Same revolution, different views

2011-02-08 00:00

THE revolution started in typical Egyptian fashion: spontaneous, full of passion, but slightly disorganised. Where had this come from, we asked ourselves, reaching for a G and T. It'll all be over soon, we said, reaching for another, and then we can get our lives back to normal.

We always knew that Egyptians had a raw deal, and those of us who bothered to ask knew that the police were hated and were guilty of despicable crimes, but it didn't really affect our lives that much. We quite liked the way the police kept an eye on us — it made us feel safe and important.

But things are a'changing. Revolution brings new challenges. In pre-revolutionary days, much of an expat wife's time was spent trying out a new coffee shop or sourcing special foods such as Marmite, English mustard and Bisto. Once these were found, a quick text or phone call meant that the shelf was soon cleared of stock and the store cupboards were full.

Ingrid's new challenge is sourcing fags. Her usual supplier, the corner koshk, has run out of her particular brand and cannot deliver. This means she now has to leave her house to satisfy her cravings. When Ingrid was down to her last stompie, she picked up the phone and called in a few favours. Rory, came the whine down the phone, I'm down to my last stompie and short of smoking the filters … Not to worry, said my helpful husband, I'm on the case. Andre, our contact at Phillip Morris (manufacturers and distributors of Marlboro in Egypt) arrived soon after with, not a packet or two, but a carton or two. He left with a bag full of beers and a bottle of vodka.

Andre has his own story to tell. When he left our place with his bag of booze, he ran into a mob of pro-Mubarak protesters. They started rocking his vehicle. Rumour has it that he offered them a few cartons of Marlboro to leave him alone and, armed with a pro-Mubarak poster stuck to his windscreen, managed to make it to a hotel in Heliopolis, unscathed.

Hazem, who does some work for Rory, popped in yesterday morning. He says he came to see if we were okay. A part of me believes him. He also said that Mubarak was in control and that people should accept what he had offered in his speech. It was reasonable that he had said he would not run in the next election. It was reasonable that he said he was going to make changes to the constitution. We nodded and smiled. Why did he cut off the phone networks and the Internet? This time Hazem smiled. Mubarak did it for security reasons, he said, to protect us all from Hamas and Hezbollah taking over. All would be well. Mubarak was not going any­where and would look after all of us. Look at all the tanks in place. Everything could be controlled in six hours, maximum 12. We kept nodding and smiling. Did I mention that Hazem is an ex-army officer? The same army that Mubarak is the commander-in-chief of.

Nick says the workers on his rig are split. Or were. The older ones thought that Mubarak's concessions were a good idea. They were euphoric. They were going to be rid of Mubarak. No way, said the young ones. They recognised the transparency of Mubarak's rhetoric and were not prepared to give up. They know he could be lying, as if he stays, he is still in control and can still manipulate things and end up not changing anything. Nick says that they are resolute. Their resoluteness has changed the minds of the older workers and they are now united. Their unity has spilled over into their work place. They even got extra meat for dinner.

Revolution brings out the best in people. The neighbourhood watch has been out every night guarding and blocking the entrances to roads. Expats have joined them once or twice, armed with golf clubs or pool cues. They have done it good naturedly and with organisation and efficiency. Organisation and efficiency do not readily spring to mind when talking about how things work in Egypt. A nice surprise. Suddenly people have their dignity and are fighting to gain control of their own lives, and what better place to start than at home, in your own neighbourhood.

Tomorrow is being called the Day of Departure. A day when there will be another huge peaceful protest to try to rid this country of a tyrant. Let's hope it leads to Mubarak's departure and not ours.

• Mandy Stiebel is an expat living in Cairo.

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