It's Wednesday afternoon, and I'm stuck in traffic on my way to an event at the American University in Cairo (AUC). While the drive from Zamalek to AUC's new Kattamia campus would have taken 25-30 minutes on a normal day, it's already been that long and I'm not even a quarter of the way there.
Whereas the phrase 'normal day' isn't typically used in reference to Cairo traffic, today is truly an exceptional day on these streets. It's the eve of President Obama's much anticipated trip to Egypt -- where he will deliver what will be a very closely watched address to the Muslim world from Cairo University, looked to by many as the most prestigious educational establishment in the region. Many believe that the choice of Cairo University, over an establishment such as AUC -- the venue of choice for several Western dignitaries in the past -- is a sign of the new spirit that Obama's administration brings to US-Middle Eastern relations.
Egyptian society is segmented along very clear lines dictated by cultural and socioeconomic metrics. Among other things, discussions in the upper quartile of society center around Obama's visit being a 'fresh start' to US relations with the Middle East, while discussions in the 'blue collar' segment of society center around how much scolding of Egypt the speech will carry.
Fresh start or not, reproach or appeasement, two questions on everybody's mind today are: what will Obama say in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; and, the even bigger question: whether or not to venture out of home tomorrow. Heightened security will undoubtedly bring the nightmare that is Cairo traffic to a complete halt. To preempt this kind of situation, some schools, and businesses have already given people the day off, while others sit by waiting for the decision to give them an unexpected, but much welcomed, long-weekend.
Regardless of whether they get the day off, or whether or not they look to Obama's visit as a fresh start, or whether they anticipate reproach, or warmth, Obama's visit is by far the most anticipated by any public official in many years. While I was surprised at the number of socialites wanting (and actively trying to get themselves invited) to attend the speech, I was not as surprised as I was when my five-year-old son asked if he could attend the much anticipated event...an event that should usher in positive results that as one observer put it "extend beyond the dome of Cairo University finally getting a bath".
Noha Khattab is the Senior Vice President at Amwal Al Khaleej Investment Co. Ltd., in Cairo, Egypt.