First, the good news. Yesterday, my visa to Yemen arrived, after a two-month wait. At one point, someone in one of the three Yemeni embassies I visited (Washington, London, Cairo) said that it may have been held up because of the “trouble.” The trouble included a mini-revolt in the mountains of northern Yemen, and the trial of the USS Cole bombers. Both are over now, sort of, although a child was just killed by one of the unexploded leftovers from the fighting in the north. An American journalist’s visa costs 700 Egyptian pounds ($120). Normal visas to Yemen from Cairo cost about 40 pounds ($7). Why the difference in price?
“That’s what your embassy charges us to go to America,” I was told by a sharply-dressed young consular employee. If true, it’s a hard point to argue. More on Yemen and America to come…
I had an equally interesting experience at the offices of Yemenia, the national airline, which bumped me from my flight today. “Your reservation slip didn’t say ‘OK’,” the nice woman behind the counter told me on Sunday, showing me the scrap of paper with my “reservation”. “It didn’t say “not OK,” I countered. “It just had my flight time, and my name on it. What do reservations look like?” My voice had risen to a level that was making everyone a little uncomfortable, so I apologized. Then she called a bunch of passengers to make sure they were flying, in the hopes of finding me an unwanted seat. This made me feel guilty for yelling. We swapped stories about California, where her sister lives, and then she found me seat on Wednesday. I think.
The last presidential debate was on at 4am here, then re-broadcast at noon the next day on the Arab satellite channels. The morning broadcast was on the BBC, and I didn’t notice the split-screen feature everyone is talking about. Most of the papers here noted that neither candidate mentioned the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. No one in Egypt seems to have any strong sense of John Kerry, except for civil society folks, some of whom seem to have had better experiences with left-leaning think-tanks, which they associate with the Democrats.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s reform woes continue. On Saturday, two new political parties had their applications for legal status blocked by the Parties committee. The New Centrists and Dignity have both had their requests rejected multiple times, and like the Tomorrow party, they just keep changing their names slightly, and applying again. The Mubarak government, despite promises made at its National Democratic Party conference two weeks ago, has yet to show a seriousness about encouraging political participation.