A tourist in turbulent Egypt

It is an exciting and strange time to be a tourist in Egypt. After 11 days stay here, we will head to the airport in a few hours and I hope we’ll get out of the country without a hiccup. Well, I know that many roads are closed and we’ll make some de-tours.

Apart from the night of July 2 when we bumped into an angry crowd in Luxor, we didn’t feel remotely any danger. The next day, we heard from our guide Raymond that one young man died and a couple of dozen people were injured during a clash between Morsi opponents and supportors. As it often happens with a big protest, other issues and grieves may also surface. A Coptic church was attached. Luckily there was no serious damage. When we drove through the central square of Luxor, we saw cleaners sweeping away stones and broken bricks which were obviously used as weapons the night before.

The next day (July 3) was a strange one. On one hand, the view limestone landscape from our cruise ship was peaceful and delightful. In the shadow of palm trees, the children swam and played and happily shouted ‘hello’ to us as we sailed by. On the other hand, we just wanted to watch the BBC TV news and to follow the latest development. The scene of demonstration reminded me of our own unprecedented pro-democracy movement back in 1989.

Shortly after our dinner on that nigt, the news came that the military removed president Morsi. We cheered with everyone else. We were docked at a smile town called Edfu in Upper Egypt. Like many towns across the country, fireworks erupted. The mood was jubilant and victorious. Just about everyone I came across – from tour guides, drivers to Egyptian friends I was introduced to – opposed Morsi. Watching the jubilant crowds at Tahrir Sqaure – there were tens of thousands of them – I felt this was the victory of people’s power.

The Western media used the word ‘coup’ to describe what happened. But I received an email entitled ‘This is not a military coup’ from an Egyptian lady called Karam, who runs a bookstore and publishing company in Cairo. She argued that the military acted on behalf of the people and Morsi, though democratically elected, had lost his legitimacy. Our guide Raymond agreed, adding that up to 30 million people had signed a petition, asking for Morsi’s resignation.

In the next few days, the country saw a lot of twists and turns. On July 4, Morsi’s supporters organized a large demonstration. Clashes between the two camps took place in several cities.

The worst news so far was the assault at dawn by the military and the security forces against a group of Morsi supporters who were staging a sit-in outside a Cairo barrack where the ousted president Morsi was thought to be held. More than fifty people died and hundreds were injured. The army claimed that it was self-defense against an attack by some terrorists. And the injured protests claimed that they were fired at while they were praying.

From what I could gather, something did happen which triggered the shooting incident. The bloody incident is now being investigated.

Things are calming down a little. Many roads now are sealed off. This morning, when I visited the Egyptian Museum, I saw rolls of tanks stationed outside and dozens of soldiers armed to their teeth. The museum is around the corner from the Tahrir Square, the heart of the actions.

For most part, life goes on in Cairo. The swimming pool at up-market Gazira club was packed with swimmers. Young affluent Egyptians flirted and conversed in English.

I asked our host Richard, Daily Telegraph’s seasoned Middle East correspondent, what will happen. He thinks it is unlike that there will be a full-fledge civil war or Egypt becomes another Syria. But he predicts plenty of troubles ahead. It’s always tricky to have a military installed government. And the military seems too powerful. And the Muslim Brotherhood, who has called for an uprising after yesterday’s bloody assault, will not back down easily.

Much I was excited to see how people fought determinedly to have a say in how they were government, there were also some dark sides. Quite a few incidents of sexual harassments and at least three cases of rape at Tahrir Square were reported last week.

And there are opportunists. Amid the large protest on July 30 at Tahrir Square, the charming animal mummy expert who hijacked Helen and I to a perfume shop doesn’t seem exist, or doesn’t work at the museum as he claimed. I asked after him at the museum this morning but no one has heard of a Dr. Zaky. Well, he has to make a living.

You inevitably experience such annoyances while travelling in Egypt. Still, it is such a fascinating place with long history, vibrant culture and friendly people. I just hope that things will calm down and the tourists will return: the country’s economy depends on it.

Of course I am glad that we have made the trip. I always believe strongly that if one always takes the safest options, then one will never live the life to the full. Since we have taken this little risk, now we have a few good stories to tell.

Insha’allah!

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