HOW TO RENEW YOUR TOURIST VISA AT THE MOGAMMA–Updated December 2016!

Years after leaving Egypt and largely ceasing to blog, I’m still getting a fair amount of traffic on my post about the visa renewal process–as well as questions about how the process may have changed in the last  few years.

One reader who used my original post as a guide very kindly offered to update my post to reflect her experience, and she writes that “I believe the steps I had to take are part of the general procedure now, as I have heard from other people that they had the same experiences.” Many thanks to her for this update!

What to Bring:
1. Yourself.
2. Your Passport.
3. A photocopy of your passport photo page.
4. A photocopy of your passport visa page–if it’s not your first renewal, bring copies of your initial visa page and your most recent renewal.
5. A passport-sized photo of yourself.
6. A pen.
7. Lots of patience.

I usually get the photocopies and passport photo done ahead of time at a local place, but if you forget, you can get them done when you get to the Mogamma. Photo and copy center is to the right, past the ridiculously crowded staircase. The passport-sized photo is 30 EGP and the photocopies are cheaper (can’t remember the exact price). You will probably need to use your elbows to maintain your place in line.

 
What to Do:
1. Arrive at Mogamma, the earlier the better. The building opens at 8AM. I highly recommend making sure there’s nothing major happening in Tahrir before you go.
2. Go through security. If you’re carrying a camera, they’ll ask you to check it at the entrance.
3. If you didn’t get your photocopies and passport photo in advance, do so now.
4. Go up the massive, crowded staircase on your right.
5. Go down the linoleum lined hallway to the right at the top of the stairs.
6. Look for the window for visa renewals (window 12)–it’s near the end of the hallway. They will ask you to fill in the paperwork first and point you to one of the tables in the hallway.
7. Find the table and get your paperwork. It’s an A3-sized paper to fill in.
8. Go back to window 12 and hand everything in. They will write some things on the paperwork and in your passport. You will get a paper that states how many stamps you need to buy. You can buy these at window 6.
9. Find the window (6) that sells stamps. It is not the one across window 12, but go back into the hallway and take the first hallway to the left. The first window 6 that you will encounter is not the right one, you need to be at the second one (blue number 6).
10. Hand in the paper you received at window 12 and the guy will ask you to pay LE 20. He will give you a stamp on the paper you gave him, but note: these are not the stamps you need! Go to the next window on the right and collect your physical stamps.
11. Give your completed paperwork, stamps, passport photo and visa photocopies to the first window(12) where you got your paperwork (you will keep your passport). They will ask you to come back the next day at 9AM (or any other day that you wish to collect your visa, as long as it’s at 9AM).
12. Get the hell out of the building. (For the sake of brevity, I’ve omitted all of the wait-in-line-in-an-overcrowded-unairconditioned-hallway steps, but you should be aware that they’re a big part of the endeavor).
13. Return to the Mogamma the next day, go back through security, back up the stairs and down the hall. Look for window 38, hand in your passport and they will tell you to come back the same day at 1PM.
14. Get out of the building again 😉
15. Return to the Mogamma at 1PM and join the massive throng of people waiting for their visas at window 38.
16. When the people behind the counter hold up your paperwork with your photo attached, your visa is ready. Elbow your way to the window to pick up your passport. Note: this can take up to 2 hours!
17. Make your escape.

Congratulations! You’ve just renewed your visa for another 3 months!

How to Renew Your Tourist Visa at the Mogamma

After posting my rather tongue-in-cheek entry about my perilous journey to the Mogamma to renew my Egyptian tourist visa,  I noticed that a number of people came to my site wanting more information on how, exactly, to go about renewing your visa if you want to stay longer in Egypt. Here’s my step-by-step guide.

EDIT 1/3/2017–A reader who renewed her visa in December of 2016 provided an excellent update to this post–find it here!

What to Bring:

  1.  Yourself.
  2.  Your Passport.
  3.  A photocopy of your passport photo page.
  4. A photocopy of your passport visa page–if it’s not your first renewal, bring copies of your initial visa page and your most recent renewal.
  5.  A passport-sized photo of yourself.
  6.  A pen.
  7. Lots of patience.

I usually get the photocopies and passport photo done ahead of time at a local place, but if you forget, you can get them done when you get to the Mogamma. Photo and copy center is to the right, past the ridiculously crowded staircase.  You will probably need to use your elbows to maintain your place in line.

What to Do:

  1. Arrive at Mogamma, the earlier the better. The building opens at 9.  I highly recommend making sure there’s nothing major happening in Tahrir before you go.
  2. Go through security. If you’re carrying a camera, they’ll ask you to check it at the entrance.
  3. If you didn’t get  your photocopies and passport photo in advance, do so now.
  4. Go up the massive, crowded staircase on your right.
  5. Go down the linoleum lined hallway to the right at the top of the stairs.
  6. Look for the window for visa renewals–it’s near the end of the hallway.
  7. Get your paperwork and find a spot to fill it in.
  8. Find the window that sells stamps. The person who gave you your paperwork will tell you how much you need to buy in renewal-stamp currency.
  9. Give your completed paperwork, stamps, passport photo, passport and visa photocopies, and passport to the first window where you got your paperwork.
  10. Get the hell out of the building. (For the sake of brevity, I’ve omitted all of the wait-in-line-in-an-overcrowded-unairconditioned-hallway steps, but you should be aware that they’re a big part of the endeavor).
  11. Spend the next 2 hours doing something relaxing, preferably a little ways away for mental space. You’ll need the time to recharge.
  12. Return to the Mogamma, go back through security, back up the stairs and down the hall.
  13. Join the massive throng of people waiting for their visas.
  14. When the people behind the counter hold up your paperwork with your photo attached, your visa is ready. Elbow your way to the window to pick up your passport.
  15. Make your escape.

Congratulations! You’ve just renewed your visa for another 3 months!

Note:

This information is accurate at the time of posting. Egypt’s visa laws and procedures have been fluctuating wildly since the revolution started, and every few months there’s a scare within the expat community that visas will no longer be renewed. Several people have reported in the last week that the Mogamma told them that they were on their last 3-month renewal and that they would not be able to renew again. Three months from now, that may or may not still be the case.  Check with your friends before you go to renew your visa, just to be on the safe side. Good luck!

 

Reverse Culture Shock

I’ve been back in the US for about two months now, and as always, reverse culture shock is beginning to sink in. In many ways, reverse culture shock–culture shock that happens when you’ve returned to your home country–is often more difficult than the culture shock that you experience when you move to a foreign country. You expect, when traveling someplace new, for things to be different from what you’re used to. No one expects to find differences when they return to what used to be familiar, the place that for most of their lives was home.

I’ve navigated this issue several times now. The first time was the hardest. I had just returned–quite unwillingly–from living in France for a year. I’d felt more at home in Paris than I had anywhere else previously, and I felt that it was where I belonged. The art, the food, the culture all spoke to me. French felt like my mother tongue.  I had adapted to France to thoroughly that people were shocked to find out  I was American. France, from Paris to Saint Michel to Aix-en-Provence, welcomed me and made me feel that I was truly at home.

When I returned to the US, I felt that life was ending. Everything that I had grown to cherish over the past year was finished, and the shock manifested in unexpected ways. The cheese counter at the local grocery store made me want to cry. American English sounded harsh against my ears. I was despondent for a very long time, wishing more than anything that I could go back.

This time around, it’s a bit different. With France, I had fallen completely and unabashedly in love.  With Egypt, I had a much more complex relationship. There were many things I loved–the monuments, the desert, the hospitality of the people.  There were many things I hated–the traffic, the sexual harassment, the lack of trees, the fact that almost all of my hobbies in the US could be construed as scandalous in some way.  With protests happening on a weekly basis, I was ready to leave when I finished my practicum–but I stayed until the last possible moment, all the same.

Here in the US, I’ve gone from Boston to Florida to DC in the space of the 2 months that I’ve been back. Each one of these places has its own distinct culture, which both heightens and mitigates the sense of culture shock, depending how comfortable I feel with each one. Boston feels the most like my natural habitat in the US, and so I felt the most at home there. But it was also the first place I returned to, so it’s where I felt the brunt of the disconnect between my life in Cairo–circumscribed by the ongoing revolutionary activity and cultural politics–and my life in the US. Florida, where I grew up, felt strange in the way of childhood homes.

Now that I’ve finally settled in DC, with plans to stay for at least the next year, the disconnect grows stronger. Instead of feeling that my circumstances are curtailed by protests and sexual politics, I feel that my circumstances are curtailed by the economy and the terrible job market. I no longer have to check twitter to make sure that there’s not a battle going on downtown before I go out, or brace myself for graphic sexual invitations every time I walk down the street. The direct threats to my physical well-being are much fewer and less apparent here. The main threats I feel now are far more nebulous: looming student loans, the grinding process of applying to jobs and the fear of never finding one, the feeling of stasis that comes from suddenly ceasing to move after such a long time away.

Having gone through reverse culture shock so many times, I now know how to handle it. Focus on the good things about whatever place you’re in–the friends and family you’ve returned to, the old haunts that you’ve missed. Try to find at least a few people who have been to the place you’ve returned from, so that you can share stories and reminisce. Look for a cafe or grocer that specializes in food from the region that you’ve just returned from.  And throw yourself into your new location so that you experience it completely, like a new traveler in a new place for the first time. You’ll discover hidden treasures that you never knew about, and you’ll be able to preserve, for at least a while, the feeling of still being on the road.

 

 

 

 

 

Gradumacation! A Long Overdue Update on the Elusive Laura

It’s been a good long time since I’ve posted anything here;  the past several months have seen the finishing of my thesis (al hamdulilah),  graduation from my MA program in Sustainable International Development (again, al hamdulilah),  and returning from Cairo to the US (equal parts al hamdulilah and sadface).  It has, as you might imagine, been an intense period of time, during which my blogging rather got away from me. Blame the thesis.

Now that I’m back in the US and more or less situated in DC,  I’ll be blogging more often. There will be material from my adventures stateside (never fear, being in the US doesn’t reduce my adventure factor), as well as retroactive posts on all the experiences I had during my last few months in Egypt that I didn’t get around to blogging about in real time. I’ll also be working to integrate my blog with my photography website–expect new photos to appear on both, alongside the stories of where and how those pictures were taken.

Watch this space!

Smithies Respond to Offensive Letter with Righteous Rage

A few days ago, a fellow alumna of my alma mater sent a rather puzzling letter to the school’s newspaper in which she proclaimed that the increase in diversity at Smith in recent years is sending the college down the tubes and attracting subpar* applicants, and in which she stated, among other things, that “the days of white, wealthy, upper-class students from prep schools in cashmere coats and pearls who marry Amherst men are over. This is unfortunate.”

That excerpt was possibly the least offensive statement in the entire letter. I could comment at length on the classism, racism, and homophobia of the letter as a whole, or the fact that it reflects a mindset that stagnated in the 1950s, but that’s already been done. (You can read the letter in its entirety–plus commentary–on Jezebel.)

The Smith community reacted to this bomb, predictably, with righteous rage.  Tell Smith women that it’s a problem we’re not wearing pearls and sweater sets and dating Amherst men? Tell any Smithie that her background makes her a charity case? You’d better run for cover.

Within a few hours of the letter hitting the Sophian,  some enterprising Smithies started the “Pearls and Cashmere” project, in which Smithies past and present were invited to respond with their stories of where they came from,  how they got to Smith, and what they’ve accomplished since graduating, with photos to illustrate the glorious diversity of the student body. Several ladies posted their best photos of themselves in pearls and cashmere–some including a classy middle-finger salute for the woman who dared to suggest that they didn’t merit their education if they weren’t pursuing their MRS.

My own response and photo (no pearls or cashmere or rude gestures required) is at the end of this post.

Antagonizing Smithies is a bit like antagonizing a pack of hyperintelligent and slightly rabid she-wolves: you will get the most well-articulated smackdown in history. But we’re above bombarding you personally with hate mail–we’ll put our responses online, where they don’t clutter your inbox, and they don’t risk going unseen. We’ll use your intolerance to affirm pride in our own individual identities, and in our collective identity as Smithies.  And we’ll let the world know how wrong you are in judging us based on your own narrow view of what women’s education is supposed to be.

Smith breeds Sisterhood. Siblinghood. We’re-all-in-this-togetherhood. The outpouring has been truly incredible. Reading the entries on Pearls and Cashmere has made me even more amazed at the variety of  people who go to Smith, and the amazing things we do when we go into the world. Seeing the way Smithies rally to affirm the glory of their multi-ethnic, multi-racial, economically diverse, LGBTQ and ally selves, I have never been prouder to have called Smith my home.

 

 

Self-Portrait at Habu Temple in Luxor

 

Laura Carroll, class of 2006. French major, Medieval Studies minor, with an unofficial minor in Philosophy as well. I graduated 5th in my high school class, scored a perfect 800 on the verbal section of my SAT, and received a Smith Book Award, a STRIDE scholarship, and a Blumberg fellowship, all merit-based. I could have gone to college pretty much anywhere I damn well pleased, and I chose Smith solely because I knew that I would get an excellent education. Once there, I discovered that when you put two thousand brilliant women from diverse backgrounds in the same place and encourage them to learn and explore together, you create a phenomenal community that breeds intellectual creativity. At Smith, I was able to take classes in a mind-boggling array of disciplines, study abroad in Paris, sing with the Glee Club, and fence sabre. I made friends that are still with me to this day.
I’m currently working on my MA in Sustainable International Development at Brandeis, and I’m on practicum in Egypt (this photo was taken at Habu Temple in Luxor). I’ve lived in Morocco and Russia. I’m working on a book-length travel narrative and multiple short stories. I practice aerial arts and dance in my free time. I have a fabulous partner, whom I met at Smith. I challenge conventions about the things that are “acceptable” to do with my life—as have generations of Smithies before me.

Attending Smith was one of the best decisions I ever made.

 

 

 

 

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*Subpar, in this instance, meaning anyone who isn’t an upper-class, white, heterosexual, cisgendered female.

 

Who to Blame? Understanding the Massacre at Port Said

When last I posted, I was cautiously optimistic about the anniversary of the January 25 revolution. As the days passed with only minor scuffles, I breathed an internal sigh of relief. The worst was over, and we were on track for a peaceful post-revolutionary year.  That relief, however, was premature. The bloodbath that I expected didn’t fail to take place, it was simply postponed.

On Wednesday evening a football match in Port Said ended in horrific violence, with 73 people dead and over a thousand people injured. Egypt’s population is grieving,  shocked, and outraged, and  they’ve  taken to the streets. Predictably, a number of these peaceful marches have been met with birdshot and tear gas from security forces. In the 48 hours since the massacre took place, at least seven people have died in Cairo and Suez.  I expect the protests—and the counterfighting that goes with the protests—to continue for several more days.

What actually happened in Port Said? It’s difficult to say. So many different versions of the story have circulated since the massacre took place that it’s nearly impossible to know the truth.

The verifiable facts of the situation are these: at the end of the match, between the local underdog al-Masry team that won against the powerful al-Ahly team from Cairo, people rushed the field from the al-Masry side. The doors between the stands and the field were open, which they should not have been. The security presence was lower than normal.  Police in riot gear failed to intervene. The lights were extinguished. The doors to exit the stadium were locked.

And fifteen minutes later, seventy-three people were either stabbed, suffocated, or trampled to death.

What actually happened? Who can we blame? Which of the many conflicting narratives can we possibly believe?

In the first version of the story, the massacre was just a football match gone wrong. Small fights are common at nearly every game. One of my Egyptian friends told me that random fistfights and projectiles were “part of the experience” of going to a match.  This game, for whatever reason, had insufficient and/or inexperienced security that made all the wrong decisions when faced with a commonplace sports riot. Tensions are running high in Egypt right now, and things got out of hand. It could have happened anywhere, in any country, without enough security to keep the fans contained. Shame that it had to happen here.  But why was the security so lax? Why haven’t other matches since last January had similar levels of violence? And why was the attack instigated by fans of the winning team?

In the second version of the story, the massacre was a premeditated event. Someone—the most popular candidate is SCAF and/or the remnants of the old Mubarak regime—brought in thugs from the outside, armed with knives, and positioned them near the open gates to the pitch so that they’d be poised and ready to do their worst as soon as the game was complete, regardless of who won. The absence of security was deliberate, as was the inaction of whatever forces were present. Doors were closed to prevent people from escaping. The lights were turned out so that no video cameras would be able capture the truth.

Motivations in this theory vary. The al-Ahly fans known as the Ultras have been prominent in Egypt’s ongoing protests. By attacking them, SCAF could get rid of some of its strongest and most vocal opponents. A number of Cairo revolutionaries see the attack as the beginning of a revenge plot against participants in the revolution. Others see the attack as part of a pattern of violent crime that has arisen since January 24, when the government revoked the “state of emergency” under which Egypt has been ruled for the last 30 years. In the last week, there have been multiple bank robberies—a type of large-scale crime nearly unheard-of in Egypt up until now. Many believe that the upswing in violent crime is being orchestrated so that SCAF can justify re-instating emergency law, and ultimately justify maintaining its own power rather than transferring power to a civilian government. But if SCAF wants to demonstrate how necessary it is for maintaining stability, why carry out such a breach in its role of protection?

And today, the state-run Nile News TV channel declared that the football massacre was orchestrated by US and German spies as retaliation for the raids on NGOs. Invisible foreign hands were at work to try to undermine the integrity of the nascent government and push their own political agenda. But would foreign spies really give a damn about a football match? And aren’t the people of Egypt capable of rioting on their own?

It’s hard to know what to believe out of all these conflicting information streams. Each one is plausible, to a certain extent, and each one is problematic. Like all situations with multiple narratives, the truth lies somewhere in between the different lines. We may never discover what the truth really is. But one common theme is that everyone wants to point the finger at someone else, to distance themselves from this horrible event. Whose fault was it? Blame the football fans, blame hired thugs, blame the police, blame SCAF, blame foreign spies, blame someone. Anyone. Because no one wants to accept responsibility for such a heinous event. No one wants to accept that they might have had a role, however small.

Everywhere, everyone makes the same refrain: “It was other people, bad people, not us.”

Not us.

I do not believe in such things as “good people” and “bad people.” I believe only in the existence of people, full stop. People, who are capable of both good and bad actions. People, and the choices they make, based on the situations that they find themselves in.

Whatever happened on Wednesday, it was the result of human agency. People. Making choices.

I do not pretend to know who instigated the attacks, whether or not they were premeditated, who made the myriad decisions that ended in disaster. All I know is that these decisions were made by people, individually and collectively. And the repercussions of those decisions will scar Egypt for a very, very long time.

 

 

January 25th Revolution, One Year Later

On this day, one year ago, Egyptians took to the streets to protest the regime of then-President Hosni Mubarak. Following the example of Tunisia, protesters gathered to demand “bread and freedom,” and later escalated their demands to “the People want to bring down the Regime. ” The independent paper Al Masry Al Youm reported that it could be “the start of something big.

And so it was.

Two and a half weeks later, Mubarak stepped down. People rejoiced–they had brought down  the Regime.

A year later, though, it’s clear that the Regime is still here–like a hydra, its head was removed only to sprout a dozen more in the form of the generals of SCAF. Mohamed El Baradei, Nobel Peace Prize winner and presidential hopeful, publicly withdrew his candidacy because “the old regime has not fallen yet.”

It’s been an interesting year. A year of hope and disappointment, of protests and violent military crackdowns reported as “clashes.” Of increasing confusion as to what the revolution has accomplished, and whether or not is has continued  or concluded or simply fallen into stagnation. A year whose official timeline is incomplete and filled with blood.

Today, people are gathering all over the city to remember this last year of revolution, to commemorate all those who died, all those who were detained, blinded, tortured, and sexually assaulted. All roads today now lead to Tahrir, and some reports from Twitter say that the square is already so filled with people that the marchers coming in from all over the city might not even make it into the  square itself.

Today’s marches and demonstrations, inshallah, will be peaceful. Indeed, I’m fairly sure that they will be, for as long as the daylight lasts.  But the worst military crackdowns have always happened after dark, and so I’m waiting to see what happens after sunset, and what happens over the course of the next three days.

Inshallah…

For real-time updates, I’ll be following the Egypt Live Blog on Al-Jazeera. I recommend that you do the same.

 

 

 

Happy New Year from Cairo!

This post originally appeared on the Planeterra Community Blog.

A lot has happened  here since my last update. Following my visits to Alexandria and the Sinai Peninsula, I went to Upper Egypt, home of the cities of Aswan and Luxor. From Aswan, I joined a group to visit the incredible temple of Abu Simbel, one of the most impressive sites in all of Egypt.  The temple itself is awe-inspiring in its size and grandiosity, but even more impressive is the fact that it was moved completely when the Aswan High Dam was built—each individual block was painstakingly transported and reconstructed so that the temple would be preserved. Pretty awesome!

Posing with Walid from G Adventures in front of Abu Simbel Temple

I also had the chance to take a daylong felucca ride down the Nile on the way from Aswan to Luxor.  Temples are impressive, but I found the felucca ride even better. In a sailboat, you can watch the palm trees and temples roll by, with scenes of daily life unchanged for hundreds of years.

A Felucca on the Nile

Following Luxor, I went out into the remote Western Desert to visit the 5 oases of Kharga, Dakhla, Farafra, Bahariya , and Siwa. I even got the chance to go camping among the mysterious rock formations in the incredible White Desert.

Standing with a Rock Formation in the White Desert

In each of these amazing places, I found a host of potential projects for Planeterra to support. Village associations with their own schools and health centers, women’s cooperatives for sewing and handicrafts, irrigation canals and sanitation projects…every place I went had a different priority, a different effort to improve local livelihoods. The sheer number of projects to look at was daunting, but also an incredible sign of local efforts to improve their own lives and situations. International media might focus on Egypt’s difficulties, but in my work and travels here I’ve been impressed by Egypt’s strength. Every village is full of possibilities, and Egypt’s people are full of hope for the future.

With Local Children in Aswan

It’s important to point out here that during all of my time and travels in Egypt, I’ve never once felt unsafe.  Despite all the unrest in Tahrir, Egypt remains a very safe place for foreigners to visit. I’ve been welcomed with goodwill and hospitality in every town and village, and the other travelers I’ve met here all agree with my conclusion: Egypt is an amazing place to be.

 

 

Sunset over the Nile

 

To the Mogamma! Visa Renewals and a Visit to Tahrir

The past two days have involved a great and perilous adventure known as Renewing my Visa. Permission to Remain in the Country needed to be Obtained. While normally this activity is not problematic in Egypt, since foreigners usually bring needed money, the matter of recent  events has made engagements with the bureaucracy less predictable than normal. Rumors were circulating that visa renewals were getting more difficult, with one Egyptian newspaper claiming (in sensationalist manner) that foreigners should just stay away or go home. 

Nevertheless, I had no plans for leaving, and my visa was expired. Which meant that I had to brave the journey to Tahrir to visit the dreaded Mogamma–an enormous government office building that is the scourge of everyone who needs more than a 30-day standard tourist stay. A gift of the Soviet Union in 1952, the Mogamma remains a bastion of Soviet-Era efficiency and charm in the heart of Egypt.

Hence the  dread.

I arrived  shortly after the 9am opening time on Tuesday, accompanied by my housemates (one of whom also needed her visa renewed–misery requires solidadrity). Tahrir was relatively quiet, but closed to automobile traffic and Occupied by a number of makeshift tents. In January and July of this year, revolutionary activities actually blockaded the Mogamma building. Fortunately, the current protests aren’t denying access.

Photos of Tahrir are currently frowned upon. I tried to be discreet.

El Tahrir Square, with the Mogamma in the background

My efforts at discretion were probably unsuccessful.

Tents in front of the Mogamma in Tahrir

Inside the Mogamma, there was first the fairly painless line to get my passport and visa photocopied.  Then there was the first window, to get the paperwork for a re-entry visa, followed by a second window to get the visa extension paperwork. A third window sold me stamps to pay for my visa extension, which I brought back to the second window, which sent me back to the third window because my first set of stamps was insufficient, and back downstairs for another photocopy of my visa page. Back at the second window, I dropped off my passport, extension paperwork, pile of stamps, photocopies, and supplemental passport photo, and was instructed to come back in two hours to window number 38.

While this process was annoying, it was actually made better by the fact that there’s a fairly low volume of tourists right now.  Last time I renewed my visa, the process was comparable, but complicated at each window by nearly endless queues. At least this time around, the queues were short.

Two hours later, after lunch in the khan-el-khalili, we returned to the Mogamma and the fabled Window 38, where a woman held up stacks of papers with passport photos attached. When you recognize your photo/paperstack in the window, your visa is done. In my case, though, because I needed both the extension (now finished) and the re-entry (unable to be processed simultaneously), I had to take my newly-returned passport back to window number one, where I was told that it would be ready the following morning.

So. They didn’t fail to renew my visa, or order me out of the country, or otherwise tell me that I couldn’t stay. My foreign self is still welcome. But because bureaucracy is never done, my visa was not actually ready the following morning.

It was ready ten minutes past closing time, the following afternoon.

Catching up on Egyptian News–Protests and Elections

I have begun and discarded half a dozen entries since my last post.  It’s hard to know what to blog about when the situation is changing by  the hour, and after a certain point things become too complicated to explain them in real time. At first, I followed the violence in Tahrir so closely that it became my full-time job. Then I hit a saturation point, in which I literally could not look at one more news article or twitter update without feeling that I might go mad. Ignorance was starting to seem like bliss.

I spent almost two days trying to ignore the news as much as possible, meaning that I only checked my news feeds and twitter 2 or 3 times a day, instead of hovering over them constantly.  It was  American Thanksgiving, and I decided that the holiday meant taking a break from the real world.  The real world, however, was impossible to shut out.  Even though I wasn’t physically present in the square, Tahrir was the only thing that really existed.

I tuned in to find news of a police officer called the “eye-hunter” deliberately blinding protesters and  American-made tear gas (plus  nerve gas of unknown provenance) being used against protesters in the square. Even the news itself became suspect. One of my favorite news websites, Al Masry Al Youm (to which I refer  positively in my post about Egyptian news sources) was taken offline for 48 hours.  When the site returned, it was full of state propaganda: “who will protect the people if not SCAF?”  So much for freedom of the press.

If I’d had any desire to go to the protests myself,  it would have been quickly quelled. Not just by the tear/nerve gas, but by the fact that as a foreigner and a woman I could have easily been turned into a pawn or a victim–and possibly both. Three American students were arrested near the square on bogus charges of throwing Molotov cocktails. At the same time, government representatives talked about “infiltrators” and “outside agents” stirring up trouble in Tahrir–as though the government’s own excesses weren’t enough to make people take to the streets on their own. The last thing I wanted was to be held up as one of those “outside agents.” Especially when there were female journalists being arrested and  sexually assaulted.
An Egyptian friend of mine took part in the protests, and I gave her some money to buy extra gas masks to distribute. It was the only concrete way besides twittering that I felt I was able to contribute to the cause.

And now.

Things are quieter. The first phase of elections is complete.

I went to stay with a friend in Alexandria during the elections, and we were prepared to hunker down under self-imposed house arrest in case of riots. But everything was calm. The day dawned rainy, and I took it as a good sign. Men and women lined up peacefully in separate lines and waited their turn to vote. They even managed to agree to disagree sometimes.  There were questions, among those who had been in Tahrir, whether the election as overseen by SCAF was legitimate; whether voting was or was not the next manifestation of the people exercising power as they’d done in Tahrir. A 62% voter turn out rate so far indicates that more people than not decided voting was a good idea.

Since the days of voting, we’ve returned to a semblance of calm. Which is not to say that there haven’t been protests. Just that they’ve been smaller, and the police and army haven’t seen fit to attack. Yesterday, protesters wearing eye patches marched to express solidarity with protesters who lost their eyes in the last week.  Today, more protesters marched with coffins to symbolically represent those who died. The marches right now are about mourning and acknowledging the sacrifices that people have made to free their country from military rule. Inshallah those sacrifices will not have been in vain.