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My Egypt: A heart left in Cairo

At 6.22 PM on Friday, January 28th, The Guardian reported that army tanks were rolling into the center of Cairo.

Cairo was my baptism.

It is where I first worked with the UN. On Friday, prior to the interruption of coverage, I watched the NDP headquarters adjacent to my first UN office be licked by flames.

It is where I smoked sheesha and watched the fog crawl in over the Nile.

It was in a felucca on the Nile — the quintessentially tourist/expat experience, colored by techno music and neon lights — that I met the love of my life, my companion, my best friend.

It is where I got groped by a policeman, where I fell asleep too late as the call to prayer bellowed across the street at 4 AM, where I had to exercise tolerance along judgment. I lived in contradictions and paradoxes. I had my faith in humanity crushed and reinforced on the same day.

I am heartened by Egyptians’ ardent desire to claim the rights they have not enjoyed in years. At the same time, I worry about the day after in Egypt, whenever that day comes. I hope for a fair and strong democratic process; I further hope that the government this process yields is more protective and respectful of civil rights and, particularly, of the rights of women.

Until then, I will remain glued to my screen, observing, living vicariously.

Here is some of what is shaking me to the core:


Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-born commentator I respect tremendously, writes in a fantastic article in the Guardian: “To understand the importance of what’s going in Egypt, take the barricades of 1968 (for a good youthful zing), throw them into a mixer with 1989 and blend to produce the potent brew that the popular uprising in Egypt is preparing to offer the entire region. It’s the most exciting time of my life.” Read on for insights on the implications of the protests for youth, as well as the Arab-Israeli conflict. She addressed similar topics in this conversation with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now.

Scott Nelson, NYT photographer, expresses feelings that closely mirror my own: “Covering this conflict is humbling — to be able to witness such a historic event on a scale that is nearly inconceivable; exhilarating — to see the enormous hope and optimism the Egyptian people have experienced in the last few days; and also very worrying — as I wonder what comes next in this turbulent process, which is moving quickly towards a chance at real democracy.” Ed Ou, a photojournalist closer to my age, walks the alleys of Cairo that I have come to love and tells their stories here.

Global Voices Online sheds light on the role of Egyptian women in the protest movement. Egypt was the first country in which I delved into gender-related development work and the fire in the hearts of Egyptian women travels with me today.

Incredible photography by Reuters and the Boston Globe Big Picture blog

And this AP photo, reposted on the Atlantic Tumblr. An Egyptian woman protester kisses a riot police officer. Coexistence, the breaking of boundaries, and the blurring of lines in one shot.


  1. I’m coming to this very late, after a busy time. Minutes ago, Mubarak left office. It’s strange to read this now knowing it was a week ago, knowing what you couldn’t have known when you wrote it.

    You have a gift for writing about political issues without blanketing them in complications, because you never stray from the stories of individual people. It’s a profound strength and why I love learning about things from you.

  2. Thank you, everyone! Egypt remains very dear to my heart and I am anxiously – almost helplessly – watching the developments unfold. I wish I could be there, but I remain thankful for journalists, activists and all those who are bringing this story to us. Let us all hope for peace.

  3. I love this post and that you shared your beautiful, eloquent memories with us here. These are the things that are so important to remember right now, and so important for those of us who haven’t been there to know, to make it real. Because even though we have minute-by-minute coverage and photos, these glimpses are what make anything the most real to me.

  4. Thank you for commenting on my twitter post so that I could check out your blog and the beauty of your words. I’ll be back to read more. Wonderful – despite the pain of what is going in Egypt right now. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Yes, thank you for sharing your wonderful stories of your time in Egypt.

    I will definitely check out the recommendations, too.

  6. I found you during the #reverb10 adventure, and I’m been hanging on your every word since, but I rarely comment.
    Today, I just wanted to say “thank you” for sharing your experience and memories, and incorporating them into the bigger picture.
    I, too, am living vicariously.

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