Skip to main content

To see how Morsi lost Egypt, get away from Tahrir Square

To find the answer to how most Egyptians really feel about their leaders, you have to get away from Tahrir Square, that iconic Cairo venue where uprisings become public displays but tend to reflect the views only of those who are motivated to strike out in front of the cameras.

Most people in this country are more reserved, and more concerned with their families' daily means of survival. And you don't have to go far from Tahrir to find them.

About 10 minutes drive in moderate Cairo traffic will bring you to the district known as Saida Zeinab, an ancient part of the city with a mix of working class people and poverty.

Story continues below advertisement

East of Qasr el Eini Hospital, turn right after the flyover across the railway tracks, and you'll come to the small community known as Madbah, the area of the butchers, where every second man, it seems, has been trained in cutting meat.

This used to be the place where people in the larger homes came to buy their meat, and a few butchers remain. One specializing in camel meat is especially popular; most offer a mixture of beef and sheep cuts.

These days, most of the men work in larger meat-processing plants some distance away; often working the 3 am to 9 am shift and returning to their dusty, fly-infested neighbourhood and their crumbling brick-and-stucco homes.

I visited this community in the fall of 2011 to see how people here viewed the daily battles that then were gripping Tahrir Square and drawing the world's attention. It was nine months after the fall of Hosni Mubarak and protesters were battling with police as the army was trying to shepherd the people toward a new constitution and free elections.

People told me then that they had no time for such things; that they wanted only to see stability and a return to the modest, even meagre incomes they had before the uprising in 2011 had turned away investment and tourism, making everyone's life harder.

I returned to Madbah this week, following the army's ouster of president Mohamed Morsi and the appointment of interim President Adly Mansour. It was being billed as a correction to the democratic process, not a military coup; as a response to the public's broad rejection of Mr. Morsi after a year in office.

The men sitting at the tables outside Mohamed Salah's tea shop Thursday afternoon had finished work for the day, and were enjoying their regular games of backgammon and dominoes with a few glasses of sweet tea and some puffs of a water pipe.

Story continues below advertisement

On this occasion, the men were quite outspoken about recent events and applauded the military's action.

"In the beginning, we were happy with Morsi," said Mustafa Shura, a butcher, looking up from his noisy game of dominoes. "It brought us some calm and some hope."

"But he broke his promises. He was a big disappointment."

"Everything went bad," chimed in his dominoes oppponent Ibrahim Kamal, who works in a military factory. "There was no water, no electricity for hours every day, no cooking gas. You name it -- nothing was working."

"Look," said camel butcher Ramadan Salah, in his white traditional galabiya, "we all want things to be better. We want to behave like a civilized country," he said as a boy brought him his sandals, freshly shined, and he gave him a couple of coins.

"But Morsi, he behaved so badly, we think he was working with Israel," he said, implying he was undermining the country.

Story continues below advertisement

All the men said they had voted for Mr. Morsi last year in the presidential election's final round, though none of them was particularly religious.

All said they'd never again support him or the Muslim Brotherhood from which he hailed.

Did these men blame Mr. Morsi personally for the troubles, or the Muslim Brotherhood?

"Both," said tea shop owner Mohamed Salah. "They are connected."

"Morsi was just a front. It was the Brotherhood that was at work behind him," he said."

"Egyptians want respect," Mr. Salah added, "and Morsi lost ours. He became the butt of jokes, of cartoons. No president should be treated like this."

Story continues below advertisement

"He brought us bad luck," Mr. Salah concluded.

Which president did these men respect the most? The answer was a surprise: "Sadat," said Ramadan Salah, the butcher at the camel meat shop next door, reaching back in history to the man, Anwar Sadat, who had been assassinated by Islamist extremists in 1981, and all the men agreed.

"He was strong; he knew how to run a country," said Mr. Salah, longing for such days.

Around the corner and 50 meters down a dirt lane, Heba Mohsen Hussein was talking to a neighbour as her four children played in the dirt. Her husband, Awad, is a butcher at a big meat plant and was just rising from a nap.

Their brick home was in bad repair: no glass in the one window and the wood frame was coming away from the walls.

This family too was at pains to describe how bad life had become. Work hours were cut back for Awad, and prices all rose.

Story continues below advertisement

"We need a strong president like Mubarak," said Mr. Hussein, "a military man who knows how to control things." Hosni Mubarak had succeeded Sadat and ruled for three decades until a popular uprising in 2011 prodded the military to remove him from office.

Mr. Hussein was pleased that General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi had stepped in this week to oust Mr. Morsi. And while he didn't know the new interim President, Mr. Mansour, he was sure that Gen. Sisi could be trusted to do the right thing.

"The Brotherhood has no business trying to run the country," he said, "and the Egyptian people showed them that."

"When Egyptians want something,it happens," he said with a hint of pride in his voice.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter