Well as I said: there had been more to it.-
Remembering the strikes in Mahalla since 2006, a province town with a governmental textile-factory where about 20.000 plus workers who, I learned to my surprise, had an active workers union, urged for better labor conditions! Then there had been Kifaya!! A grass-root pressure group that genuinely grew out of a broader dissatisfaction with ‘where things go in Egypt’. They started in the early 2000’s behind closed doors, went viral in 2004 and gained momentum in 2005. The eyes of the politically awakening people in my professional environment sparkled with enthusiasm when they started to talk about ‘Kifaya’. Apparently for the first time since the 1952 revolution the people of Egypt again felt they had a voice.
Kifaya means ‘enough’. The voice cried for change.-
What did the people of Egypt wanted to change? You can read about Kifaya in Google. Numerous websites provide a very accurate picture, what Kifaya had, and, my personal view, always will be about, until the major demand of the January 25th revolution, namely social justice, will be met.
Back then I did understand that it was about an increasing discomfort between the rich and their privileges and the working poor.
To name but a few issues: Public schools were free, but in such a deteriorated and wretched condition that everyone who could afford, would sacrifice for sending his children to a private school as they were mushrooming since the early 90’ies. Housing was another key-problem. You simply couldn’t afford to buy a flat, a prerequisite for leaving your parents home and getting married on reasons of tradition. If you were working in a low-wage job, which constituted and still counts for the overwhelming majority of jobs, getting married was, for a majority of people subjected to waiting for a miracle. Corruption! I could never really see it that way! Knowing what families were expected to represent and what it took to just stay alive and keep going.. taking bribes, or to phrase it politely, asking for commission, had been, in my view, only a somewhat reasonable way ‘to make ends meet’. But as sure as Egypt is the Mother-Of-The-World: some civil ‘servants’ from the upper end of the food chain really made ‘corruption’ sound like a nickname. – However not all governmental employees took bribes. Most public-sector servants had a side-business or a second job.
Among cab-drivers one would find rather often either accountants or teachers; like i.e. in Germany where numerous university graduates from social and political science could be found driving cabs since there were no jobs for them. Only: in Egypt most cab-drivers had their morning shifts in offices or governmental bureaus.
Public schools were and still are ‘something’ that can only make one feel torn between irritation and heartbreak. Thinking to reform the whole surrounding of the complex issue leaves you asking: where to begin? Next to that the school-classes are overcrowded to minimize the facts, and that of course neither the buildings themselves, nor the equipment nor the curriculum are anywhere close to make a child looking forward to go to school, where could all the money be allocated from to improve the base necessities? As well the teachers had a disgracing salary, which lead some teachers to despair but the majority to give private classes; this way they secure themselves and their families a living.
The dynamics of the Egyptian property market should outsmart every seasoned gross-economist. If you expect to find a reliable prediction-tool to assess the economical capability of the citizens, think again. There is no balanced relation between property prices and average income.
And so it goes on..
Anyway. Back to the lounge. In the meantime I had grabbed myself another cup of coffee and was glued to the plasma-screen “BBC-World-live”, now showing what looked like thousands of people, running away from policemen, vehicles from central security forces rolling through the streets, water cans and what looked like tires set on fire.. Journalists seemed puzzled while reporting about the demonstrations. Most of their sentences ended up in question marks. Meanwhile all over Cairo and in all major cities of Egypt one learned about overwhelming chaos that emerged literally everywhere and that dominated the scenes. HELL seemed to have broken loose!! Who would not have had a hard time reporting with accuracy what had been going on? The facts were still confusing.
I lost my appetite for the buffet and sat down. I absolutely didn’t know what to make of all this. Now I started to understand why the flight would probably be postponed. Egypt was obviously under a kind of state-of-emergency.
Before I had to start worrying about where best to get lost in London, an electronically distorted voice on the speakers rang out “passengers for flight MS 778, Egypt Air, please ..”
So it wasn’t that bad after all.. what a relief. Things might look bad in Egypt from the outside but probably the media seemed to make it worse than it actually was.
I got ready, left the lounge and made my way to the departure gate, where boarding had already started. The seat-neighbor from Monday recognized me as well and immediately started the “I told you so” thread; we tried to make jokes but it was one of those moments, where reality requested full attention. He received contradictory information through his cell-phone – some claimed the internet in Egypt was shut-off and some said it works fine. We promised each other to keep together.
All other passengers as far as I was aware of them, appeared to be somewhat clouded, mood wise, but otherwise occupied with their routine in response to boarding.
About three and a half hours later, above Greece, suddenly a male voice sounded over the speakers: “Ladies and Gentlemen. This is your Captain speaking. We apologize for the inconvenience. We shall have to land unscheduled in Athens in a few minutes time. Please take all your belongings with you. Do not leave any of your hand-baggage in the plane…”
To cut it short: Egypt hadn’t closed its air-space yet, that’s what I thought, but we had a bomb threat, as one of the cabin-stewards had let us know.
We all left the plane and were informed that we would continue our flight later this day. After having waited for approximately 5 hours in front of TV-screens, we were trying to grasp the background on how the situation had deteriorated. Egypt was now live-covered, disrupted only through advertisement-clips. What had started on January 25th as a huge demonstration called ‘Day of Revolt’ for democracy, dignity and social justice had developed into a mass-uprising with the slogan ‘Friday of Anger’ – the first people got killed in the riots and thereafter fury run the rage in the streets.
We had been called upon eventually to check into the airport-hotel. Tourists who were on the flight had been offered to go back to their home countries. I don’t remember how serious some of them considered the offer, but I mind gamed about how I would decide. I couldn’t imagine that Egypt wasn’t a safe place to be. Having been living there by then for over 15 years and having experienced Cairo at every and any hour be it day or night, with nothing whatsoever threatening like in all other countries in the world, made it hard for me to imagine that this would ever change. That, which was going on right now, could only be temporary is what I thought.-
I tried in vain to find the news-channel on the room television; the hours in the waiting lounge glued to the ever so breaking news from Egypt had addicted me already.
Next morning, breakfast at 8.30 and off to Cairo.
Psychologically I started slowly adapting a worst-case-scenario anticipation mode..