Trini in Egypt: A new reign dawns
By Natalie Williams
20 May, 2014
All through life, we tend to ask ourselves the “Where were you?” question.
You know what I mean...Where were you when Nelson Mandela died?
Where were you for the Jim Jones Jonestown massacre? The Princess Diana Paris crash and, of course, where were you for the Obama inauguration?
At the moment, for my family and me, this question centres on the looming and much-anticipated Egyptian elections: the second presidential elections in as many years, to be exact.
It is a big deal, and inshallah, we will be right here in Cairo to experience the winds of change and this latest chapter in Egypt's evolving history.
Egypt is due to hold a presidential election on 26 May and it is significant within the current political landscape of the Arab world.
To my mind, it is also a “necessary step” for Egyptians and foreigners alike, mainly to achieve a sense of “normality”, if such a concept can exist in Egypt.
The country's former army chief, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, is the popular choice to win.
And straight out of the crease, in his first TV interview since announcing his bid for the Presidency, the general has vowed to put an end to the Muslim Brotherhood – the oldest Islamist organisation in Egypt.
In fact, the BBC’s analysts say the Brotherhood is probably facing its most serious crisis in its 85-year history.
And so this already vibrant, mad city looks set to become even more of a beehive of political and social upheaval.
I don't mind. The Wise One and I relish “living history”, as it were.
We were lucky enough to be in Malta when that little rock of an island became a military and diplomatic strategy point for the West at the height of threats to bomb the Libyan leader, Colonel Gadaffi.
Good Lord, come to think of it, we were also there when the Maltese held a referendum to decide on whether women should be allowed to divorce their husbands.
- We were in Washington DC at the time of Princess Diana’s fatal crash in Paris.
- We were in Trinidad and Tobago for the 1990 coup held by Muslim fundamentalists;
- in Antigua and Barbuda when the (now jailed) Allan Stanford introduced 20/20 cricket to the world;
- in glorious St Vincent and the Grenadines when the historic cricket World Cup came to the region;
- and in Abu Dhabi when Queen Elizabeth II made her historic visit to this capital of the United Arab Emirates – my personal favourite, as I’ve always wanted to see the little petite powerhouse up close (I have photographic proof, matey).
War and peace
Life on the ground in Egypt is a mixed bag of “war and peace” these days.
For the first time since moving to Cairo nearly a year ago, I can now sense a little anti-Western sentiment from the locals – my hitherto happy-go-lucky Egyptian vendors and street folk.
Just the other day at my local flower shop, I was “speeched” good and proper by my regular, usually friendly vendor, for being British.
"You British no understand. You with America for Muslim Brotherhood and we Egyptians no like MB. We want them out, they evil, but you British and you Americans no understand. You see how Europe get destroyed, wait you see."
I break out in a slight sweat. With a dry mouth and my broadest smile, I try to reassure him that the British and the West have been and always will be friends to Egypt, and will always be supportive of democracy.
"Democracy, what democracy?’ he interrupts. “We no understand why you British and Americans want democracy here. We have Koran and that enough."
From the Caribbean
"Well, really, actually, I am from the Caribbean,” I reply. “And that nowhere near Britain or America for that matter.
“We far far," I say. "And boy, I love all your flowers. They beautiful, I buy 50 roses," is my shameless exit strategy.
The scars and losses from a bloody crackdown on supporters of Egypt's first democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi are still fresh in the minds of the “man in the street”.
Figures allegedly put the death toll during this recent turbulent period (we arrived in Egypt four days after the revolution broke out) at thousands, and the beleaguered Muslim Brotherhood say 16,000 of their members and Islamist supporters have been jailed as a result of the violent uprisings.
Indeed, many of their top generals have been sentenced to death and remain in jail to this day.
And so the massive street protests and demonstrations throughout the streets of Cairo and Alexandria have waned significantly.
Friday afternoons, after the beautifully haunting call to prayer, are quieter now – this period being the traditional time for protests and demonstrations.
And these days, with right security checks and precautions, you can roam through Cairo and further afield in Egypt a little more.
Just a little.
But the future remains uncertain, on so many fronts. General Sisi has publically declared that the Muslim Brotherhood will never return to their former glory, nor regain positions of power.
And this must have consequences.
There are those who simply refuse to forget that the MB did win Egypt's first free and fair elections in 2011 and 2012 and even more camps that predict that the group and its supporters will not accept this current status as political outcasts.
They themselves repeatedly say they will not give up without a fight.
On my next visit to the flower shop, I was poised to ask my flower seller a few questions, as I love engaging local debate any chance I get.
I want to ask him whether Egypt's future has a role for political Islam, represented for some 85 years through the Muslim Brotherhood?
I want to ask him whether a new President of Egypt would spell an end of nationwide protests?
Is he fearful that the extremist Islamist groups lurking underground will step up their campaigns? Is he worried about the energy crisis gripping Egypt?
Instead, I buy his largest bougainvillea plant and show him pictures of the Caribbean Sea surrounding island paradises with stunning beaches and palm trees, as I continue my charm offensive.
Tourism v turmoil
Meanwhile, like the Caribbean, Egypt is dependent on tourism and the visitor numbers are still very low.
Monuments and mummies remain unloved and unadmired.
The world-famous pyramids of Giza are lonely, the mighty River Nile unusually quiet.
All this as Cairo itself teems with 18 million Egyptians, trying to earn a daily crust in a poor struggling economy, crippled by high unemployment and a myriad social ills.
Journalists are still persecuted for doing their jobs and three months on, three al-Jazeera journalists are still locked up in jail while awaiting trial.
Blackouts continue frequently across Cairo, as an energy crisis in Egypt takes root.
These daily blackouts affect everyone, hitting local businesses hard, including the significant number of laundry operations that keep my neighbourhood of Zamalek Island solvent.
The man of the hour himself, General Sisi, got a taste of this problem when a power cut recently interrupted his lengthy broadcast to Egyptians.
And I had a surreal moment at a local supermarket when the friendly, helpful manager personally gave me a bunch of flowers, to apologise for not having any chicken on sale for the next three days.
He explained that it was too risky to stock fresh chicken with the frequent power cuts.
And for the first time in the history of this natural gas-producing nation, Egypt has begun importing coal to fuel industry and construction, much to the horror and protests of the environmentalists.
So there's a lot riding on these upcoming presidential elections and on the shoulders of al-Sissi and his lone opponent, a former journalist and leftist politician, Hamdeen Sabahi – a man who placed third in the 2012 election race won by Mohamed Morsi.
Egypt's presidential elections will be held on 26 May. Inshallah, peace and One Love will reign in the kingdom.
Journalist and children's writer Natalie Williams has been writing for Caribbean Intelligence© about life on the move in Europe and Africa. For more from Caribbean people abroad, check out these pages.