The Sounds of Cairo


Tearful eyes, Noses covered with shawls, hands or Napkins.

People running away coughing, and others giving instructions to put Pepsi or Vinegar on the eyes so they calm down.

Is it a tear gas? It must be more than this: it is “tear everything,” says a lady in English to her two friends. A man asked people not to leave, to return to the demonstration. People are running in all directions- with and against the traffic.

This is not Tahrir. It is 500 meters away from the main gate of the Ittihadiya Palace, the presidential palace where two huge demonstrations from Nasr City and Masr el Guidida – two upper middle class areas – convened. The tear gas was thrown so President Morsi could leave the presidential palace, without addressing the Egyptians who came to the palace.

“Why does he only address his community – gama3eto – are we not Egyptians too? Do we not have a right to be addressed or is he only the President of the Muslim Brotherhood,” a man shouted.

The scene here resembled the demonstrations of the March 14 coalition in downtown Beirut. They do not look like the daily demonstrations at Tahrir Square. These clean and wide streets welcome middle aged men and women in sportswear – Nike shoes, Adidas jogging suits. Men with sweaters wrapped around their necks, women in tight jeans on, branded t-shirts, mainly Timberland. Women with fancy jewelry, unveiled with their hair coiffed, mostly died blonde. Some women wrap their veils fashionably behind their neck. Perfume fills the air. There are signs of plastic surgery. Young guys with shirts that say: I Love New York or I Love Paris, UC Berkeley, NYC.

There are a few street vendors. You can count their number on your fingers. One sells tea at a cart attached to a motorbike. Others have pies and sweets on top of old cars. Some had handcarts. The flag seller here sells the Egyptian flag with an English slogan, I Love Egypt. The vendors know the class to whom they sell. These are not permanent stalls, as in Tahrir. They are here today, and tomorrow they’ll be at the park.

Ipads are lifted like the hands in Tahrir, not to make victory signs or to clap but to take pictures of themselves or to record the chants.

“No to the constitution,” is the most common banner, on red or black background. A man walked by with a banner that depicts a cartoon of a working-class Egyptian woman: veiled, overweight, holding a tray with potatoes, with a slogan, “We prepared the constitution for you, Umm Hani [Mother of Hani].” People gather to laugh at it, and to take pictures of it.

A young man walks by with a banner that is inscribed with Morsi’s popular words, “We are all one lap, my family and tribe,” to which he has added, “I offer you foul we Ta3emiyya [popular Egyptian food].” The condescension of the elite saturates their slogans.

“Look, the revolution, you sheep” (shouf, shouf, shouf el Thawra ya Kahrouf), sing the youth who came from Tahrir, who have taken the podium. “Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m saying it,” a lady says in English to her friends. Laughs fill the air. “One hand, one hand” (eid wahda, eid wahda). Loud chants and claps, but this time for the police who were leaving the area. “We are with you, believe us,” says one of the policemen. Others held up victory signs. They had opened the roads that led to the presidential palace once Morsi had left.

Why are you against the Constitution?

“Is it a question to be asked? I’m surprised you are even posing this question,” says Ragia, an entrepreneur. She began to list the reasons why she opposes the constitution: “First, the constituent assembly was not representative of all the parties in Egypt. There were big names like Amr Mousa, Ayman Nour and Gaber Nasar who withdrew from it. Second, most of the articles are elastic. They can be interpreted in so many different ways. Third, there is no respect for women’s rights. It is simply a constitution tailored to them, not to us. What does he want, push all women to be housewives,” her friend cracks up laughing saying:” you will be a great one- housewife.”

Nihal, her friend, who is also an entrepreneur in the import-export field objects to the constitution because “it limits the rights of the journalists and the media in general, and I mostly object to the right the president to sell public lands to foreigners. I, of course, object to the president’s accumulation of power.” Omar, his friend, reiterated, “He wants to sell public land for investors. I’m not sure why. We have so much money in this country. I’m an entrepreneur and I can start resorts on the Red Sea. That’s better than selling the land to the Qataris,” he says.

“I object to the article that allows the marriage of young girls, and also that allows child labor,” says Manal, who works in tourism. Her husband, Amir, who is an engineer, says, “How can he not have a Vice President? Does he want to make it a khilafa – Islamic rule?”

A man walks by. He is on the phone, telling someone to come to the demonstration. “There is nothing here. It is all cool,” he says. “Come and see. It is fun.” Another Lady telling the person on the other side of the phone:” Oh my god, the slogans, the slogans are so nice, come down.”

Some men walk by with a banner. “Where is the tourism in the constitution, Dr. Morsi?” I ask one of them what their grievance is all about. “Morsi will apply the sharia law,” he says. “We do not want to have religious tourism like Saudi Arabia or Iran, unless friends in Saudi Arabia are planning to move the Kaaba to Egypt, so we can have sharia tourism.” His friends laugh. “This is a good idea,” says another. “Or maybe he can move Karbala, or Qom from Iran.” As he was talking, a man with a banner walked by, “Egypt Can’t Be Afghanistan, You Muslim Brotherhood” (Masr mish ha tkhoun Afghanistan ya Ikhwan). The men laughed and said, “and Egypt won’t be Iran.”

Tahrir: A day for unity 

In Tahrir, I meet Mahmoud from Shobra, a working-class area. He is a meshwargee, an unemployed person who only runs errands (he is making fun of himself). I ask him what he thinks of the constitution. He gives me an earful. There is nothing I like in the constitution. Morsi says he wants to apply the sharia. It means that if someone steals he will cut his hands. But there are very poor people who can’t find anything to eat. If they steal to eat because he is not offering anything, what is he going to do? Will he apply the sharia law on them and cut their hands? He did not do anything for the young people. There is no housing. The police are still getting bribes. And there is no justice. It’s still a long queue in front of the bakeries and the bread loaf is for 65 cents. There are people who can’t even afford it, and if they steal. What will the sharia of Morsi says, cut their hands?”

Like Mahmoud from Shoubra, Hajj Abdel Hameed from Mouloufiyye is protesting the constitution because he does not believe the Muslim Brotherhood. “We are peasants and we know them in our village, my daughter, they are not trustworthy, they only love each other,” he said. He opposes the constitution because “peasants like him, who were supporting the country, can’t find anything to eat. Can you imagine, daughter, peasants who feeds people are unable to feed themselves now! The price of fertilizer is 160 Egyptian pounds. Where can we get this to plant our lands? We are leaving it, let his sharia feed him and his Muslim brothers.”

Tahrir is full of energy tonight, more than any other night. The challenge against Morsi grows. “As if we do not exist, and we are not in the streets. As if no revolution took place in the country. Morsi keeps ignoring us, as if telling us to hit our heads against the wall. I’m not going to listen to you and I will do what I want!” says Sobhi, an artisan from Amiriyya.

This is the energy that forced the famous television anchor Hala Fahmi from her job. “I would not have dared to hold my coffin and come on air without you,” she says from the podium. “I got my strength from you. And I want you to know, they won’t be able to lay me out from my work. I work in the public TV. It means I am working for you, and I earn my money from you. There is no law and no one can kick me, and if they want to, to hell with them! I’ll come to Tahrir and I’ll run the program from here.” The day before, Fahmi came on television with her coffin. Her program was abruptly cut. “Those who pretend they are Muslims are coming to us, cursing women and girls, and you have to know they are scared of us because they are scared of the strong Egyptian women who will raise the Egyptian men to defend them. They want us to be like sheep.” Claps and chants, One hand One hand (EId Wahda, Eid Wahda). The Union of Journalists arrive at Tahrir, ashla wsahla bel Thuwar, Welcome to the Revolutionaries.

In Tahrir, answers to my question about the constitution mostly confined themselves to concerns about employment and livelihood. Here there were not the specific concerns as in Ittihadiya. “I have nothing to do with the constitution, It is my kids, I care for,” says Fatma, a mid aged women who had asked me to be interviewed, when she saw me talking to Hassan, she objected on my question about the constitution. And then reiterated, “I want a constitution that bring work for my husband. We have three kids. He has been unemployed for five years, and I work here and there, sometimes as a cleaning lady for pennies, I want a constitution to solve our problem, “ Fatma says. Not having to go to work is a wish also for Manal who is from Matariya and who joined in our conversation. “I am against the constitution because he wants women to be housewives. He wants to take all our rights. I am with him, I do not mind being a housewife. But let him find work for men. There is nothing I’d like to do in life than be a housewife. Who told him I am happy cleaning people’s homes twelve hours a day,” Manal and Fatma object to the constitution because, on pain of starvation, it forces women into low-paid work. Ragia and her friends in Ittihadiya object to the constitution because it seems to push women to be housewives.

“We paid our blood for it,” announced an old soldier from the union of veterans from the podium. “You can’t let it go like that.” “Sinai is dear to Egypt,” said another veteran, after telling his story of the 1973 war.

Hassan tells me he is scared when he hears Morsi refer to Egypt as Egypt District. Does this mean open borders? Does he want to allow the Americans and the Zionists to buy Sinai? Somehow every Egyptian understands the selling of public land, and objects to it according to his or her interests. The entrepreneur Omar and the engineer Nihal see the selling of public land as a lost investment opportunity for them. For the working class people, it seems that the sale of Sinai to Hamas would “rid Israel of them, because Hamas is causing trouble to Israel,” as Hassan put it.

“Egypt is for all Egyptians. Wake up you who are asleep,” says the lead of the peasants’ union, Hajj Muhammad, masr li kol el masriyyin isho w fou3o ya naymeen. “Yes to the constitution means a Balfour Declaration for Egypt,” he shouts from the podium. “Do you want a Balfour Declaration for Egypt?”

Because she is protesting the division the constitution is causing, Umm Omar al Salam is in Tahrir:“I’m against the constitution because it divides the young people. We fight in the microbus, we fight in the alley, we fight at work. Why did he insist on such a constitution that divides the country this way? I’m against a constitution that was put together from 7 am till 2 pm. What is it? Boiling eggs or boiling potatoes to get done with it in such a short time? If he were a president we would have stood by him, but since he came he only works on dividing us, what? Does he want us to become like Iraq, or Syria, or this country of yours Baryut? I’m sad for Baryut. My heart is with you wallahi!”

When asked about the constitution, the Tahrir protesters talked about inflation and unemployment. “We want peace of mind. We want stability and security. We want the young people to work. We want to be able to make ends meet,” says Manal Ali Hussein from Shoubra. “I’m ignorant. I mean I do not know how to write and read.” She pauses a bit and then she tells me:” It is the first time I have come to Tahrir. I do not know why, but their words on TV suffocate me. I can’t feel comfortable with what they say. I simply do not like them.”

Manal, who is from Al Salam, another popular area, is against the constitution because “Morsi promised us work and he did not achieve it. He promised us low prices, but the prices are getting higher. He promised us an awakening, but we are retarding, going back. There is nothing awake. Everything is asleep in this country.”

The theme at the podium was unity. Only Egyptian flags, not the flags of political parties, were allowed in Tahrir. One hand, one hand. A Christian woman from a coalition of the Copts recites verses from the Quran. Bel injil w bel Quran yaskot dustur el Ikhwan. She holds hands with another woman, while beside them stands the Azhar Sheikh. The organizer chants,

Down with Morsi Mubarak.

Down with Morsi Peres.

Cairo was a city of demonstrations. As I was coming back home, a sit-in was in progress before Maadi’s Constitution Court. People were chanting,

We are not coming by buses.

We are not coming to take meals.

We are the Egyptian people, oh Morsi

In millions, not thousands.

Mish Gayyin bel Otobusat

wala Gayyin nakhod wagabat

I7hna el sha3eb el masri ya Morsi

bel malayeen mish bel 3ouloufat

[On Saturday the Brotherhood had bused paid demonstrators to Cairo. Or at least that was the rumor].

In Victoria Square, thousands gathered, with a teenager’s voice rising above the crowd,

We want social justice not Muslim Brotherhood justice.

You who became a god through power

There is only one god

Steal and forfeit the constitution

Do as Pashas do

Tomorrow will be your turn.

3ayzeen Adala Igtima3eya, mish 3ayzinha ikhwaniya

yalli ba3et fee el sulta ilah

la ilaha illa el lah, isra3e zawwar fee el dustur

i3emel zayyi ma 3emel el basha boukra ha yigi aleik el dor

The ones who attack the court, will follow abou ala3e – moubarak-

By the blood of the children of Aasyout

This time we won’t let it pass

Yallai byidrab bel qada3e boukra yhassal abou 3ala3e

whyat dam atfal asyout 

El marra dee mish ha tfout

Yesterday, Cairo was Tahrir. The city refused to be quiet. The chants filled Cairo with their ambition.

Mayssoun Sukarieh lives in Cairo.