A revolutionary, riots, and rising prices

Ahmed Hassan, Egyptian revolutionary.

Ahmed Hassan, Egyptian revolutionary of Oscar-nominated documentary, The Square.

The other week, I had the chance to meet Ahmed Hassan, a revolutionary who filmed and starred in the Oscar-nominated documentary, The Square. Although a censorship committee banned the documentary in Egypt, many people still recognize him, and of course, the government hates him.

“After the film came out, the Police Journal called me a communist, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Salafist, a socialist, an Israeli, and I’m just from Shubra!”

He also talked about how he was going to visit his friends in jail that night – fifteen of which were being held in Tora prison without charge. He said he couldn’t bring them pens and paper, and when a mutual friend suggested photographs of his loved ones, he said that probably wouldn’t be allowed since they’d be able to write on it.

Bassem Youssef, “the Jon Stewart of Egypt,” who recently decided to end his show in an act of self-censorship, was apparently no fan of Hassan’s. Before The Square came out, Youssef had the film crew on the show but initially didn’t want Hassan to appear. When he finally extended the invitation, Hassan simply asked him, “Will you be able to stand what I will say?”

Hassan mentioned that security forces are still after him, and after showing me some clips and a trailer for his upcoming documentary, The Vote, he said, “I’m definitely getting arrested after this one.”

June 30th marked the one-year anniversary of the protests that eventually resulted in Morsi’s ouster on July 3rd.  Despite two bombs that went off near the Presidential Palace in Ittihadeya, officials said, “celebrations would continue as planned.” On July 3rd, major squares, including historic Tahrir, were closed from noon. Large protests were expected, and fears of bloodshed loomed large. Most anti-government protests nowadays are organized either the day before, hours before, or simply by word of mouth so as to take security forces off guard. The ones I heard of for July 3rd in Cairo were to be scheduled after the late afternoon prayer (~3:30 PM) and after the nighttime Ramadan prayer (~10:30 PM). Women were told not to come to the nighttime one out of fear of harassment by security forces. But when the security threat seemed too large, the protests were canceled.

Protests that took place in other governorates resulted in several bombings, the death of two officers, and the killing of several protestors including 18-year-old Heba Gamal in Raml, Alexandria by security forces.

On July 5th, natural gas prices skyrocketed by 175% overnight. Although it may be fair to say that regardless of who’s running the government, these price hikes would have been implemented, there is a distinct difference in what is happening now.

These price hikes target the poor and middle-class. While Octane 95, which is used for “luxury cars,” rose just 7% , Octane 92 went up by 44% and diesel (used in agricultural production) went up 64%. There have been no wide-scale public protests, save for some taxi drivers who blocked several roads. Taxi rides will now start at LE 3.00 (up 1 Egyptian pound) and each subsequent kilometer will be LE 1.45 instead of LE 1.25. Never mind that there was absolute uproar over the gas price hikes of Morsi’s day, and instead turn to this morning’s news:

Beer prices will go up 200%, wine prices up 150%, and cigarettes up 50%. Now, for the majority of Egyptian citizens who are Muslim, the increase on alcohol will go unnoticed. But what about the fact that Morsi tried to pass the exact same amendment in 2012 only to be bombarded with criticisms and accusations of trying to “Islamize Egypt”? Why are people silent now? Is it because they so blindly love General-turned-President Sisi or is it because we’ve regressed to the age of Mubarak – where it feels easier to endure the injustices we face than it is to speak out against them?