Jeffrey Black | Middle East Diaries


The Ballot Box and the Wormhole: Cairo, 1st April 2008
April 1, 2008, 8:47 am
Filed under: Egypt

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Next week, there’s going to be an election in Egypt. It will be another opportunity for the Great Egyptian Public to voice their freely-held preferences, in a vote that will fairly elect 52,000 local councillors around the country.

The only difficulty will be finding someone to mind your place in the bread-queue whilst you go off to get your thumb inked at the local school.

Or, perhaps, in some other reality. Continue reading

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Kofta & Robot Cats: Cairo, 29th February 2008
February 29, 2008, 10:16 pm
Filed under: Egypt

Abu Shady is a restaurant on Fahmy Street, near Falaki Square. It’s little more than a street-stand, but it serves marinated chicken and kofta to beat the band. Presentation leaves a little to be desired though: it’s a fingers-only affair, and you have to sit on broken plastic stools under a dusty old tree, facing the entrance of a crumbling parking garaj. But the food is good, and the place is well patronised, so there is quite a retinue of mangy neighbourhood cats in attendance, waiting for the plentiful detritus to hit the floor. I had six moggies patiently arranged around my left leg, which turned into an angry melee of competing scab and fur the minute a wishbone came their way. But, the Prophet was kind to cats, so Cairo is kind to them too. The wildlife has a tendency, I expect, to dominate the dinner conversation, or at least it did at my table. One of my fellow diners took the opportunity to inform us that the Israeli military now uses specially developed robot cats to spy on Hamas in Gaza, gleaning (literally) street-level information that can be employed in targeted airstrikes. “They look just like real cats,” he said, “just a little weird.”



Noise: Cairo, 28th February 2008
February 28, 2008, 11:32 pm
Filed under: Egypt

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In my small apartment in the centre of Cairo, enveloped by multitudinous noise in this most furious of cities, I feel like I am in some kind enormous inner ear. An impossible volume of sound is being produced, processed, recycled.

It’s late, and I can’t sleep, so: I’ll enumerate, from the general to the specific: A mid-range hum, a roar, a far away dispensation of sonic force. What is it? A trillion combustions venting kinesis on the turbulent air: Traffic. An endless, oceanic movement that is both above, below and driving madly through all waking life.

Then the angry murmurings of the beings in that wave: Horns. Claxons. Protesting tires. Sirens, both necessary and misused. Rapid decelerations. Furious, spurting accelerations. Crashes. Shouts from windows. Expletives hurled in many declining arcs. Lewd comments, heard briefly from a blurred source.

Then the banal explosions of normal voice and necessary sound. Directions given. Directions repeated. Taxis hailed. Destinations announced, sources demurred. Fares negotiated. Quranic recitations of various kinds. Pious incantations by the reciting commuter. Obscure static, crackle and pop from a mistuned transistor. Bellows from a leaning minaret of a nondescript mosque. Backfirings and kickstarts. Bronchial motors failing, and then catching. The waft and drift of rubbish being thrown to the ground. Ungracious shouts. Yawls. A million Mohammeds being hailed lazily from across the street. Catfights. Dogfights. Ratfights. Children unbidden by bedtime. Collapsing masonry. Arguments and pleas. Protestations. Swearing up corridors and through stairwells. Repetitions. Protestations. Notice being given of goods delivered or services rendered. Bekiya. The shuffledrift of strolling feet not properly lifted. The multiplied tapping of a cane. Unreasonable laughter. Notice given of goods for sale. Plaintive songs from an earlier age. Less plaintive songs from a newer age. The repititorium of impatience, beep beep. Banking, dipping, queuing aircraft. Leave being taken and arrivals announced. Love spoken of to a disco beat. Desperation and enthusiasm. Tiredness. Life. Tinnitus. A storm of spent energy.