An Anthropologist's Diary of the Egyptian Revolution and what followed.
By Samuli Schielke
Sunday, January 30, 2011
"You'll be late for the revolution!"
Greetings from Frankfurt airport.
After long hesitation, I made yesterday night the decision to fly to Cairo after M. had assured me that it is safe in Giza. The flight had been rescheduled to start 9:30 a.m. instead of noon in order to arrive in Cairo in daytime before curfew. Sophie took me to station by car and I took the early morning ICE to the airport. Everything went fine, I checked in, but the very instance I arrived at gate B25 where the plane was to depart, the announcement was made that the flight was cancelled. An airline officer of Egyptian origin explained the situation to the approximately 20 to 30 Egyptian passengers: Cairo airport was closed, there was nobody working, no technical staff, no security, no customs, and no planes would start to Cairo today. All flights to Cairo are cancelled. (Later someone who had called people on the airport told that the airport is not yet closed but it is being shut down. The officers and workers are there, but not working. Why is not clear.) The people, of course, were very anxious and eager to get to Egypt whatever way possible, and discussed the problem and the possibilities long with the airline staff. Heated political discussions evolved, focussing on the looting that had happened last night. Everybody was very concerned about the safety of their family, their property, and the general situation in Egypt. The opinions went far apart regarding the cause of the problem and the possible remedies. One of the passengers, arriving from the United States said that Egypt is a bunch of 80 million thugs and that if he had been in Tahrir square on Tuesday when the demonstrations began he would have fired into the crowd and killed them by hundreds, and forget about human rights, to stop the chaos at its roots. An older gentleman disagreed, and said that on the contrary Egyptians are good people (tayyibin) and should not be accused of the acts of thugs and criminals who exploited the occasion. Another man in his fifties agreed with the first one and said that the whole thing had gotten out of hand because the demonstrations hadn’t been suppressed with a hard hand from the beginning. If the upraising had done anything to these two men, it had confirmed them in their belief that Egypt must be ruled with an iron hand. Others, however, disagreed with them strongly, or avoided getting involved into the debate. I spoke for a longer while with four younger people, one Egyptian woman living in Germany, another on her way from France back to Egypt, a man from Upper Egypt who had lived for four years in the US and was returning now because he was worried about his family, and another man, an aviation officer who had been abroad for six months. This crowd would not place the blame on the demonstrators, but on the president, most clearly so the woman living in Germany who had decided to return to Egypt in order to participate in the revolution, and who said that this chaos will only stop “when he goes”. Also the aviation officer, who lowered his voice (the people still fear there may be secret police among the passengers) to tell that it costs 8 million pounds just to escort Hosni Mubarak from his residence in Heliopolis to Almaza military airport whenever he goes somewhere. Everybody trying to fly was concerned, worried and anxious. Many had spent the last 48 hours in front of television screens, and many had not slept last night. Also I had only slept three hours. With their very different interpretations of the situation, they all shared a concern for the safety of their families. But when I called M. to tell that I cannot come today, I found him in excellent mood, joyful, even enthusiastic, and telling me: “You’ll be late for the revolution!” He had collected revolution souvenirs: tear gas grenades, broken bottles, and much more, and he is looking forward to see me tomorrow. Our flights are rescheduled for tomorrow 8:30. Lufthansa will try to fly to Cairo as soon as they can to bring home the people stranded on Cairo airports - there were thousands, even tens of thousands of them, somebody told. But it won’t be today.