Curfews, checkpoints, protest and gunshots are just some of the hurdles a former Portadown couple have to overcome on an average day in their adopted city of Cairo.
Mairead Hoey, husband Peter and three children swapped their comfortable life at Carrickblacker Avenue to move to Egypt in 2009 after Peter, a project director, was offered a position with a development company.
And while the outside world may have been taken by surprise at the sight of millions of people taking to the streets to protest against the government of President Morsi, Egyptians were not.
Said Mairead, “There had been a growing dissatisfaction with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood leadership and their incompetence. It was effecting everyone on a daily basis. The queues for petrol grew longer with people having to wait up to four hours on average.
“There were daily electricity cuts each lasting an hour, with on average three outages per day, so everyone was pretty fed up.”
She added, “The June 30 protests had been planned for about six weeks previously and they were the topic of conversation everywhere you went. The embassies and security companies were advising us to stock up on food, water, cash and to make sure our phones were topped up.”
Despite almost all of the couple’s expat friends leaving at this time, the Hoeys stayed on as the shopping centre on which Peter was working was due to open on September 18.
Said Mairead, “We were happy to stay as our kids were flying in for their summer break and we didn’t want to change flights and have to put the dog in kennels. Once the army stepped in there was a general feeling of euphoria on the streets.”
Over the subsequent weeks, sit-ins by Morsi supporters gained momentum and around 280 people nationwide were killed as troops moved in to disperse them. Said Mairead, “We watched on TV with everyone else, the only difference being we could hear the gunshots, not from the dispersal itself but from local skirmishes on the streets near us.”
Two months on, with a state of emergency declared, the couple have to abide by a curfew from 7am-6pm which, Mairead says, feels like being under house arrest.
She explained, “Peter and Conan (one of the couple’s sons) haven’t managed a full day at work since June 27. Needless to say, the shopping centre won’t open in September so we will be here for a while longer.
“There are marches and protests almost every day, and combined with the army checkpoints and everyone rushing home for curfew it’s practically impossible to drive round the city.”
Like other expats, the couple have adopted a “stiff upper lip” mentality and are trying to keep busy. They are both involved in rugby in Cairo, Peter having captained various teams at Portadown Rugby Club and Mairead having served as its first female director.
Peter also plays golf on Fridays, the main day for protests, but had to abandon last week’s game as there was machine gun fire close to the course.
Despite this, Mairead maintains, “Cairo still feels safe. You just need to know the areas to avoid.”