Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Egypt, Democracy and Popular Uprising

I have been glued to the TV for weeks now.  I jump up and down when I recognize the location and the camera perspective.  I remember the same spaces with people jammed in to see Nasser.  Nasser was popular because he was going to unify the Arab nations and economic prosperity to the people.  Sound familiar?

Ok, so I am old.  and I remember the evacuation for the 6 Day War.

One of my favorite memories of Egypt is the day of evacuation.  We got up one morning extra early with my parents explaining that we were going on "vacation."  Problem was Dad was staying behind and we hadn't finished school for the year.  We were off to Greece!  I thought that was terrific.  Woohoo!  No school and vacation at the ocean....hmmm, yeah.  That works.

The family car at the time was a VW 2-door station wagon.  I can't help you with this if you're really young....VW made a 2-door station wagon, trust me.  My favorite place was in the very back.  It was away from my parents and most importantly, away from my younger brother.  In this particular trip, my view was even more of a perch with all the suitcases.

To get to the airport from where we lived (in Maadi/Digla), you had to drive along the Nile for a bit to get from the south side to main road to the airport.  One of the best views in Cairo is along the Nile.  The water seems to rush by and the Faluca's (Egyptian sailboats) are stunning.  The contrast of the old (Faluca's) and the new (the lotus TV tower) was a favorite.

The problem was I couldn't see the Nile when we got to the Corniche.  It was totally blocked by elbow to butt end with tanks and armed personnel carriers.  The view was completely blocked.

When I asked my parents what was going on, they replied that Nasser was protecting Egypt.  I said that he was prepping for war.  The next question was why all the cars had their headlights painted over.  ...so they would not be seen at night from the air.  Of course that begged the question how you were going to see where you were going at night.  That one didn't get an answer.  Course all the sandbag walls in front of every door and window along the Corniche was the next question.  ...so broken glass doesn't fly out and hurt people.  I guessed out loud that the only thing that would push glass out that fast would be a bomb.  ...that didn't get an answer either.

When we got to the airport, it seemed that every American family and all their kids were in the lobby trying to check in.  It was no "vacation."

One of the tip offs was the level of anxiety.  And the women either in a small quiet group chatting with worried looks, or loudly talking to no one in particular.  Mom parked us with a very firm "sit here" and she went off to a woman who was dominating the conversation in the entire lobby.  She seemed to be the one that everyone was talking about.

I thought her loud wailings to be ridiculous.  She was going on about having to leave her fur coats and her chandelier.  She just knew her place was going to be broken into and horrible people were going to steal everything she owned.  The most important of those things seemed to be her furs and a light.

I wondered what you needed a fur in Egypt for...much less more than one fur.  And why did she care about a chandelier.  It must have been some kind of light.

Mom later told me that she went over to the lady and informed her that she needed to calm down and put her priorities in order.  All of the women in the lobby were leaving husbands behind.  I didn't hear that part when it happened, but the impact was immediate.  All the women calmed down including the hysterical fur coats lady.

When the plane took off, the plane was quiet.  Deadly quiet.  A few of the women were crying.  When we arrived in Athens, we were all taken to a hotel in the suburbs.  It was great with a playground and all my friends at the same place.  The moms were a little tense, their was no ocean, and people kept leaving for points unknown in a slow and steady stream.  Mom to this day doesn't know how she did it.  The State Department was awesome in organizing, but she had no cash.  None.  This was 1967.  Pre-ATM.  Pre-email.  Pre-Internet.  Pre-standard international phone calls.

Dad later told us...and wrote it all up a couple of months later....that he spent the 6 Day War on our veranda.  He watched the Israeli Air Force bomb the hell out of an Egyptian Air Force Base.  He said it was unbelievable fireworks.  He drank gin and tonics while he watched.

His evacuation next time.  But this time, I miss being in Cairo right now.  I want to be in Cairo and help the folks out.  Help close down the Embassy.  If necessary, I will be the one with a spreadsheet in my hand and turning off the lights as the last one out.  It is making me twitch.

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