Before the Smiles Are Wiped Away

Behind the smiling facades, Cairo's backyards are being canvassed assiduously, and the seed of the political toughness is being sown that - though I do hope I am wrong - will bring about the second, real revolution, and will wipe the smiles off many faces.

Someone has pasted on the walls of this narrow, totally random Cairo alley a series of posters imitating stickers from the revolution in Tahrir Square. Against the background of the colors of the Egyptian flag, the young people wrote "No to corruption." Here, too, someone had written "No to corruption" and also "No to drugs" and "No to immodesty" and several more "Nos" - all signed by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Tahrir Square still attracts curious crowds on weekends and holidays, including families there to gaze at the last remnants of the naive and romantic two-month-old popular uprising, which also photographed wonderfully in pictures broadcast around the world. However, now the backyards behind the smiling facades are being canvassed assiduously, and the seed of the political toughness is being sown that - though I do hope I am wrong - will bring about the second, real revolution, and will wipe the smiles off many faces.

Egypt collage
Eran Wolkowski

Just as the disappointing mediocrity was revealed behind the false charisma of U.S. President Barack Obama's "Yes we can," the Tahrir revolution has succeeded in producing only T-shirts, pins and stickers with revolutionary slogans, sold to tourists at inflated prices. (The T-shirts and doodads are produced in a warren of hovels and dim alleys at the edge of the Muski market, where the slaves are working in the same conditions as before, and who most likely haven't heard that there was a revolution or what it is they're printing. )

And indeed maybe the person really to blame for what has happened and especially what will happen is that same Obama, who introduced illusions the false belief into the international lexicon - "Yes we can." We are living in a boredom-stricken world, which no longer demands bread and circuses as in the time of the Roman Empire, but rather circuses in place of bread. The great circus that every second person in Egypt is waiting for is the show trial after which they can see their former president, Hosni Mubarak, hanged from a tall tree. This lust for revenge is evident in that gesture of a hand tightening around the neck performed humorously by everyone I asked what would happen. As if it isn't bread - a far more burning problem in Egypt, if we can believe some responsible newspaper articles - that people in the post-Obamic world are living on, but rather spectacles, more and more spectacles, that spectacles are what fill their bellies with satisfaction.

A little here and a little there, we come across the old victims of previous revolutions and failed revolutions, who can tell hair-raising stories, but no one except me is listening to them, and even this only because they caught my eye in their extremely unfashionable cafe.

One such leftover showed me a copy of his Italian passport before joining me at my table. His name is Francesco d'Angelo, his father was born in Messina, Sicily, and he was born in Shubra, a Cairo neighborhood whose glory days are long gone and which is famous for being the quarter where the vocalist Delila was born. His parents were swept into Africa on Mussolini's fascist dream of conquering the eastern part of the Dark Continent, and when the magic evaporated they somehow got stuck in Cairo. That was the first downfall.

Francesco, naive as his name, thought that unlike his parents, he would be anti-colonialist. Therefore he believed in Nasser, who was to bring salvation to all the people in the 1952 revolution. This was a second downfall. And all this was recounted over a cup of cappuccino in the decidedly unfashionable, smoke-filled Simond's Cafe, behind whose counter the same barista, named Urabi, has been standing for the past 30 years.

Mr. d'Angelo is sick, not at all young, and his old mother is waiting for him at home. He is here because he promised her he would go to church at least once a year, on Easter. And like a person accustomed to disappointment, he is already preparing himself for what is to come. "The police aren't doing anything," he grumbles. Again he feels defenseless in the face of the barbarians, like then. Like always.

"Before the revolution," an aged passenger sitting opposite me on the metro between Sadat Station and Saida Zeiab says to me in excellent French, "before the revolution, the language the princes and the kings spoke here was French." This man, I say to myself, hasn't recovered yet from the trauma of the 1952 revolution. He still has not gotten over the deposing of King Farouk. Why are they pestering him with a new revolution?

In veteran cities like these and in ancient nations like these, there are people with the memory of an elephant, but because their arteries are hardening, their memory plays tricks on them.

Perhaps all that remains is to give the population a voodoo doll and let everyone stick a pin in it and torture it to his heart's cotent. Like this trendy rapper standing on a street corner at the destroyed Talaat Harb Square with an installation of collages spread before him: portraits of the former president cut out of newspapers. And the fellow is coming up with rhymes and improvising and singing and dancing the dance of the exorcism of the demon Mubarak. But his voice is swallowed up by the cries of the street vendors, who completely occupy the sidewalks of the main street. In the days before the fall of the regime, these vendors were persecuted by the police. They were beaten as everyone looked on, and their merchandise was confiscated. Now there isn't anyone who will get rid of them. They, after all, are the persecuted of yesterday and therefore now, everything is permitted them. At least until the chaos increases so much that anyone who promises "Yes we can" in order to impose order is welcomed. Signed, the Muslim Brotherhood.