The Arab spring in three short visits to Cairo
| Three visits to Cairo
February 3rd 2011
I operated into Cairo's International Airport yet again, but this time I could feel the tension in the air. The passenger load was disproportionately skewed; only a scarce few passengers were going into Cairo's main portal and we were planned to carry a full house for the one-hour flight back to Amman.
Of course I didn't expect anybody to be rushing to go to Cairo while a revolution was in full force. We were expected to be in-and-out in around 45 minutes and the crew in our complement with me couldn't be happier to try and leave quickly. I, on the other hand, couldn't pass on a chance to talk to the people involved first-hand.
Because of the smoking ban on-board the aircraft and on the Aprons where we "park" our aircraft; I have created a ritual that I conduct in a number of airports that I operate into steadily. I find the ground handlers rest area and have my cigarettes in the company of maintenance engineers, refueling truck-drivers and others people involved with our operation.
I walked into the small cement room, retrieving my pack of cigarettes from my front pocket. "Salamo Alaikom" I said, as I entered the room, giving my best shot at an Egyptian accented greeting, and a couple of serious-faced senior staffers replied while barely shifting their eyes to acknowledge me before returning their focus to the TV set.
Al-Jazeera was on, with its continuous coverage of the revolution in Egypt, whether what was going on in Tahrir square of Cairo or the other demonstrations in the other cities. We used to hear that Cairo has a daytime population of 15 million and then some unofficial sources would claim 22 million in the greater Cairo area.
Numbers have an annoying quality of reducing humongous facts to abstract values and figures. The sheer size of the population that was fed-up with the old regime was startling, the TV cameras where installed on rooftops and higher floors on high-rises, they still had to pan left-to-right to show a few million demonstrating.
That news that had them captivated were the fact that the revolutionaries managed to fend off yet another mercenary attack and the reports that this only increased their numbers. The attack was replayed every so often, cameleers and horsemen carrying sticks, batons and posters of Mubarak, the soon to be ousted president, were rushing through the masses and trying to enforce some sort of crowd-control.