At the Cairo airport, you can pick up an Egyptian entry visa for $15. This is a very handy thing to do since it saves you the hassle of mailing a larger fee along with your passport to the embassy in the United States. We always enter this way. The downside is that the visa is only good for 30 days and you must make a trip downtown to the Mogamma, the gray government center building, to then extend the visa.
We had decided to renew our visas on Tuesday. Bad choice of days. It turned out that Tuesday was a national police holiday. This meant that nobody would be working. Worse yet, there were rumors of possible anti-government demonstrations.
So we made the trip down on Monday. Here's a picture of the Mogamma from last year's expedition.
The building lies on the large Tahrir Square. The Egyptian Museum is on one side of the square and the Mogamma is on the opposite end. The Arab League and former Nile Hilton flank another side of the square.
We entered the building through the metal detectors. Linda has to put her purse through the scanner. I walk through the metal detector with my cellphone, camera and keys and set off a large buzzer. No one minds. Westerners don't get much attention at security checks here. Just keep moving.
We have the routine down now. Stop and push your way into the copier line. You need two copies of your main page and visa page from your passport. Up to the second floor. Grab one of the bed-sheet forms on the granite counter and fill out name, residence etc. Oh yes, don't forget to designate your religion. "Christian" will do nicely. Now head to the window marked "Fees and Stamps." This will be 11 pounds for one visa, 23 for two. (No, I am not making that up!) This gets you a handful of stamps. Head to window fourteen. After suitable inspection of all the paperwork, your photo will be stapled to the bed-sheet, stamps moistened and applied and then a signature made. We eagerly awaited the approval and the normal, "come back in two hours."
Not today. We were either too late or business was too brisk. Our passports were marked with a number and handed back. "Come back in two days, please."
Yesterday was Tuesday. The police had their holiday, but they all had to work overtime battling the demonstrators. Downtown was pretty much sealed off.
Today we headed down to finish the visa process. Cairo has a lot of police. Many were found throughout the downtown area with clusters in riot gear. about a dozen lined up on each side of the Mogamma entrance. I wanted to take a picture, of course, and started to line up an innocent looking shot of the Arab League Building. A nearby civilian immediately said, "no photos!" Even the "civilians" were police! Plainclothes types.
We went up to the second floor and presented our passports again at window 14 where we were told to go to window 38. The clerk at window 38 found our applications with the matching numbers and now gave us the pleasant "come back in two hours!"
We meandered around for a while and stopped at a sandwich shop that we had seen many times before. It's only a block or two from the museum.
It has both English and Arabic menus posted outside. Two officer-level police also came in at about the same time with serious looking insignia on their shoulders. One was a "three star" guy and the other an "eagle." I understand that an eagle is the next grade above three stars - maybe a captain and a major? If the sandwiches were good enough for them, they would do nicely for us. And besides, the meat should be fresh, the restaurant is right across the street from a butcher shop. The sandwiches were excellent.
On the way back to the Mogamma, I finally got a picture of a little of the police presence. Look on the right side of this photo at the dark vehicles.
Those trailers are filled with police. Here, let's zoom in so you can see the protective cover over the windows.
There were similar quantities of police on most side streets around the square. Most sidewalks had a line of four or six police taking form as 3:00 approached.
I would like to have stayed around to take more photos but I don't move nearly as fast as I used to. Photojournalism of demonstrators and riots are best left to the younger crowd. Here is a picture I took of the construction equipment in front of what used to be the Nile Hilton which now becoming the Nile Ritz Carlton. On the right is one from yesterday's confrontation by a BBC photographer. It is a great shot. You can tell from the perspective that the photographer used a relatively wide angle lens and was right in on top of the action.
By the way, you may have read that the demonstrations (riots?) continue and that cellphone service and the internet has been cut off here. Not true! I did post this successfully at about 11:00 p.m.