Monday, 7 February 2011

Letter from Cairo 7th February 2011

The wonderful spirit of the people

Life, on the surface, appears to have returned to its customary routine.  The shops have opened, banks are trading, traffic is congested and restaurants are doing a busy trade.  But all is still not well.  There are undercurrents of dissatisfaction as the uprising continues and the protestors still hold Tahrir Square.

I ventured out this morning and met a friend on the terrace of the Marriott hotel and whilst it was relatively quiet at eleven in the morning, I was told that is teeming with people in the afternoons.  Not, I hastily add tourists, but the Egyptian elite who are the only ones who can afford the exorbitant prices that the Marriott charges for a simple coffee or a lemon juice, all for the pleasure of sitting and watching the world go by and eavesdropping on the single subject of conversation – the uprising. 

In great evidence, while I too watched the world go by, was a fairly large number of reporters and TV journalists; I recognised some of the latter but will, for their safety, not mention their names.  There was also a well-known film director and other recognisable personalities.  It was at times difficult to keep up a conversation with my friend as we were often distracted and found ourselves whispering ‘Isn’t that so and so?’  The absence of the journalists from the square was a little puzzling but then perhaps it is all becoming a little too repetitive and in any case the numbers in the square today had diminished somewhat.  Is this the calm before the storm again?  There is again a call for a million people to protest in Tahrir Square tomorrow, so we await developments.

We had lunch in a restaurant at the other end of Zamalek and for some inexplicable reason the traffic both ways was horrendous, it was as if the whole world had suddenly decided to return to their daily routines – and some!  There was a lot of tension in the air, however, and I noticed that tempers were easily frayed and without much reason, creating an air of uneasiness.  Soldiers and one or two policemen were directing the traffic and this in itself was an unusual sight, firstly because we have seen no sign of the police for over a week and secondly one never sees the presence of the army in the streets.  Initially, I found their presence a little intimidating but it soon became obvious that they are protecting the people and that they are, in fact, quite friendly.  They are dotted all over Zamalek and I noticed that four or five of them were on patrol at the Gezira entrance of the Marriott.

The 8 o’clock curfew had been in place for two hours, when for some unknown reason, I opened the French windows to watch the empty streets below.  Suddenly a small van passed by and a thuggish looking youth was standing and leaning out of the front window shouting something that I could not hear and, just before the Marriot, slightly hidden from me by a large tree, I heard a screeching of breaks and loud angry voices.  A few more cars appeared the street and also came to a halt.  By this time there was a blowing of horns and more angry voices.  My curiosity got the better of me and I, somewhat riskily, walked down five flights of stairs, stick in hand, to see what was going on.

The army had set up a metal barrier and were not allowing anyone go past the Marriott into the centre of Zamalek, they were instead diverting any traffic onto the corniche at the end of which there is apparently an official control point; there is, after all, supposed to be a curfew!  Meanwhile, the occupants of the van, not wishing to be diverted, became aggressive with the soldiers at which point I hurriedly returned to my building and the relative safety of my apartment.  Again, I watched from my window until peace and quiet once again returned to the street.

As I said before, life appears to have returned to its customary routine – but only on the surface.

Tomorrow we expect to see, yet again, enormous crowds in Tahrir Square.


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