Posted by: j | February 23, 2009

Bombs at the Bazaar

I always tell my friends that I feel safer in Cairo than I do in the United States, hands down.

Last night at around 9PM a homemade bomb exploded in the historic Khan el-Khalili bazaar in Cairo.  Although I wasn’t anywhere near the Khan when the device went off, I was extremely unsettled.  This is an area I visit quite frequently; I wander around the maze-like streets in search of undiscovered little shops.  Mostly though, I go to the Khan to say hello to my Egyptian friends that sell their goods there.  This is why a trip to the Khan, for me, is an all day affair.  Sitting with my shopkeeper friends, drinking tea, and watching the customers float in and out of the tiny alleys is one of my favorite ways to spend an evening in Cairo.  I love the Khan.

I was sitting in my apartment last night when I received a text message from a friend asking if I was okay.  Confused, I asked him what he meant.  That’s when I found out what had happened, and my once strong sense of security in this city was shattered.  I had been in the very spot the bomb went off just two days earlier when my friend from home was visiting.

Why did this happen? Because of frustrations over Egypt’s treatment of the situation in Gaza? Because of general dissatisfaction with Mubarak’s psuedo-democratic regime? All I can hope for is that this was an isolated event; just some nutcase throwing a bomb into one of the most lively areas of Cairo, and not part of a larger systematic attack on Egypt’s tourism industry.

I don’t know how or what to feel.  I’m not afraid, but I can no longer boast to all of my friends that I feel 100% safe in Egypt anymore.  How can I, after one of the most charming and popular places in Cairo was bombed?  I could have very well been there.

Besides the deaths and injuries that were a result of this attack, my heart goes out to the Egyptians who work in the Khan.  Everyone I know there will attest that business is still recovering from the similar bombing in 2005.  What will they do now? The recession has taken a remarkable toll on their already slow business, and now the tourists who could afford to visit Egypt will be too scared to visit the Khan.

If this attack was meant to hurt the Egyptian government by scaring away the tourists–its fattest cash cow–it utterly failed.  This kind of attack won’t cause Mubark to suddenly reform Egyptian law or lift the oppressive emergency rule that has been in place in this country for 30 years.  What it will change, however, are the daily lives of the Egyptians who depend on the Khan as their primary soure of income.


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