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Surviving Cairo

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Ziad Akl
Towards a distant fading light I march the streets of my lambent city. Quietly I move my feet, fearfully I take tiny steps into my questionable direction. Cairo has no room for certainty; certitude has become one of our luxuries. I confess to being one of those who ponder in doubt their very own existence; a vain army for a city bereft of a beating heart.

A foolish dream of nationhood keeps haunting me while I wallow in the grief of my societal alienation. Few are the times I succeed in recognising the reasons behind the alienation that strikes at the core of life in Cairo with remarkable prowess. For most of the time, they remain vague and unaccounted for, like many of the answers in our city. It is indeed ironic that a city doomed by overpopulation suffers alienation; we are Cairo’s lonely crowd.

Do I really live in a city? Is there anyone out there who really belongs to today’s Cairo? I am one of those who mourn a distant Cairo, a different Cairo; a city that rests in shame alongside other shattered memories. The absurdity that rules over the air in Cairo is what dictates our very lives.

Life in today’s Cairo knows no reason and hence, no belonging. We revolve round a sickly circle of dark, bleak confusion that engulfs our lives in an eternal vertigo. We live attached in a cowardly fashion to a wire stretched between the ends of nostalgia and de-realisation; we are Cairo’s dead citizens.

Reconciliation is a virtue forgotten in our city; on hostility we all dwell. We practise our daily anger in all commitments, but the lack of change drives us to despair. We are angry to the point of desperation. The unending empty rage stains us all; we are Cairo’s silent protesters.

As a child, I was taught to dream of a future. I was told stories about what should and what should not be, I remember the tunes in the lullabies that preached the better tomorrow ever so bright, I recall the times where questions were all answered with a smile and I can still think of the times where even the unanswered questions made a bit of sense.

There was once life in this city, a beating heart that brought about warmth, hospitality and comfort. But the memories we proudly possess will one day be distorted out of sight, tarnished beyond repair in Cairo’s venomous cycle of bitter depreciation. We fight a losing battle with a present so dense and a reality so absurd; we are Cairo’s beautiful losers.

Behind the very walls of my heart lives a massive heritage of humble folk tradition, an identity so unique that shapes my perceptions, my reflections and my responses. An identity begotten on the streets of Downtown Cairo, planted by common burden and nurtured by consecutive national misfortunes; we are Cairo’s bleeding heart.

In Cairo, a broken dream is all we share. Like a relay stick, we pass despair from hand to hand; Cairo’s dark solidarity, our sarcasm turned inside out! Those who walk down the streets of my city know what it’s like to stumble on tiny remnants of things that once were. Cairo is a bitter memory lane, and within these bitter memories lives Cairo’s sense of self. From the rubble of broken dreams our city is resurrected, from the mess of hopeless threads our fabric is woven, and from the lonely tints of colour our painting is drawn; we are Cairo’s survivors!

About the author

Ziad A. Akl

Ziad A. Akl

Ziad A. Akl is a political analyst and sociologist. He is a senior researcher at the Egyptian Studies Unit in Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

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