Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The Cairo cable

By NateChristensen

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So I’ve been in Cairo for about a week and being in Egypt at this point in time is somewhat strange. From the time the “revolution” started here on Jan. 25 until former President Hosni Mubarak left office on Feb. 11, I obsessively watched Al-Jazeera and became intimately familiar with images of protesters in the street, police shooting tear gas and beating people, Egyptian flags waving from houses, etc. Understandably then, I came here with certain expectations about what I would see, what people would be saying and so on.

With these images in my head I arrived the first night in Cairo, a city that is known for its overwhelming traffic and pollution. As a lone traveler coming here I was a little taken-aback by the sheer size of the city. After spending the night in a hostel, the next day I started looking for an apartment.

Walking around the city was a very surreal experience for me as I realized lingering images of the televised revolution not only permeated my own mind but that of the city itself. I now live in the same places I had seen so many times on TV just two or three months ago.

Walking through Tahrir Square – the epicenter of the protests where thousands of people camped out for weeks straight until Mubarak’s departure – one can still see where the bricks that paved the roads were pulled up and thrown during battles between revolutionaries and those in support of Mubarak’s regime. All around the city there is incredible graffiti calling for Mubarak to leave office, commemorating the fallen martyrs and reminding people what comes next will determine whether or not Egypt experienced a true revolution.

The revolution is all people talk about and it seems that everyone has at least one scar, one bullet wound, one distinct memory from those two and a half weeks. It feels as if everyone is in limbo, still happy about what happened in February yet waiting with baited breath for what the September elections will bring. There is, of course, another side to this story, as the revolution is remembered in other ways as well.

Gil Scott-Heron sang in “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” that “the revolution will not go better with Coke,” but that certainly hasn’t stopped Coca-Cola from trying to make money off of it.

I have seen a few commercials that Coke has done playing on the imagery of the revolution, and the revolution has certainly been commercialized in other ways as well. Books, t-shirts, coffee mugs and bumper stickers can be found on every corner celebrating the end of a revolution that is still ostensibly going on. I mention all these things because in some ways they represent something empty to me, the leftovers of a movement I can’t and maybe never could have truly experienced for myself.

Don’t get me wrong. There are still lots of very interesting things happening here. There are still about 50-100 people occupying the main square calling for a second revolution. Just two days ago, the subway workers held a protest at the station I use to get to class every day against the proposed privatization of the metro. I even spent today in a coffee shop with a number of people writing a charter for their own revolutionary political party.

That being said, I feel very isolated from all these activities. As a foreigner, first and foremost, who doesn’t speak the language nearly well enough to fully engage with people, I feel completely helpless, unable to join in on a truly prolific social movement. Knowing what it feels like to be part of a small protest or vigil, I want so badly to stand with the people in the square and in the metro stations but feel as if I can’t.

It truly makes me realize how much I miss home, where I feel like I can participate directly in whatever activity I want rather than being relegated to simply studying what I see. We read a poem today in class that said something to the effect of, “I have traveled the world over and seen gardens and beaches to which nothing can compare, but I’m not sure I ever enjoyed the beauty of a drop of dew on the trees outside my own window every morning.”

I’ve often found myself here feeling the same way, as if I left something truly substantial and beautiful at home to come see something I can only observe yet never truly participate in.

Nate Christensen is a Collegian foreign correspondent and University of Georgia alumnus. He can be reached at [email protected]

2 Comments

2 Responses to “The Cairo cable”

  1. Arafat on September 6th, 2011 9:46 am

    The revolution?

    I give the Islamists six months before they take over and Sharia law becomes the law of the land.

    Ahhh…viva le revolucion!

  2. Rabbit on September 13th, 2011 1:52 am

    So, if i’ve understood correctly, the moral of the article is:

    Hey Mom, look! I’m a revolutionary! But I miss your apple pie…((((

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