We said our goodbyes t0 Alexandria early in the morning and took the train to Cairo. The initial plan was to visit Tahrir Square and then go see the Sound and Light show at the Sphinx. Once we arrived in Cairo it became glaringly obvious that this would not be possible: protests had reignited in the city and this time were even more heated than before. A sheikh of Al-Azhar, an ancient center for Islamic theory and learning that advises Sunni Muslims from all over the world, had been murdered by military police in Tahrir on Friday by a shot to the heart. Sheikh Emad Effat had been present in the square since the very beginning and served as an example of the moderate and peaceful Muslims that many of the Revolution’s participants hoped to emulate in the new Egypt. Regardless of what motives his killers acted upon, it was a stupid move, because the news of his death came as a terrible shock to millions of people and only intensified the protesters’ resolve, inciting further violence. There is also a theory that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis will return to backing the protesters directly, as for now they have agreed with SCAF to step back their involvement in protests in exchange for a chance to participate in elections.
For us, that meant we needed to head close to the airport very early because the apartment in Dokki, and especially the Sphinx, are across the city from Heliopolis where the airport is located. Tahrir Square is right next to the two main traffic arteries of the city and when protests get bad, those two arteries shut down, paralyzing the city. If this were to happen there would be no flight for us in the morning because it would be impossible to reach the other side of the city.
We went for a final goodbye lunch/dinner at Fayrouz, a restaurant in the InterContinental hotel near City Stars Mall (read about that here). The food was fantastic and a good sampling of what I am going to be missing for many months to come: hummus, baba ghanough, tahina, stuffed grape leaves, tabouli salad, anchovies, chicken, lamb chops, grilled fish, lentil soup, mango juice…
We thanked our guides and our resident program director heartily for their excellent efforts and drove to a hotel near the airport to catch a few last hours of shut-eye before we left. I tossed and turned for hours with so much on my mind and at a quarter to midnight we drove just down the road to our terminal, picked up our boarding passes, and boarded our flight without a hitch. I had an odd moment when walking the gangway to the plane, saying my goodbyes to my three-month home.
As much as it is a relief to be heading back into the west, I am truly going to miss Egypt. As we took off and I watched Cairo’s lights glowing orange in snaking streets far below, I promised myself that I would come back to this country one day.
One day, ya Masr, you will see me again. I wish that by that time you will see the fruits of your people’s difficult struggles and realize happiness as well as prosperity.