To arrive at the “new” Cairo International Airport is to arrive, in reality, at terminal three—an optimistically shiny marble edifice commissioned at a cost of $347 million by Ahmed Shafik, the former minister of civil aviation, who became the former prime minister and a losing presidential candidate. Built by a Turkish contractor for a higher price than Istanbul’s own airport expansion, the CIA is both deceptively functional and selectively used (it’s reserved mainly for the domestic airline; most international airlines are banished to the old terminal one, referred to as “the hall” or “the old airport”).
Although it has a state-of-the-art computerized system to deal with arrivals, the new airport stubbornly deploys several uniformed officers to triple-check what the computer has confirmed. Armed men glance speculatively at the traveler’s coin-sized arrival stamp bearing the day’s date and a small outline of an airplane, along with six mentions of “Egypt.” Such is the logic of the country—an administration that has achieved supremacy in the creation of idle jobs. Duplicity is its mainstay.
Beyond the sliding glass doors of the terminal, and along the main road leading into the city, the establishments of a titanic and looming administration are everywhere: the Presidential Election Committee, the Technical College of the Armed Forces, the Presidential Palace, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment, the National Accounting Bureau, the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, the National Information Center, the Legal Department of the Authority, the General Authority for Capital Market, the Military Judiciary Office, the Ministry of Planning, the Public Notary, and various ranks of intelligence offices. These buildings, with their gray façades, their rows of square windows, their sometimes palatial interiors concealed behind miles of wall, and the many and heavily armed and sometimes deceptively plainclothed guards that surround them, form the anatomy of Egyptian life. At the heart of the city, one of them—the Mugamma, the government’s central office building—forms the conspicuous backdrop to Tahrir Square.
It is from within these highly placed institutions that information has leaked and swirled in recent weeks and since the revolution broke out in January 2011. We hear most about the military council—the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF—which has been governing the country since Hosni Mubarak resigned. We also hear about the Americans, who had allegedly reached a deal that the council would cede power to the Islamists. Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, was rightly predicted to win the presidential election. Mubarak was said to be sick, in a coma, clinically dead; or the Mubaraks were in London; Morsi sold the Brotherhood…
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