Thursday, June 12, 2008

Big Brother is Watching

By Sarah Wali

While everyone was out and partying in Cairo, I was adhering to my10:30 curfew. I got a lot of heat for not “taking a stand”. 'You’re 25,' my colleagues told me, 'you should be able to be out as long as you like.' However, I’ve made a choice, and I will continue to express my respect for those I live with by following the rules. Monday night though, there were no rules, and I saw late night Cairo for the first time.

It was about 12:30 AM when my friend Ahmed and I pulled up to the Cosmopolitan hotel in downtown Cairo where the American and Qatari students were staying. Three cops were standing outside the entrance to the ally where the hotel entrance is located. As one of them directed us to a parking spot on the street, four police vehicles flew by. I turned to Ahmed and asked if this was normal.

“You are in Egypt,” he said. “What did you expect?”

I don’t know what I expected. I had never been in downtown Cairo at such a late hour. I know that there is a strong police force, and that Egypt is under marshal law. Yet I had been in Cairo for a year, and prior to that had come to visit every summer. Egypt was amazing because it is so safe. You can be out until three in the morning without worrying. How it stayed so safe with so many disgruntled citizens never really crossed my mind. By the time we crossed the third checkpoint though, I started to get it.

The presence of the force, in and of itself, did not bother me. I got over that shock when we took a road trip to Sinai and were stopped at almost a dozen checkpoints. Rather, it was the efficiency of the police force. Anyone who has tried to get any official documents done in Egypt without a wasta (inside connection), knows that it could take hours at least, usually days. Yet these checkpoints were efficient, organized, and precise.

I would have liked to have stopped at one of them to talk to the officers, but I was told that would not be a good idea. I don't think they wouldn’t have talked to me anyway. I do know I felt like I was in a war zone. That danger was around every corner. Yet, I felt safe in an odd sort of way. Like Big Brother was watching. No one could hurt me, except the police.

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