At this point I feel pretty familiar with central Cairo and the nearby neighborhoods, since that’s where I’m living, working and hanging out, etc. But I’ve barely seen any of the suburbs. So yesterday I decided to take a trip to Maadi just for the hell of it.
It took about a half an hour on the subway from the station closest to my apartment and when I got off the train I felt like I was in… Park Slope. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration. It’s still Egypt and most of the people there are Egyptians—but only barely. Many of Cairo’s expats–embassy people, corporate types, who knows what else–make their home.
What am I talking about? I went to a decent used book store where I almost bought a book of interviews with Woody Allen. Then I walked down the street and saw a place called—no fucking joke!—Jared’s Bagels. As I marched down Road 9 I passed smiling couples with blonde babies in babybjörns. A totally surreal experience.
I’m glad I don’t live there. (Longer post on the discourse of “authentic” and the Western traveler to come later, I promise.) Maybe if I were older and bringing my family to live with me in Cairo Maadi would be my choice. But why the hell would I move halfway around the world to be surrounded by American yuppies? If that’s what I wanted I could have just moved to Brooklyn like so many recent Oberlin grads.
Incidentally, Maadi is also home to the best hamburger in the world, at least according to Time’s Scott MacLeod. I haven’t been yet, but obviously will go. I haven’t been out of the US for half my life like MacLeod has, so I might be coming at the Lucille’s burger with clearer eyes. I will report back, of course.
Scott MacLeod at Time’s Middle East blog has a good post on last week’s bombing in the Khan el Khalili market in Cairo. Khan el Khalili is one of the main tourist attractions in the city and the only casualty of the bombing was a French teenager. It’s unclear who was responsible for the attack, but it seems unlikely that it was the work of a larger terror network like Al Qaeada. MacLeod writes:
Judging from the amateurish nature of the attack, I would say that the perpetrators were far too simple-minded to have any strategic or tactical aims in mind. My guess is that this was a small group of local malcontents, ginned up on cassette tapes spewing radical Islam, waging an idiotic personal battle that they imagine to be part of a greater global jihad against infidels. Mimicking al-Qaeda, in other words. But even amateurs are a reason to worry.
Indeed. What would John Robb say? Robb, aka Mr. Doom and Gloom 5GW (that’s Fifth Generation Warfare), is precisely concerned with this kind of thing: The global bazaar of violence. (It sounds especially strange to use that phrase when describing a terrorist attack in Khan el Khalili.) A few alienated, poor, young men who find bomb-making instructions on the Internet can kill tourists in the market, cripple Egypt’s tourism industry, and seem far more influential than they should be.
Egypt seems particularly ripe for this kind of terrorism. The country has a huge population of poor people who feel (rightfully) ignored by their government. It doesn’t help that Egypt’s president Husni Mubarak showed little sympathy to the Palestinians during Israel’s attack on Gaza. Also, let’s not forget that from 1992 to 1997 there was an ongoing Islamist terror campaign against tourists. 68 people (59 of them tourists) were massacred in Luxor in 1997.
Then, consider this analysis from MacLeod:
Mubarak’s regime has been easiest on the creeping influence of hard-line Islamic rules, practices and opinions so long as they are not advocated by organized groups. Liberals complain that the regime has effectively facilitated the spread of Wahhabi-style Islam in the country, which takes the form of intolerant preaching on satellite channels and in newspapers, ultra-conservative female attire, book banning and attacks of various kinds on secularists and Christians.
The short term gain for the regime is that intolernt Islam may drain supporters away from the comparatively moderate Muslim Brotherhood, which poses a more immediate and tangible political threat. The MB won 88 seats, or 20%, in the 2005 parliamentary election. It also bolsters the regime’s warning to Egyptians as well as Western governments that the continued rise of political Islam means Mubarak’s regime is the only safe option for continued rule in Egypt. In the long term, however, appeasing or encouraging hard-line religion is playing with fire. You certainly don’t need to be an amateur to get your hands burned.
Suddenly the situation in Egypt starts to seem pretty terrifying.