"In a week the Morsi will be an EX-President!" an Egyptian colleague tells me with a confidence that I didn't want to probe. The pervasive sunlight finds as it always does my arid, red forehead through a gap in an umbrella. 'You must come and see the Revolution!' he adds.
"Yes" I reply, slightly surprised by my own response- "I'd love to". Yet I, having never been asked to go to a revolution before (believe it or not), naturally wondered what I was getting myself into. After weeks of research I have come to one watertight conclusion: nobody knows what's going to happen, but it's going to be big.
I fully expected when I was asked to witness this event that a time warp would open up and take me straight to Tahrir Square on 30 June where (the date of the protests) like most films had me believe. At the very least I assumed the city would explode or that I would have to reenact Argo and have to grow a handlebar moustache and huge glasses to sneak out of the country. Oddly my expectations were not fulfilled.
Work for me at least has come to a halt in preparation for the protests but the rest of Cairo appears as busy and shouty as ever. I still get scammed by devilishly friendly taxi drivers and café owners; my apartment's air conditioning and toilet still need fixing five times a day, however the reality of the political situation is much more sinister than living in the city would have you believe. The internalization and subsequent normalization of underlying indicators of tension hide the very real threat of violence and turn the ordinarily obvious into the banal.
Scouring through the news it's clear there is movement even if not the cataclysmic kind I expected. The once novel presence of military hardware and revolutionary propaganda is now regular and expected. Meanwhile out of sight, sectarian and political tension is peaking. Rhetoric from all sides is becoming more bellicose. Tamarod, the anti-Morsi movement organizing the protests, has firmly rejected talks with the government. Diplomacy has apparently ended.
As political players bicker the all-powerful and strangely autonomous military are deploying heavily and are threatening intervention to prevent civil war, a phrase that is particular pertinent in the region due to the self-destructive Syrian conflict. They like the Government are preparing for the worst-case scenario and Morsi has learnt from the mistakes his predecessor Hosni Mubarak made in 2011.
The US has also announced it is sending 400 troops to the Sinai region to protect Israel from over spilling violence and it is closing its embassy in Cairo to avoid risking a recurrence of the Libya embassy massacre. What is not clear is whether actions of those with influence in the country are self-fulfilling prophecies or not.
Having to rush back from Alexandria last weekend to avoid roadblocks being prepared for a huge pro-Morsi demonstration was the first instance of political events affecting myself. However the actual protest consisting of 100,000 people went by without waking me up despite its very close proximity to me; news of the demonstration was also limited and venturing outside I found Egyptians on the street were typically unfazed.
Egyptians incessantly berate me for "listening to the shit the media says", without it I would be completely oblivious. The immense size and routine madness of this place hide the pre-revolutionary sparks while the omnipresence of propaganda neutralizes its own desired effect. The intensity and political, structural and physical violence of Cairo have rid fear and anxiety from Egyptians' DNA. Expressions of political discontent have become mundane just as fighting over taxi fares and mango prices had long ago.
The bizarre idea to publicly plan and set a date for a revolution also seems to have a sterilizing effect. Firstly people are no longer on their toes; they can get on with their lives and put their feet up. There is no need to be wary or anxious for now. Secondly though there is no element of surprise and therefore little reaction to dynamic political movements. The 'event' whatever it turns out to be is seemingly inevitable.
The feelings I have now apart from the fear that comes from watching terrifying YouTube compilations of the 2011 revolution seem to mirror that of Egyptians. It's the feeling you have after voting and waiting before a sports fixture or exam. It's a kind of subdued helplessness. 'There's nothing anyone can do now' I hear a voice in my head say. It's crunch time. My already crippling lack of agency in this place is now an ever more daunting thought.Suggest a correction