Tag Archives: Alexandria

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

News Sources for Egypt

Tahrir has been going from bad to worse lately, but there’s a limit to how much news reporting and commentary I can do at once. It’s exhausting just to follow current events in Egypt right now, let alone write on them.

So.

In the interest of giving other people the option to see what’s going on in Egypt in real time, here are the main websites that I’ve been using to get my news and information.

First, traditional news sources like the BBC (my favorite news source in general circumstances) and CNN (popular in the US). Articles here tend to be well-written and well-researched, but often late to the party in terms of real-time updates.

Second, Egyptian news sources. Al-Masry Al-Youm and Al Jazeera both update pretty frequently, and being the local news sources they tend to get the stories faster than other networks. In particular the Al Jazeera Egypt Live Blog has been my main source of information for the past few days, because it’s updated in real time.

My main source of information, however, is not a news site at all. It’s twitter.  There are a number of interesting hashtags to follow–mostly I follow #tahrir, as well as some Cairo-based tweeters. @cairowire, @protestwatch, @tahrir_news all post frequently (@tahrir_news posts mostly in Arabic, so google translate is a handy device).

Obviously, not everything on twitter is accurate–but then, not everything on the traditional news source websites is accurate either. On Saturday, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported that Tahrir square had been cleared after “light clashes.” This was a few hours before the shit started to hit the fan. (I would include a link to the article in question, but it’s been taken down).

As my housemate Lorna points out in her blog on this weekend’s events, pretty much every news source is biased in some way, whether towards the police or towards the protesters (though support for the police has been dwindling the more the violence continues).  Consequently, I’ve been a news junkie for the past several days, concurrently following all of the above sources and often several others, trying to get as complete a picture as I can from all sides. Following so many information streams so constantly is exhausting, though, and it’s not something I can keep up indefinitely. So in the interest of spreading access to information more widely, I’m writing this post on sources that others can use if they so wish.

In the meantime, it’s 3am. Tomorrow promises to be just as interesting as today if not more so. Meaning it’s time to get some sleep before another tension-filled day.

 

The Alexandria Fish Market

It’s not often that a restaurant meal is the central focus of my day, but today was an unusual day. I woke up early to take the public bus from Cairo to Alexandria, and arrived at my hotel a little after noon.  I hadn’t slept much and was ravenous, so I decided to dive into my Alexandria experience by heading to the Fish Market, a place that had come highly recommended by multiple Egyptian friends.

Based on my time in Morocco, I expected a place with a name like “fish market” to be informal: an outdoor extravaganza by the docks where the fish jumps pretty much directly from the boats onto your plate, hitting the grill and some lemon along the way. Noisy, chaotic, full of life and character…this was my expectation.

Imagine my surprise, then, after a long, hot walk to get there, that the Fish Market was a formal restaurant, with blue and white tablecloths and big plate glass windows that looked out over the Mediterranean. My first instinct was to go elsewhere: I’d been looking for cheap and local, not formal. But I was hungry, and I’d just walked for half an hour in the hot sun…I sat down. The waiters ushered me to a corner table, set for six, next to huge plate-glass windows with a spectacular view of the sea.

The view from the restaurant window

Though there was a menu at the Fish Market, it was mostly symbolic. Though it wasn’t the chaotic boatside restaurant of my imagination, it did have the most important similarity:  a large display counter, where different kinds of fish and seafood  sat half-buried in ice. You could choose your own fish and its method of preparation, and they would bring it to your table made to order.

I had a small crisis at the fish counter. Next to each fish was a small sign indicating the price, but said signs were incomplete. Sea bass was 92 Egyptian pounds (about $15). Was this per fish? Per pound? I hadn’t been planning on spending much money, and no helpful English-speakers were in sight, either in terms of staff or other patrons. This meal looked like it might end up being way more than I could really afford for an ordinary lunch. I finally chose a sea bass that looked like it weighed about a pound, figuring that at least that way I would know the approximate price regardless of the system. I didn’t order any side dishes at the fish counter, because I wasn’t sure how much they’d cost, and I didn’t want to end up paying $30 for my meal.

When I got back to my table I found a bottle of water and a lavish display of mezze, which I hadn’t ordered.  It looked beautiful, but I inwardly sighed. I could already see how this whole meal was going to go–amazing food that I couldn’t refuse at a price I didn’t want to pay. I was tired, I was starving, and I’d been walking in the sun for half an hour after a 3 hour bus ride…I was an easy mark and I knew it. But the mezze looked delicious, and I was too tired to argue and too hungry to think about anything else, so I decided to make the most of my unplanned extravagance and dig in.

Mezze

The mezze were excellent, hummus, baba ganoush, a green salad with tomato, and two dishes I’d never seen before, one made from pureed garlic, the other from fava bean paste. Then my fish came, spanning the length of my plate, and though it needed salt and lemon it was very well prepared.

Grilled Sea Bass

Finally, the bill came. I had already resigned myself to an inflated price, so was incredibly, pleasantly surprised when the total for the fish, mezze, and bottle of water came to just under 70 Egyptian pounds (about $12).  The price of the fish was per kilo, not per pound–remember where you are, Laura! The fabulous mezze were only 10 pounds ($2).  I felt like an idiot, both for failing to remember the local measurement system, and for being so negative and suspicious  that the place was going to rip me off.

Every now and then, my jaded traveler expectations are wrong. This was one of those times.

So thank you, Fish Market, for exceeding my expectations, and for providing a really excellent meal at a reasonable price. I’m here in Alexandria for several days yet…I will be back.

The brutal aftermath...