Wednesday, 2 March 2011

No passport control: Welcome to (the new) Egypt!

Returning to Egypt from India, on the last leg of the flight, Doha to Cairo, a husky man in his thirties gets up and goes through the plane, asking people to fill out landing cards and show him their passports. My reflex is one of Orwellian alarm. But this is the new Egypt: the man quickly checks passports, stamps visas, and returns the passports, keeping the landing cards. The purpose of the exercise is to streamline the process of passport control to the extent of doing away altogether with queuing up on the ground. Once our flight lands, passengers simply show their passports, open at the page with the freshly stamped visa, and are waved through to the baggage collection area. It's not clear if this will be regular procedure from now on, or just an experiment, but this creative spirit would have been unthinkable a month ago.
"Welcome to Egypt", earnest young men greet anyone who is taken for a foreigner, "welcome to Egypt." Two adorable little girls waiting for their luggage to arrive on the carousel are wearing Egyptian flags as shawls.
It is a little more crowded than usual at this terminal, the limousine driver who picks us up tells us, because all international flights have been diverted to it, in order to dedicate the other international terminal to the evacuation flights coming in from Libya, both military and civilian charters, carrying Egyptian expatriate workers away from the violent upheavals in Libya. Ironic to think that only a couple of weeks ago it was Egypt that foreigners were evacuating from in a panic.
Today all is calm in Cairo. But police presence is still light in the streets. There is a feeling of restlessness. A few incidents are reported, of clashes between civilians flexing their new "freedom" muscles and police reacting with their old reflexes of intimidation. No one is happy with the Mubarak old guard who have been re-assigned in the new cabinet, but there is a dearth of experienced candidates to fill ministerial positions, let alone presidential candidates...such is the legacy of sixty years of essentially single-party rule. Emergency laws are still in place, as is curfew, from midnight to 6 am; but now it is actually enforced, by the army.


  1. Wow-thanks for the reporting from the ground, so to speak. Am very curious to hear more of your reflections now that you are back in Cairo, Samia. Thanks!


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