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In Cairo, a novelist sorts out his fears and hopes for Egypt’s future

July 10, 2013

WPLogo

CAIRO — On Friday, as protests grew across the city, I made my way to the offices of al-Jazeera here to be interviewed about Egypt’s turmoil.

As I traveled, I thought about a particular piece of Egyptian history. In 1954, the year Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi was born, the late Gamal Abdel Nasser was targeted by an assassination attempt. In Alexandria, a Muslim Brotherhood member fired eight shots, missing Nasser and injuring one of his guards.

I arrived at my destination still lost in thought. On the seventh floor, a cautious employee received me and asked why I was visiting. I must have said I was going to try to explain the current situation in a rational manner, which is not easy.

Have a seat, please, he said.

Inside the studios, footage of protests and shootings was mixed with similar sounds coming from downstairs, where Muslim Brotherhood militias were surrounding the radio and TV building and clashing violently with protesters opposed to ousted president Mohammed Morsi.

I left my chair and walked to the thick glass window that was covered in black cloth, to try and observe them: Muslim Brotherhood militia members were wearing shields and helmets to protect themselves from the bullets and birdshot raining down on them from the Sixth of October bridge.

In the past few days, I had been keen to use my little camera to document what was going on around me: the masses of people who flooded to the streets around Ittihadiya, the presidential palace, where Morsi had been working before the June 30 deadline that protesters had given the president to leave office. Car horns played a symphony of joy, which mixed with the sounds of the vuvuzela — normally saved for when Egypt wins the African Cup of Nations — as if the departure of Morsi was a closed case.

I filmed the army jets flying over, covered with green lasers shining from the hands of the protesters who were carrying Egyptian flags and photos of the not-yet-ousted president underlined with “Go out,” or “No to the Muslim Brotherhood president.”

Now you can listen to chants mixed with vuvuzela, smell the grilled corn and the black tea; a festival as if celebrating Hitler’s departure.

On July 2, we took pictures of the graffiti on the palace wall and moved to a nearby coffee shop to watch Morsi’s speech. It was directed at his supporters, seeming to ignore millions of Egyptians, threatening massive chaos if he is ousted, and repeating the word legitimacy over and over (I wonder what Freud would say about that?).

“Ahmed, can you hear me?” The question brought me to the future, to the darkness, bullets and ambulance sirens.

“You will be on air in a few seconds.”

I was in another flashback. To Wednesday night. All eyes were glued to the screens, in total silence, with flags swaying slightly in the tender air. The deep voice of al-Sissi announced the temporary halt of the constitution and the appointment of the president of the constitutional court to lead the country in a transitional period.

Everyone was cheering; some were praying, thanking God. Civilians joined soldiers and officers in singing the Egyptian national anthem.

“Ahmed, you are on air.”

I don’t know what I said. Did I say I am against the death of anyone, whether he is with or against me? Did I say it is a win-win or a lose-lose situation?

I finished the interview in a few minutes and left the building. In few hundred yards, I melted into the protesters in Tahrir Square. I hoped then — and continue to hope, even as the violence escalates — that the army will not let us down.

Al-Aidy is the author of the novel “Being Abbas el Abd.” This essay was translated from Arabic by Nermin Abdelrahman.

© 2013, The Washington Post

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