It’s pretty hot in Cairo right now. I get up at 8 or so and the sun has already heated the tiles on the balcony to a baking redness. Every time I walk past the tents in Tahrir I think how hot it must be under there. (Family camping holiday veteran, right here.) I don’t know if there’s a correlation between heat and road rage but I keep on seeing arguments in the street, more than I remember seeing in the past.
Living so close to Tahrir brings with it the feeling of verges and edges. The liminal public space (and shit). Every building around the square seems to face inwards like plants growing towards the light. Last night a couple of hundred people marched past my street, up Talaat Harb, and it was like some kind of fourth wall being breached. Sometimes, like yesterday evening at about 6pm, I find myself hearing events in the square and simultaneously following them on Twitter in my flat. It makes me think of the Ralph Waldo Emerson quotation about becoming a gigantic eyeball. (Or something like that.) Piecing together sensory perception is disconcerting. Was that a cheer from a football match or a roar as a fight breaks out in the middle of Tahrir between protesters and street vendors who were allegedly paid 50 LE (about £5) to start a fight in the square?
The space has been elevated to a suitably worthy place in the world’s collection of symbols. Even David Cameron went to Tahrir Square; my hopes for a Tamer Hosny-style ass-whuppin were unfortunately not to be realised. When the space becomes more important than the cause, that is when problems start. That’s what ended up happening in the Cambridge occupation. Holding a space for no reason other than, as George Mallory said, because it’s there, is deeply flawed. The stasis of it will fracture your movement and weaken your forces.
That’s not, I hasten to add, what Tahrir is like. It runs the risk, like any symbol, of becoming worth more than its actual meaning, but in Egypt, in this place, this time, this week even, that’s clearly balls. The thing worth remembering, though – and no-one in Egypt forgets this, but many people reading the news in London or New York might – is that the fight doesn’t stop at the edge of the square, even though it can feel like that. My first encounter with CS gas took place on Tuesday night; I retreated up Talaat Harb, availing myself of a baby wipe some dude had given to me, and within five minutes I was back in the wast il-balad that first smacked me around the retinas a year ago when the idea of a protest camp in Tahrir Square was just someone on the Siesta again. (CS gas was as unpleasant as you might imagine. I left soon afterwards because I was alone and it was past midnight.) The most surreal thing about it is the atomisation of the city. Overflow out of the square doesn’t have the forces to sustain itself. Whatever you think about the merits of attacking the Interior Ministry, even the hardiest of would-be occupiers has to realise that such an undertaking requires more manpower than they currently have, especially when the boys in blue hole themselves up inside the ministry and start lobbing rocks, displaying a subtlety of policing tactics I haven’t seen since, well, since the London Met horse-charged a bunch of sixth formers a few months ago. But I digress.
The fight doesn’t stop at the edge of the square. It continues into the neighbourhoods all around the country where policemen facing charges for violence against demonstrators are continuing in their normal duties. It continues into the hospitals in al-Arish and Minya facing armed attacks due to lack of security. It continues into the rural villages where women are injecting cleaning products into their vaginas because they can’t get a safe, legal abortion. (Those are just three particular press releases I translated at work this week.)
It’s been a strange, scrappy few days, with a lot of confusing and obscure events. Full, satisfying explanations have yet to be found for yesterday or Tuesday, although this comes close. It’s very hot in Cairo; sometimes unbearably so. The attempts of SCAF to cool things down are having little effect. The postponement of the Adly trial, although apparently (according to my colleagues in Cairo) following the letter of the law and justified under the circumstances, looks hella bad. The persistent patrician attitude of the Egyptian elites renders them seemingly incapable of explaining their actions. Don’t trouble yourselves, they seem to be saying. The (martial) law works in mysterious ways. This fundamental communication problem between the state and the people only makes this more tense. And the temperature rises. The SCAF Facebook page is a joke. Justin Bieber has a more sophisticated public relations operation than this. الشعب يريد رفع الاخفاء. WordArt on riot police shields doesn’t make your military state more transparent and welcoming, it just makes it look well ’90s.
But the problem lies deeper than the lack of explanation. For as much as I’d love to see Adly with stripes around his shoulders, these high-level prosecutions are quite obviously sops to keep people happy. Offering compensation to the families of the martyrs means little if the killers of their children are still on duty in Free Egypt. And while due process should be observed and no-one’s trial should be compromised, no matter how odious they are, no matter if they wear suits with pinstripes made up of their own name, it needs to be made clear that this is due process, and that no-one is above (or below) the law. And making that clear, not just clear but true, will take more than rapping senior NDP blowhards on the knuckles. It will take more, even, than justice for the families of the martyrs. It will take a comprehensive reform of security and policing in Egypt, which in itself will involve a fundamental re-evaluation of how the state relates to its citizens. Then maybe the temperature will cool, just a little.
*worst post title ever, apologies. it’s hard thinking them up, you know.