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Monday, February 4, 2013

Return to Tahrir Square - Part I

It has gotten to be time to renew our Egyptian visas.  I've blogged this process before in some detail back in 2009.  Normally, this has meant a trip down to Tahrir Square and the Mogamma.   Since we first arrived here in early January, it has been a standing joke with some friends to say that we would meet them at Tahrir on the 25th for the anniversary of the revolution.  Everyone has been avoiding Tahrir.  As the month rolled on, the stories in the news got worse.  For instance, this tent burning story.

We wanted to avoid Tahrir and one friend made some phone calls and thought that he had found an alternate location for us.  We went with him to the Giza Governate office yesterday only to be disappointed.  the Mogamma was the only place to extend the visa.  We headed downtown.

The visa extension process pretty well kills two days.  I won't bore you with the details again except to say that we ended up at window 35 today at 2:30, stood in line a densely packed mob with about a hundred other people and finally were handed back our passports at 3:30.  One western lady in front of us muttered, "unbelievable!" after getting hers back.  There were shouts of "mabrouk!" (congratulations) by many.  And a skinny five-footer was lofted by a large stranger to help make his presence known to the clerk.  It makes you really appreciate the DMV back home.  We understand that many of the people in line were from Mali and Syria so we're not feeling too sorry for  ourselves.

So, you may ask, what does Tahrir Square really look like?  The Mogamma itself looked a bit gray and foreboding as we approached it from the distance.

There is a rather extensive "tent city" in place.  It reminds me, of course, of similar encampments in Pensacola and Columbus that we ran into last year.  Trying to get someone to explain just "who are the people in the tents?" is interesting.  The best explanation seems to be that they are people who, if the Morsi government fell, would protest whatever came next.

Both yesterday and today, there was a large group of street merchants lined up in front of the Mogamma displaying their wares.  There have always been a few of these but there are many more now.
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The whole area has sort of a 1969-era Cal., Berkeley, feel to it.
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And, on Sunday, a local newscaster was doing here stand-up segment from the square.

Tonight, we called another friend who lives about thirty miles outside of Cairo.  He expressed some surprise that we had been downtown today.  He just returned from a few weeks in the U.S. and had watched reports from Egypt while there and thought the place must be devastated.


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