Waiting on Friday Prayers

Friday mornings are incredibly quiet here in Maadi, our leafy section of town that is about 45 minutes from the scene of protests that many of  you are seeing on CNN.  As I look at my street from our 9th floor balcony, absent are the bowabs washing cars of the dust and sand they have accumulated over night and the taxicabs that drive and honk their way up and down our street. 

Thanks to all of you who have contacted Judy and me to express your concerns. We are fine, largely unaffected by the protests near the embassy, and of course watching things closely with the hope and belief that cooler heads will prevail, but one never knows. Large protests are expected in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt today.

Judy and I did a tour of three amazing mosques yesterday, all with their unique styles and histories. The last one we visited, Al Rifa’i, was the newest, built in 1912 and more ornate than any mosque I had seen, with marble all over. I was surprised to see that in the back, behind a set of locked doors opened for us by the mosque’s caretakers, was the tomb of the Shah of Iran.  He went into exile here after the Iranian Revolution. I shared with Judy my memories of having the Boston Globe delivered to my dorm room at Tufts, learning of the hostage crisis that was perhaps my first intimate view of how Middle East politics can play out in the streets of this region.

We also took our first Arabic lessons yesterday at a language school two minutes from our apartment. My brain still hurts. I have always considered myself not to be good at languages and have not tried to learn a new one in over 30 years. I find Arabic to be a beautiful language in both its written and spoken form, and hope to make some progress over the coming months. Over mesh (“old cheese”) and bread and honey and cucumbers and tomatoes after the class, we spoke of the current protests. Mo’men (our  teacher) was concerned and slighty apologetic and hoping this would blow over. He did suggest that we not identify ourselves as Americans. I think most interestingly, he expressed puzzlement at how it is allowed for somebody to make a film like this.  “I respect Dr. Eric,” and “we should respect prophets,” he shared. Noah, Judy and I expressed our belief in freedom of speech, and Mo’men nodded, clearly not seeing this as we did.  A similar sentiment is expressed by a spokesperson of the Muslim Brotherhood in his letter to the New York Times yesterday. In what I see as a very reasonable and politically astute letter, he expresses that the film was somehow an “abuse” of the law.  It is fascinating to be in this emerging democracy (?) and to have discussions about the limits of free speech, as I am of course reminded of all of the conversations we have about this at home. How do you feel about yelling fire in a crowded theatre?

We will stay close to home today. I hope to go for a run and visit an Island off of the Corniche in Maadi. I have some preparation work to do for my class, and I will continue to write about what it is like here and what we are seeing. Just remember CNN is but one lens on the world, and a pretty skewed one at that.  We will see what happens with Friday noon prayers today, they are starting now as I hear the call to prayer.

Mosque Al Rafa’i where the Shah of Iran is buried


7 thoughts on “Waiting on Friday Prayers

  1. Thank you for your reassuring words….

    I am not optimistic….not because I think what is called the Arabic Spring is not good but because like it takes years to become adult, it takes decades to become democrats. Revolts, bringing down walls does not mean that you are not impregnated with the need to be lead by a strong image, feeling security in whatever strong ideology and most of all told what to do …..

    I can’t express in English as I’d like to what I feel and think.

    I agree, CNN is just one ‘little” glance at what is going on ….we are much more lucky (or not, depends how you look at it) and somewhat the coverage is broader and diversified.

    Take good care of you and again thanks for giving us news.

    With love, Evelyne

  2. Great stuff Eric (well stuctured sentenses, nested dramatic arcs, and good spelling). I think about you guys almost every day, so the entries are extremely welcome. I share Haendel’s concerns. When a huge chunk of the population supports the chant “with our soul, our blood, we will avenge you, our prophet” (now I am nervouse that I did not capitalize phrophet) you know this is going to take decades. Intellectual curiosity, critical thinking and spititual maturity are hard to come by over here and it has taken twohundred years to domesticate and, until recently, marginalize the nonevolvers. It occured to me that with a little bit of tech/web support I could single handedly start a hot war over there by playing off this religiouse insanity. Praise be to whoever that someone leaned hard on Morsi in the past day to get him to stop throwing gas on the fire by focusing on this stupid trailer. We look forward to your next missive. Christopher

  3. Glad you are all well. It is both shocking a nd concerning from our perspective to see what is happening. Greatly appreciate your views of this. Please stay well and safe

  4. Eric–So glad you’re keeping a blog–and so glad to hear you affirming what so many others have said about Cairo–that the images we get on CNN from Tahrir are such a small part of the story.

    Also–I wish you luck with the Arabic. I took Arabic 1 last fall. Loved it and really enjoyed learning something new, but didn’t have the study time to keep up with the students in my class. I’m jealous of you learning it where you’ll be able to be more immersed.

    Good luck. Be safe. And have a wonderful, productive, and renewing sabbatical . . . inshallah.

  5. So glad to hear Mo’men is teaching you Arabic! I studied under him too. He’s a great teacher. Also glad to hear the insights you are gaining into the current situation. I hope to have a chance to talk with you about it when you get back. Another thing to check out if you have a chance: Bait As Suhaymi, a medieval merchant’s house in Al Gamaliya (ancient Islamic neighborhood behind Khan El Khalili). Enjoy Umm al Dunya!

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