- Life Style
“We were waiting for our [food] order when a jeep with some soldiers drove down the avenue without spotting us, it seemed. Then men having coffee and shisha on the other side of the avenue yelled at them to come back and check our IDs. That was pretty unsettling,” said Wael, a French-Egyptian teacher who lives in Mounira. He had left his flat yesterday evening with friends to buy chicken from a shop located 300 meters from his home on Qasr al-Aini street.
Xenophobia nourished by Egyptian state-run channels, which presents foreigners as disruptive elements and agents for the West and Israel, has enormously impacted the way they are perceived.
The animosity, directed mainly at foreign journalists two days ago, now extends to foreigners in general and manifests itself through disgruntled looks, derogatory remarks, and arrests.
Marion Touboul, a French journalist who resides in Cairo was arrested yesterday at a barricade in Mounira while trying to return home. “I was not working, and I had no camera on me, but a sinister-looking guy asked to see my ID and answered my phone. He said to my boyfriend, who was on the line, that I was hurt, so he would get there quickly. We both got arrested,” she recounted. They were blindfolded, put in a car and transported to what they later determined to be a military police in Nasr City. They remained there for eight hours before being released. “We were not brutalized at all. This was clearly intimidation,” declared Touboul, who works for Arte, a Franco-German TV channel.
A French resident of Alexandria was arrested early yesterday morning in Alexandria when trying to find his way back home after sleeping over at a friend’s house. “I was walking in Fouad Street, trying to reach a parallel street in which I could hail a cab and get back home. Unfortunately, the road was blocked. Soldiers stepped down off a nearby microbus, began asking me questions, and gestured that I get inside the vehicle,” he recalled. When he categorically refused, the soldiers brought him to the secret police building located behind the National Museum a few blocks from Fouad street, where he was interrogated for two hours. “They searched my bag pack and my pockets thoroughly and whenever I opened my mouth to explain to the policeman conducting the interrogation the reason why I was outside, he would yell ‘shut up!’ very aggressively.” Finally the policeman told him “we don’t want foreigners here” and softly slapped his face in a condescending way. He was released after two hours and this morning he had coffee with a friend in “Brazilian Café” nearby. “People looked surprised to see us out [on the streets], but I did not feel aggressed in any way,” he said.
Max Strasser, an American journalist, was roughed up by thugs after arriving in Cairo two days ago to cover the revolution. “Nothing serious, really, I got attacked by some thugs Thursday afternoon when trying to access Galaa Bridge from Dokki,” he explained. Because he arrived in Egypt two days ago, he did not feel comfortable claiming that the situation for foreigners has deteriorated over the past 48 hours. “But during my previous experience in Egypt, I never felt hostility before. The new tension is very perceptible,” he said.
Nicolas Geeraert, a Belgian who studies Arabic in Cairo, left Egypt Thursday morning. From Belgium, he explained that he had never planned to leave any time soon, but that the pressure against foreigners became so common place, after Egypt’s Vice President Omar Suleiman delivered a speech accusing the foreign community of conspiring against Egypt, he left precipitously. “People from my neighborhood in Garden City warned us not to approach Tahrir,” he said. “I also met a retired Egyptian doctor a day before I left who told me that I was very courageous for remaining in the country.”
A Moroccan-French Arabic student was hit by an axe as he tried to return home. “The street was incredibly packed; I wanted to cross the street to be closer to my flat when I got entangled in an ongoing brawl. I did everything I could to extract myself from it, but I was hit with an axe on the back of my head,” said the young man, who received ten stitches for the wound. He could not tell whether the blow was accidental or deliberate.
But some foreigners, such as Andrée Noval, a French teacher who lives on a house boat on the Nile at Kit-Kat square, feels safe. “Yesterday I went to the souk in Imbaba to buy groceries and everything was fine,” she said. “The only thing that happened is that my taxi was stopped in Sayeda Zeinab and my ID was checked, but I was soon on my way,” she said with a cheery smile. “I have no intention of leaving the country. I just try to limit my comings and goings.”
Groups of policemen are visiting flats where foreigners live in Downtown Cairo, Mounira and Sayyeda Zeinab. Five policemen, only one of whom wore a police outfit, paid a visit to Wael and his flatmates at their Mounira flat. “They just asked to see our ID’s and took a look at the bedrooms briefly,” Wael said. “To me, this is clearly intimidation: they want the foreigners to go.”
There are some reported instances of Egyptians also being poorly treated after they were misidentified as foreigners. An Egyptian man and dual Egyptian-American national, 25, who requested anonymity for fear of being harassed further by state security, reports that he, his brother and a friend were detained for over 16 hours by military police, accused of being “agents for the Jews.” He reports that they were blindfolded, tied by their feet and hands, and made to ride on the back of an army vehicle at gunpoint, before being taken to a military installation near the Triumph Hotel in Heliopolis where “hundreds if not thousands of other foreigners and Egyptians were all crying and being blindfolded and treated the same way.”