A “Yes to the Constitution” poster caught in an empty fruit basket. The 2013 constitution as the first major step in the roadmap following the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi was very widely promoted. Many equated passing it with nominating the current commander of the army, now Field Marshal Abdelfattah al Sisi, for the presidency.
Since the passing of the constitution posters of Sisi, often accompanied by the national flag, have cropped up everywhere in Cairo. The extremely religious general is seen as a national hero and the future saviour president. The problem that presents itself for the next step on the roadmap, the presidential elections, is that he can have no competition. Yet Sisi has yet to resign from his military post to be an eligible candidate.
One of many, possibly autistic beggars in downtown Cairo. Beggars, along with peddlers/hustlers and valets, makes up a huge part of the informal economy. The phenomena have risen rapidly since 2011, when Hosny Mubarak was ousted following huge protests centred in Tahrir Square. It reflects a weaker security apparatus and economic recess.
Semit, a baked snack, stacked on the traffic island on the October Bridge, one of the main traffic arteries connecting many points in the city. Other goods include Chinese-made toys, air fresheners and soft drinks. More recently peddlers have also been selling ID-card trinkets with pictures of Sisi and “A patriotic Egyptian” where the name of the bearer should be. They are often heard calling out, “Sisi for a pound!”
A street cleaner employed by one the state-affiliated companies sits on the traffic island. Street cleaners are very badly paid and many of them do far less cleaning than begginig. They are less aggressive than professional beggars but it is now widely accepted that this is how they earn their livelihood. Dressed in green or orange uniforms, they mope around the cars during traffic jams and sit by the side of the road.
This man lives in and around the October Bridge, surviving on the more or less silent charity of drivers. He spends most of his time engaged in serious conversations with no one in particular, often shouting the names of politicians like Mubarak, Morsi or Sisis. Very probably schizophrenic, the chances are he used to be confined to the Abbassiya state asylum and was illegally released or left to wander. There are many such mentally disturbed characters, some stark naked, who live on the streets of Cairo.
A newcomer to the begging arena on Ramses Road is making use of a traffic jam to solicit charity. Beggars and hustlers are often seen fighting among themselves over turf.
Traffic congestion and urban chaos have increased exponentially since 2011, with people spending up to five hours driving a distance of a few kilometres.
A huge poster of Sisi promoting him as the leader of the Egyptian people is painfully reminiscent of similar gestures in the time of Mubarak. Such displays of sycophancy and “leader”-worship are both official and unofficial, and they form a significant obstacle in the way of developing a politically realistic, let alone democratic mentality.
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In the last few weeks cyber politicising has of course centred on the presidential elections. Apart from a few smallish boycott campaigns on Facebook, few have discussed the significance of what—were it not for the Washington-blessed military-and-Islamist pincers holding political reality in place—would have been the most significant event in Egyptian history since 1953. No one has brought up such issues as the absurdity of running in the absence of a constitution (i.e., on a programme that may prove impracticable once the constitution is drafted), the fact that democratic process is untenable under the hegemony of a military junta, or the lack of any difference between rigging and obtaining votes by distributing sacs of rice or bottles of cooking oil or indeed gas cylinders a la Muslim Brotherhood campaign strategy. The politicising has centred, rather, on who to vote for—and activists as much as analysts, both professional and amateur, have displayed disturbing levels of hysteria in championing the cause of their candidate of choice, fuelled either by supposed loyalty to the revolution and its martyrs or by concern for the future of security and economic stability—with the result that the scene looks like a football match in which the players are substandard and the two teams on the field (the Islamists and the Fuloul or “Remnants of the Fallen Regime”) are vying for supporters of a third (the Revolutionaries) that has been disqualified from competing.