Note: Contributing Writer David Dietz is based in Cairo and doing freelance reporting. For more of his opinions and coverage of Middle East politics, see his blog, TheMidEaster.com, where this story originally appeared.
It has been nearly a month now since revolution in Egypt. Article titles such as “National Unity after the Egyptian Revolution,” “The Purity Protests” and “Tell Everyone Egypt’s Revolution is Sweet and Peaceful” paint a very rosy scene. For the most part, such optimistic portrayals are a fair portrayal. Egypt is not Libya nor Cote d'Ivoire. For a country of 80 million to undergo such a major transformation and do it relatively peacefully is quite impressive.
But, revolution is never easy and the events of the past few days are a stark reminder of the hurdles ahead. The first in a series of unsettling incidents came last Saturday, when presidential hopeful Mohamed ElBaradei was attacked on his way to vote in the constitutional referendum. ElBaradei, who had been urging his followers to vote “No” in the referendum, later tweeted, “Top figures of Mubarak regime still at large undermining revolution. Something is terribly wrong!!” Other supporters blamed Salafist groups, who had been telling people that ElBaradei’s “No” vote represented sin against shari’a law.
In any event, ElBaradei was forced to leave the polling site after his rear car window was smashed in by rocks.
Last week, more unrest broke out. Scared they will take the fall for the crimes of the Mubarak regime, Egyptian police gathered in central Cairo and set flame to an Interior Ministry building. Demanding better pay, improved working conditions, and a modicum of respect, several thousand policemen protested in front of the ministry building before having to disperse because of the flames.
While the official line from the ministry was, “It is likely to be related to the protests,” some witnesses and others around Cairo asserted that the fire was caused by ministry officials who were using the cover of protests to destroy incriminating documents.
One such person who was near the scene, Moamen, believed that “Mubarak’s people don’t want to go to jail. They see Habib al-Adly [Egypt's former Interior Minister currently on trial for premeditated killing] and don’t want that. There are many bad documents in that building. Now they are gone.”
Another friend voiced similar doubts that the police were the behind the fires. “No way. The police wouldn’t do that. Aren’t they out there for respect? How would that help? Egyptians don’t like the police, but it’s not them [the police]. It’s Mubarak’s people, the security forces that did that. I am sure there were too many documents in that building that recorded who knows what – torture, corruption, illegal stuff.”
The burning building forced firefighters to the scene and evidently slowed already sedated Cairo traffic.
By the end of last week, Egyptian investors finally awoke to the encouraging news that for the first time since January 27th, the stock market would be re-opened. Before the opening bell, investors gathered, waved Egyptian flags, and sang the national anthem. Only seconds later, the festive optimistic mood vanished as a massive sell-off triggered the automatic circuit breakers to suspend trading, thus forcing the market to close. Before the minute was up, Egypt’s stock market had lost more than 5 percent of its value. Mohamed Abdel Salam, the acting chairman of the exchange, was confident that the plunge was only temporary. In an interview earlier in the day with CNN, Mr. Salam said, “I am not nervous. It was expected that the prices go down. We just had a revolution, but they will come back.”
Nevertheless, the sell-off was a clear indication of the deep fears that remain.
Egypt is making strides and life throughout the city seems to be returning to normal, yet difficult days, like the ones seen recently, certainly lie ahead. Let’s hope that such incidents are only bumps in the road and don’t reshape the course of Egypt’s future.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons