(Not a reference to the Fleetwood Mac album, FYI)
Day four. It’s kind of hard to believe. Harder still to believe I’ve actually experienced so many of the things that have happened over the course of the past few days.
For example, as I packed my suitcase in Brooklyn last week, folding clothes and trying to picture myself wearing them in Cairo, I never imagined that I would soon find myself sitting in a bar at midnight after finding out that the deposed-president of my host country may be dead or dying, talking to a Syrian and a Norwegian about Egyptian politics and the prevalence of rumors and the potential effects of Hosni Mubarak’s death on the instability here. But I was, I did. It felt like something I might read in the memoir of a foreign correspondent, sitting in a smokey room (that part I really could have done with out — my clothes still smell like cigarettes) discussing a country’s uncertain future.
I’m a bit of a nerd. And far too romantic about the life of a journalist. It’s fine.
Either way, as of now its not even clear what exactly Mubarak’s condition is. Sarah got a text saying Mubarak was dead from a friend last night as we were coming home from dinner. She showed it to me, and then asked the cab driver if it was true. He raised his hands in the air, in a kind of non-committal, uncertain gesture. He didn’t know. So when we got out of the cab, we stopped by the bar around the corner from Sarah’s apartment, which Sarah said is popular with foreigners and students, and looked for someone she knew who might have more information. Thus the conversation with the Syrian and the Norwegian. When we headed back to Sarah’s apartment, we used her painfully slow internet connection to check the news. The New York Times and AlJazeera were reporting that Mubarak was “clinically dead” and subsisting solely on life support. At the same time, the websites said that thousands of people were flooding in Tahrir to protest the military council.
This morning though, walking through downtown Cairo to get breakfast, there were no signs that anything had changed. The streets were noisy and crowded, but they’re always noisy and crowded. Now it appears that Mubarak may not have died at all. The state news agency, Al Ahram, initially reported that he was clinically dead but is now saying that he’s merely in critical condition after suffering a stroke. Meanwhile, Mubarak’s lawyer said that he merely slipped in the bathroom and isn’t in danger at all. Sarah said that these kinds of conflicting reports are standard for Egypt — rumors begin to circulate and accumulate until it doesn’t even matter whether they’re true, because people will react to them. This article from Al Ahram is a good example. Even the New York Times article from last night about Mubarak’s death and the protests in Tahrir seemed more anecdotal than factual — it cited Mohammed Morsi, the Islamist candidate who is said to have won the presidential elections this weekend, as arguing that his opponent Shafik would possibly pardon Mubarak if he were to become president. Which is how rumors get started, of course. Shafik never said he would pardon Mubarak, at least as far as I’m aware, but now because Morsi said Shafik might, people will start to believe it’s the truth.
No one really knows what’s actually happening, but that hasn’t stopped the non-stop speculation from politicians, revolutionaries and bloggers. The man might not even be dead, but already a member of the Muslim Brotherhood has said that he “wouldn’t mind” attending Mubarak’s funeral. Some people claim that SCAF started the rumor in order to be able to move Mubarak from prison to a military hospital in the upscale neighborhood of Maadi (I was actually there yesterday, which seems kind of crazy!). Part of the problem is that the government doesn’t seem to have taken a firm stance on the issue. In the absence of any official statement, rumors will do nicely to fill the void. I love this tweet quotes in the NYT blog post I linked above: “So Morsi says he’s won & we don’t believe him. Shafik says he’s won & we don’t believe him. & Mubarak is dead & we don’t believe him. #Egypt.” I’ve only been here four days, but that seems like an accurate summary.
I started writing this post intending to talk about what I’ve been doing over the past two days (visiting the pyramids (!), eating Sudanese food, successfully navigating the Cairo metro on my own), but I forgot to bring my camera’s memory card and I got caught up in all of this political stuff anyway. I’ll try and post again tomorrow (with photos) about that other stuff. Pictures included!