I didn’t go out at all today (Thursday) because as part of its campaign against the Tahrir protestors the regime has ordered the media to initiate a vile hate campaign against journalists and foreigners – which I am sort of both.
The mood changed yesterday and suddenly I was unable to leave my house. Friends rang me, warning me that gangs of people were roaming around Cairo’s streets attacking foreigners, or people who look foreign, or are suspected of being foreign, or agents, or spies, or Israeli, or Palestinian, or Iranian, or all of the above. Over 20 journalists were detained, some were roughed up, a photojournalist was stabbed. Journalists were chucked out of hotels, apparently on government orders.
An Egyptian friend told me that she went to rescue two foreign journalists near the October Bridge in Dokki and was herself set upon by a mob who accused her of being a foreign agent. Her and her brother were bundled into a taxi where her brother shielded her with his body. The army eventually intervened and rescued them and, in a strange coincidence, she and her brother added up at an army checkpoint with the girlfriend of a mate of mine, who had also been set upon in the same place. They were kept there until the mob dispersed.
I had thought that my problem was that, despite being biologically Egyptian-British, my Egyptian mother’s genes seem to have been on strike when I was formed and I am very much a Carol from Croydon. Usually this isn’t a problem (other than being welcomed to Egypt frequently by strange men) but it has now taken on a sinister tone. Another halfie with the Egyptian nationality I know was stopped at an army checkpoint and subjected to all sorts of bullshit just because they felt she looked different, or talked different or is somehow alien.
I’ve written about the identity issues I experience as a result of being a halfie elsewhere. Mostly I ignore them, because you know, who says I want to be part of your club anyway, but having to persuade a gang of 20 people that you are Egyptian five times every hour in order to be allowed to take photographs is exhausting, even more so when your physical safety depends on persuading said group that your Egyptianness levels meets their requirements.
The worst thing about this is how very un-Egyptian it is. Much is made of the legendary Egyptian hospitality, and for good reason. Egyptians take care of their guests. Which is not to say that xenophobia or racism doesn’t exist, and doesn’t exist in its worst forms. But very generally speaking I’ve felt safer and more looked after in Egypt than anywhere else in the world.
The descent into murky hatred coincides with a concerted state media campaign against foreigners and sinister “foreign agents” who are behind the Tahir protests, a continuation of previous campaigns against foreigners which have targeted e.g. Palestinians, religious minorities, gays, Shias…etc. State media is an extension of the regime. Add this to a security vacuum and the withdrawal of the police and a desperate regime and uncertainty and you get this, another highly convenient instance of manufactured discontent.