By nature of the job, I happened to frequent Cairo numerous times during the past years, however, 5 of those visits stick out in memory.
Saturday January 29th, 2011
Like anyone in the middle east, I had watched the news of Bouazizi self-immolation, the revolution that occurred in Tunisia and the subsequent revolution in Cairo that had started four days prior.
I had touched ground in Cairo and the beast I flew opened up to the ground allowing the passengers -“guests” where I work- to flow to the ground. I plunged down some steps to the ramp area, to perform the walk-around. The ritual that united all pilots in all corners of the world and that made you feel better flying the jet back to home.
Not that any of the pilots are mechanics or engineers, some are, very few, the rest just have to look for “something not right,” and we do. After the stroll, I dropped in to the engineers rest area, a small concrete block with a door on one side and windows on all other sides.
I must have entered that block 20 times prior to today, but today, felt different, I was sure I wasn’t imagining it, but I was also sure that the Tahrir Square could be heard from the airport some 20 kilometres away, so I could have been imagining.
I excused myself in and lit up a cigarette, a greying old man (GOM) pushing 55-years, sitting behind a steel and wood desk, offered instant coffee, I instantly accepted. Religiously, as he probably did a hundred times prior, he spew the granules in and poured the scalding hot water and walked to my seat to bring the coffee, I rushed to take it from him as would be appropriate in this culture.
The old 1990’s T.V. showed the Tahrir Square demonstrators on live footage, no wonder I could hear the cacophony on the ramp. This was an actual T.V. with actual back side for a CRT, not a screen. The people on T.V. were real people, they were not partisan, they were not hired,
Peeking through the ajar grey blinds at my cockpit-mate, to check he has actually asked for the passengers to come, I could sense the tension in the Cairo air. I had to start a conversation with the man, he was asking for it, wasn’t he?
S&R- “Hoping for the better?”
GOM- “They have set him up, and now look: They are one with the people! As if Mubarak knew what was happening behind his back”
Clearly, he didn’t want to look into the future so much, he insinuated that the army generals where somewhat to blame for the people’s anger. The generals, whom just a night prior had actually decided to protect the demonstrations and not clash with the people, were infamously corrupt and deeply involved in the regime that was being shaken by the peaceful chants.
S&R- “At least they got a higher platform to stand on!” I noted the crowds by the tens clamouring on top of tanks. Tanks in the middle of the busy squares of Cairo, the kind of thing you will only see in the Middle East.
Figuratively and in reality, the protests got a leg up by the Army, and it seemed to everyone that victory was at hand, after the first million man march succeeded the day before.
GOM- “He has got to go,” clearly meaning Mubarak, “the people need a new president every 30 years or so.” The T.V. showed his pictures being taken down in parks.
I laughed partly because of his joke, but partly because the octogenarian president was facing an outcry for deaths caused by the police. The army, interfered and helped settle the situation. As if Mubarak had the police; the army belonged to another regime, the people’s regime.
I finished my cigarette, knowing that someone behind the scenes was enjoying the unfolding!