EXCLUSIVE to The Middle East Online . . . Letter from Cairo

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By Maria Golia

As the second anniversary of June 30th rolled around, Cairo was immersed in heat and introspection. It was Ramadan, the month of fasting, when people’s thoughts turned, understandably, to food. The breakfast, taken at sunset, is meant to be a celebratory feast, but in Cairo these days putting any meal on the table is an accomplishment worthy of celebration. The proverbial belts could be no tighter. To those with families to feed, the strain was like a noose around their necks. As the end of each day approached, families would either be cooking their rice-stuffed vegetables or watching TV, where talk show hosts gushed unequivocal praise for President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi and his efforts to secure the nation’s well-being; to critique him, they say, is tantamount to treason.

Like the weather, the rhetoric is heating up as the 30th of June approached. On that day in 2013, millions of Egyptians went to the streets demanding the resignation of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi (elected in 2012) who was adjudged to have abused his powers with the intention of instituting religious rule. In light of the mass protests, the army issued an ultimatum, giving Mr. Morsi 48 hours to respond to the public’s will; the Ministry of the Interior, in charge of the police and central security forces, stood by the army. On the third day of demonstrations, Mr. Morsi was escorted form the presidential palace by then Minister of Defense, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and much of the nation rejoiced. In 2014, Mr. el-Sisi was elected in Mr. Morsi’s stead.

Now, Mr. Morsi, jailed since 2013, is facing a life sentence for espionage and conspiring with foreign armed groups to commit attacks. But he’s also facing a death sentence for charges related to his breaking out of jail in 2011 (though it was known he’d escaped jail when he ran for president). Mr. Morsi’s supporters say the trial and its outcome were politically motivated, a charge the state refutes, pointing to the independence of the judiciary. Average citizens appear to have distanced themselves from the matter. Despite whatever concerns they may have regarding the current government’s abuses of power (including an ongoing security crackdown that has resulted in thousands of arrests, imprisonments and military trials) people are keeping their heads down and mouths shut.

The one thing they will and do consistently say is that, praise Allah and the army, Egypt is not torn by civil war like Libya, Syria and Iraq or directly threatened by ISIS. You could argue that the sacrifice of rights in the name of security, especially in the wake of the 2011 popular uprising, has been too great, or that expectations of democratic governance following Mr. Morsi’s removal, were unrealistically high.   But leave it to the Egyptians, a people who excel at survival, to arrive at the most pragmatic conclusion, one that leaps political and religious obstacles in a single bound. Egypt is at peace (if you exclude the Islamist insurgency in Northern Sinai, as most people are happy to do) and that alone, they will tell you, in this day and age (not to mention region) is something of a miracle.

04 December 2005, Cairo, Egypt - Fruit and vegetable vendors at a city market in Cairo.

Standing over my sink washing tomatoes the other day, I had to agree. They were so beautiful, so red, so un-genetically modified, indeed were hand-picked by Egypt’s fellaheen each and every one of whom I wished to thank. The water pressure, as I rinsed the mud that clung to them, was strong, another wonderful thing, especially since my building has recently suffered a long, debilitating drought. I’m a lucky girl, I thought, experiencing an almost sensual wave of safety and gratitude that enabled me to grasp my neighbors’ willingness to overlook so much injustice in order to just get on with their daily lives. But I also felt the uneasiness that lurks beneath the surface of routine these days, the fear that that even grateful acquiescence is a luxury we may soon be unable to afford.

This article by Maria Golia is exclusive to The Middle East Online . . .

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