Cleaning up after some unfinished business in Tahrir Square. October 23, 2012 (photo: Vincent Zandri)
You say you want a revolution...In Egypt.
Depends upon who you talk to.
The "Arab Spring" has come and gone, but I have a feeling that an Arab Winter has just begun. From what I'm told from those Egyptian citizens who know best, conditions in the country don't seem to be getting better. In fact, they just might be getting worse than they were prior to the ousting of, let's call it, the old regime. Often there is no electricity and even more often, no water. The trains don't run on time. The Nile cruises that once served as the foundation of the western Disney-like tourism industry have all but run aground. There's a gas shortage...Yes, a gas shortage in the Middle East. So bad the vans and cars can line up, one behind the other, for nearly a mile. That is, unless you're carting a precious tourist (or writer) around, in which case you are allowed to proceed to the front of the line.
Then there's the tension in the air. A tension so palpable you can feel it like the oily damp that coats your skin in the center of an overheated, overcrowded city like Cairo. Today...right now...right this minute, there is peace. But tomorrow might be a different story altogether. Whatever the case, I don't dare tell anyone in the street I'm an American. Better to tell them I'm from Canada. Only last month, being an American in Cairo would have placed you in serious danger while the American consulate was attacked by marauding revolutionaries taking their cue from the deadly consulate attacks in Benghazi, Libya.
Ask the poor black-robed woman picking through the piles of garbage inside a dump that contains a fetid green lake if the revolution has been a good thing in her life, and she might tell you "Yes. My family can eat now. Most of the time."
A new mural on a Brotherhood wall in Luxor: Who wants to become a martyr today? (photo: Vincent Zandri)
But then, ask the shop-keeper who runs three stores that not so long ago supported his entire family on the sales from the tourists who consistently and constantly bought his goods, and he will say, "The revolution has taken away my living." He will also tell you that the horse and donkey shit that piles up in the streets no longer gets cleaned up. He'll tell you there is a movement amongst the Brotherhood to ban all alcohol from the country. That's the kind of move that will not sit well with the few British ex-patriots who are still toughing it out here. It also won't sit well with the few tourists still braving the constant rumors about Egypt being a dangerous place. And I suppose it still poses the possibility of being dangerous. Perhaps, very dangerous. In the same way a beehive can be dangerous if you decide to hit it with spray from the garden hose.
Everywhere you go you will finds signs of the Muslim Brotherhood. A mural depicting a martyred soldier here or a civilian who has given his life to Allah all for the cause of political change. The Brotherhood is very organized with its own campuses and even pleasant green, neon lit signage out front facing the street. The signage serves to divert your eyes from the Brotherhood soldiers bearing AK's locked and loaded with banana clips. Clips that are doubled-up for twice the fire power with either duct tape or strips of colorful cloth. You don't double up your clips unless you plan on using them.
Still life goes on.
In Cairo, the traffic piles up and bottlenecks just like it does in good times and in bad. The smog blocks the view of the pyramids in Giza. Word up is that even Noam Chomsky is in town to speak to the students at the American University located just a few meters away from the American consulate that was attacked last month on September 11th.
Then there are the children. The kids. The kids go to school and pray on Fridays in the many mosques. The kids just want to eat and smile and have fun, just like all kids the world over. Revolution means nothing to them. On the surface anyway. But life means everything. They smile at me when I ask them if I can take their picture. Sometimes they touch my arm. Sometimes they follow me around. Always they are smiling. Their ignorance is bliss, in every benign sense of the word. They are the lucky ones in the midst of revolution. But they are also its inevitable victims.
This revolution isn't done. It's still unfinished business.