Actually, it is true that “normal travel can continue.” We are in Zamalek today – met with our teacher in the Supreme Council of Culture at the Opera complex, one metro stop and less than a kilometer from our usual classroom in Tahrir, and it was all coffee as usual. Later, at the Beano’s coffee shop in Zamalek, we saw people in business clothes sitting and typing away on their laptops just under big flat TV screens showing a footage loop of protesters in Mohamed Mahmoud Street throwing stones at police (and, since this was state TV, not showing the police firing at protesters, aiming — to judge by the reported injuries – for their eyes). As though it were happening in some other country. I wanted a photo of the juxtaposition but was afraid it would make people self-conscious. In the rest of the city, too, all the action is on TV (except maybe you hear some gunshots at night? and sirens?).
Although I really want to, I’m not going to Tahrir today. Because 1) this is not my country, and 2) I’m not a journalist or a doctor, just a literature professor, so I think it would just be voyeurism, not even useful solidarity. I don’t need to smell the tear gas; I might even be in the way. You can find the real news on Twitter and Facebook today or look for a live stream of ONTV Egypt or read any of the many wonderful English-language newspapers and blogs. The story is being told so well, by so many articulate voices and talented photographers, in English and Arabic. The situation is not at all like when I started studying Arabic in 1997.
Will post photos from Friday’s demo (the happy peaceful part I attended) when I get a chance. The best chant was addressed by the protesters to each other, not to the regime (which was anyway not listening): “Say it say it, don’t be scared, the Military Council has to go” (قول، قول، ما تخافش، المجلس العسكري لازم يمشي). It sounded aspirational 48 hours ago, perhaps more imaginable now. Things are evolving fast. (On Qasr El-Nil bridge on Friday, the demand was for SCAF’s long-ago-promised transfer of power to a civilian government by April 2012; the guy trying to push for earlier, starting a chant of “سلم السلطة يا عميل، مش هنستنى حتى ابريل” got shouted down.)
Basically I see two forces in play. Both involve (well-founded) suspicion and distrust. The first is the distrust felt by the political groupings for each other: secular vs. Islamist, or organized groups like MB vs. come-latelies like the Salafis. The second is the distrust felt by all the civilian groups toward SCAF and its tendency to hold onto power. How will these two types of distrust balance each other over time? Which will be stronger?