Dahab is a long way from the protests going on in Cairo and the industrial and port cities of Ismailia and Suez, where the outward expression of political dissatisfaction has spread, are a different world from this relaxed little resort town.
Hosni Mubarack is rumoured to be nearer by but he shows his lack of taste by staying in Sharm rather than Dahab.
The sense that we are in a country going through major political upheaval is subtle and so far has mostly come from the absence of rights or privileges we would take for granted at home. We are far enough from Cairo that it is unlikely we will get caught up in a riot, we won’t feel a policeman’s baton on our heads or have to escape from an alight building. The worst thing that has happened to us is we have been inconvenienced by being cut off from Twitter and English language news on our iPod. I might not be able to post this article when I choose.
Until it occurred to us we could get news via traditional media (I know, so 2008), reading this outside of the country you probably knew more about the big picture than we did.
A few days ago we learnt what choking is. I’m not referring to the sort of choking that turns you blue and requires a Hiemlich manouvre but a term Twitter uses when its limits are being exceeded.
I often use TweetDeck to follow and communicate on Twitter. If you are not familiar with the software it allows users far more flexibility and to open up searches. Not long after arriving in town I opened the #dahab and #egypt search threads.
On January 25th the ‘egypt’ search sped up dramatically. Tweets that ordinarily could take several hours to move from initial viewing at the top of the search inquiry to disappearing from view at the bottom started taking a few seconds. Protesters were tagging ‘egypt’ alongside the primary ‘jan25’ search string to organise their subversion of National Police Day, a public holiday to celebrate the force’s role in the revolution against the British.
Things have changed considerably since then. Arrogance, torture and corruption have eroded most of the good will the population feels towards a police force whose primary role today is perceived to be the propping up an unpopular despotic government, preventing the aspirations of the many for the will of the few.
Demonstrations in Egypt had until now been small. Journalists covering these events for long enough soon start to recognise the same faces at each demo; the police usually outnumber the regular couple of hundred protesters.
By around 4pm local time Twitter stopped working but came on again a few hours later. If I used Facebook I would probably have noticed the same part time censorship in effect there.
WiFi is prevalent in Dahab. It’s available in our guest house and almost all others. We can connect to the outside world in the restaurants we eat in, the bars we drink and smoke a sheesha in. In the early hours of the 28th this changed when the internet was shut down across Egypt in an attempt to counter expected ante upping Friday protests. Other than a few snatched scenes on Egyptian news channels, as we go in and out of certain shops, we have been in the dark since then.
We have avoided discussing the situation too much with Egyptians unless it has been brought up first. Partly this is out of a desire not to cause unintended offence, partly it is an awareness that, as westerners, we have a tendency to foist our opinions on others and we want to listen, not talk. Talking first also holds the danger that we don’t know the political opinions of those we are speaking to and blurting out support for change might not be welcomed by everybody.
Most Egyptians we have spoken to do want change but are aware of and concerned about the pain that this will entail. In this chilled out town the biggest public expression of political thought we have seen so far has been a short message, ‘we want change,’ written on a restaurant menu board.
The town doesn’t feel that much different to our last visit five years ago, though more subtle signs than that given above suggest things are not entirely normal here.
It is not uncommon to walk through the streets of Dahab, or any other Arab town or city, and after a few questions about our background to be greeted with ‘welcome’. On Thursday we had our first ‘go home’.*
* Though the person who said this is a bit of a misery guts anyway, even before we showed we might have minds of our own and an ability to choose unaided where we want to eat each night. I am still unsure if his desire for us to leave is out of concern or dislike.
Update: The internet came back on today and coincided with the situation rapidly changing in Egypt. Other than rumours that food is running low Dahab, if anything, is even quieter as new tourists are not coming in to top up those that have left.