Categories
Current Events Family Julie

A Family Errand through Tahrir

Application for Consular Report of Birth Abroad
Application for Consular Report of Birth Abroad

My life in Cairo is spent mostly in our house and the surrounding area of Maadi, which is about half an hour from the famous Tahrir Square.  Friends and family in the states get nervous when they see the violence and flare-ups in Egypt, but the reality for me is generally far removed.  Last week, however, we needed to take a family trip through the heart of the uprising.

Our destination was the American Embassy in Garden City, normally only a five-minute walk from the Square.  Our son, Alexander, was born in Cairo three months ago, and it has taken us this long to secure an appointment with the embassy for his “Certificate of Birth Abroad” (the equivalent of a US birth certificate) and his first passport.  We originally had an appointment at the embassy on the 29th of January, but that was a particularly unstable week around the embassy due to ongoing clashes, and so it closed for several days. All appointments were postponed.  We were hoping for calm now, so we could get this process started.  I didn’t like not having a passport for our baby, as I wasn’t sure what would happen if we were forced to travel.

Since our two oldest girls were still on school break, we ended up taking the whole family downtown for our adventure.  We left our house around 8am with the hopes of arriving in time for our 9am appointment.  Of course, when you are two adults accompanied by three smaller walkers, plus a baby slung snuggly on your chest, it takes a bit longer than normal to get places.  We had an uneventful walk from our house to the closest metro station.

Unfortunately we were traveling during rush hour which meant the metro was packed.  Emma, our oldest, gets a little nervous getting on and off the metro.  She seems to have a fear of our family being split up as some of us get on the train, and others get shut out behind the door.  This has never happened to us, but I understand her fear considering getting on and off the metro can be a real battle due to the sheer number of people.

As we saw the train approach, we noticed that the cars were all quite full.  When the train stopped and the doors opened, we quickly pushed our way in, crowding together with those already in the car.  The trip from our station to downtown is about 20 minutes, and it looked at first, like we would all be standing for that whole time.  But as is common in Egypt, others in the car noticed our small children, and offered me and my baby-in-carrier a seat.  I put Layla on one knee and Hannah on the other until a few minutes later, another seat was offered to Emma and Hannah.

As we rode along, I looked around me and realized there were no other women that I could see in this particular car.  In fact, I was totally surrounded by men.  I was really glad my husband was among them.  Not only was I surrounded, though, but the men had made a barrier of space between me with my kids and everyone on the train.  That was much appreciated considering that where we were standing earlier, there was no space around anyone.  My thoughts went to the many articles I have been reading of violent attacks on women in Tahrir Square.  They sound awful, and the men involved sound like barbarians.  This, on the other hand, was an example of what my family usually experiences: considerate people who look out for the sick, elderly, and moms with young children.

When we arrived at Sadat station, the metro stop under Tahrir Square, I was glad to notice the absence of tear gas.  I have never actually experienced tear gas, but Jayson has on several occasions, and so have some other family members when he has taken them to visit the Square.  I had heard that over the last week, the tear gas was quite palatable in the station, and I was most concerned for our three-month old son if there were any lingering fumes.  I was glad not to notice any.

We exited the metro, Jayson carrying Hannah and Layla, Alexander strapped to me, and Emma holding tightly to my hand.  We quickly escaped the traffic that was exiting with us, regrouped in an open space, and walked toward the turnstiles.  We then followed the crowd through the narrow door, up the steps, and into the open air.

I looked around and saw the white tents covering the center of the traffic circle.  We considered taking a family picture, but, being that we were an American couple with three blonde daughters and a new baby, we didn’t want to linger and attract any more attention than we naturally do wherever we go in Cairo.  We headed toward the embassy.

Embassy Plea
Photo from a few months ago; no cars dare park in the area now.

Normally this walk would take us only 5 minutes, even with the little ones in tow.  However, due to the recent fighting, several walls have been constructed over the last few weeks.  These walls are made of large concrete blocks, each one is probably 3 feet by 3 feet.  The blocks are then stacked 3 or 4 high, and they cover the entrance to streets, blocking the thoroughfares to cars and people.  This meant we had to walk out to the road which runs along the Nile, past the Semiramsis Hotel, which was sadly boarded up at every door and window due to the attacks from last week.

We walked two more blocks until we finally came to a road without a wall.  Turning left, we walked another block to the road the embassy is on.  People were milling about normally, and we noticed several police trucks and tens of riot police walking around, perhaps preparing for coming protests.  The line at the embassy, on the non-American services side, was perhaps slightly shorter than normal, but long, as always.  On the American services side, however, we got right inside once we showed the guard our appointment paper.

The embassy is a comfortable place to sit as you first wait for your number to be called, and then for the staff to get your paperwork started once you’ve submitted it.  The girls enjoyed playing various games in the spacious waiting area.  It is one of the few places in Cairo that I have seen a water fountain … the kind you drink from.  The embassy also had done a good job preparing us for exactly what forms we would need to get the birth certificate and passport.  We were able to submit the papers without any trouble, and look forward to seeing Alexander’s passport in a couple weeks.

Once the work was done, we headed back outside after grabbing our cell phones from security, and decided to walk back to a different metro stop since the Tahrir stop wasn’t as close as it used to be.  Jayson is much more familiar with downtown than I am, so he led the way and eventually we found the stop were looking for.

The ride back home on the metro was a lot less-crowded.  The whole family got a seat and we were glad to have accomplished what we set out to do.  It even included a glimpse of the downtown scene.

Related Posts:

Categories
Current Events Jayson

Reflections on Egypt and Libya: The Body as Bloody Canvas

As noted yesterday, I was at the protest at the US Embassy in Cairo. Really, it struck me very much as a non-event. Similar to when the Israeli Embassy was stormed last year, it seems like the work of a small few, looking to make trouble, perhaps even allowed to do so. It fits in with the manipulations all around this country, and hard to tie to any one party.

I am not pleased it happened, of course, but I can accept it. The burning of the American flag is simply a political statement. I have long learned to live with diatribes against American foreign policy, and watching a flag burn is in several ways easier to digest than someone arguing with you over why America hates Muslims, or something of the like.

But when I learned this afternoon that the American ambassador to Libya was killed in a vicious attack on the consulate there, it was a different matter entirely. My stomach sank and my day was placed on hold, as the facts settled in. Burn the flag, curse my nation, do as you wish. Many times, there is a semblance of legitimacy, if not justification, behind their frustration.

But do not kill.

Yesterday I stated I was somewhat uncomfortable among the protestors. It was mostly in the beginning, when their chants were most vociferous and individuals melted into a collective whole. After a while, it was fine, as I realized they were more summoning the will to protest than driven by rage. I always feel somewhat ashamed when I take note of my reticence; these are people who must be engaged as people. In 99% of the cases, simple human decency wins the day and creates a relationship, however temporary. It is my job and joy to serve them, to help their perspectives become understandable.

But in that 1% humanity is lost and the person becomes a canvas to paint a political message in blood.

That is Libya, and it is a reminder of what is at stake, of the depths of human depravity. Yet the blood for that canvas flows from the heart, which must bleed differently if misunderstandings and antipathies are to be overcome. This is Egypt, at least for now.

But it is Libya also, and every corner of the globe. If the heart does not bleed differently life-as-existence will continue but life-as-abundance will stagnate and die.

Unless the seed falls to the ground and dies it will produce no fruit; but if it dies it will bring forth a harvest. The heart may in the 1% bleed on a canvas, but it must bleed differently in the 99%.

It is said this is true of the American ambassador. May he rest in peace.

Related Posts: 

Categories
Current Events Jayson

Salafis, Muslim Youth Protest anti-Muhammad Film at US Embassy

To mark September 11, Muslims in Egypt stormed the US Embassy.

Actually, it is not that simple. Certain Copts resident in America produced an amateur film purporting to expose the frails and falsities of Muhammad, and advertised its release for September 11. Word carried back to Egypt, of course, prompting protest from religious institutions, Muslim and Christian alike. Salafi Muslims in particular called for a protest at the US Embassy, and they were joined by hardcore soccer fans in denouncing the film as well as the US government for allowing it to be made. The US Embassy, for its part, issued an official condemnation, calling the effort an abuse of freedom of expression.

Several thousand Egyptians gathered at the entrance of the embassy, falling into roughly two categories. While it was clear all participated, bearded Salafi Muslims largely stood peacefully, while the soccer youth led vociferous, and playful, chants. It was the latter which scaled the walls of the embassy, pulled down the US flag, and burned it.

Later, they also draped a black Islamic flag over the signage of the embassy, above its entrance. These flags were in abundance and resemble the standard used by al-Qaeda. It is al-Qaeda, however, which appropriated the black flag from earlier in Islamic history, which was used in Muhammad’s campaigns. It bears the Islamic creed: There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his apostle. Its use at this rally does not imply the presence of al-Qaeda.

I did not witness the US flag being desecrated, but Egyptian security was present in abundance and permitted the action. I was told that the Islamic contingent of the protest calmed the youth and did not permit a more serious storming of embassy grounds, if this was even intended. Security seemed to rely on these Islamists to make certain things did not get out of hand.

The atmosphere was charged, but calm and peaceful. Even so, offensive chants were issued and questionable signs displayed. Foreign Copts were called ‘pigs’, and the Jews were warned about the soon return of Muhammad’s army. One sign declared, ‘We are all bin Laden, you (Coptic) dogs of the diaspora,’ another celebrated the heroes of September 11, asking God’s mercy upon them. Please click here for a brief video of the protest, and pictures follow below.

I would not say this demonstration was representative of Egyptian society; several thousand people are a small scale protest. Yet dangerous ideas are afloat and society is yet in an unstable transition. I felt somewhat uncomfortable in their midst and kept a low profile, yet spoke with some and suffered no ill reception. Afterwards I spoke at length with some Islamists there I know well, and hope to convey their thoughts in a separate post, perhaps tomorrow.

Such is Egypt these days, for better or for worse. May God bless them.

Black flag draped over US Embassy sign
Youth Leading Chants
Translation of graffiti: Muhammad is God’s Apostle
Protest banner
Some signs were in English for foreign understanding
Calling for Egyptian nationality to be revoked from foreign Copts
Some Copts were present in solidarity with offended Muslims
Translation: We are All bin Laden; continues underneath, You (Coptic) Dogs of the Diaspora
Translation: God have Mercy on the Heroes of September 11

Related Posts: