Revolutionary Road

Haram Street, Cairo.

Haram Street, Cairo.

Haram Street, the Cairene boulevard famed for its late-night entertainment and tourist traps, was most recently used as the title of a film that broke records at the Egyptian box office. A heaving avenue, it is the main artery joining Cairo’s sprawling metropolis to the Giza pyramids. The journey from the pyramids to Tahrir Square says something of how much—and how little—Egypt has changed since the revolution.

As a resident of Haram Street, I am well acquainted with the purveyors and peddlers of the nearby souvenir shops. Once upon a time, the owners of these small enterprises were among the richest people in the Haram district of Cairo. The area used to attract literally millions of tourists every year.

A few days ago, I went to visit Abdel Nasser Mahmoud, one of the owners of a Haram Street business. Entering the empty souq, I understood why many of those working in the tourism sector are now opposed to the revolution. The market, which only two years ago was packed with tourists haggling in a myriad of languages, has become as eerily quiet as one of the pyramids’ inner chambers.

Mahmoud explains that his employees have fallen on hard times, as most of their income came from the commissions they received from selling souvenirs to tourists. “Their monthly income used to reach around EGP 4000. Now, they almost receive their basic salary of EGP 1100, which I pay out of my own pocket.”

“How about that? Are the revolutionaries happy now? Did they finally reach their aim of impoverishing us?” exclaims Hamada Bassiouny, one of Mahmoud’s employees. Although I try to convince him that the current situation is temporary, I find it hard to convince even myself.

Leaving the tourist paraphernalia behind, I start walking along Haram Street towards Tahrir Square. It is nearly thirteen kilometers to the square; plenty of time to think about how the revolution had started, and whether we had achieved our slogan, which called for “bread, freedom, [and] social justice.” The creased frowns on the faces of those I passed and my experience of the past twenty-seven months suggested otherwise.

I stop for a minute at Al-Salam Mosque, where only a year ago the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties were engaged in intense campaigning for their presidential candidate, Mohamed Mursi. Liberal political figures had supported Mursi above his opponent, Ahmed Shafik, the last prime minister under Mubarak. Liberals ignored Mursi’s obvious inclination towards establishing a theocratic government in Egypt; many are now regretting their choice.

The voice of Magdy Gergis, a Coptic jewelry shop owner, interrupts my stream of thought. I remember what he told me a few months ago: “Copts are now living in hell; that’s why more of them will migrate soon, as the sectarian clashes will increase.” His prophecy rings true in light of the recent deadly sectarian clashes, as well as evidence from reports stating that the number of Copts migrating from Egypt is on the rise.

At Tahrir, I look at the square where people were killed and arrested for demanding a better life. Yet despite the many disappointments, the fear barrier has been broken; Egyptians continue to gather the courage to call for change. I, for one, am certain—and hopeful—that the best is yet to come, as long as we are able to manage the current, crucial period. Only then will the revolution yield bread, freedom and social justice.

Subscribe to the discussion