Egypt’s Struggle to Return to Normal

Four years have passed since Egypt’s revolution began in 2011. They have been inspiring years; they have been difficult years. Some say they have resulted in much good; some say they have resulted in a restoration of the bad.

But millions of Egyptians simply a desire a restoration of the normal. The state is striving to deliver, as stability will cement the current political reality. Those opposed are trying to disrupt it, and herein lies the clash.

The news is full of evidence on both sides. Jihadist groups are waging a war against the state, killing policemen and soldiers with unfortunate regularity. And a day before the revolution anniversary a peaceful leftist march to Tahrir square was met with the violence of the state, in which one female activist died.

Between these two is the Muslim Brotherhood and its sympathizers. They claim no relation to violence, but are actively seeking to prevent stability. Their principle tool is demonstration.

The state has left them to conduct small demonstrations in local neighborhoods. But whenever they seek a sizable gathering they are met with the resistance of the police, often with arrest, and sometimes with casualties. It is worthy to note their marches are illegal, as a law exists to regulate them which requires prior announcement to the authorities. Many across the Egyptian political spectrum find this law to be repressive, but it is the law all the same. Brotherhood protests ignore it, not wishing to acknowledge the authority of the state after the removal of President Morsi. Even if they did, would they receive a permit?

But it is in this context that the quiet struggle to return to normal is being waged.

In our local neighborhood of Maadi there is a foot bridge over the Metro tracks. One one side it is located between upper- and lower-class areas, and on the other is a relatively middle-class area stretching to the Nile River. Ever since the revolution began and police enforcement deteriorated, small tuk-tuks have traversed all economic sectors, and barely squeeze into the foot bridge as they complicate passage for all pedestrians.

A tuk-tuk is a three wheel vehicle like a rickshaw. It is very useful in poorer neighborhoods where taxis cannot navigate the narrow streets. But drivers are often underage, reckless, and a hazard for driving everywhere else. The state has not yet shut them down in our neighborhood, though there have been some threats to do so.

In recent days the local government has repaired the foot bridge, and placed a large cement block at the entrance. Pedestrians can easily pass by, but tuk-tuks are barred. Motorcycles can still make it, but at least it is an improvement.

So far, this discussion has nothing to do with national politics. But the effort of the state to bring the neighborhood back to normal, however slowly, is clear. They even covered the foot bridge with a fresh coat of paint.

Maadi Foot Bridge Graffiti

But not a few days later was it covered with graffiti. ‘Man up and hit the streets on January 25,’ it urges. ‘Sisi is a pimp,’ is written in blue. It is ugly, crass, and defaces public property. It is also one of the few methods they have to get their message out.

This is the quiet struggle, not covered in the news. It shows why so many people dislike the Brotherhood and revolutionaries in general these days. They want life to go back to normal, they want stability for their country, and they want to walk over a nice bridge.

Of course, in its efforts, the local government didn’t even do that great a job. A few baseboards are not laid quite right, threatening to trip the pedestrian if his foot lands falsely. It is this lack of commitment to quality that contributed to revolutionary conditions in the first place, and may lend some sympathy to the protesters. In recent days it appears the bridge is under repair again.

As the outside world watches the larger struggle, sympathy is asked for the normal citizen. If in the end this revolution yields a transparent and accountable system of liberty and democracy, they stand as the passive beneficiaries. But in the process of getting there, excuse them for saying a pox on all your houses.


Observations and Photos, post-Revolution

Julie and I walked around town today, for the first time since our return to Egypt. We were eager to see the changes in our area after the revolution, and took our camera along to share our observations. Much, of course, was the same, but there were many reminders that things have changed. First, the graffiti:

This is the wall to our neighboring apartment building. Before, it had always been as blank and dull as every other wall in the city. Now, evidence of national pride is brimming over everywhere, even if slightly less artistically on a house a few doors down:

The graffiti continues on public walls:

(translation: Egypt)

… trees:

… inside the subway:

 (translation: Martyrs of 25 January [the date of the first demonstration, which has come to label the revolution])

… and even on the garbage dumpsters:

It has been said that this is the first revolution in history that has cleaned up after itself.

The trend continues in advertising:

(translation: May God preserve you, Egypt [advertising Etisalat, a mobile phone service provider])

(translation: Egypt Needs You: Donate your Blood [advertising Risala, a local NGO])

… and while some new shops have opened in town:

… others have since closed down:

(to the lower left had been a Playmobile store)

Some signs extol the virtue of national unity:

(translation: If I was not an Egyptian, I would wish to be)

… while others promote a particular political/religious vision:

(translation: This country is ours; from this day onward I will honor our Lord in my work; the Muslim Brotherhood [note: ‘ours’ means ‘the people of Egypt’ as opposed to the group itself])

Before the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood had been a banned, but tolerated, organization. Never would their slogans have been allowed public display for very long. They, like others, are now enjoying a greater freedom of operation. Meanwhile, and not necessarily conversely, others place the Islamic crescent and Christian cross side by side, alongside a heart to validate and honor the two religions of one people.

Finally, there is a reminder of violence and instability:

… as our neighbor to the other side has extended his wall six feet higher.

We are glad to be back, hearing the reactions of friends and strangers to the events of the past two months. Mostly all is positive, yet the visual complements the written word of their testimony, which we hope to convey as events continue to unfold. Accomplishments become permanent the more they are translated into memorials. After a scant eight weeks, the popular effort has already begun.