Accounts from an American Expatriate living in Egypt during the Mumbarak Riots

Posted on Feb 3, 2011

Self-appointed commandos stand guard at intersections all over the Cairo neighborhood of Maadi, apparently a haven for retired military from several countries.  Some defenders wear camouflage, ski masks and Kevlar vests. They wield very large guns. Civilian troops pack too, though more creatively: kitchen knives, golf clubs, 2x4s and baseball bats.

“Who knew so many people played baseball in Cairo?” says my friend Randi.

Meanwhile, she is delighted to finally take a photograph of Maadi’s old synagogue, a building usually heavily guarded and blockaded in all directions. The police are all gone now. Randi is not worried about walking around here, though, having lived with police helicopters and gang gunfire near South-Central Los Angeles in the ’90s.

The U.S Embassy wants all nonessential personnel to leave Egypt.  Another friend Jorge calls to say she was trying to de-stress with backyard yoga when gunshots rang out above her downward dog. She is weighing options between taking the State Department offer or being dropped off in Cyprus, Istanbul or Athens or staying and trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for her 7-year-old son Nikos.  One day at a time, she decides. Today, she stays.

My neighbor Assam tells me not to fear Muslims. I like Muslims, I say: After all, I choose to live in Egypt, home to about 80 million of them.  I think he hears me. Mona on the top floor tells me not to  leave. She offers me candy.  One time I told her how attractive her hijab was and I almost wore it home. It is the Egyptian custom to offer the item you compliment.  Her mother, Nourdar, seems to be taking the revolution in stride. She’s lived through assassinations and occupations.

While downtown Cairo sees massive protests and now violent clashes, Maadi is quieter. There are fewer gun pops,  which are said to be army signals or intimidation volleys — both of which could be wishful thinking.  Police are rumored to be coming back. I need a hot shower and I better hurry because I just received a call warning of a water stoppage. The week has been a blur of the mundane and the monumental.  History in the making. It is all hard for me to grasp. On Egyptian television, President Hosni Mubarak offers to step down, but not until September elections. The crowd will have none of it.

“Leave, leave,” they chant, long after midnight in Tahrir Square.

– Clare Fleishman in Cairo