Struggling to find comfort in today’s Cairo

Struggling to find comfort in today’s Cairo
A busy Cairo street
A busy Cairo street market

Cairo is home. I was born and raised here and nothing that happens in the defeater of Al Moez* ever truly surprises me, yet I still find every day Cairene incidents overwhelming. Before I joined Cairo’s angry drivers club, I used public transportation and it simply made me hate life: the random bus stops, the crammed buses, the harassment, the driver that always smelled and never had the right change, the woman staring at me and the man drooling in the back – these were all things I could momentarily escape only when I thought of home.

When I go home, I’ll be alone, I’ll be in control, I’ll be comfortable – I used to tell myself. I will escape people’s intrusion and vulgarity, and the state`s chaos and negligence. When I go home, I can rest after standing in the heat for hours in a government office trying to get some papers done as I wait for employees to finish their private conversations while grinding my teeth and rolling my eyes, contemplating bribing them and begging them to get their jobs done.

When I go home, I won’t have to pave my way through the garbage covering the ground like a second layer, I won’t have to cover my mouth because of the smoke, or turn a blind eye to street children. When I go home, it will all be over.

The moment I used to walk into my building, my day out experience would slowly begin to peel off, with every step I walk up to the third floor of my building, my sanity would restore itself by a slow memory shove – one tiny experience forced out after the other. I reach my doorstep; the state no longer exists. I am no longer at the mercy of gridlocks, or heated and overcrowded buses. I am not held hostage by a man`s stares or a woman`s abrupt conversation about the virtues of al hijab. I am even freed of the negative energy my brain keeps emitting because Cairo is too much to handle. When I am home, I am free.

Or so I thought.

We live in a society where everyone and everything is under surveillance, either by the state or the people. Whether or not you care, that is beside the point. What we wear, the things we say, the places we go and the things we buy are never overlooked. We are always judged, and if we are lucky, only watched. I am of the opinion that no Egyptian is truly and utterly free, at least not in Cairo. The only thing that guarantees all of us freedom is a closed door. At some point, we all just want to hide and be ourselves, keeping the rest of Egypt out of the picture. We want to feel we have control over what we do, what we drink, what we wear, what we say and who we`re with. Of course, we can leave the state outside our doorsteps but then we have to deal with the authority figures at home, but that is really another story.

Finding solace at home is too much to ask for nowadays. Because simple things are becoming more complicated and harder to accomplish. Simple things like ironing our clothes- God forbid, whenever we please- or reading after dark or switching on a fan are now luxuries. Even more luxurious are things like waking up in the middle of the night, craving something and cooking it, or connecting to your Wi-Fi or going to the gym whenever you want. We are all held hostage to our government`s despicable incompetencies, lack of organisation and apparent apathy. Am I talking about the power cuts? Yes. I. Am.

Egypt has always had power cuts. Our energy infrastructure has always been unreliable, but things have never been this bad. The recent energy crisis in Egypt started during the short-lived presidency of Mohamed Morsi for which he was severely blamed, but it heightened to unprecedented levels under the new rule of our new president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. It is absolutely unjustifiable and inexcusable to be living in the Egyptian capital and have at least 3 daily power cuts. It is beyond my comprehension what the government is or is not doing about this issue, which, without a doubt, has cost so many businesses and households a lot of money and time.

The pure intrusion and interruption of one’s home and privacy is too much to put up with. Where are we supposed to find comfort? Where are we supposed to run off to after waiting in a ridiculously long line to finish some papers? Or after a 3-hour standstill in traffic? Or simply a long day at work? It’s laughably pathetic the situation we are in: the state is doing a great job denying us simple citizenship rights, and we are doing an even better job at not claiming them.

Egypt cuts no one any slack. It has always been difficult to be out and about, whether for pleasure or business. Years of accumulative negligence and corruption have finally yielded the state we’re in today: we’re not even going to find comfort in our own homes. I’m sorry to break it to you, but sadly, solace is nowhere to be found.

*Cairo in Arabic is Al Kahera which is short for Kaherat Al Moez (‘the defeater of Al Moez’)

Edited by Menna Amr

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  • Ahmed Bata

    It’s pretty simple and hard to imagine how it would be otherwise. Our power is heavily subsidized, expected to be so by an entitled population, and we are broke and running out of energy resources such as oil and gas. Just this week UAE agreed to another form of energy assistance, a 12 billion dollar interest-free loan to purchase power. We are about to import LNG. The irresponsibly high birthrate, coupled with entitlement and no productivity, makes all this inevitable. But it’s self correcting. I bet people faced with thousand pound energy bills, and limited subsidized food, would never contemplate having 4 or more kids the way Egyptians have in the past. Pay market price and you can complain then if the service is poor. But don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

  • Bystanding Witness

    It’s a shame that you publish such ranting and rambling, Egyptian Streets. On top of it – the whole “pour-my-heart-out” story just goes to show how much understanding and information the writer has: between none and not much.

    “We are all held hostage to our government`s despicable incompetencies, lack of organisation and apparent apathy”
    Back during Mubarak’s regime there was a report published (if memory serves my right 2008 or 2009) that EVEN if the government would act swiftly we would face exactly the power related situation we have today as the entire network has been criminally neglected for the last 2 – 21/2 decades!! And those parts which were not neglected were the victim of corruption. How Pres. Sissi or even ex-Pres. Morsi can be blamed for this is beyond me!
    Worse yet we are continuously demanding and demanding like the writer in her article above … oh my gosh … she can’t cook in the middle of the night and can’t connect to her Wi-Fi as she pleases and neither can she go to the gym whenever she wants!!!
    Why not for once try yourself to just be economic in your consumptions? Especially when it comes to electricity! Why is it that in so many households day and night the lights must be on incl. on the balconies? Day and night I hear the compressors running from my neighbors although there’s only one person at home – so they really need to run all of them for the whole flat or house including having all the lights and whatever else needs electricity on?? Why is it that women must wash a full load if they only have 2 or 3 pieces? Why is it a must to have at least 100W light bulbs if 60 or even 40 will do? And so on and so forth.
    Economize your electricity consumption at least – better yet: cut it actively back rather than sitting at home and whining.
    While at it – the same goes for the water. Umpteen taps and pipes which are leaking, garden hoses which are not properly closed, people “watering” the streets, etc. etc. … but then complaining bitterly if the water is cut and if there’s shortage.
    It seems to me that all people can do is complain and complain and complain … rather than doing actively something to alleviate the problems.
    The same goes for the garbage which is filling our streets – rather than just complaining (see above) S T O P throwing the garbage in the street. Take the hanky, empty chips or cigs pack in your purse home and throw it out there until we have everywhere functioning garbage containers!! What’s the big deal??
    It took 10 yrs after the French Revolution to just somehow have the feet on the ground again – does anyone believe any President can do wonders? Definitely not and definitely not with people who only demand and demand and don’t want to contribute themselves!!
    These are not the Egyptians I’m glad to know!
    Enough already!

  • martha stewart

    A fun article to read. Thanks! But I wonder if we can simply blame Sisi, or
    even Morsi, and their respective governments, for the power cuts. I am assuming that neither would want the
    unpopularity and the blame. I’m
    certainly not an MB supporter, but I can’t help but think that Morsi was
    sabotaged somewhat (as if they needed
    any help as they sabotaging themselves and destroyed so much with their
    complete incompetence and ignorant greed).
    As for Sisi, I am idealistic enough to believe that he is truly wanting
    and working for the good of Egypt. I am
    not an engineer or a specialist, but if our energy infrastructure has always
    been unreliable, I’m not surprised that it’s breaking down. I think you
    explained it well: “Years of accumulative negligence and corruption have
    finally yielded the state we’re in today.” Yes, it’s much more than inconvenient, however,
    instead of blaming and complaining, accusing the government of denying us
    simple citizenship rights, let’s do our part to be good citizens and
    encourage each other to be patient, and work together for the good of
    Egypt. It’s taken years to get here, and
    it’s gonna take a few years to get out of the pit.

  • Mostafa Srag

    Just the right article to finish my day, you know I happen to be lucky enough to have my own business near my house, at 12:45 pm…we had a blackout ( usual ) so I went home to continue working, came back to office about 2 hours later, then at 6:15 pm
    at the office, 2nd blackout, I left then went to haram, they had a black out there as well ( talbia ) then came back again to Maadi grand mall, right after I left it, it had a blackout, driving back home I was cruising around maadi between the dark streets…the city is in total darkness…its like Gaza 2.0

  • This is a very interesting article. I remember the power cuts when I lived in Cairo and I always made sure I had a battery in my laptop to help me keep writing. I used to get cross though, and even more so when the water was cut off too! For all its faults though I do miss Cairo and even here in the UK there are various frustrations to contend with. At such times I can hear my dad saying. ‘Remember when things get you down there is always someone worse off then you.’


Nehal Elmeligy is an English teacher and a Fulbright Alumna who likes to write on the side. She is a passionate writer who is moved by people, ideas, religion and culture but only writes when she has no escape from her muse. She does not fear laughing out loud in public or saying hi to complete strangers. She is only addicted to three things: coffee, working out, and her closest friends. http://onmymindelmeligy.blogspot.com.au/

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