How badly can you want something? What would normally be the thing to do when you are placed with someone who has authority over the thing you want so much and withholds it from you? Would you walk your talk, confront them and live up with the consequences? Would you speak with fear of being denied your thing and so you acknowledge the authority lest you wake the beast?
My story today may not be that dramatic, but little violations of my rights everyday can turn me into something I’m not pleased with.
I was driving home last night, trying to arrive within less than 30 minutes on a route that should in any other city take 10 minutes. I started my journey with my car crawling among other cars in a pool of chaos. I managed to get near the area where I lived around 7:30, exactly 30 minutes later. To my surprise I found that the street I normally take to reach my home was blocked with police rails and two officers were standing there. If I missed that street it would take me another 30 to 45 minutes of turning in the chaos to get back to a previous spot and choose another street. I had no option.
I spoke to one of the officers. “I live right there and I need to get home quickly.”
“Sorry madam, prohibited. There’s a tashreefa.”
Tashreefa has no literal translation in the English language, probably because there is no equivalent to the phenomenon outside our world. It is a deliberate blockage of streets in anticipation of a prominent politician passing in his bullet-proof car. The streets get decorated by soldiers, human beings that are placed on both sides of the road from beginning to end for hours until the sacred passing takes place. Until then the street is literally out of order. No forewarning, no easy access to alternative routes. You drive there, get stuck, and discover that it’s a tashreefa.
My blood began to simmer. “You cannot deny me access to my own home. I must get there now!” He went to speak to a higher authority sitting on a chair with its back to the street and busying itself with some papers. He came back with the same answer. “It’s prohibited, madam.”
At this moment the simmering grew to a boil. I found myself opening the door and charging out of the car in an anger fit I usually describe as an out of body experience. I suddenly acquire a much higher voice and begin to say and do things I have no control of. I walked to the “authority” on the chair and ignored the officer’s calls after me.
“I need to get to my home. All I demand of you is a little respect to my basic human right as a citizen of this country!”
The man’s eyes were wide open staring at me in disbelief. “You may take the next street.” I began to fume. “The next street is a one-way street and if one of you catches me he’d charge me 1000 EGP, and there is no way I can enter it since it is equally blocked with cars trying to get to the already blocked road we’re in. So now please allow me to get into my home. You may search me if you will. I have no weapons. I need to get to the child that is waiting for me there!”
I had no idea who that child was, unless I count my cat as one.
Predicting that he would not be rid of me soon, he waved at his subjects to allow me in. I walked to my car without another word and drove in. It was a party in the Turkish ambassador’s residence. Black cars, black suits, black dresses. I was thrown back into my black mood. I drove with so much fury and kept cursing out loud alone in the car.
I got to my home and all I could think of was how many of us end up being reduced to basic levels just to protect our rights to go by in the streets of Cairo with no hassle. What’s more important, I was alarmed at the things I said. I said “please.” Please?? What the hell was I thinking? Was I so afraid he’d let me do the 45 minutes turn and I was secretly begging for his mercy? A “child”?? What child? I lied!
Is it the systematic subordination we’ve been subjected to in our society for so many years that made inner submissive cowards out of us? Has the hierarchical system of authority been passed down to us individuals, making us oppressive to those below us and submissive to those above?
Yes. As children many of us went to schools where we were beaten by teachers for speaking in class or for not doing our homework. We were yelled at and humiliated in front of our peers in class. When we grew up we became used to laws and regulations being issued overnight and executed with no consideration of any say on our part.
The spark that I see in the eyes of Egyptians as I look at pictures taken some forty or more years ago no longer exists. The people I see walking in the street have a look of defeat in their eyes. The women have lost their glory, lines of exhaustion and fatigue have carved their ways on their faces. The men have lost their sense of self-worth. The little sense of control they still aspire to have is practiced on their children or wives.
Egyptians have been systematically neutralized by a smart centralized authority that has reigned above them for so many decades. They used to revolt, but now they can’t get more than a hundred people to stand still in a demonstration. A culture of prohibition overrules everything. I can’t get a refund in a shop, I can’t change my order in a restaurant, I can’t enter certain restaurants because I cover my hair. The list continues.
Inside me there’s a free soul longing for harmony with its surroundings, but sometimes I feel like it’s forever caged inside the body of the hesitant person I have become. I don’t know how long I will further have to wait until it is out, but I’m going to keep trying to unshackle it bit by bit until I, all of me, am free.