“Egyptians look to the future and the future is tourism” said Mohammed when pressed on the security situation in Cairo. On the 25th January the second anniversary of the uprising, riots and demonstrations spread throughout the country. Riots filled the streets of Cairo and the death toll rose.
Roll back to 2012 and a football game between the Cairo team Al-Ahly and Port Said where it kicked off big time, the result was 73 dead and hundreds injured. Someone quite obviously didn’t think things through properly when deciding that the verdict on the 75 charged with ‘premeditated murder and attempted murder’ would be delivered on the 26th Jan.
With all that in mind, and in an already tense city, situations have just been waiting to flare up and as it goes, it kicked off on the 25th with even more dead and hundreds injured in battles with riot police. Rioting continued and when the verdict of guilty, and the sentencing of death was announced for the football hooligans things went from very bad, to exceptionally bad. In Port Said, in an flunked attempt to free their kin from imminent death some 38 people have lost their lives with many hundreds seriously injured. The president has declared emergency in several Egyptian cities, but not yet in Cairo.
However today, rioters face their fourth day in battles against the police and army. Their reason is simple – betrayal. Two years ago this week the old government was ousted and a new Morsi led outfit was put into place. Well the people feel like Morsi has done nothing. Just come along, chilled out, smoked a pipe and sat back whilst promises expired and the Egyptians are pissed off. But the important thing is they are pissed off with establishment, their frustration is intensely polar and aimed quite pointedly in one very distinct direction.
In other words were not talking about a bunch of hooligans all bent on trashing Cairo and everyone who gets in their way. Not at all, these people are willing to die for what they bleed and for their future, and their future is a fair, prosperous Egypt. That doesn’t mean as a tourist you can mooch through the riots with immunity, bullet proof with a smile on your face. It is a dangerous place to be and right now, 11pm on the 27th January probably every tourist is tucked up in their hotel avoiding the streets as advised by anyone with any sense. My hotel is about 500m from Tahrir Sq and we can hear the riots, the bangs, shots, sirens and chaos.
The bus was late leaving Hurghada, but when it did finally leave we got comfy and looked to the six hour journey ahead. Stopping only at some random service station in the desert the bus made good time, and after about five hours Jack grabbed my attention with excitement. “Check out these tanks dad” I looked out of the window and realised we were entering the city limits of Cairo, tanks, the army, trucks and young conscripts looked serious. It looked and felt like we were entering a war zone. I am not exaggerating, if someone had told me we were coming into Baghdad I wouldn’t have been surprised. And it was at this point that I suddenly started taking things serious.
The bus ditched us East of Cairo, in what I eventually realised was Heliopolis. Taxi touts were full on, and despite darkness coming in I politely told them no thank you and walked out of the bus station, turned left and walked until I figured we might get an honest taxi driver, and that would be a laugh anywhere else in the world. But from recent experience Cairo taxi drivers are by and large honest people. Bound by meters, and limited by traffic they tend to get you from A – B without much hassle, and given that 10 minutes in a taxi amounts to about a quid English money it’s just not worth their while driving you round aimlessly.
We did find a taxi, Jack buzzed off no seat belts, I wondered just how many cigarettes the guy would smoke and we both held on for dear life as the taxi raced through the streets giving us plenty of near death experiences along the route. A couple of quid Egyptian is sufficient to say thanks for not killing me.
We got to our hotel and the lift was out of order. This is no joke, we were on the seventh floor of a 150 year old building and scaling those steps made my thighs almost bust out of my kecks Johnny Bravo style.
Everything was great until I reminisced on a kebab joint in Zamalek, which is a sliver of land on the Nile just a bridge off Cairo. The sixth of October bridge was closed off due to the riots, but supposedly the next bridge up (27th July) was open.
Getting to Zamalek was fine and we bailed at Subway for a cheap munch. Jacks new favourite best food ever is Meatball Marinara and cheese on white, and within a few minutes I’d bagged 4 cans of Heineken and we were looking for a taxi back across the Nile.
I’d actually considered walking it, Cairo at night is gorgeous. The Nile is sided by international hotels and old steam boats and dotted with shadows of palm trees. You could seriously film a movie here and base it in 1979. Billboards still advertise Kodak and Coke, a city older than time, dotted with all the mod cons, but having somehow stayed in the 70’s it is without a doubt one of my favourite cities.
Anyway, we struggled to cross the suicide road and was helped across by some guy who put his life on the line for us, we hopped in a taxi, and when I pronounced where we needed to go, the driver must have thought I spoke Arabic, its all in the H’s and R’s and once you’ve nailed their pronunciation life gets easier. After speaking to me for five minutes, laughing and telling me his life story he looked at my blank face and spat out of the window. The bridge was jammed and it didn’t take long to realise why. Suddenly I noticed people were wearing medical masks, a clear feeble attempt to mask the tear gas lobbed at them. Others wore head scarfs around there face. There was several hundred demonstrators, it was dark, and they were controlling traffic. It looked like they were trying to turn people around but my driver was insistent and kept driving. At the second set of rioters the situation had seriously escalated and things were no longer tense, but lawless. I was asking him to turn around, gesturing with my hands. He was having none of it and I slipped my beers under the seat in front trying not to make eye contact with anyone and hoping they wouldn’t notice this was anything other than just some knob head taxi. Jack was clueless to what was going on, but by now I was worried. People have, and continue to die on those streets. I noticed a line of riot police all helplessly letting this self governance go ahead in some attempt to quell any issues.
It was dark and I could seriously sense a chinning coming my way. The first note I pulled out of my wallet was LE£50 and I gave it to the driver and gestured again he turn around. Money speaks better Arabic than I do and he spun around and after a brief stop at the first barricade we were off into the night. It took him ages to find a way to where we needed to be that wasn’t barricaded off, and by the current news much downtown Cairo is yet again suffering to riots.
Cairo was somewhere that would have been difficult to avoid, and so after speaking with Jacks mother we have made arrangements for us to spend most of tomorrow away from the city. And it’s a real shame, but safety must come first and though we aren’t the direction of anyone’s hatred, things are extremely tense and best avoided. At whatever cost.
The leading photograph is one taken on the sly from the taxi.