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The senses can easily be overloaded in Cairo’s Islamic quarter, and the bazaars of Khan El Khalili. Shopkeepers eagerly bark for customers for bright and colorful tapestries, fragrant spices and incense.
Before the revolution Hamed Selim says there were always illegal activities in parts of the market extending seemingly for miles. But now things have changed.
HAMED SELIM: “Yeah okay, I didn’t see electro-shock before, you know, in the street.”
TONY GANZER: “Stun guns and things like that?”
SELIM: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I didn’t see this, or these knives. Farther, before the revolution, if you walk with a knife in your pocket, and a police officer stop you, you are in a big problem until jail, you know? But now you see, they sell everything. You couldn’t see it before.”
GANZER: “Do you think that’s good? Was that what the revolution was for?”
SELIM: “No, not at all. The revolution is not for such things. You know like, they would like to have, you know like, students should have a decent job. Or to see that we have hospitals, or we have good schools, or such things.”
The many parts of Cairo were Selim’s playground and education. He’s proudly from downtown, but could find value in many of the city’s corners. Even at the Swiss embassy, long before he thought of becoming Swiss.
SELIM: “The embassy: it’s just side to side to my school, you know. And every day you pass by, you know, since I am 6 years old. You know like, ‘Hi,’ and try to play with the dog. And you try to steal the Birnen?”
SELIM: “Yeah, yeah from the trees in the garden from the other side, you know. It’s really nice. I’d never think that I could go to Switz…it didn’t come. It didn’t come in my head.”
Selim met his wife while she was on vacation in Cairo, which turned into his moving to Switzerland, working for a time for Caritas, for politicians. But these Egyptian streets remain a place of comfort.
SELIM: “It’s called the old Islamic part, you know. Here you find a lot of mosques from the Mamaluk time, you know. And, yeah, they restored the whole area, it’s really nice. Here you see behind you, these people who, yeah, make these souvenirs. It’s really nice, you know. It’s really peaceful, yes.”
GANZER: “How do you think things have changed for this part of Cairo since the revolution?”
SELIM: “I think the people here [are] suffering, because people say because of revolution we don’t have lots of tourists now. Yeah, they would like to have always this easy-coming money, you know. And I think the revolution did lots of things good, even for them. Because I expect it will be always [better], not as bad as in Mubarak time.”
The area around Cairo makes up a mega-city, with a population of about 20 million people. 40 percent of those people live at or below the international poverty line.
Still, politics dominate conversations here in cafes, and in just about every taxi.
SELIM: “A lot of opinion floating around? No, only two. ‘Revolution good’ or ‘bad,” and we speak about both. Who says revolution is bad saying ‘look around you, there is no police here, and there is this and that.’ The people saying the revolution is good, you know like, they say, ‘OK, we are patient. We are optimists.’”
Far from the markets, and far from inner-city politics, Hamed Selim still finds quiet at the feet of the pyramids. He lives not far from the Alps in Switzerland, but comes here for peace.
SELIM: “As I was a student, and as I was young, I came here around four times a week riding horses, sleeping here, eating in the desert making a grill, such things. That’s a part of my life I really do love, you know. Lots of memories, you know. Wake up the stable guys at 5 o’clock in the morning and tell them, you know, like, ‘Hey, I would like to have a horse now.’ You know, and just riding, riding horses you know. Feeling, being free in the desert and the pyramids.”
It is but a slight respite from the many unknowns in a still evolving revolutionary Cairo.
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