Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

Guest post: On the ground in Egypt

What the heck is going on in Cairo? Here’s an eye witness account from an Irishman living there.

Thu, Jul 4, 2013, 20:40


My younger cousin Padraic McCluskey who is originally from Connemara lives in Cairo, next to Tahrir Square. He’ve lived in the Middle East on and off for the past few years and currently works for an organisation that protects civilians in situations of armed conflict. I asked him to write an eye witness account of the extraordinary regime change that has occurred in the past 24 hours from the point of view of someone living in the city and familiar with the politics in the region, and he kindly obliged. Here’s what he wrote.

Egyptians are now well skilled in instigating political change. It took them a whole 18 days to oust Hosni Mubarak from his 30 year rule but now in the space of four short days they have been the driving force behind the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi from power.

Having moved to Cairo in early 2013, in plenty of time to witness Morsi’s momentous fall, my girlfriend and I now live a stone’s throw away from Tahrir Square which once again formed the epicentre of anti-government protests in recent days.

Moving here without jobs was a big risk for both of us but fortunately it has paid off in recent months. After having lived in Damascus three years ago it had always been the plan to move back to the Middle East. With Syria now in the throes of a civil war Egypt was the next best option.

After the tension and excitement of previous day’s events came to a head last night when the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, General Abdul Fatah Al-Sissi announced that Mohammed Morsi was no longer President of Egypt. People in the streets had already been in high spirits in the hours leading up to the statement as rumors circulated that Morsi had been placed under house arrest.

Nothing though compared to the wild celebrations that ensued following Sissi’s statement. Thousands of people, many with young families, started streaming out of their houses to head towards Tahrir Square. Egyptians flags were waved, car horns beeped, endless amounts of fireworks let off, pistol shots rang out and the thousands passing our apartment could not have been happier.

The chants of irhal (go out or leave) were replaced with those of bas (that’s it or enough). One group carried a mock coffin with Morsi’s picture on it, others carried pictures of Egypt’s second President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Wednesday night marked the culmination of a whirlwind four days of protests. The protests, marked to coincide with Morsi’s one year anniversary of being in power, saw millions of Egyptians both pro and anti Morsi alike come onto the streets each day to support their respective causes.

The Rebel Campaign (Tamarod) which began organising the protests had been gathering signatures for some time to a petition calling for Morsi’s resignation and early presidential elections. Opposition parties joined the campaign and by the end they claimed to have received more than 22 million signatories compared to the 13 million votes Morsi received during his election victory.

When the protests started on June 30 debate on the street quickly turned to the potential role of the Army in the political wrangling with many calling for the Army to force Morsi from power. The Army’s popular status within Egypt was aided in the last few days by what many would view as a slick PR campaign. Each evening the Army repeatedly flew an array of helicopters, some with Egyptian flags tethered to them, low and slow over Tahrir Square, much to the delight of those underneath.

Come Wednesday night many people’s aspirations had been realised as Sissi flanked by religious and political leaders alike announced Morsi’s removal.

What then would one call the entire process? A coup? A revolution? For Morsi’s supporters, once they recover from their shellshock, the whole episode will most definitely feel like a coup. Morsi’s last speech in office saw him repeatedly stress the legitimacy of his rule and his supporters can perhaps rightly argue that that has been unfairly ripped away from him.

For the far greater number of Egyptians who wanted to see the back of Morsi, the majority will not be getting caught up in the semantics of the word.

To them it was much more of a collaborative effort where the army channelled the widespread disappointment and anger there was to Morsi’s rule.

His time in office was an example of how not to run a country, but the challenges he faced (though he exacerbated some) were immense. The economy is on the brink of collapse, murders and armed robberies have skyrocketed since 2011 and the nation still harbours an entrenched elite hesitant to change.

Perhaps no one could have made any headway in overcoming these problems. It was through the manner of his rule that put paid to his rule. The attempt to consolidate power, avoid compromise and failure to tackle the nation’s problems were accusations that he neither answered or surmounted.

This is potentially because he viewed his victory at the ballot box as the beginning and end of democracy and not a continuous process.
As to what happens next, well, the situation is still fluid with many wondering how the Muslim Brotherhood will react. Adly Mansour has been appointed Interim President, the constitution will be re-written and Presidential elections will take place afterwards.

Downtown Cairo today felt like it was getting back to normal. The traffic was gridlocked again, there was the daily car crash and post-crash shouting match, and people generally went about their daily business as if nothing had happened the night before.

Sadly, amongst the elation and despair of the week’s protests and upheaval, Tahrir Square once again witnessed a large number horrific and serious sexual assaults and it is something that has come to blight large protests in recent years. In the past four days the Egyptian organisation Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment/Assault has reported at least 169 cases including 3 cases of rape. Amidst the headlines of coups and revolutions, it is a problem that does not receive nearly enough attention in the national or international media.