The hot air in Egypt smells and feels the same, but the despairing people breathing it have changed.
The once wealthy Egyptians have become poorer and the poor are now nothing, working like dogs, and the country is showing little sign of progress. Evidently, the numbers of self-employed tissue box sellers on the streets, knocking on your car window, have increased dramatically in Cairo. The streets are drowning with floundering beggars of all shapes and sizes, all searching for a productive day of work.
Post-revolutionized Egypt has left many of its patriotic people feeling hopeless. Upon my arrival to Cairo International Airport, a police officer sitting behind a glass-secured desk said to me: “What brings you to Egypt now? Once you see it you won’t want to come back.” Only a few years ago, a police officer would have welcomed me warmly to the country, but life has changed dramatically since the bittersweet uprising of the Egyptian people.
While driving from the airport through hectic traffic at 2 a.m., I noticed something that was new to me: graffiti covered the walls and buildings of the messy Egyptian streets. One read: “Why bother?”
Is this indicative of how Egyptians are reacting to their glorified uprising? Has it become a hopeless case? A dead end? a pointless revolution? This was my first time visiting post-Mubarak Egypt. I arrived to find no stable or trustworthy government to aid Egypt’s tired, broken citizens, and the country’s economy brought to its knees.
Everyday, the lights of a random neighbourhood in Cairo are cut for at least an hour, most likely two, and a noticeable deficiency of police on the streets means many criminals have much less to worry about. For many, the worry is that the situation in Egypt will deteriorate into further chaos, following in the footsteps of neighbouring nations such as Syria, Libya or Palestine. Sitting on a smoky, shisha-laden patio at a restaurant in Cairo, a woman told me that during a blackout, she ended up having to sit in the dark at the doctor’s office. After waiting for an hour, she finally made her way to the building’s darkened stairwell to leave, when she heard a man in the elevator, cursing at the top of his lungs about Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, and their failure as leaders. He was stuck in between two floors, something that happens much too often in Egypt today.
Many people even keep flashlights handy as a precaution for the daily surprise blackouts. This has become an ongoing problem for Egyptians, and many are finding it hard to adapt. “The people don’t want Morsi,” said an elderly bearded man, who did not want to be named for safety reasons. Nasser, who sat in Morsi’s chair within the presidential palace from 1956 to 1970, was deeply admired and respected by the people. Nasser was a president famous for his love for Egypt, his dedication to international and national issues, and for his genuine love of the Egyptian people.
In 1967, after losing the Six-Day War between Arab nations (including Egypt) and Israel, Nasser submitted his resignation, taking the loss against Israel, which struck a massive blow to Egypt’s independence. In June of that year, not long after Nasser resigned from office, the Egyptian people took to the streets to demonstrate, ironically, in support of their president, which ultimately led to
Nasser’s continuation as Egypt’s president. This was and continues to be a proud moment in Egyptian history.
I don’t know what will help Egypt now. We need a fresh face, someone new, to unify the people. Someone like Gamal Abdel Nasser, who truly loved the country. But I don’t know where we could find someone like that again. – Elderly Egpytian Man
Four decades later, Egyptians are taking to the streets again, but this time it’s to take down the man (or men) in charge, whether that be Mubarak or Morsi. It’s obvious that the people don’t want a dictator, they want a leader, and the revolution will not cease to exist until that leader is found. The consensus, at least on the streets, is that if it takes 50 years to find that leader, so be it. Everywhere you go, whether at a high-class restaurant, on Egypt’s cat-infested streets, during a family dinner, or at a cheap cafe, the hot topic is the Muslim Brotherhood. Will they stay or will they
go? Are they good or are they bad? Will life get better or will it get worse?
Sitting in front of the beach with a drink in hand, in the villa-occupied territory of Ain El Sokhna, near the Suez Canal, I listened in to a debate between two friends who looked to be in their twenties.
“You think that after decades locked up by the Mubarak government, silenced and handcuffed, that the Brotherhood will just leave? No way, man.” The other beside him smiled, and confidently said, “No, they will go.” This is when I felt like asking the optimistic one “Why bother?”, but the debate was too heated to interrupt. “I have hope,” he said. After the revolution, security in Egypt worsened.
There were once officers stationed on almost every street, monitoring the roads and the people, but now the police presence has become practically non-existent. I heard one man say: “If I were a cop in Egypt today and I continued to work on the streets, I would deserve anything that happened to me, because it’s suicide.”
Being an officer in Egypt has become more dangerous than ever; Egyptian cops have become even more hated and hunted down than maybe Mubarak himself. The job’s duties are now nearly impossible to fulfill, to the extent that the police that are on the streets fail to wear their uniforms, for fear of being attacked. Camouflage is their survival strategy. Before my trip, I watched videos of protests in Egypt to familiarize myself with the happenings in the country, and get a sense of the emotions of the people.
One image, seen in a video filmed during the early days of Egypt’s revolution, really stuck with me: cops running away from the people, and the people running towards the cops. The police are scared, not the protesters. The protesters are passionate and dedicated, whereas the police are exhausted and afraid. For many people, this scenario is something that’s seen scarcely, if ever.
One effect of having little to no visible police presence is that sexual harassment of women in Egypt has proliferated, making public outings intolerable for many female Egyptians, including thick-skinned, tough journalist-types like me.
According to a survey by the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights, published in 2008, 83 per cent of Egyptian women reported experiencing sexual harassment and nearly half of Egyptian women
surveyed said they experience it daily. These numbers are reflected in what I saw in Egypt. During my trip, men would stare at me with the look of anger and lust in their eyes. The mix of rage and desire I saw as they ogled me was frightening. It’s a peculiar and rattling mix of emotions.
“The streets in Egypt were never safe to begin with, but now it’s worse. There’s no cops, no safety, we can’t live like this,” said a Muslim woman, wearing lime green fitted pants and an over-the-
shoulder top. Men (some even younger than I am) made me feel guilty, slutty and paranoid. I found myself looking over my shoulder every few minutes.
Here is a list of clothing I learned a woman should never pack when planning on visiting Egypt: tank tops, fitted dresses, over-the-knee length skirts and/or shorts. As a matter of fact, anything that shows too much arm, leg, back, and/or cleavage. I used to believe it was to avoid problematic extremists, but this year I quickly learned that women cover up mainly to avoid getting raped. This is the sad reality of the lives of Egyptian women.
Women in Egypt warily cover themselves to avoid being sexually harassed or raped, but in reality wearing a hijab, niqab, or any other type of clothing makes no difference, because it seems every
woman is a target. According to the ECWR, wearing a veil did not appear to lessen a woman’s chances of being harassed, contrary to many people’s beliefs.
The centre surveyed more than 2000 Egyptian men and women and 109 foreign women living or traveling in Egypt about their experience in Egypt regarding this too frequently committed crime
- one that the ECWR calls a “cancer”. When it comes to foreigners and tourists, your chances of being sexually assaulted jump to the roof. Based on my experience, it’s because the vulnerable and the
fresh-meat are seen as easy victims. The survey found that 98 per cent of foreign women reported experiencing sexual harassment while in Egypt, which means, going by this survey, practically every
woman who visits Egypt today would end up feeling uncomfortable and scared by this kind of behaviour.
The numbers on sexual harassment in the country are continuously rising. So much so, that at this point, it might be easier to count those women who have not been victims of sexual harassment,
rather than the ones who have.
I had multiple men blow kisses at me, bite their lips while mouthing words I could not read, honk their car horns as if they’ve never seen a woman before, scream things from their windows, and even
follow me. I became angry and felt imprisoned. At all times I needed my grandmother’s doorman to walk me down the street, or my uncle to walk behind me, or my cousin to watch over me.
So, one day I decided to do a little experiment. I wore shorts and a tank top for a two-minute walk to my cousin’s house (which stands only three buildings away). One young man immediately began
to walk behind me, his friend following him, and a third young man running behind them. Luckily for me, the door of my cousin’s building locks from the outside.
The next day, at City Stars, Cairo’s palatial, six-level shopping mall, I spoke with a woman who took part in many protests during the downfall of the Mubarak regime. As we spoke about the revolution, I could see in her eyes that she still had hope for her country, faith in the revolution and that one day, Egypt will be a democracy and will have equal rights.
“I looked around me and there were people of all classes. A beggar-woman stood next to me on one side, and a woman in a wheelchair on the other. All of us were shouting the same thoughts, it was amazing,” she said, smiling. “I felt an overwhelming sense of passion overcome me. One minute I was silent, observing others, and the next I was shouting, piercing the ears of my husband standing next to me.” I asked many people the same question, hoping to get different opinions and thoughts, only to find myself recording the same answer over and over again.
“What now?” I asked the woman from City Stars. “What will happen to Egypt? What is the solution?” She answered with the same hypothetical solution as the elderly bearded man. “We need someone new from the military, not an old man, a young one. The people need to be unified and stand beside him,” she said.
Egypt’s revolution has been a bittersweet transformation. On one hand, Egyptians are fighting for democracy, freedom and equality, something that has and will continue to go down in the long books of Egyptian history. On the other hand, democracy, freedom and equality doesn’t come for free.
The country is suffering economically, Egypt has no money, the people are desperate and agitated, and the job market is basically non-existent. I always say that evil attaches itself with two main things: politics and money – two things that are controlling, defining, and taking over the souls of the Egyptian people. A man was venting to me about business in the country, or the lack thereof. He said something so simple yet so powerful – something I will remember forever: “Money is number one, for everyone, and fuck anyone who is behind you. It’s every man for himself and that’s what Egypt has become.”