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Yallah al-Thawra

May 19, 2011

19 May 2011 – Talat Harb, Cairo

I’ve hesitated to begin transcribing this journey, perhaps because my surroundings seem hesitant as well. To be expected, this is not the Cairo of yesteryear. But I am not sure what type of Cairo this is, and I am not sure this new Cairo knows either.

Things have surely changed. You can feel it in the streets, in the cafes, and even in the prayer. There is a sense of new found pride amongst many. Street vendors have replaced copycat artifacts and miniature busts of Nefertiti with Egyptian flags and January 25 bumper stickers. The attraction of Egypt’s past has been replaced by the revolution and hopes for a different future.

The mood is difficult to gauge. It is caught in purgatory, wedged between exhilaration over the prospect of change and a somberness that things as of now still remain the same.

As for what remains, Cairo’s streets are still marked by poverty, and I would dare say even more so than before. Young men outnumber the elders sleeping on the streets, the reason for which might not be tied to recent events but to Egypt’s dire economic situation. Cairo’s streets and air are as polluted as ever, and the traffic maintains the bumper-to-bumper status quo.

The Mukhabarat and security driven state has not yet let loose its grip, but Cairo is now patrolled by a force of a different kind. Police officers have been replaced by soldiers in uniform who have taken their place as the city’s watchful eyes. The best comparison that comes to mind may be post-Katrina New Orleans, where the National Guard replaced a tattered police force in the early months of the rebuilding process. But, as Cairo begins its own rebuilding process it is not certain how long the army will maintain its dominance.

By far the most striking difference of Cairo’s façade is the absence of foreigners, with their cameras and khaki shorts. The streets are bare of European, Asian, and non-Cairene faces. For once, Cairo is nearly purely Egyptian. It’s heaven for some, but there is no doubt that it hurts everyone. Gone with the tourists is a fundamental source of income for the state and its people. As a foreigner myself, I welcome this change only to the extent that I am no longer targeted as an outsider because no one expects me to be.

I have yet to crack the surface of this new Egypt, and I can only hope to do so in the short time allotted to me. I have not had the chance to speak with many women, but I have spoken with several men of various ages and asked them what their thoughts are of Egypt’s changing times.

There is a slight consensus, I hesitate to say complete, that it was a good thing regardless of the consequences. But I have thus far sensed an uneasiness among most as to whether or not change is imminent in a post-Mubarak Egypt.

Most that I have spoken with partook in the events in Midan al-Tahrir and all have rejoiced over Mubarak’s departure. They all claimed to have played various roles in the protests. Karim says he forsook participating in the protests in order to help the wounded in the makeshift hospitals surrounding the square. Ahmed visited the square several times, but was not there every day.

And then there is Sherif, who is proud to show off the bullet (I assume it is rubber)  lodged in his forehead. He claims that on the seconds day of protests he was the first to charge at the barrier of police protecting the Mugamma, an action that subsequently led to his injury. After he had healed, he returned day after day to Tahrir until Mubarak stepped down. “I am a survivor,” he proudly boasts.

The consensus of support for the revolution stops there, for all of those I’ve spoken to have a different opinion about who should be the next to lead Egypt. Ahmed thinks the Western-backed Mohamed ElBaradei no longer thinks like an Egyptian and is therefore not fit to be his president. He prefers Amr Moussa, but reluctantly so. Sherif desires neither, but hopes that whomever takes the helm is a reluctant president, because that means they won’t hold on to power.

All of these opinions are a fraction of what Egypt is thinking. In the street talk, across newspapers, it is evident that Egypt will be thinking for quite some time until she has made up her mind. Whatever the eventual outcome of the revolution, it won’t have come as swiftly as all would have hoped. Egypt’s affair with the Arab Spring has only just begun and will last for many seasons to come.

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