Cairo is a diverse city, a place so baffling and ruled by very disturbed reality. Life in Cairo is a series of intolerable conflicts, a permanent contradiction between what things seem to be and what they really are, between what you believe in and what you live by, between what you hate the most and what you’re obliged to love. We spend our lives swinging back and forth between the beliefs we were raised to uphold and the coping strategies we were compelled to develop. From this very contradiction springs our society with all its norms, codes and morals.
Inside the Maadi apartment exists a world so alien to this land, a haven for a civilisation refugee, a cultural outcast! Inside concrete blocks and behind thick walls I nurture my own little world in an affectionate, motherly fashion.
I struggle every day to merely uphold the vulnerable reality that exists in the Maadi apartment. We are preachers of social equality and justice, prophets of equal opportunity mourning God’s grim reality, but we are also the privileged few, the chosen ones, the perfect materialisation of the inequality we truly resent and disdain. In Cairo, there is no sole proprietor of the truth!
I will not attempt to question the very motives that drive us to wield genuine compassion towards the upside-down reality of Cairo, for they are certainly true; but I tend to question the fear that locks us into our cocoon of material love and earthly desires. For when the beast calls for you, it is certainly foolish to obey! Those who were educated enough to actually be able to read this are aware of that fact, the whip that scars you while you keep craving the lash! Come see paradise: if you’re not satisfied, we will refund your misery!
I chanted for social justice before the domes of tyranny, celebrated the waves of freedom on a hard day’s night, I felt genuine compassion to those I have never known and I willingly gave this city what I am. But all these memories of misery, compassion and freedom feel so distant inside the apartment.
The rich fabrics, the Persian rugs, the flat-screen televisions and all those toys that you have worked hard to obtain, the heart of the Maadi apartment, Cairo will antagonise you out of them one by one. You gaze shamefully into what you own as you feel the stench of Cairo’s rancid poverty suffocating your very lungs. Cairo’s absurd reality is the skeleton you’ve always hidden.
Cairo is made up of complicated dialectics. It is the very anti-thesis of this city that gives its genuine core a beating heart. In Cairo, you are because you are not; you sink in the perplexities of the city until you find its thin air. The bells of Cairo contradictions toll once more inside the Maadi apartment.
The column is an excerpt taken from the forthcoming book Surviving Cairo