As dusk approaches the noise of traffic increases; cars speed down the streets, delivery motorbikes sound like they have exponentially spawned offspring and minibuses screech past while honking their horns. At this time of day an added urgency turns the volume up on the normally never-ending traffic cacophony of Cairo.
And then it starts, as the light fades, so does the clamour. An occasional car passes by but silence slowly encroaches on what is the soundtrack of Cairo: traffic noise. My neighbourhood turns into a twilight zone of silence, sharply interrupted by a lone straggler racing home or sudden bursts of gunfire that rip the quietness apart after the 7pm curfew comes into effect.
Residents buckle down to find ways of entertaining themselves and struggle to adjust to an enforced 11 hours behind closed doors. Egypt is a 24-hour country and having the day cut in half takes some getting used to. TV, internet and, one can only hope, the occasional book provide the much-needed distraction from both the situation in the country and the enforced house arrest. Having found a literally captive audience of millions, the media does not hesitate to pour an avalanche of information out over our collective heads from every possible side.
It has become nigh impossible to avoid reading slanted reports, listening to half-truths or outright lies on the quest for news. And the more days pass, opinions are presented by analysts from every possible persuasion and everyone sinks into their chosen stance, the sadder, more ridiculous and outright obnoxious the distortion of facts sometimes becomes. I understand the mistrust of many of my friends regarding any source of news, but it is a bit disheartening to have to come to the defence of my colleagues in the politics section time and time again as I attest to their ethics, hard work and integrity.
Many Egyptians wait out the curfew by turning their attention online, as a significant drop in internet speed after 7pm can attest to. Social media timelines fill with posts of those locked inside, many of them preaching to their trusted choir of the relatively precious few with access to the web, computers and smart phones. Others get stuck in endless loops of debate with those of an opposing persuasion, and while that seldom leads to any new insights it seems to help them pass the time.
Journalists post breaking news and links to the pieces they have filed that day, to immediately be attacked and congratulated on their efforts in equal measure. Anger, hatred and gleeful rejoicing in the misfortune of others jockey for position of being the number one sentiment on these electronic representations of what is happening in the minds of those connected to a country in turmoil. It is a sad sight.
Life under curfew is also an obvious and favourite topic and some of the sound bytes, suggestions or inventive recommendations are highly amusing. But also here politics are unavoidable; in between the horror stories of lives lost, bodies mutilated and cultural heritage looted and burned there are some that call for disobedience. They boldly state rules are made to be broken and obeying to the curfew is an act of weakness. “To the streets,” they bray, while proudly sharing their triumphant testimonies of insubordination on social media.
Before the media, international or otherwise, perks up its ears and thinks it can smell a good story, let me explain that these acts of bravery and noncompliance do not involve large groups of, for example, small kiosk owners quietly sitting down on a street somewhere to draw attention to their loss of income now they have lost the busier half of their business day.
The scope of the curfew crashers is much smaller than the attention on their timelines would suggest. It mostly involves going out for a coffee or a meal and it occurs sporadically and very locally.
I am a big supporter of standing up for what you believe in, but I cannot help but wonder how smoking a shisha can be positioned as a bold act of defiance. Especially if the indulgence takes place in an upscale area, where the restaurants still serve and the danger is next to nothing. Eating out as an act of bravery. It smacks more of self-indulgence and silliness, if anything, to me.
Because the stark reality is that Egyptians are under attack, being brutalised and killed in nauseating numbers nearly every day. Families all over the country, from all walks of life, mourn the death of their loved ones. Places of worship, museums and archaeological sites are looted and burned.
I am sure most, if not all, of the defiers of detainment do care about all of the above; whatever moniker they give their forays for fodder. But considering the danger many people are in during the silent hours of the nights, the self-congratulatory mentions of their exploits do seem to be, as apparently opposed to their dinners, in poor taste.