Inside Egypt II

Leaving work last Thursday, we knew there would be protests the next day. We anticipated some violence as well. The first thing my colleagues at Barclays Bank, Cairo, and I did was to withdraw money that we felt would be necessary for at least the next two weeks.

 Most people in the city seem to have done the same. As a result, we are witnessing a shortage of cash in ATMs across the city. I live with my wife and three year old son, Omar, in New Cairo. It’s in the suburbs of the capital, roughly a 30-40 minute drive from downtown Cairo – the scene of protests over the last one week.

My office is in downtown Cairo, which has been transformed into a fortress since Friday, when the military took charge of the area. It’s probably the most protected place in the country right now as it hosts the People’s Assembly, the Senate, US and UK embassies, and other important government and international offices.

Everyday life in Cairo has been turned upside down over the last few days. Even the Internet and text messaging services have been blocked for days. The Central Bank of Egypt has ordered all banks and the stock exchange to remain closed since Friday. The overriding concern for almost everyone in the city remains the fear of lawlessness, with thousands of prisoners escaping from jails on Sunday. A daily curfew has also been imposed from 3pm to 8am the next morning.

Getting your daily essentials like groceries, foodstuff and water becomes difficult when everyone’s trying to get them in the small window when the curfew is lifted. All the major supermarkets are crowded, with people rushing to shop at the same time.

But there are some aspects of the protests that have not gone down well. There’s widespread outrage over what has happened in the Cairo Antiquities Museum. The attempted burglary and vandalism at a place that’s a symbol of Egypt’s ancient heritage is a national shame. Thankfully, most of the hooligans who broke into the museum have been tracked down and are now behind bars.

This sense of outrage has resulted in civilians of all age groups – all the way up to senior citizens in their 60s and 70s – coming on to the streets to protect their area from such acts of looting and vandalism. They are on the vigil to guard the neighbourhood from troublemakers and prisoners who had fled. Civilian groups across the country are working with the police force and military to nab these rogue elements.

The city is now under military protection. The police – who were not seen on the streets of Cairo from Friday evening to Sunday – were brought back into operation from Monday. There are no protests in the suburbs, and the demonstrations in downtown Cairo and other cities have become peaceful again. I think the violence we witnessed during the last few days was planted and not part of the planned protests. People here suspect foreign elements.

President Hosni Mubarak’s announcement of a new vice president and prime minister on Saturday followed by the formation of a new cabinet on Monday has certainly built confidence among the people. I am 33 and my generation is seeing a vice president for the first time. That gives us a hope for stability. The new Vice
President Omar Suleiman is a respected figure in the country. The former intelligence chief is a man of integrity and has a clean image. Also, the new Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq is known to be a modest person and a good administrator. People have full faith in him.

Yet, I wouldn’t say the youth of the country look up to Mubarak the way the previous generation did. He is a hero when it comes to the 1973 October War against the Israelis. In the coming few months, Mubarak will have to fulfil his promises to put in place the next generation of leaders and effect a peaceful transition of power. But if he fails to do that, I’m afraid people will start disregarding his role as the hero of the October War.

There are people who want Mubarak to be ousted immediately. I, personally, would not like to see him go so suddenly. Because if he leaves office, who is going to come? There will be a political vacuum. I’ve seen no one else other than Mubarak as a national leader for the last 30 years. We need time for other political figures to come up. We need time to know the new crop of leaders, and to know them well.

(As told to Abhishek G Bhaya)
Walid Afifi is a treasury (assets & liaison management) manager with Barclays Bank in Cairo. He is an alumnus of Muscat Private School and The Sultan’s School. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of this publication.

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