We leave the underground parking of Egypt’s oldest mall. Twenty years ago this hallmark of ‘shopping heaven’ was built and still facilitates the Egyptian elite on an almost 24 hour bases – my shopping thirst only consisted of a couple of books of famous Egyptian authors nothing of the sort most Egyptians and tourist from the Gulf States come for – from diamonds to cars – anything can be bought. In the parking however, the first thing I noticed were not the luxurious cars, but its actual lack of Ladas. In the streets every other fourth car seems to be the Lada. I ask on our way back why there are so many Ladas in Cairo, and most likely the whole of Egypt. Mahmoud our host for the night, answers with enthusiasm ‘Now there’s a story, this is the time of the Lada revival!’ We all laugh. Under its third president, Sadat, the Egyptians gained a license to manufacture Lada’s with permission of the Russians. Most likely a result from Cold War support to Egypt by the Russians. Nowadays they are no longer produced, but they are still imported. Hence, lots of Ladas roam the streets of Egypt and are even more popular than before, no electric wiring, lots of parts around for repair even if you find yourself along a desert road and definitely a cheap alternative for those who do not belong to Egypt’s elite.
Two nights later we sit again among Egypt’s elite, or at least in part those that fair way better than the average Egyptian. This time in a Pub, located at the island in the Nile, Zamelek, a place that holds a number of buildings from long ago British rule and hosts many Embassies. Normally reached by, the 1st October Bridge, leading straight to famous or infamous Tahrir square, dependent on whom you ask in current volatile Egyptian political climate. We meet with a friend of my colleague. ‘Sara’ is a woman who radiates the extravert Egyptian spirit and who states with all her conviction: ‘I would do it all over again.’ She refers to the Revolution that took place through people’s mass protests on that same Tahrir square in 2011. She shares about the way people shared gas masks, how she coughed blood for 3 weeks after being exposed to three different types of expired tear gas (the story of expired canisters I have heard before from Tunisian friends, there the French and Dutch had sold their dump to the regime, in Egypt the Americans) and how her father encouraged her to get out there every night ‘Come on, go to Tahrir, let’s get this over with. We can’t live like this any longer.’ And Sara is a woman of her word, she has since been involved in the setting up of a new party, one of many that started after the Revolution, but it has not proven easy to get elected, conservative forces in Egypt are strong, and when she tried to run in her area of the city for parliament elections, her party was ‘pushed’ out of the list being told not being religious enough. Sara however is not discouraged, it only means recognition or at least a sign that those same conservative forces take her potential party influence serious – albeit from a fear of losing their own power.
Like the Lada, this fear and most likely the potential for change has not left current Egypt. A day before we see an enormous amount of security men either in a brown or black leather jacket posted every 100 meters along the road to the airport. Later on we hear that the Minister of Defense was on the move, but it leaves an estranged impression of today’s reality in Egypt. As Sara stated, ‘Of course I don’t have any proof for this, but something will happen again,’ just like the revival of the Lada.
N.B. ‘Sara’ is probably not afraid to use her real name, but do not wish to complicate her life by accident any further, hence the use of a different name.