The mood in Imbaba

Hanif, Alfi and Hamdi in Imbaba

I came to this conservative middle and working class district of shabby apartment blocks and vibrant street life to see how things had changed since a secret policeman assaulted me there five years ago.

Back then, the goon came up behind me as I was interviewing shopkeepers who were complaining about the Mubarak regime. He snatched my notebook, ripped it up, tried to punch me. I ran.

This time, after the revolution, I knew the secret police wouldn't be a problem. But I wanted to talk to the locals about what they thought the revolution would bring.

The retirees were already sitting in no-name street-side cafes by noon, sipping sweetened tea from glasses at rickety tables on the sidewalk. At my first stop I met Hamdi, Hanif, and Alfi, two Muslims and a Coptic Christian who had been friends for fifty years, since they were eleven years old.

I asked Alfi how he felt about the revolution, and whether he feared Christians might suffer from it. The Coptic community has been under stress recently, after a church was bombed in Alexandria caused horrendous casualties, which drove worshippers to demonstrate against the Mubarak regime for failing to protect them.

"We've always lived as a family, eating and drinking together," he said, glancing at his Muslim friends, "and because of the old regime there was tension. The bombings were planned by outside forces."

Alfi blamed Iran. Hamdi suspected Israel. Hanif thought the Mubarak regime had been trying to stir up trouble between Muslims and Christians.

Bottom line, said Alfi, "I'm very happy about the revolution. Now we're starting to breathe free again." He wasn't afraid the new government would be taken over by Islamists, even though the Muslim Brotherhood is the strongest political organization, while non-Islamist parties are weak or newly forming. "The young people in the revolution understand the risk," he said, "and they won’t let anyone control it. We learned from Iran and we don’t want that experience."

He added that he wasn't afraid of the Muslim brothers who had "very educated and literate people" in their ranks. When his son had tonsillitis he took him to a doctor who happened to be a Brotherhood member; the doctor "did the operation and carried my son in his arms."

Hamdi interjected, "I don't like them, and I won't vote for them, but every party has a right now to run for election."

Alfi nodded. "If I feel I'm being oppressed, I'll ask for a US visa," he said, "but I don't think that will happen here. Even if the Muslim Brotherhood come to power, they are better than what we had, such a corrupt regime.

"We don't want a military or a religious regime. We want a civil regime. We don't want to be like Iran, which is falling apart from its religious rulers. We are aware of this and we won’t fall into the same trap," he insisted.

From his lips to God's ears.