Magazine article The Middle East

Letter from Cairo

Magazine article The Middle East

Letter from Cairo

Article excerpt

Several weeks before Egypt's presidential elections, with confusion mounting over who would qualify for the race, a major protest was planned for Liberation Square. The theme was 'unity', a fine idea in these difficult, divisive times, albeit somewhat vague.

Given recent severe shortages of cooking gas and car fuel not to mention cash and jobs, people were tense and angry, some with the military for its heavy-handedness during the so-called transitional period, others over the disqualification of two Islamist presidential candidates, yet more with a revolution they felt had only worsened their lot.

Throughout the day I heard the marches converging on Liberation Square, and at 3pm set out to check the scene. Traffic had been halted, and clusters of people engaged in animated discussions dotted the street. I stopped to speak with two fellahin, perhaps aged around 20, wearing flowing galabiyyas and carrying baskets of fresh mint. A bunch usually sells for about E 1 [pounds sterling], 20 American cents, but I gave them 10 times more. They were from Middle Egypt, a long way from home.

By the time I reached the square, it was densely packed and extremely loud. Despite the 'Friday of unity' billing, several stages projected different messages, the loudest of which was allah o' akhbar ('God is great'). On a stage run by a group of young activists, someone was playing a barely audible and uninspiring acoustic guitar. Haven't these kids ever heard of rock and roll? …

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