Cairo suffers sit-in fatigue

Local residents of Nasr City are tired of constant protests but they also fear a violent crackdown by authorities.

Cairo, Egypt – News that Egypt’s cabinet has tasked police to take “all necessary measures” to end the sit-in held by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi has set the city on edge.

The statement, issued on Wednesday, warned those participating in the sit-ins at Nasr City’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque and outside Cairo University in Giza that their demonstrations were “dangerous” in light of the “threat to national security”.

It’s been over a month since the vigils started, with organisers saying they plan to remain in both locations in Cairo until Morsi’s reinstatement.

Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim reiterated an earlier statement on Saturday when he said that the sit-ins would be cleared, but did not say when and how.

“I want to talk about the situation that I live, not about the cabinet decision – that’s something between the government and the protesters,” said Noha Yousry, 30, a Nasr City resident who lives in an apartment building engulfed by the sit-in.

“I’m a resident and I’m suffering,” said Yousry, who works in online marketing.

Little sympathy for Brotherhood

She said that buses can no longer enter the area, leaving those without cars stranded. Furthermore, participants in the sit-in are “living in our private areas – they are sleeping, eating, going to the toilet and taking showers in our garden, our garage, our building”.

It’s hard to estimate how many are at the camp – possibly tens of thousands are camping out in every nook and cranny of what feels like a cross between a refugee camp and a neglected concert fairground. The smell of garbage is pungent in parts, and piles of trash build up in corridors of tents and at entrances.

Yousry – and other residents in the area who have set up a Facebook page to air their complaints – bristle at the checkpoints set up in the area by the Muslim Brotherhood, where anyone passing through is required to show identification, answer questions, get frisked and have their belongings searched.

“They are making checkpoints under my home – every time I come home, they ask me for my ID, and I tell them ‘I don’t know you – why would I show you my ID?’ and then they say ‘Let me search your car’ – this is unacceptable!” said Yousry, who added that two of her neighbours were beaten for refusing to comply with the checkpoint procedure.

Still, news that the sit-in will be cleared spells fear of more violence and clashes.

“I am worried. We are just victims. And we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Yousry.

A neighbourhood under siege

But for some living with the constant din and traffic of the vigils, the clearing can’t come soon enough.

Basma Ezzat, 27, lives less than a block away from the north entrance of the Nasr City vigil and says she feels hemmed in by both the sit-in and the security road blocks that have at times made it impossible for residents and workers in the area to move about.

And that’s not taking into account the noise.

I can't go out normally anymore. I haven't seen my brothers and sisters this Ramadan because it's so difficult to get in and out.

by -Basma Ezzat, Nasr City resident

“The speakers are very loud so we can’t sleep before 6 am,” said Ezzat.

“The escalation [of tensions] has increased the use of the speakers. Also, the fireworks are still going off at night, especially when the military helicopters are around,” said Ezzat, adding that she does not feel safe going out in the neighbourhood.

“I can’t go out normally anymore. I haven’t seen my brothers and sisters this Ramadan because it’s so difficult to get in and out,” she said.

Ezzat is in fact affected by both Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins, as she is also a teaching assistant and is currently working on her PhD in computer science at Cairo University in Giza, where another vigil is in play.

Due to clashes between residents and protesters in Giza, the dean of her faculty has advised that students and staff only go to the campus when absolutely necessary.

Ezzat, therefore, is anxious for the sit-ins to be dispersed peacefully and gradually. She thinks security forces should perhaps prevent more people joining protests, or prevent food from being taken in.

Ezzat is also concerned about the sit-in’s encroachment onto several side streets, and feels the “the army should prevent them from expanding the vigil area”.

Lost wages

Of course, it’s not simply the sit-ins that have caused a disruption in normal life – as normal as things could have been after the January 2011 uprising that saw the ouster of long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Tahrir Square, the focal point of the revolution, has remained a flashpoint of protests and running street battles in the neighbourhoods surrounding it.

Hassan Abdelsattar, 53, says his automotive painting shop has “suffered a lot of losses” since the start of the revolution.

“The low flow of work affects us because the continuous clashes make people afraid to bring their cars here – they worry they will be vandalised,” said Abdelsattar. “I hire some youths, but I can’t pay them anymore, and it’s become difficult for me to bring in the tools I need for work.”

Abdelsattar said people in Cairo are tired of sit-ins, starting with the October 2011 Maspero protest held by Coptic Christians that ended violently, with 28 dead.

“They weren’t attacked because they were Christians, and the people in Rabaa weren’t attacked because they are Muslims,” said Abdelsattar, referring to the clash that left at least 72 people dead on Saturday morning.

“It’s not sectarian. Residents in these areas don’t like protests and marches because it affects their lives.”

But despite traffic snarls that prevent almost anything from getting done on time in the capital, some here feel the right to protest is more important than any of the inconveniences they must deal with.

Taxi driver Mohamad Abdelhakem has been among those navigating the worse-than-usual Cairo traffic, clogged up more than ever due to ongoing marches and security roadblocks that have become part of daily life since protests toppled Morsi on July 3.

“The people in Rabaa are righteous,” said Abdelhakem, 42, who shrugs off the protest-snarled traffic with, “Cairo has always had traffic.”

“If the sit-in or protest is for the public interest, then I don’t care if I lose a lot of money or if I lose my job,” he said.

“I’ve lost some of my assets, but I can take it until Morsi is back.”

Delicate negotiations

The organisers of the sit-in might realise that their presence is a hardship to Nasr City residents, but they say their right to protest supersedes all else.

“The right to hold a sit-in is a legal, constitutional right,” said Wafaa Hefny, who works at the sit-in’s media centre.

She said that organisers have made arrangements with the affected buildings to use the space around them and that, in fact, some residents support the sit-in, and issued a statement welcoming protesters to use their homes as needed.

On the Facebook page set up by Nasr City residents, it is claimed that vigil members had asked if they could use building rooftops for “security” purposes – a claim Hefny flatly denies.

“No, they never, never did that,” she said, pointing out that many of the surrounding buildings in the area were built to house military personnel and that most are currently occupied by ex-military members.

Still, Hefny acknowledges, “you can’t please everyone – it’s normal that some people will be mad about it.”

“But this is a constitutional right. If they had a problem and they went in the street, I would support their right, ” said Hefny, who added that organisers respond to complaints by neighbours on issues such as noise and littering.

But Noha Yousry, who lives in the area, said this hasn’t been the case.

“They said that the organisers of the protesters would do anything if you complain, but they haven’t done anything,” said Yousry.

“They have a right to protest in the public space, but not in our garden, but not in our garage, and not in our private building,” she said.

“We are not with them or against them – we just want our rights.”

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Source: Al Jazeera