Hearing that the Corniche, the road along the Nile, is going to be close today due to the inauguration happening thereon at the main courthouse some kilometers away, we decide to wander down to experience the, most likely, one time in the four years I’ll be here where the road is not a cacophony of horns, racing engines, and screeching tires. We walk a railroad crossover I haven’t used before and find ourselves in a very poor section of narrow streets adjacent to and just north of the vegetable souk. The streets are too narrow for cars, of which there are none, and the area seems almost deserted, except for the faint sound of a few people inside run down buildings we pass. I notice one building leaning. The walls are covered with graffiti, mostly Egyptian flags.
The people we meet are not unfriendly, but wary. I’m aware of being a westerner. I don’t blame them their pause. A very nice man comes along and welcomes us to Egypt. We tell him we are teachers and live here, in Arabic, and have lived here for some time. He doesn’t speak English, listens, and once again says, “Welcome to Egypt,” as he moves along. From the flags it’s hard to tell what political sympathies the neighborhood holds, and its condition makes us aware of how much any new government needs to do to deal with the state of much of the population. There are no pictures of El-Sisi, so we make our way toward the souq and more familiar paths.
Onto the main roads and through a more affluent section of Maadi we find ourselves turning left and toward the Nile. At the crossroad there is a roadblock, but people are on the other side, so we walk through. The police smile, “Sabah el kheir,” good morning. “Sabah el noor, “ morning of light. There is a man adorning an old flat tired car with Egyptian flags. Other people are carrying flags. Something must be going on. More people walk past us, greeting us, invoking the name of el-Sisi. We find a flag salesman who begs we take his picture and as well we oblige his request that we purchase his wares.
At the Nile there is a sizeable crowd behind a line of soldiers guarding the road barricades. A look of “do we or don’t we” passes between us, but we are swept up in the friendliness of the people who invite us to revel in their joy at the inauguration of the new president. Please take my picture sir. Welcome to Egypt. Where are you from? What magazine do you represent? “Ana mudarras,” I am a teacher, we are teachers, and for once I see an almost look of disappointment at the realization that their picture will not grace the cover of Time or Newsweek. Children, women and men of all ages ask for a photo. People push their way into our field of view. “It is a good day,” shouts one man. Flags small and huge wave and people chant in support of the ex-general.
Suddenly we realize that we are going to have to make a conscious effort to extricate ourselves from our overzealous new friends, who barrage us with requests for images with their friends and with us. We do not feel in danger, but do feel somewhat overwhelmed and know when enough is enough. So we make our way out of the throng of two hundred excited Egyptians and head for the quiet of the Nile.
I was right, the road is empty and silent and the river has a different feel when modernity is not speeding and spewing beside it. For a good long way we enjoy the warm morning as balloons drift south on the prevailing breeze. After a while a horse cart approaches, passes, and we revel in the fact that this is the only traffic, the clop of the horse’s hooves the only sound on this day when the ex-general takes the helm of Egypt.