January 28, 2011
Right now Brandon is talking on the phone to someone in the US. All evening the phone has been ringing, and now I realize the downside of being married to a Consular officer. Although he comes home around the same time every evening, emergencies are very troublesome.
A few weeks ago, the government of Tunisia fell, sparked by a disgruntled man’s self-immolation. Similar acts followed in several Middle-Eastern countries, including Egypt. This past Tuesday was Police Day, and somebody (I don’t know who) dubbed it the “Day of Rage.”
Brandon had the day off from work, and so we packed a picnic and went on a felucca ride. After the felucca ride, we went to Maadi House and finished off the day with a fireside. I was sick and Edwin was tired, so I stayed home and Brandon and Kathleen had a date.
While we were enjoying a nice day off, protesters gathered in downtown Cairo. Around 4000 gathered in Tahrir Square, and 400-500 gathered on a bridge. The police responded with fire hoses, tear gas, and suppression methods. We talked about it at Maadi House while the children played on the playground.
Wednesday Brandon was sick, and Thursday was a normal day. I hadn’t heard much about the demonstrations, but I don’t pay much attention to the news. Wednesday night Bobbi called to see if we were okay, and Dad emailed the same. Thursday I read some blogs about the protests and the RSO sent around a security message. More protests were planned for Friday (today) after prayers, so stay away from large crowds, gathering police presences, and areas where people congregate after prayer.
Thursday night after our movie while Brandon prepared agendas, I checked Facebook. It didn’t pull up. I tried another browser – no luck. The government had blocked it. This morning, Brandon went to check the email, and the entire internet was down. When I got to church, Brandon told me that all of the cell phone service was cut off.
Church was shortened to two hours, and we had a meeting before everyone left to discuss emergency plans and walking trees if the landlines go out. Brandon told me that Brother T had been in contact with M, Brandon’s boss, and that he and M would have to go up to help M out with phone calls. I bitterly protested. Brandon had compared this situation with Iran in 1979, and the last place I wanted him to go during demonstrations (right near the embassy) was to the embassy to be taken hostage.
Thankfully, Y thought the situation through, and called to tell Brandon that for now the phone calls were being routed to individual’s houses and they would all ride up in motor pool together if necessary. So we made dinner, chicken curry with naan, cleaned up the dishes, and listened to the embassy radio that I had thought so superfluous when we moved here.
Mark called to tell us that all Embassy personnel were told to stay home and not attempt any travel to the Embassy – the road was blocked off, and all metro service stopped. I sighed in relief, and strung a necklace that Brandon had designed for my birthday.
While stringing beads, we listened to radio traffic as the dispatcher announced that a curfew was imposed in Alexandria, Suez, and Cairo from 18:00 until 7:00 tomorrow morning and that anyone out on the street would be shot. While writing this entry, Brandon and I heard chanting. We ran to the bathroom window in time to watch 400-500 people walk past Nahda Square while chanting. It seemed that people were gathering as they walked past. I heard helicopters a few minutes ago and the traffic is as quiet as I’ve ever heard it.
I have never been anywhere that has been part of history. I thought when we moved to Cairo that not much would be happening, but perhaps I was wrong. We don’t know where this will lead to – perhaps to nothing, perhaps to the government’s fall, perhaps to a prolonged government. Gamal Mubarak, president Mubarak’s son has left the country with his wife and children, and specially flew back to make a TV appearance to confirm that he is still here and hasn’t left the country. Evidently Gamal doesn’t know where this will go either. Gamal flew back because a member of the mission slipped a tip to NBC about his departure, after which everyone in the Embassy was firmly told that they were not allowed to speak to media by themselves.
So we are in a strange situation, a surreal one. I don’t think anybody thought that the situation would get to this point. Surely shutting down facebook, the internet, and cell phones would have nipped everything in the bud. But I guess they shut all of those down a few days too late and the impetus is fairly strong, judging by the fact that crowds were marching by in Maadi, one of the quietest neighborhoods in the city.
When Brandon and I were talking earlier, we predicted that despite valiant efforts, nothing would be done day. I think, however, that the curfew is evidence that the government is not secure in their position. Further evidence is the protesters clearly violating curfew this evening. We just heard gunfire, and so things are clearly continuing.
So what will the morning show? Part of me, the part that rubbernecks with everyone else, hopes that it is something exciting and that the government falls. The reasonable part of me hopes that all will be normal and I will take the girls to Maadi House in the morning while Brandon writes. Because protests and riots are interesting from a distance, but when it interferes with my normal life I want no part of it. Exciting may sound fun, but in the long run, boring always wins.
And what about the Egyptian people? As Rere told me on Wednesday, nothing is going to change until they change what’s inside, and that will take more than just protests and riots.
Update: Brandon just heard a rumor [which turned out not to be true] that the military just switched sides, and he and Mark think that the Maadi police station just got overrun. We can hear significant gunfire, although it has just stopped. Now, I think, I’m starting to get nervous.