I've been looking through my blog stats and apparently one of the most commonly googled questions that lead people to this blog is this: " Is it safe to go to Cairo in 2012"
I will try to give an answer, but as in many aspects of life, it's not going to be simple. But before that, what exactly has been happening in Egypt, you ask, over your Starbucks and suman. Here's my non-expert attempt at giving an update, so correct me if I say something stupidly incorrect:
* Last year Mubarak, the dictator who ruled Egypt for over 30 years, was ousted in a mass gathering of people in Cairo ala EDSA Revolution of the Philippines (google it!).
* The revolution, known as the Arab Spring, was led by various groups, most significant of them are the Muslim Brotherhood and civil society groups (young people and women).
* Who are the Muslim Brotherhood? Check this link: http://edition.cnn.com/2012/06/14/world/africa/muslim-brotherhood-explained/index.html?iid=article_sidebar . Oh and make sure to read the comments, because I have loads to say about those.
* Everyone was hopeful after the revolution because it signalled a new beginning for Egypt. People were hoping that Egypt would finally embrace democracy, a system where the power rests on the people and not just on one person.
*The Muslim Brotherhood was also overwhelmingly voted into Parliament. They took majority of the seats in the house thus affirming the turning of the opinion tide in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood.
* Mubarak and several other officers were tried in court for crimes that included the killing of several youth protestors during the Arab Spring. This month, Mubarak was convicted and sentenced to a life sentence. The rest of the accused were set free. A lot of Egyptians do not find this court decision satisfactory and have been staging protests in Tarhir Square once again demanding for the death of Mubarak and the imprisonment of the other accused.
* The first Presidential Elections were held. The two candidates are Shafiq, from the same party as Mubarak and Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. But even before the elections could be held, the Military Council, who came into power ,when Mubarak was ousted, declared the election that put into Parliament many Muslim Brotherhood members, invalid. Such a decision, of course, casts doubt on the trues prospects of democracy ever coming to Egypt. People are saying that whoever becomes President will only be as powerful as the Military Council - composed of 20 generals from Mubarak's rule - would allow him to be.
* Elections were held last week. I've been asking friends about the two candidates. And from what I gather, people who don't like Morsi think that the Muslim Brotherhood coming into power will be a step backwards for Egypt in terms of liberalization and modernization. Those who hate Shafiq think that he is no different from Mubarak. In other words both candidates seem to carrying a lot of baggage. But as my teacher in class explained, Morsi seems to be the lesser evil of the two, which is why everyone is inclined to vote for him.
* The release of election results have been postponed and moved to Sunday, protests continue in Tahrir Square and the world awaits.
So, back to the question, Is it safe to come to Cairo?
When people ask this question, I think the picture they have of Egypt in their heads goes something like this: Chaos, darkness, burning building, people hitting each other, screaming for their lives, looting, panic, despair.
Well, I can't blame you because this is what's shown in the media. The truth is this: Yes, protests are ongoing in Tahrir square and there is political tension in the air but the situation hasn't been so chaotic as to disrupt the regular day to day activities of people or to make it unsafe to walk around and enjoy the many sites that Egypt has to offer. Just last night, some Egyptian friends and I went on a felucca ride down the nile at 12 am to 2 am. We were drinking, eating, and laughing. It was truly wonderfully relaxing. A couple of them didn't even know what exactly was happening in Tahrir Square because the protest in Tahrir, are in Tarhrir and not in the whole of Egypt. People still drive like crazy, go to work every morning while eating Falafel and smoke shisha and drink mint tea.
But at the same time, I will admit that the political situation is not what you would describe as normal or stable. But I think that such an "abnormality" is just normal in the sense that these are like growth pains as they try to get their act together. Tensions are high and the political situation is volatile. But I honestly think that the military will try to keep things calm and civil. Even in the days of Mubarak, tourism has been one of the most important industries keeping the economy afloat. They have special ties with democratic nations such as the US which I'm sure they intend to keep. They cannot afford a civil war.
Is it safe to go to Cairo, I will say yes. Just be sure to avoid the protests in Tahrir and keep your eyes and ears open. And to be frank, we live 3 blocks away from Tahrir Square and you wouldn't know there were protests going on until you see it on television. That is to say, whatever chaos they show you on CNN or BBC is all concentrated in one very small area. Egypt still knows how to take care of tourists, thus the presence of the tourism police and the existence of ExPat areas such as Zamalek, and will gladly welcome your presence.