Cairo under curfew

A violent few weeks have ravaged Egypt and one taxi driver describes the situation in plain words, "life is difficult."

By PETER SMITH SPECIAL TO THE JERUSALEM POST
August 23, 2013 02:35
2 minute read.
Smoke rises over Cairo at night.

smoke rises at night in cairo 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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CAIRO – If any city deserves to be called the city that never sleeps, it’s Cairo. Its teeming street-side cafes, shisha joints and Nile party boats usually bustle with nocturnal Egyptians deep into the early hours. Not this week though.

Life comes to a near-grinding halt at 7 p.m., when the curfew comes into effect. It clears roads, shutters shops and confines Cairenes to their apartments until the following morning.

It’s a devastating blow to many businesses and a serious struggle for this most social of cities. But even after a week that was mercifully mostly free of violence, Cairo still feels like a city under siege.

“Life is difficult,” said taxi driver Muhammad Ibrahim, as he drove past a neighborhood police station, which – like almost all government and military property – was ringed with soldiers and armored personnel carriers.

He estimated his income had fallen 40 percent this week, but said it was a small price to pay when fighting terrorism.

“We need to finish the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said in a brief explosion of anger, and most others – in central Cairo at least – seem to agree.

Feelings are much more mixed on former president Hosni Mubarak’s release from prison.

To many, he’s just old news.

They have bigger, more pressing problems to contend with.

Some, mostly the keen nationalists and military enthusiasts, look back at his 30-year presidency with fondness. They remember the improved economy and much-craved stability, and interpret the past two years’ drama as evidence of the foolishness of toppling him. A number of posters passed around on Twitter even called for his reelection.

But to others, his release is unfortunate confirmation of the reemergence of the old regime.

Asked for their opinion on their ex-dictator, most people this reporter approached declined to comment.

A rare exception, Muhammad, a 17-year-old student, spoke only in whispers, “It’s a huge problem for the revolution.

He’s the man who killed our country” The April 6 Youth Movement has called for its supporters to mass outside the High Court after prayers on Friday in order to protest his release, but a number of foreign journalists have already felt the force of the Mubarak-era’s much-vaunted security apparatus.

At least 20 foreign journalists have been detained around the city at some point over the past week, while a few even received house calls from police soliciting press and passport details.

A policeman told The Washington Post’s bureau chief, “If I see you again, I’ll shoot you in the leg.”

But amidst the tedium of the dusk-to-dawn curfew, some semblance of normality is slowly returning to the capital. Cairo’s infamous traffic ensnares the bridges and main thoroughfares once more, while many bars are opening earlier, to allow for early afternoon tipples.

There’s still the occasional reminder of last week’s devastation – a gunfight broke out near a neighborhood mosque on Tuesday night; but with almost all of its leaders in detention, the Muslim Brotherhood has failed to conduct a meaningful protest since last Friday.

Determining what comes next is a fraught task in Egypt’s fast-changing political reality, but taxi driver Muhammad claimed to know what lies ahead: “Gen. Sisi will be our president. He is strong and he will be good to us.”

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