As I write, Egypt is on the brink of another change. The country has been on hold for several days now. Sunday 30th June is the one year anniversary of the election of a deeply unpopular President. Big demonstrations are planned, gas masks bought, medications stocked up on, ATMs are running dry as are the gas stations, and people are stocking up on food. In downtown Cairo, the military has already moved to secure Media City and Parliament. It's also trying to secure Sinai from what are believed to be Hamas and Jihadi agitators. More check points may be seen in Sinai soon and perhaps on the ring roads of major cities. Wednesday and Thursday are going to be just as crucial as Sunday. The words 'military coup' are on everyone's lips - and there are many who will welcome it. "Uniforms and tanks bring security," one friend said, eyeing the empty space where his car was once parked before being driven away by a gang of young boys.
My friends and family from home are ringing me to get the hell out, and as usual ask me, 'What are you doing in that dreadful place (Egypt) anyway?"
Good question, and I ask myself it several times a day. Here's an attempt at an answer.
It's not for the pyramids, the ancient ruins, the food, the Nile etc.....It's for the Egyptian people themselves. They have been facing great hardship for two years now and it's getting worse. Every day living is becoming impossible. There are power cuts, which in this heat (often hitting the 40s) is devastating. Babies die, the elderly dehydrate. There are horrendous queues for gas, especially at the moment, and while tempers flare, people are generally patient and can be heard cracking jokes, usually against the government. The price of food has shot up, people with jobs are fearful they will lose them and those without, know it's unlikely they will ever find one. Those with businesses don't know how long they will run in this economic climate, not to mention the power cuts lowering productivity.
Egyptians are tired, depressed and yet they never lose hope. They continue to protest against injustices; they have confronted their Mickey Mouse President so many times that he has often been forced to rescind. Politics here are dynamic, chewed over in cafes, argued about in front of the telly, in the streets, on social networks. Egypt is number one in the world for protests. This takes a great deal of energy, will and courage. Everyone has an opinion, and is no longer afraid to voice it. There is a political vitality in Egypt that we have lost in the West. Young people have organised themselves into organisations that want to bring change from the grass roots up - the environment, womens' rights, breaking the hierarchical mould, mediation, education, sex education, the arts...you name it, they are working to change it. They have the vision their politicians don't and it is where hope lies. Seeing this energy at work is an inspiration but is rarely reported on in the West.
Bassem Yousef is a funny guy - a very popular TV satirist - who began his media life in his laundry room during the 25/11 Revolution. But he merely reflects the Egyptian ability to make a joke of everything, even themselves. (Much like the British). If I had a laughter gauge, I would say I have laughed more often and louder in Egypt, than in any other country I have been to. I cry too. I work and live with Egyptians who face an uncertain future. Their destiny, of course, lies with the destiny of their country, and no one knows where this boat is sailing. A dream has been crushed, and they are now glimpsing it again. These days Egyptians are particularly anxious, fearful and edgy. It is hard to be a witness to this and not be able to do anything to help. But it is much worse for them. Many Egyptians know they might not come back from the streets on Sunday and worry for their friends. They are literally viced between the military and the Islamists. An ineffective opposition has left them stranded.
After speaking to activist friends and saying goodbye to them I wonder if I will see them again after Sunday. But music is still played; every concert fuelled with heady emotions that only music can release. The arts flourish, in a way, I've been told, it didnt before. City walls are alive with protest. In the past two weeks, three grown men have sat down with me on different occassions and just cried for their country. Egyptians know their country is a benchmark for the Middle East, and I believe their genes still carry a memory of ancient glory from achievement. They desperately want to be proud of their country, but for a long time now have felt only shame. Many Egyptian (Muslims) rally to protect Christians during attacks on them by Islamists, many men support women in their work against sexual harassment and rape, the recent lynching of four Shias has horrified everyone, except the government.
I'm not romanticising. It's not perfect here: human rights abuses, sexual repression, religious oppression, FGM, sex trafficking, lack of womens rights, a growing sectarianism etc etc. And...... Egyptians can drive you nuts sometimes!!!! As a foreigner I can only be a voyeur - peeping through a tiny keyhole at history being made. It's a privilege because of the courage, persistence and humour of the Egyptians. One day they will be captain of their own ship.