As I leave my office, I can see plumes of smoke across the Nile. Something appears to be going on. I stop a man on the street and ask in excessively imperfect Arabic what's happening. My apartment is on the side of the river with the smoke; I want to know if it is safe to walk.
"Television," he says, using one of Arabic's few but blessed cognates.
I nod, wanting to believe that images I see are part of Egypt's next great TV show. Still, something in my gut suggests that I'm being naïve. Intermittently, the sounds of gunshots echo through the air. Flames, reflecting brilliantly off the Nile, are too sporadic and uncontrolled to be part of any TV set.
Against my better instincts, I put a scarf over my blonde hair and head through Tahrir Square. People are gathering. Clustered around an Egyptian flag, adolescent boys chant and clap. I see an unveiled woman shouting angrily at a group of men. Others just stand and watch.
Indeed, something is wrong.
Not until I reach the safety of my apartment do I learn that riots have broken out in front the Egyptian television station. Coptic Christians, marching from the northern neighborhood Shubra, are at odds with the military. The march had led protesters to the television station, where they then conducted a peaceful sit-in until the arrival of the military. News stations and twitter feeds say that at least 19 people have died. By the time it's all over, that number could be higher. With protesters moving to Tahrir Square, Cairo has again become a crucible.
Following the bombing of an Alexandrian church in January, sectarian violence and Coptic unrest has been on the rise. Making up only 10% of Egypt's 80 million people, Coptic Christians are increasingly frustrated by lack of military support and protection in the recent months. Exacerbated by fears of increasing power to Islamists, the Copts have become more vocal in their demands for religious equality and freedom. Tonight's protest was certainly not the first of its kind.
As collective frustration festers over the state of things in Egypt, it's entirely possible that the moments leading to this evening's riots could have simply been the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Groups that stood next to one another in January are now fracturing and growing restless in the absence of a stable government. Not much has changed in the New Egypt. Among complaints of the Coptic protesters was misleading media representation. This is justified: media censorship prevails throughout the country, stripping Egyptians of the opportunity to report on or speak out against the military. Even tonight, reports from Egyptian TV has described the manner by which soldiers were attacked and displayed images of soldiers being treated for wounds in the hospital. Is it really possible to believe that the protestors have gotten through this riot unscathed? And you wonder where their vitriol comes from.
We need not point fingers at religion or religious groups when deconstructing what's happening throughout the streets of Cairo. Many Egyptians, Copts and Muslims alike, are fed up with the military and frustrated at the pace of reforms. Democracy has not yet been achieved, and it appears as though time is running out. Tonight's events are a sad reminder of the long road ahead for peace and justice in Egypt.