On the Ground

Curfew Life

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We finally got through one of the checkpoints that brought us into Cairo proper, but the arduous journey wasn’t over yet. In Cairo proper on the way to our town we got stopped at another 4 or 5 checkpoints. At these checkpoints we had to get out of the car and let the soldiers search everything.

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Since ex-President Morsi’s ousting in late June, a lot of things have changed in Cairo. Egypt is in a very crucial part of shaping its future, and the people of Egypt are split in terms of the direction they want to see this future take. But I am not here to talk about the political discourse surrounding the ousting of Morsi, or the violence that has gripped the city. I am here to tell everyone about curfew life and the day-to-day struggles of the people just trying to get by. It may seem a bit boring to want to discuss this when there are more important things happening on a larger scale, however that is precisely why I feel the need to do this. We all keep reading about Egypt’s political turmoil, yet nobody is reading about how all of this is just affecting the day-to-day living in Cairo. It might not be as interesting but it is definitely just as relevant. In July after the ousting of ex-President Morsi, Egypt went under military law and placed a curfew on the public. At first the curfew was from 7pm – 6am, since then it has been extended various times and is currently from 1am-5am.  It has been a long grueling process that has probably directly affected the most people in Cairo since Morsi’s ousting; just think of the implications state instilled curfew has on everyone’s day.

This Eid vacation a bunch of my friends and I decided to go to Dahab (a famous vacation spot in Sinai) to take a break from curfew life and enjoy the beach. Usually the bus ride from Sinai to Cairo is about 9 hours. My friends and I decided to leave on a Friday, which was a bad call on our part since the curfew on Friday is still 7pm. We left Dahab at around 11 am, and knew that we would not be back in Cairo by 7pm. We finally arrived at the outskirts of Cairo around 7:30pm and got stuck in stand still traffic. It honestly felt like one of those movies where the world is ending and everyone is stuck in traffic trying to get away. People were relaxing outside of their cars, smoking cigarettes and drinking tea that was being sold by people walking around with trays of it. At first we didn’t know why we were unable to go anywhere, and then we found out it was because there was a checkpoint on the road.  We sat in the same spot for at least 2 hours only to be told to turn around because the soldiers were not going to let anyone else through this checkpoint. So we had to drive around looking for an alternate route that would allow us to pass through. After 3 hours some of us were considering giving up and just sleeping in minibus till the curfew was over, but ultimately we decided to just keep on trying to get home. We finally got through one of the checkpoints that brought us into Cairo proper, but the arduous journey wasn’t over yet. In Cairo proper on the way to our town we got stopped at another 4 or 5 checkpoints. At these checkpoints we had to get out of the car and let the soldiers search everything. They looked through our purses, our cameras, our suitcases and finally after about half hour of searching and questioning they let us through. Sure this may come off like some trivial complaint about the curfew, especially when Egypt is being faced with violent political turmoil, however, I am merely trying to aid people in comprehending how much of an effect this has been on Cairo.

Cairo has always been a city with an amazingly vibrant nightlife. It’s the type of city where it’s not unusual to find an abundance of restaurants, coffee shops, and bars open at all hours of the night. People are out and about, cars are honking their horns, and you truly begin to understand the phrase “the night is young.” Cairo nights have always been one of my favorite aspects of Cairo especially when contrasted to the small suburban town I grew up in New Jersey, when most bars close at 2am. Even in New York City, the city that never sleeps, most facilities close and the streets begin to empty at some point. Cairo is literally the city that never sleeps, and in the years I’ve lived here as a student I’ve come to gain great solace from it … however, currently I would have to describe Cairo as the city that sleeps at 1am.

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Contrasting the old Cairo with Cairo’s current situation is honestly just mindboggling. Traveling in, out and around Cairo has become a monotonous process with checkpoints everywhere. A friend of mine who was out past curfew didn’t have any id on him once, and got stuck at a checkpoint all night till 6am came around. This is not an isolated incident either; plenty of people that are out after curfew get stopped, searched and questioned, possibly even arrested, and if you don’t have id they will keep you there all night till the curfew ends in the morning. The airport still has flights coming and going in and out of Cairo during the curfew. Another friend of mine flew into Cairo during curfew hours not knowing what to do, and ended up having to sleep in the airport for 12 hours till it was morning and he could leave. Think of all the traffic the curfew is causing in a city as populated as Cairo where traffic is already an issue. Consider the amount of money shop owners are losing out on because they have to close by a certain time, when before they could operate at all hours of the night. Consider how this is affecting employees that work at those stores, and the amount of hours getting cut out of their paychecks. People have had to quit their jobs because getting home with the curfew is just too difficult.

Usually I don’t leave my town after 10pm because I don’t want to get stranded somewhere with no way back since the usual surplus of taxis in Cairo is nonexistent around curfew time. Public transportation like buses, and trains also stop operating after a certain hour. It really leaves people quite stationary and unable to maneuver around the city. People are just not out and about like they used to be. When I walk around my town now at 11 pm it looks like a ghost town. The streets are deserted, and dark. There are no sounds of car horns that used to beep at all hours of the night. It is such a drastic change to the Cairo we all once knew and loved, where the streets were bright with lights and filled with people having a good time smoking sheesha and laughing.

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And yet even though things have taken a turn for the worse right now people are still here, and finding ways to adapt to this all, biding their time till November 14 when the curfew will be lifted. In Zamalek (the town I live in) there are a couple of cafes that stay open well into the night because their employees either live in town or they sleep in the actual café once it closes. Personally since the curfew I’ve had a lot of friends sleep over my house when they come to Zamalek so that they don’t have to worry about getting home past curfew.  Instead of going out we just chill at the house, play music, watch movies and sing along to my roommate’s classic 5-string guitar (its broken and she has yet to fix it). This curfew life has at least given us all something to bond over, after all its almost impossible not to bond after being stuck with people on a minibus for 14 hours. I guess, on a positive note, this curfew has just made this semester a more intimate experience with my fellow students since there really is not much to do. We have each other and our company and we are just rolling with it.

Perhaps that is my biggest reason for writing about curfew life, so that everyone can see that people in Egypt are still just living their lives. If you aren’t living here and your only source of news is the media then you must think that Egypt is this war torn country where bombs are going off left and right, and people are running around killing everything insight.  I am not trying to down play what is happening in Egypt right now, things have gotten bad, clashes are erupting in the streets, people are dying, and everyone is having their personal liberties, like the freedom of mobility, taken away from them.  I am simply trying to offer an alternate glimpse of life in Cairo that isn’t as exposed. An attempt to counter the hype of the media and remind everyone that normal people are still here trying to get by and adapt, dealing with the little things, the simple things like curfew life.

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Iman Ali
Iman Ali is currently pursuing her graduate studies at the American University in Cairo, with a concentration in Women and Gender Studies in Middle East and North Africa. She has always had an interest in metaphysics and spirituality. She is planning to travel a lot within the next couple of years to embark on a journey of self-growth, healing, and enlightenment. She plans on using her collective knowledge of psychology, women’s studies, and holistic healing to start her own private NGO and help empower women everywhere.

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