‘God has already written what will happen.’ Swathed in black, swaddled baby in her arms, the young Muslim woman was protesting against Egypt’s military government but seemed fatalistic about what might happen on the protest march. Another demonstrator, who said his brother had died at the hands of government forces on Friday, insisted that ‘they will kill us, I know, everybody knows, but it doesn’t matter’.
Do you share their crazy cocktail of political activism and religious fatalism, and did it help you when guards fired tear gas canisters – the size of a can of Coke – into the back of a prison van? If you were one of the three dozen and more who died inside the vehicle while demonstrations carried on until the curfew kicked in at 7pm, were you more able to accept what was happening because God had already written it?Shards of exploding plastic. Toxic mist – your last ever body spray – metabolising into powder; blistering skin. A few seconds and your face is pixel perfect for a nightmare. The fluid filling your lungs is pink and frothy. You know this because you’re coughing it up. What comes to mind: what does strawberry cappuccino taste like? Any time now you’ll die of ALI-ARDS (acute lung injury-acute respiratory distress syndrome). Did you cough more or less because ‘it doesn’t matter’? Did God choose you because you’re worth it? Here in the UK, I am trying to understand the Egyptian twist of disquiet and quietism; in the streets and mosques of Cairo, the playing out of ancient and modern, religious humility and secular self-worth. How can you people reconcile the two? On the other hand, how else could you live with the contradictions you are facing?