Dispatches

This is the third time I’ve tried to write something about these nightmarish days in Egypt. The words that come out have been too hollow and disconnected to share, but I’m trying again. I don’t have a laser-sharp analysis to provide, and I’m certainly not going to take a wild stab at predicting what will happen. My physical engagement with politics has been restricted to my own couch, or friends’, ever since June 30, when I half-heartedly went out to an anti-MB, anti-military rule march.

Egypt has given me a life-changing political education in the last two and a half years. When the revolution started I was personally burnt out, and so numbed by the necrosis that characterized political life in the last years of Mubarak that it was not until January 28th that I fully believed that people could change the country. My cynicism was deep and heavy to budge, but it evaporated over the course of those weeks and I’ve kept it sternly in check ever since; choosing, every time things got violent or dispirited or stagnant, to see the possibilities people were working for all around me.

It’s hard, now, not to feel like something has been stolen from me. As I write this, I am deeply aware of how many others have had the much more devastating  loss, the theft, of a loved one or a limb.

The past days have left me with a feeling of uselessness and alienation. I condemn both the Brotherhood and the security forces in their inter-locking cycle of violence and lies. There is no place for me in the street, or in a national conversation determined to start and end with chauvinistic nationalism. So I stay in and watch the city descend into silence, the streets emptying of life as military curfew approaches. On days like yesterday, I can hear gunshots, explosions, and the occasional surreal chants. Friends come and go, and we oscillate between collective media monitoring and outbursts of humor and distraction. So many have seen gruesome death, literally counting bodies and wading through blood in the course of their jobs. I wonder what this does to us, to what we know.

This is not the first time the state has pushed us to the edge, to where we can see the possibility and feel the fear of continuous violence and chaos. Churches are left to be attacked, buildings to burn, and brute force is being used in part, I believe, to provoke. It’s not the first time, but it might be the bloodiest and the scariest – and the one receiving the loudest applause.

Image

(Inverted eagles, symbols of Egyptian nationalism, on a public wall in downtown Cairo). 

I do not know how we will move forward from here, or when we will stop flaunting our cruelty as a source of pride. How will the hundreds of families that bury their dead ever find peace in a country whose authorities bully them into accepting suicide as the official cause of death before releasing the body? Whose media refuses to call those they lost anything but terrorists? Elements of the Brotherhood are using terror, and its leadership is criminal; but it is not a monolith, and innocent people have surely been killed by the army’s own terrorism.

In the meantime, I will venture out into the quiet streets, in search of glimpses of the city I first fell in love with.