot throughout Egypt (well, mostly Cairo but as far as they are concerned that is Egypt) so on the 24th there were lines in banks, people stocking up on food supplies, worries about ATM's not functioning...general panic mode in many neighbourhoods. I'd arranged things so that I had no pressing engagements, and I'd promised the offspring as usual to stay at the farm like a good mom. My knees aren't so good for a lot of walking and, should anything get weird, my staff and animals really need me here. The 18 days last year were a round of neighbours helping each other out with animal feed while trucks weren't coming through, loaning money for groceries, and so on. Farms simply don't work without farmers.

I wasn't expecting the Appocalypse but I told Mohamed Said to stay home with his family in Dar el Salam so that he wouldn't be worried all day. Wednesday came with sunshine and cool breezes. Beautiful. Facebook was full of information about the plans for the day. Probably there had been a lot out in Arabic, but much to my sadness, I'm still illiterate in Arabic so I had to wait for English posts. The list of marches setting out to Tahrir was impressive. It was a holiday but it was a Wednesday, and everyone was somewhat anxious. There had been rumours on Twitter of air shows and gift coupons from the military, things that many felt cheapened and subverted the nature of the day. The first day of protests last year had been against police brutality, something that everyone had seen plenty of for the past year. While many Egyptians seem to feel that progress has been made towards a democratic state, many others wonder if any progress at all has been made and if it is going to be made. I set myself up with Twitter to follow my friends who were marching throughout Egypt and watched the day unfold in wonder.
The march in Giza
Most of the people I follow are activists and were not in a celebratory mood, other than perhaps to celebrate that they were still there and available to protest the lack of progress towards democracy. I'm sure that there were people celebrating our unfinished revolution as if it were a fait accompli, but I didn't hear from them. And like almost everyone, I was utterly blown away by the magnificent abundance of people in the streets reminding the military that they had not fulfilled their promises. By about 11 am I was reading that Tahrir was full to bursting with people who had simply gone straight there. Apparently the early morning mood in the square was more celebratory, probaby reassuring the military who wanted that scenario.
One of the amazingly long flags

But the marches started about noon and wound through all parts of Cairo, even coming all the way from Nasr City and Heliopolis and Maadi. Given Cairo traffic, it's probably faster to walk from these places to Tahrir anymore than it is to drive, but this is still not a small walk. By midafternoon, people were wondering what would happen to everyone who was marching to Tahrir. Where could they fit thousands more? A Google Map that appeared on the net today gives a good idea of the amount of people on the streets and where they all were. A friend of mine who joined a march from Maadi ended up walking to Tahrir and then turning around and walking back by a different route. A lot of the marches never did land in Tahrir but ambulated throughout the city chanting and carrying signs. Egypt was full of some very tired citizens at he end of the day. And the army's predictions of chaos? Nowhere to be seen. This morning a few protesters are still occupying Tahrir. January 25th is over and the combined holidays of Police Day and Revolution day (politics DO make for strange bedfellows!) are finished for another year, but I believe that we have another 18 days of interesting activity to look forward to. The Powers That Be were, I'm sure, hoping for a one day event but somehow I kind of doubt that they will get their wish.

The beautiful photos I've used in this post are courtesy of Mostafa el Sheshtawy who can be found on Flickr as msheshtawy.