Opening a Can of Anacondas

Dear Seif,

Seems like there’s no end to the supply of worms coming out of the can of Freedom we’ve opened back in Jan. 25, 2011. I prayed that our first-ever elected president would be what the people of Egypt needed – especially the neglected poor. A year later, I find myself participating in a protest demanding that he call for early elections or step down. You know that I’m not into participating in protests AT ALL. That’s something your dad would do; not me. I’m the one who would sit on top of you and Lara and keep you safe (and smothered) beneath me like little chicks. The need to participate started brewing for me back in December 2012 upon our visit to Egypt.

Five months is not a significant time frame for things to truly change about a whole country. That’s how long we were away from Egypt before returning for a visit. Many people told me that I would see Egypt through new eyes after living abroad – but my old eyes were still on, and they noticed a palpable difference in the country. What I clearly noticed was that there was a strong sense of hopelessness amongst my family and friends; as if they carried a wet blanket and the attitude that came with it wherever they went. Not a single one of them was satisfied with the way things were going in Egypt. Most said the same thing: “This doesn’t feel like my country anymore.” At first, I didn’t understand what they meant – but then it began to arise in the small details of day to day life.

Not owning a car anymore, I wanted to walk a short distance to the mall. My husband refused; so did my parents. They told me it wasn’t safe to walk alone even in broad daylight. People were regularly mugged or harassed; at times, raped. So one of my friends offered to pick me up so we could go together. Since reaching my parents’ home was a bit complicated, I decided to meet her at the gate of the compound. The walk within the safe confines of the compound felt very different. Even though I wore a long-sleeved shirt and loose jeans, all the workers and gardeners I passed on my way to the gate basically stopped what they were doing and tracked me with their eyes. I thought I might have been a bit paranoid, so I looked at each of them straight in the eyes – yup, they were looking. To be stared at is not a new thing in Egypt; it’s a daily occurrence. But what I found to be different was that when I stared back, they did not quickly look away like men usually do when caught staring. They continued to stare me down, virtually undressing me with their eyes, and doing it quite defiantly. It felt gross. I reached the gate and stood at the curb so that my friend could see me from the street. The three cars that passed by the gate slowed down to a crawl; each driver cranked his head out the window and ogled me. If the men behind the wheel were operating a cab, I would understand. But these were middle-aged men in private cars. At one of them, I said in frustrated anger, “Fee eh?!?” (“What?!?”). Were they staring because I was now a rare breed? A woman who was neither veiled nor wearing the niqab? But even veiled women get stared at and harassed. Harassment was most often in the form of a word or two thrown from a distance. But that protective distance that men usually keep, even when verbally harassing, seems to be broken. The unshifting, unblinking, defiantly lingering eyes penetrate the distance; it left me with the unsettling feeling that anything can happen – and that they can now get away with it. Since this happened on several occasions, I restricted the outings that didn’t include Waleed with me.

When we came back for another visit in May 2013, the feeling of hopelessness and despair multiplied. A domino effect of one negative happening tipped over another misfortune which in turn tipped over yet another disaster. Egypt turned into one big velcro attracting multiple calamities and all I could do was sit and watch it all happen. Watch how after a visit from our president, Ethiopia declared that they would go ahead with their plans to divert part of the Nile and continue with their plans to build a dam. Egyptians live on only 5 to 6% of Egyptian land; that 5 – 6% is right along the Nile river which is the main vein sustaining us. I never had to worry that our supply would ever be tampered with. Even though Ethiopia still has a while before it builds and completes the dam, lack of water became a problem in many households with the frequent water cuts. Not only was the water cut, but electricity, too. Almost on a daily basis – everywhere I went. And what consistently happened when the power was cut in a public place was: collective groans followed by collective prayers that Morsi’s life takes the same path as the electricity.

Lack of diesel and fuel added scarce fuel to the fire. Traffic was paralyzed as trucks and cars lined up, occupying two-thirds of the street as they formed two rows that stretched across several kilometers. By the time my family and friends reached their destinations, they were seething, angry, and exhausted. Some couldn’t even manage to go to work because their gas tank was below empty. Apart from disastrous traffic, hundreds of tok toks were now allowed to weave between cars on main roads and highways; many of the tok tok drivers looked like they were in their early teens.

Murders between rival families without legal action. Thugs cutting off main roads. An increase in looting. Traffic hell. Drugs being sold openly and publicly. The Governor of Luxor was replaced by another man who was directly involved with the terrorist group responsible for the Luxor massacre of tourists that took place in the 90’s. Ministers who strongly represented the MB but weakly represented the vital post they were given were being ushered into the government. The judiciary was ostracized and accused of corruption. Rash and random decisions were being made. Bigotry was spread in televised speeches attended by the president and he did not say a word against it. And every time Morsi delivered a speech, I found myself pounding my palms against my head. I really wanted him to succeed. I did. No citizen in their right mind wants their president to tank like this, or see their country slip through one’s fingers. But what he said in his speeches made me, along with millions of others, feel like he was addressing only followers of the MB. His vision for Egypt seemed to include an “us” and a “them”. All of a sudden the majority were the minority and the minority were the All Supreme. Speeches delivered by Morsi and about Morsi by other MB officials showed the existence of a God complex. Those who protested against Morsi were collectively labeled as supporters of the old regime, or atheists, or infidels, or enemies of Islam.

When a friend asked me to sign a Tamarod (Rebel) petition calling for Morsi to hold early elections or step down, I was ready to sign it. That paper kept surfacing wherever I went… my sister’s neighbor offered a paper. My mother-in-law called me from the club where the paper was being distributed, asking me for my ID number so she could fill the form out for me. At my old work place, three people approached me with the paper. Two of my ex-students were doing rounds, distributing the paper wherever they went; they asked if I had filled it out yet. It ended up that 22 million Egyptians filled out that form. I learned that this type of petition is not something new; it’s called a recall election that was successful in removing top elected officials in both the States and Canada. Would we succeed in removing our president?

I wish we could have had early elections that were transparent and monitored by a neutral entity. Instead, Morsi delivered a speech that continued to further alienate the 22 million who signed the petition, and the millions more who did not get a chance to. It was as if we were invisible. Or, a fly on the face that is shooed away in annoyance. The next step was to demonstrate on the day that commemorated Morsi’s first year anniversary as president.

I did not attend the first day of the demonstration, nor the second. I spent those two days arguing with my mother who basically held my dad and I hostage – refusing that we leave the house to attend the protest. I reflected back to the time when I fought with your dad upon telling me that he was going to the protest on the Day of Wrath. Could I really blame my mother for worrying about me when random acts of violence were happening as a result of the demonstrations? She did release me, however, by the third day. I didn’t go to Tahrir, but to a smaller demonstration beside my parents’ house.

June 30th and the protests that followed until July 3rd were inspirational in the sheer numbers who went down to be seen and heard. To cry out against what felt like a year-long occupation. Seeing pictures of old men and women sitting with flags beneath their homes; hearing the echoing chants coming from Tahrir that seemed to be dominated by female voices; seeing how people demonstrated in governorates that were previously not politically active… It was new. It was bigger and more powerful than Jan. 25th, 2011.

The removal of Morsi with all the damaging mistakes that were made by his regime was a relief for me. That wet blanket we were lugging on our shoulders was briefly lifted before the retaliation and counter retaliation began. The can of worms we opened at the hope of a fresh start is still not empty. It’s spewing out anacondas now, choking Egyptians from either sideΒ  – whether pro Morsy/MB or anti Morsy/MB. Egypt, the cradle of civilization, is currently cradling a bomb of hatred with a diminishing fuse. I am back in Canada now, watching Egypt spiral and I feel utter despair and impotence. God help us all.

Love,

Your lost mother, Rania

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Published in: on July 29, 2013 at 7:52 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Brilliant as always… Well Done Rania.

    • Thank you πŸ™‚ Wish it wasn’t so bleak, though. These series of letters to Seif might depress him when he reads them in the future. I can’t wait for something uplifting to happen so he can stand tall and be proud.

  2. Rania we are living on 5-6% of our land.
    Love,
    Motsy and Dopsy

    • Hi baba πŸ™‚ So your red pen is out, huh? πŸ˜€ Thanks, I updated the figure; my research must have been outdated. Love you!


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