No Photos!

“No photos!” The security guard shouted as I pointed my camera at the obelisk across the street. I had been assured previously that pictures were allowed, but I had no desire to get involved in a shouting match with someone who spoke no English

So I moved across the street, closer to the structure. The security guards there had no objections to my taking as many pictures as I liked. 

The obelisk. From the time of Pharaoh Ramses II was installed in Tahir Square in downtown Cairo in February 2020. Given that the COVID-19 pandemic hit just after that, I doubt many tourists have seen it yet.

The 17-metre obelisk has been re-assembled after being broken into eight pieces and buried in the sand at the San Al-Haggar archeological site to the north of Cairo.

It stands as a reminder of Egypt’s distant past. One where present-day problems would have been unheard of. 

I was naturally curious as to how the Egyptian people view their government and the events of the past decade. Tahir Square was the site of the Arab Spring rallies that led to the toppling of the democratically elected Morsi government. 

My curiosity though didn’textend to the point of actually asking any of the Egyptians I met. Those were all casual contacts. In countries with autocratic governments you don’t share criticism of the authorities, if you have any, with strangers. Not if you want to stay out of jail.

I remember a few years ago an Egyptian friend was singing the praises of Egyptian president el- Sisi. I acknowledged that he was a fan, but pointed out that it didn’t seem to me that his election (recent at that time) had been all that free and democratic.

My friend took offense, explaining to me that el Sisi had received more than 96 per cent support. Of course it was a free election.

I pointed out that in the previous election President Morsi had received only 51 per cent of the vote, to be shortly thereafter overthrown by the military. Did my friend really expect me to believe that those who supported Morsi had vanished completely?

Or were they too afraid to make their opinions known given that Morsi had been deposed in a military coup led by el-Sisi? Certainly no leader of any western demoicracy enjoys such unqualified support. Why would Egyptians be different in how they view their politicians?

I’m not sure what harm would be done by taking photos of the obelisk. It isn’t as if there weren’t pictures in the media when it was unveiled. Perhaps it is just an extra sensitivity that anything can be a political flash point. When a government is overthrown by mob action, it’s successor is understandably nervous. 

The obelisk seems nice enough. Too bad I couldn’t get closer.


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