Sunday, May 30, 2010

Old Egypt

ElBaradei went on walkabout again today, and I went too.

It was Old Cairo that was buffeted with change this time. I descended from the taxi, underfed and underslept to be immediately bellowed at, in English, by a gentleman demanding to know whether I was the girl in the taxi with a camera asking about Old Cairo. I wasn't. I was then apprehended by a man who talked at me about the importance of a memorial to Egypt’s prisoners of war for 10 minutes, including stomach-churning details about bones being carried off by dogs.

On the subject of bones being carried off by dogs, the media scrum was much smaller today than it was during the Dr’s previous appearances. There were notably fewer TV crews, for example. I wondered whether this was the first sign of rust on the shiny change bandwagon.

ElBadz and his (windsurfing) brother Ali arrived and off we all went. The procession was silent as it blundered its way down Mar Girgis street (is that its name?), photographers sending startled tourists flying as they scrambled all over the shop for the ElBaradei money shot.

Call me crazy, but I thought that since it had been advertised on the website, and since ElBaradei was surrounded by about 40 supporters, and since it took place at 10.30 a.m. as opposed to say 1 p.m. (leaving journos plenty of time to write and file our copy while not requiring that we get up too early), the visit might, possibly, have something to do with politics. I threw caution to the wind and tried to ask the doctor a question.

“Hello, Dr Mohamed I’m Sarah from Daily News Egypt,” I said putting out my hand.

He ignored the hand.

“May I ask you a quick question?” I asked.

“No”, was the resolute answer. “Not now”.

Maybe I looked like I had just found out that my husband had been cheating on me with a chair leg, because Nice Guy Ali ElBaradei smiled and said “not now ha ha” in a kindly way.

“This is a personal visit,” Meanie Mohamed said over his shoulder, as he and his supporters marched onwards in their matching T-shirts.

Monsieur Le Change

So that was that. I and other journalists were left wondering what the point of the exercise was, while tourists just wondered who the bloody hell the man at the eye of the camera storm was. I heard “president” said in at least three languages by tour guides during the explanation.

A weird incident happened on the way to the synagogue. A girl was lying on the ground, her foot bleeding. She appeared to be mentally disabled. Suddenly a Coptic monk and a photographer were wrestling over the photographer’s camera, the photographer protesting “wallahy masawwartaha” [honest to god I didn’t photographer her]. The monk was having none of it, and eventually ripped the lens off the camera. The photographer got it back in the end but it was all very bizarre.

There was more walking after that, a spot of light chanting, before everyone went home.

There’s something wrong with the ElBaradei campaign for change, or maybe it’s just that the excitement his initial return generated has fizzled out.

While I think it’s slightly duplicitous (for the reasons listed above) of ElBadz to suggest that his visit today was of a “personal” nature (i.e. media piss off) he isn’t under any obligation to talk to journos if he thinks that this will convince the world that the purpose of today’s exercise was about reaching out to the people. This would have been more convincing however if he had elected to go to an area whose population is not 50% tourist.

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