- Posted August 21, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Protests in Egypt: Your experiences
Egypt: Waiting for a Superman!
On January 25th 2011, and for the first time in seven thousand years, Egyptians were no longer waiting for a savior or superhero to topple the staggering injustices they had experienced throughout history. But very soon; two years later, they have fallen back into the old habit of waiting, sleeping under a curfew, and waking under an Emergency Law. Again doomed to choose between two extremes: putting the cart before the superman or to accept the inevitable fact that they have to pull the cart themselves? Being one of the oldest civilizations on earth, the records tell me there is hope.
Behind the scenes of turmoil in Egypt lies a great deal of despair. It’s something that few in power or politics want to talk about or have the courage to work on. Sluggish economies, widespread corruption, massive youth bulges, polarized movements, and declining public health. Currently 25.2% of Egyptians are below the poverty line, with 23.7% hovering just above, according to figures supplied by the Egyptian government. We are talking about nearly half of the population being in a state of poverty. Grinding poverty has risen significantly over the last three years and the poorest families spend more than half of their average household on food and often less nutritious food, according to joint reports released by the United Nations food agency and partners. In nine governorates in 2011, just over half of children under five were estimated to suffer from anemia, classified as a ‘severe public health problem’ by the WHO.
Last week I visited my family in a small village close to Luxor and took the train back. As usual over the Eid holidays, the train was packed. Next to my seat, there were five men with no tickets standing. A few minutes after the train left the station they started a conversation that resulted in the identification of common friends, extended families, or familiar villages. Soon enough, the conversation drifted to politics and sides were taken. Ironically, the stereotypes were true: the oldest of them with a beard was pro-Morsi and a man wearing a galabaya in his early forties proudly identified himself as a Feloul (Mubarak’s Regime’). Then three young men in their twenties: an unemployed graduate, a student, and an engineer working for a private company. The three young men failed to escape the binary of either being pro-Morsi or pro-military and their voices were lost between the echo of the elders and the interventions from the comfortably seated neighbors. Eight hours of the trip passed and the conversation did not stop. The only thing they all had in common, other than entering the train with no booking, is that they were talking in a vacuum of their own. They were listening to prepare their attack, not to understand, and their arguments mostly were based on rumors, generalizations, irrelevant evidence, or personal affronts. This, thanks to the biased Egyptian media, unprofessional politicians, and poor education, has shaped generations that lack the critical minds to seek the truth. The problem is not just the rhetoric, it's the fact that now we're so polarized, that there is a barricade in every Egyptian house and movement. State media and even private media stopped reporting the truths but rather opinions and perspectives.
It was 4 am and I was desperately trying to sleep when I asked the debating club on the train to please be quiet. The Morsi supporter was shocked and resented the fact that one person, “me” imposed his will over the majority. Moreover, having to pay for the train fine of 7 L.E and still with no seats gave them the right to enjoy the ride, as they wanted. And finally, he added that it seems that the conversation had touched upon something I did not like and that was the reason for asking them to stop. I failed to explain that it was the train’s universal rule and courtesy to stay quiet and had nothing to do with politics but alas, everything in Egypt now is connected to politics, even the taxi fare. The Muslim Brotherhood as a political force failed to understand that democracy does not stop by the ballot booths and its power does not stem from the majority, or being a victim, or winning an election.
My illiterate grandmother, who still lives in the village, said that the poor do not go to protests; they hardly can survive a sick day. The very poor don’t riot or participate in politics – but they are the underlying factor of Egypt’s perpetual crisis. When politicians wage war, it's the poor and youth who die. Unless there is someone that has a stake in their death, the poor are illiterate to write history. More than 1600 were killed just in five days from Aug 14th to 19th in the dispersing of protests, terrorists’ attacks on soldiers, or randomly in riots. With the exception of a few of them, the rest will end up as a number in a morgue, or worse consigned to the ranks of the uncounted. As in any emergency in Egypt and this time is no different, Coptic Christians, refugees, foreigners, businesses, banks, and museums will become targets. The main enemy of the people has always been the unaccountable security state. A long-term reconstitution and a civilian state is inevitable.
However, Egypt has never been a sectarian state nor an inherently violent one. The violence though has created a cruel division within Egyptian society that will take years to heal; between people and police, between Brotherhood and army, between those who died and those who watched. However, three years ago, more were murdered and thousands were injured and tortured and the Egyptians seem to hold little grudge even with no justice brought to the victims.
The news of Mubarak’s release from prison seems to echo in numbed ears along with the amount of the daily horrific news. The court dropped charges of embezzlement against him yesterday for receiving gifts. Mubarak and many from his regime will be freed not because they are not guilty or the judges are corrupt but simply because they are not in court for the cases they are guilty of and the judges have no supportive laws. As long as the perpetrators are the ones responsible for providing the evidence that can crucify them and there is no fair transitional justice, we can still sit in our shisha cafes reading the future in our Arabian coffee cup.
So where is my hope coming from? Every time I visit my village and see such readiness for development, aspirations for a quality life and peace for everyone in the world, it restores my faith in Egypt. Every time I see my hopeful grandmother and my mom who both got married when they were 11 years old, deprived from education but managed to raise a doctor, lawyer, teachers, accountant, artist, and a technician. Every time I see the farmers squat to shovel their land with a big smile the size of the sun. Every time I see the poor bread seller on his bike making his way through the anarchic traffic of Cairo and hand a loaf to a street kid. Every time in the mist of tear gas and bullets more hands will stretch to help someone, to raise the Egyptian flag.
Now everyone has drunk from the bitter glass of injustice, everyone has a victim in his family or a scar on her/his body. Only now, can we freshly start over. Only now have we realized we have to stop reinventing the revolution over and over again whenever we are stuck in a political limbo and we have to move from the revolution stage to the reform mode. Only now are we ready to shift from the willingness to die for Egypt to the eagerness to live for Egypt.
My train arrived into Cairo late as usual. The heated debate continued for eight hours thanks to the Egyptian sense of humor jumping in whenever the debate was offensive. With the same heat of the debate, the five debaters generously took turns over the one seat and hugged when the train arrived. Ironically, they all insisted to help each other with their bags that they all ended up exchanging their bags and didn’t carry their own. For those who have experienced the joy, the sweet struggle, and the company of the protest squares as well as those who have drank from the Nile, will always come back.
Emad Karim, M.A, MCSD
Senior Technical Coordnator, Youth Policy & Participation