Thursday, June 7, 2012

Egyptians on Egyptian politics (and hope in America)

My taxi driver from the Cairo Airport to my hotel in Giza (a $25 ride), told me that before The Revolution (the Egyptian part of the Arab Spring in 2011), tourism was very good. There was a constant flow of visitors, they all thought he did a good job and they would return to him for more than one day, he said.

So i asked him if things are better for the country now, after the Revolution, which chased former president/dictator Hosni Mubarak from power. He quickly and emphatically answered yes. "But now are just waiting for a good President," he said. "If the Brotherhood gets it, forget about it. Forget about Egypt as a country.
Election ads (for Mohamed Morsi on lower
right) covered over by gym fitness ads
in Giza, Egypt. Photo by author.
At the moment i am here in Egypt, (early June, 2012), Egypt has held a first round of elections to choose the first President after Mubarak. They have narrowed it down to two front runners: Ahmed Shafik, the final Prime Minister under Mubarak, he is seen as the Old Guard's choice; and Mohamed Morsi, backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, he was their 2nd choice candidate after their first choice broke off and ran on his own. (Good background on the politics of this election can be found in this article from The Economist and in this one from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.)

George, my taxi driver, was very upset about Morsi and the Brotherhood because they were bad for his business. Morsi went on TV before the first set of elections a couple of weeks ago, George said, and announced that if he wins, there will be no more tourists in Egypt.

"Why would he do that?" i asked. "They bring revenue and money is money, right?"

"Yes," George said, "but the extremists among the Brotherhood see tourists at Sharm Al Sheikh in shorts and bikinis and think it is inappropriate in their country." (Morsi may well have said that, i'm taking it just from George. But Morsi also came out right after the first round of elections had narrowed the field down to just two and said that he would work together with the Revolutionary <ie, anti-Mubarak, pro-democracy, relatively liberal> parties, as quoted in the Carnegie article here above.)

In fact, every single Egyptian i spoke to about politics said they were hoping against the Muslim Brotherhood candidate. i realized however that, not speaking Arabic, i was able to communicate with only a small portion of the people in Egypt, and those that would support the Brotherhood are specifically less likely to be learning a foreign language to talk to visitors in.

George was very glad to be working with an American visitor. It was his dream to move to the United States, he told me. i ask him why and said that he had a University degree but could not find a job, so he is just a driver. In America, he said, he'd be able to get any job he wanted.

This photo from The Vulgar Eye shows an Occupy Wall Street Movement
protester expressing the same sentiment expressed throughout
the Arab Spring. 
i told him that there is a lot of unemployment in the States and that many people with degrees there can get either no job, or nothing in their degree field, just like him. i told him that it was such a big problem that massive protests were being held in New York City, the Occupy Wall Street movement. He said he had never heard of this (and i thought of the Districts in the Hunger Games not being allowed contact with each other. i wish i would have found out what George would have said if i told him that the Revolutionary protests in Egypt and around Arabia had inspired similarly themed protests in the United States, Israel, and other parts of the world!)

But, in the States, he said, "if I am poor and cannot work, the government will take care of me."

At the time i just told him that it certainly isn't that simple, that the American government can sure not be depended on by everyone who needs it. By wonderful coincidence, the hotel TV that night ran a CNN story about many people who have been on unemployment and still not finding jobs getting their benefits cut soon.

Then, checking in at the hotel, i asked the receptionist (an Egyptian woman about my age wearing no headdress) how she was doing. She seemed surprised by the question but just said, "Good thanks." Then, tapping away at her console she said, "Not so good actually." i asked her why and she said, "The political situation in Egypt is not good.

i asked her if there was new news today, causing her eyes to jump to the TV behind her showing solid throngs of protesters filling Tahir Square. i had already the headlines in English newspapers: "Hosni Mubarak sentenced to life in prison." But i was not expecting her reaction:

"Only 25years prison for Mubarak. And only 25years for his assistant. His two sons and other staff, all free. It is the corruption in Egypt, it continues." Turns out, the said, that most of the protesters that night were out because what they saw as the light handling of the official aggressiveness against protesters during the Revolution the year before.

She looked genuinely sad and dejected as she wished me a good stay and goodnight.

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