12/14/2012 10:24 am ET Updated Feb 13, 2013

The Simple Majority

Yesterday, the chief of staff of the president said in an interview to CNN that the protesters are not the majority. "You have the majority of the poor people, the simple, definitely for the president and for the constitution." He added that the protesters are the powerful elite. Within his statement several dangerous beliefs were revealed. One -- the assumption that the majority is "simple" and do not have sophisticated requests of the new democracy they fought for. Two -- the elite is not to be listened to. In any society, the intellectual, social and artistic elite push forward the society by breaking traditions and taboos. If the elite is the enemy then the intentions of Mr. Morsi and his crew are quite clear -- social and political regression. Finally, there is a numbers game Morsi and his crew are banking on. They believe their supporters will outnumber this small and strange elite and their "type" of government will win. I suppose that wouldn't be so bad if it was just an election, but a constitution, well, that's a problem.

Because my parents are Iranian, I thought about Iran. In a similar manner, after the revolution in 1979, the constitution was drafted primarily by the religious party and put up for a vote, whereby it achieved the majority vote to change the course of Iranian life permanently. There were protests, but there was trust. People believed the alliances and compromises between the secular and religious that ousted the previous ruler would continue.

I wasn't there to see the divergence of opinion in Iran in 1979. But given the conversations I had in Cairo over the four days I was there last week, the aide's statement is surprising. In the short time that I spent there and through the limited number of people I spoke to, I found that the dissatisfaction with Morsi was not solely the dissatisfaction of the elite but spread across the population, religious and secular.

Case in point were the conversations I had while avoiding the traffic and violence of the protests during a visit to the pyramids. I sat with my driver in a room waiting for my camel. The couches were velvet and maroon and the ceiling was covered in cloth, like we were in a circus tent, the fabric came together in the center and drooped down until that point. It was red, too, but a brighter red. None of it looked new, this establishment had been around for a while. I sensed that this was an operation well known as a tourist trap and I allowed them, with only the slightest resistance, to trap me.

The owner of this venerable trap sat on one couch and we discussed politics, naturally. I am not sure what route we took to that inevitable topic, something about my flight out of Cairo the next day, or the strange timing of my visit, given the escalation of the political crisis. He said the killings the day before at the palace and the violence was not Egyptian. "I mean, they are Egyptian, but this is not Egyptian, to be violent, this is not Muslim to be violent. Allah never said to kill or hurt another Muslim. We must talk together, even if it takes nine, ten or eleven times we must sit and talk with each other. This Morsi, he is a liar. He lies to us. When he was in the election he said he is fair and wants democracy. He doesn't care. People die and he doesn't care. Inshallah it will be OK. Allah will protect us."

The Iranian in me awakes, and tired of the responsibility given to Allah for the disasters we create, I respond, "Poor Allah, we give him too much responsibility. This is our problem, we have to fix it." I laugh, they laugh, as I overstep my boundaries a bit.

He changes the topic of the conversation and invites "the doctor" into the room. The doctor starts to explain the oils in glass bottles that line the mirrored shelves on the walls. "In Egypt we use oils to cure our sickness, our pains, our aches. Lotus flower is an important flower for this. We use it for dry skin and other healing." He gets up and picks up a bottle and drops some oil on the back side of my hand and rubs it in. He apologizes several times for touching me. I find it strange to be touched by an Egyptian man and find it strange that I find it strange. These sensitivities can develop very quickly, I realize. In a place where all is so sacred about the physicality of a woman, particularly her skin, I am amazed that he allows himself to touch a non-sister, non-wife, non-mother. But then again, he is a doctor.

The smell of this oil makes me want to puke. And I let him know.

He asks me, "What do you like?"


He puts another oil on my skin, "This is natural Egyptian oud."

It doesn't quite hit the spot. We are 0 for 2. He moves onto a healing oil. Rubs it into my skin again. My knuckles turn red. Not a good sign. I wait for the redness to disappear. He asks me to compare my two hands to see the amazing difference. I see no difference. No sell. I feel I should've warned them of the tough client before them. So I do.

"I am tough a client. I'm sorry."

"Its fine, I am a doctor, not a salesman." I realize then that I'm one of a handful of tourists that will be visiting the doctor that day. For the doctor, a closed and religious government would not be good for business. The tourism industry brought 12.5 billion dollars in revenue in 2010. It has decreased by a third since the revolution. Many fear that social restrictions on dress and alcohol will continue to depress the number of tourists. Amid the current crisis, Morsi approved on Sunday -- and then rescinded on Monday -- a tax hike on alcohol, cigarettes, bars clubs and other purchases.

I press that I need to get going because I have a meeting in a few hours. The doctor leaves and my driver and I talk. Since yesterday I've wondered many things about him. First, he has the mark of the devout. It is the mark of a bruise or dirt or ash on the forehead, very similar to Catholics on Ash Wednesday. But Muslims have it permanently as a sign of their devotion. It results, apparently, from prayer, as they kneel down to touch the prayer stone or prayer mat and place their head on it, the friction causes irritation on their foreheads. But I never understood this because it's a rather gentle tap as I've seen it. The second thing I wonder is, if he is so devout, is he a member of the brotherhood, and if so, how does he feel about the recent Morsi crisis?

"Do you support the brotherhood?" I asked.

"No not at all." He responded. He is a quiet man. Most of the time I can't tell how articulate he is being until after he's spoken. It is then that I realize his English is very good.

"Did you vote for Morsi?"


"Who did you vote for?"

"Shafik." He answers.

Then silence.

"Did you get that color on your forehead from praying?" I had to ask him.

"Yes." This response was little more demure than his other responses. Not sure we can talk about this. But he has a bump under the color and I just can't understand why such damage would be done by a tap.

"But how does it happen?"

He looks at me and mumbles. He doesn't really want to talk about this. Someone comes in and it's time for me to go to the pyramids. We go outside, I get on the camel and now it's me and Said, my guide. I bounce on the camel, he rides on the horse, and we get going. I'm one of a dozen foreign tourists at the pyramids that day.

Egyptians work during the day and protest for democracy at night. Two nights prior I met up with friends coming back from Tahrir; most of them took the afternoon off to protest, others were going after work. I was struck by the endurance and perseverance that this crisis requires of people. That night I was awoken at 3 a.m. to the sound of a march going past my hotel. This democracy thing is important, and so is survival and so is not letting commerce and business and daily life fall to the wayside, because then, in some way, all will be lost. So they live and they fight and take breaks. This dual life continues.

One night, on one side of town, protesters stood outside the palace just moments after several were killed, on the other, I got in a taxi and went in the opposite direction. We drove to Dokki. Shops lined the streets, people walked around like any old night in Cairo. This duality of living life and having a revolution continued to strike me. We drove down a small street with pubs, restaurants and other outwardly Western-like venues. We found the pub and I got out. I went into the building next to it and up to the first floor. It was a dilapidated building like so many in Cairo.

I knock on the door and a young guy answers. He walks me past three heavy doors until we get to the one at the end of the hall. It is heavy and covered in carpet. Inside there is another door covered in carpet. I walk in and my friend is behind a microphone, another woman is behind the other mic with a guitar and another woman behind the piano. This is my friend's all-girl band and I am their first in-studio audience.

They play a fusion of Spanish and Arabic music, the guitar player is a fine flamenco player, the piano player can come up with the chords to any song within minutes of hearing it. Their most chill-inducing song is their rendition of "Cucurrucucu Paloma," which was so compelling that I felt myself lean forward as they sang. My friend jokes "this is what our rehearsal looks like before we have to go underground and women's voices are banned in Egypt."

The next night, Thursday night, Morsi was scheduled to give a speech. The hotel lounge was buzzing with people having tea and smoking shisha. I wondered if revolutions happen like this, while people are trying to live their lives, taking breaks, the moment when no one is watching, systems change, laws are passed, people are kicked out, while everyone carries on with their lives. But, alas, the Egyptians seem unlikely to stop their watch of the government.

I remember again Iran. In Istanbul the week before I spoke to an Iranian women who traveled outside of Iran for the first time. She was 28. I asked her what was the most impactful experience of being outside of Iran. She said "Well, everything. Food, shops, everything. And then she looked down and said, "but mainly it's walking around without a head scarf that is so different. " In her face you could see a sad recognition of what could easily be and what isn't. It seems the Egyptians value this fine line and are tenacious in preventing it from being crossed.