Arrival in Egypt: Initial Impressions

March 8, 2011 Uncategorized

I promised I’d record at least a few of my initial impressions here, though I must confess that I’m quite literally a zombie, having caught only minutes of sleep on the Frankfurt-Cairo leg of the journey.  So I’m aiming for a minimum of coherence in what follows.

Perhaps the least surprising point first: There were very few tourists on the flight.  This was my first visit to the new terminal building at the airport, and thus I can’t particularly judge the scene there, but I must say that the immigration formalities were not nearly as chaotic as I’ve observed in the past.  One of the meet-and-greet folks I chatted with at baggage claim mentioned that the number of tourists had picked up particularly in the past few days, and that there were even package tourists arriving from Latin America and East Asia.  But I must confess that I was particularly shocked when I walked into the lobby of my hotel, only to discover a place that usually bustles in the evening utterly dead.

Equally depressing was the sad story this fellow related about having had his car stolen in Giza yesterday.  When he reported this to the police as required by his insurance people, he was apparently told that there were hundreds of cases like his flooding in at the moment.  This anecdote only lent greater credence to rumors I had heard lately about problems with property crime, but of course, rumors can be formidable weapons themselves, so I’ll reserve judgment.

My spirits were lifted considerably when chatting with my cab driver (as they almost always are, cab drivers just have that effect, I find).  There’s nothing like a torrent of political talk to get one’s colloquial Arabic flowing again!  The driver was still reeling over the reports of corruption in the Mubarak household, and repeatedly asked how Hosni and Gamal could have become quite so breathtakingly greedy.  This led into a general conversation about how clueless Arab leaders had become about their own populations, and there were a few choice insults reserved for Qaddafi and his oratory.  But what was so inspiring about the fellow were his comments about how Tahrir has gradually evolved into a sort of garden open to all who want to discuss their problems and concerns.  People still gravitate to the square for an ineffable sense of comfort.  And he was relating this as we were entering the square on the way to my hotel.  I can’t help but admit that I was moved, both by what the driver was explaining and the sight of the tents still in the square, together with countless Egyptians simply milling about and chatting.  Clearly this is one space that Egyptians have seized in a durable sense.  I recall chatting with friends about Cairo’s notorious problem with green spaces (or the lack of them): Wouldn’t it be marvelous if Tahrir could truly become a sort of public garden for the people?

Well, just a few initial impressions.  Now time for a fuul overdose and sleep!

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