This is a copy of an email I received yesterday from a friend and fellow American, Lynel Long, who lived in Cairo and worked there. She is an amazing woman who has celebrated many successes in her career working on behalf of women and girls. I first met her in DC in the early 90s and was thrilled to reconnect with her in Cairo. As I learned more about her career over the past two decades I was amazed at the work she has done on behalf of the disenfranchised and vulnerable and knew I had a lot to learn from her–both in terms of her knowledge about the issues of the work we shared but also about being a savvy consultant who has an extraordinary talent and capacity for making a difference. It’s always very special to meet role models even at the ripe old age of “almost 60” (and I say that age with pride and cherish every gray hair on my head!) and it was a real treat to be able to learn from her.
Lynel returned to Cairo just over a week ago and has been sharing her initial reactions to life in the new Egypt. I am lucky to be among the group to receive the updates. Her email yesterday made my heart sing with joy because it is so full of hope and is one of the most optimistic accounts about what’s going on there that I’ve seen.
Lynel’s account of Friday in Cairo:
There may have been as many as half a million in Tahrir Square by mid afternoon. It was a beautiful sunny but breezy day and the crowds were out. En route, you could buy flags, t-shirts, banners, 25Jan bumper stickers, and of course, nutritious sausages, foul, and soda pop.
En route across the October 6th Bridge, some young couples were already singing and dancing. In the Square itself, there were a few groups of marchers weaving in and out of the crowd in support of the Libyan protestors although they didn’t go anywhere very fast. Thousands of people were waving Egyptian flags so it was quite colourful. To rock music and protest songs, people were dancing on the balconies of the Haussman buildings overhead, on tops of statues, and one young man on a swaying mail box. Families were picnicking off to the side of the square and on the Nile, boats of protesters singing and dancing were taking these youth up the river. The military was guarding the Egyptian Museum.
Young polite and well dressed volunteers asked for identification again to go into the Square. They had it all very organized (more than anything else these days). I showed my passport as we did during the protests. The young man who conscientiously compared face to photo then welcomed us warmly.
The mood had already changed visibly yesterday as the announcement came over 100s of cell phones that Essam Sharaf, the civil engineering professor, early opposition supporter, and former Min of Transport, was made the interim PM yesterday. Not sure it all will make that big a difference since getting investment – foreign and domestic in again – people back to work, kids back to school, and maybe a few of the good young police back on the streets are key. There are some food and water outages and the Central Bank (officially closed) is trying to stave off inflation by buying LE so banks are on very abbreviated hours but food prices are still rising with the price of oil. The stock market remains closed and the currency is basically non convertible for now.
This particular Friday afternoon, the atmosphere was somewhere between a mardi gras festival and Hyde Park Speakers Corner. It does appear that people are also congregating there to organize new political coalitions and interest groups.
If the Government is going to make a park where the NDP was burnt down (just by the Egyptian Museum) and as proposed, perhaps they could just extend the green space all the way to Tahrir Square and re-route traffic around central Cairo? The use of that space has already changed significantly.
I’m back to commuting on the metro again and saw a funny incident yesterday evening. A group of young to middle aged men got on the women’s car (it was after all past 18:30). A group of young women then got up and protested loudly and tried to push them off at the next stop. The two groups proceeded to have a face-to-face shouting match for the next three stops almost all the way to Sadat Station. Finally the guys got off and the women gave a satisfied “AT LAST!!” look. So gender relations are a changing..
Per the message below, I wouldn’t advise putting much faith in fortress America that had some 12 vehicles stolen by thugs who then ran over protesters. Another winning hearts and minds moment. The Embassy is officially closed and barricaded although you can try to call ahead for an appointment.
And in Britain, Lord Owen is explaining once again why the international community cannot and should not intervene (this time in Tripoli) without a UN resolution. With China and Russia voting on that, it will be a cold day in …..as the Sarajevans know well. And, after how many years of petrol interventions on behalf of Muammar? Love those Italian ladies (doubt that they shout on trams) and his best friend, Silvio. Bring it on guys….
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