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.