It’s been more than a year since Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was ousted from power, and many Egyptians these days are gripped by fear.
The lack of order and an uncertain future has a lot to do with it.
Police have been slow to return to full strength on the streets, leaving intersections such as the giant Tahrir Square snarled with traffic – it’s every driver for himself.
Crime is up, especially violent crime, and most people know someone, if not themselves, who has been robbed or assaulted.
One evening last week, a candidate for president, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and his driver were victims of a car-jacking; the two men were beaten with the butts of automatic weapons.
At the national level, the trial against 43 democracy activists reveals a new xenophobia. The fear of the foreigner, especially the foreigner from a powerful country such as the United States, is felt by many Egyptians, leading them to support the state security apparatus that is prosecuting and trying the NGO cases.
Until a new constitution and sense of order are in place, people are ready to believe the worst of every outsider.
Interviewing a young woman today in a public place (for reasons of propriety) the woman told me that several people in the café glared at her as she spoke to me through my female translator.
She said she encounters this whenever she speaks to a foreigner.
“They think you are a spy and I’m a traitor,” the woman explained.
It’s not enough that the woman suffered unspeakable treatment at the hands of security police; now she must be doubly punished for talking about it.
Just today I learned how far this fear of the outsider has gone.
A Canadian retiree has come to Cairo every year at his own expense to volunteer for several weeks as an English teacher in a particularly poor neighbourhood’s public school.
This year, the man told me, the principal spoke to him when he arrived the first day in January and said it would be better that he not teach this year.
“He was afraid of starting rumours,” the Canadian explained, referring to the idea that a foreign agent was indoctrinating the neighbourhood’s children.
Why else would he be doing this “teaching?” the people ask.