Across Cairo, districts brace for 30 June and beyond

Dina Ezzat , Wednesday 26 Jun 2013

Heliopolis, adjacent Nasr City and distant Muqattam districts are set for tense times amid what are likely to be, 30 June, the biggest protest demonstrations since the fall of Mubarak

Egyptian army tanks secure the perimeter of the presidential palace while protesters gather chanting
Egyptian army tanks secure the perimeter of the presidential palace while protesters gather chanting anti president Mohammed Morsi slogans, in Cairo, Egypt, on Friday, December 7 (photo: AP)

“We are not sure how things will go. We anticipate that any trouble will be around the presidential palace in Heliopolis, but you never know. The protests might also come to the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood, so we are taking precautions here too,” said Ahmed, a pharmacist who works on Street 10 of Muqattam, only a few buildings away from the three-floor headquarters of the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, established after the January 25 Revolution that ended decades of persecution of political Islam.

A few weeks ago, Ahmed recalled, the pharmacy had to shut down its doors when angry protestors amassed on the headquarters to express anger and fury over state mismanagement and excessive partisan bias on the side of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The thing is that it is Mohamed Morsi who rules, but because it is the conviction of so many people that Morsi is only a puppet that the Muslim Brotherhood moves around, the anger is always directed against the Guidance Bureau — so there is a high probability that Muqattam would have its share of the furor that the nation will see 30 June,” Ahmed added.

The nation is bracing for a wave of protests running up to and including 30 June — the day that will mark a year since Morsi was sworn into office following a narrow victory over Ahmed Shafiq in the runoff round of the presidential elections. The rallying call for the demonstrations is the demand for early presidential elections to end economic, security and other failures that came with Morsi's rule, according to leading opposition figures who have been dumming up support for the demonstrations.

“As Egyptian citizens, we support the demonstrations for sure, because we simply wish to see an end to this economic and security decline. But as residents of Muqattam, we do have our security fears, because for all we know, protests could create enough havoc that might start incidents of looting and harassment. We are working on extra security precautions and we have asked our wives and daughters to be super careful,” said Saad, a resident of the same street of the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters.

Saad had been collecting signatures for a legal case to evict the Muslim Brotherhood from its headquarters building and take a new HQ away from that otherwise peaceful residential district, but the momentum was interrupted with the call for citizens to sign the Rebel campaign withdrawing confidence from Morsi.

“We all got busy with the Rebel call, which might end up solving the problem of Egypt — not just of Muqattam we are praying,” Saad added.

Nagla, a resident of Heliopolis whose house is only a 10-minute walk away from the presidential palace is also praying for peace and safety. Unlike Ahmed and Saad, Nagla is not speculating about demonstrations but awaiting them, as the call was made for demonstrations to gather in front of the presidential palace in her district.

“We were hoping when Morsi got elected that security measures would be lighter than those of the days of [ousted president Hosni] Mubarak, but we got a much worse set up. In the beginning, things were alright but it did not take them very long before they started to block the streets and introduce tough security measures,” Nagla said.

She added that for her, the worst part is not about the security measures, “because at the end of the day these take a half hour or so and they end. But with the demonstrations you never know when they start and how they would end, and you never know what kind of looting and destruction would come with it."

Nagla and her husband Mohamed say they fear that their cars would be damaged in the middle of riots. They say they thought about leaving both cars next to Mohamed’s parents house in Dokki, “but then again we thought that we would not easily find taxis that might wish to drive in and out of Heliopolis, so we decided to keep the cars and hope that the demonstrations do not exceed the streets that the palace immediately overlooks,” Mohamed said.

The worry of Nagla and Mohamed over their cars is nothing compared to the worry of the owners of restaurants, hairdressers, jewelers and doctors whose clinics overlook the presidential palace or are not far from it.

“We are taking 30 June off and we have alerted our patients who are booked for their medical visits on Monday (1 July) to call us in the morning to confirm that the clinic is operating,” said Mona, an assistant at a Heliopolis gynecologist’s clinic not far from the presidential palace.

Mona spoke to Ahram Online after having finished arrangements for Mai, a pregnant lady, to have a hospital reservation booked for her "slightly early planned birth on 28 June." Mai was supposed to see the birth of her first child during the first week of July, but she thought it not wise to take any risks given that she lives in Heliopolis and that the hospital she is expecting to deliver in is also in Heliopolis. “It is all within this part of Heliopolis, which is not really far from the palace. Better safe than sorry,” she said.

"Better safe than sorry" are exactly the words many people in Heliopolis and its adjacent Nasr City use to justify extraordinary planning for 30 June.

Having filled the trunk of her car with piles of groceries, Mariam, said that she could not take any risks on a food shortage “should the protests take longer than just a few days." “With three children and my mother-in-law living with us, I cannot take the risk. I can live on anything, and my husband too, but this is not the case with children and elderly people,” she said, tipping two assistants from the discount grocery store who had brought the many shopping bags to her car.

“Ramadan is coming upon us and we don’t know how things will go,” she added.

The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan is an occasion for family dinners and it is expected 10 or 11 July.

“We don’t know if things will have ended by then, and anyway we don’t know how things will end. We might end up with a curfew and serious food shortages; the banks may be closed and we may be unable to access our accounts to do our shopping; we simply don’t know how things will develop,” said Nermine, another Nasr City resident who was busy with her grocery shopping.

Nermine is particularly concerned because “the Muslim Brotherhood tend to occupy the main streets of Nasr City to protest against the Morsi opposition and we could end up being blocked inside our houses. This is what happened yesterday; I did not dare to leave the house the entire day and prohibited my children from going out.”

Nermine lives not far from Rabia Al-Adaweiyah mosque in Nasr City that was venue of pro-Morsi mass demonstrations Friday. Participants arrived to the mosque as of the early hours of the day in endless buses and would not leave before it was late evening. Nermine, a lawyer, notified the firm she works for that if “they come again on 30 June, and this is what we hear they will be doing, I will be taking time off. I cannot take the risk of being held in the middle of such a crowd.”

Concerned about being held up in the middle of demonstrations, presidential staff was given an alert that they might be operating from Al-Kubba Palace to avoid being at Al-Ittihadiyah Palace whereby the protests will be. Morsi himself might not be using his Al-Ittihadiyah offices during the early days of the protests, and he might be on an overseas trip, according to a tentative schedule that keeps changing.

There is no clear assessment of the duration of the protests, but according to several key activists it would be no less than three to four days. Many suggest it will not be easy, if even it is possible, to force an agreement from the ruling Muslim Brotherhood to hold early elections.

Equally put on alert are the staff of the Ministry of Defence, with strong expectations that the demonstration that was staged in front of the ministry yesterday demanding a military coup would be repeated on a much larger scale.

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