The snapshots of Tahrir Square taken during the past week show large protests steadily increasing in intensity. The basic idea behind these demonstrations was initially to protest President Morsi's increase in power, and subsequently to contest certain aspects of the newly drafted constitution of Egypt. Strangely, though I'm currently living in Cairo, my exposure to these events were likely very similar to that of my friends and family at home.
My fellow travelers and I are safe and sound in our American University of Cairo dorm on the Nile island of Zamalek - the only change to our daily lifestyle being a moratorium on any visits to Tahrir Square. Nevertheless we have been able to explore parts of the downtown area, whether it's going to see the new Bond movie at a local theater, or braving the claustrophobic alleyways of the Khan el-Kahlili bazaar in the heart of old, medieval Cairo: a chaotic market geared toward tourist and Cairene alike.
While the island of Zamalek has plenty to offer (including delicious restaurants with cuisine ranging from Indian to Italian), our group has experienced an increasing sense of restlessness, an uncomfortable feeling that stems from our disconnect with the important current events taking place just across the Nile River.
Wanting to get a "closer" look at what was slated to be the largest protest in the square this week, a few of us embarked upon a nighttime journey to the Cairo Tower. The tower, located on Zamalek and standing at 614 feet, has been the tallest structure in Egypt and North Africa for 50 years so we figured it would prove to be a sufficient vantage point. After a short taxi ride with a driver who shared his own stylized (read: laced with profanity) dialect of English, we arrived at the tower and were soon squished into the elevator that bore us to the top floor balcony. We were greeted with a 360 degree view of the city, certain parts twinkling with electricity, other blocks in an apparent blackout signaling urban poverty. It wasn't long before we could spot the gathering in Tahrir Square.
Aided by the zoom functions of our digital cameras we could see dozens of tents surrounded by a thick throngs of people. A low rabble of voices reached us at the top of the tour, but nothing distinguishable or particularly violent could be seen or heard. It was a unique experience to see such a large protest, reminiscent of those that sparked the Egyptian revolution, at such a safe distance. In fact, just the opportunity to see the Square helped me to feel a deeper connection with the country in which I am studying.
While certain aspects of the volatile political situation in the Middle East can be frustrating, including the fact that our group's time in Israel was cancelled due to the recent conflict, simply being here is a very unique way for us to engage with these nations and their people. Fighting for the future rarely makes things convenient, but the opportunity to see history unfolding, if even from a distance, is worth the hassle.