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Riots in Cairo, Egypt
« on: October 12, 2011, 07:09:52 AM »
Geopolitical Journey: Riots in Cairo

By Reva Bhalla | October 11, 2011

The last time I visited Cairo, prior to the ouster of then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a feeling of helplessness pervaded the streets. Young Egyptian men spent the hot afternoons in shisha cafes complaining about not being able to get married because there were no jobs available. Members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would shuffle from apartment to apartment in the poorer districts of Cairo trying to dodge arrest while stressing to me in the privacy of their offices that patience was their best weapon against the regime. The Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest Islamist organization, could be seen in places where the government was glaringly absent in providing basic services, consciously using these small openings to build up support among the populace in anticipation of the day that a power vacuum would emerge in Cairo for them to fill. Meanwhile the Copts, comprising some 10 percent of Egypt’s 83 million people, stuck tightly together, proudly brandishing the crosses tattooed on their inner wrists in solidarity against their Muslim countrymen. Each of these fault lines was plainly visible to any outsider willing to venture beyond the many five-star hotels dotting Cairo’s Nile Corniche or the expatriate-filled island of Zamalek, but any prediction on when these would rupture was obscured by the omnipresence and effectiveness of the Egyptian security apparatus.

When I returned to Cairo the weekend of Oct. 9, I caught a firsthand glimpse of the rupture. The feeling of helplessness on the streets that I had witnessed a short time before had been replaced with an aggressive sense of self-entitlement. Scores of political groupings, spread across a wide spectrum of ideologies with wildly different agendas, are desperately clinging to an expectation that elections, scheduled to begin in November, will compensate them for their sacrifices. Many groups also believe that they now have history on their side and the momentum to challenge any obstacles in their way — including Egypt’s still-powerful security apparatus. The sectarian rioting that broke out Oct. 9 was a display of how those assumptions are grinding against reality.

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