Candlelight vigil snuffed out by bureaucracy

The candlelight vigil scheduled to be held at the Cairo Opera House this Saturday has been canceled due to a lack of official permits, the organizers told Al-Masry Al-Youm on Friday evening. The vigil, which was part of a global initiative planned by, an online organization dedicated to raising awareness about global warming, would have been one of two such events held in Cairo on Saturday. As it is, the only vigil will now be taking place at El Sawy Culture Wheel in Zamalek, which agreed to host the event.

Aiman Elsayed, a member of the team and the organizer behind the Cairo vigils described his experience at the Opera House as "frustrating, to say the least. They kept asking me who I worked for, even after I explained the concept of the vigils to them. They kept insisting that this was the work of an individual or a company, not grasping that it was a global event." Elsayed’s logic fell on deaf ears. "I told them all about, I even suggested they check the website. They’d listen, and nod and ask ‘So, who do you work for?’ For a while, they were trying to blame it on Vodafone, just because I work there. I told them it would just be a gathering of me and some friends with candlesticks, and they said it would take days to process permits for that."

Elsayed, failing to reach an understanding with Opera House officials, had to argue his way through countless levels of bureaucracy, eventually reaching State Security police offices. "The amazing thing," Elsayed recalls, bewildered, "was that out of all the people I talked to, the only person who even had the slightest clue of what was going on in Copenhagen was one of the secretaries at the Opera House."

In the end, Elsayed was told, firmly and clearly by a high-ranking official of the anonymous type, that "his" event would not be approved, as there was simply not enough time to produce and sign off on the required paperwork. "Even when I told them it would just be a gathering of me and some friends with candlesticks," says Elsayed, "they said it would take days to process permits for something like that. That, at the very least, they would need me to present them with a list of all the people I expected to attend so that they could run background checks on everyone. So I thanked for all the effort they put into making life difficult for Egyptians, and I left."

Fortunately, the management at El Sawy Culture Wheel was not as demanding. "They agreed immediately," says Elsayed. "I sent a message to the owner, Mohamed Abdel Moneim El Sawy—I thought he was out of town— proposing the idea and telling him the things we’d need, and he called me a half hour later to tell me everything was ready."

However, the events of the day have left Elsayed depressed. "It’s discouraging," he sighs. "It’s deeply discouraging and frustrating. I left State Security police and roamed the streets for an hour, not knowing what to do. How could I possibly make a list of the expected attendees for an event like this? Things don’t have to be this way, and they shouldn’t be this way. It discourages you from ever wanting to do anything."

The Cairo vigil will be held on Saturday 12 December, 8:00PM-9:00PM at El Sawy Culture Wheel in Zamalek. Bring a candle, and a cover of some sort to protect it the wind. For more information, visit, or join the 350 Egypt group on Facebook.

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