OMG! I really miss blogging! I have been in Egypt the past week for a follow up meeting for the young leaders visitors programme with the Swedish Institute. We stayed in Alexandria for the first 4 days of the meeting and then we went to cairo for free two days. In Alexandria I couldn’t help my self but to compare the image I had in my mind of the city from the famous Arabic musical film ‘Abi Fauk al shajara’ (Dad on the tree) to its current state.
I stayed at Cecil hotel, which lies next to the park where Abed Al Haleem ran at the beginning of the film to catch up with his girl friend, both of them running to the beach, wearing only their swim suits, singing and dancing with their friends to celebrate the coming of the summer vacation.
That was around 40 years ago, the repeated song and beautiful scenary from the film got shattered in my mind while walking down the streets of Alexandria, instead a protective state of mind occupied me while roaming the streets of Alexandria with my female friends. Poverty and sexual frustration prevailed. The beautiful light spirit of the Egyptians sounded like a myth for me looking at the grumpy face of men in the streets. Alexandria’s women all covered up with heavy clothes and long veil that covers the area down to their shoulders. Dull colors of clothes and hardship of movement, a faded smile, and worrisome. An image of a sobbing woman at the stairs of Alexandria’s court comes up in my mind. Another image of us concerned for our friend Maha who felt like crossing the street and had a cigarette on the beach by herself while we were having lunch and watching her from the window of the hotel restaurant so that to be able to run and protect her if anyone sexually harrassed her. In Alexandria these days, such stand would be translated as a provocative act from her part.
‘Alexandria used to be a beautiful city’, the taxi driver told me. He said that 40% of its residents used to be foreigners before the revolution. The revolution leaders changed everything, including the names of the streets. Older people in the city know how beautiful Alexandria has been.
Street sexual harassement is a big issue in Egypt. Most women are veiled these days and they still don’t feel safe walking in the streets alone. Wael Abbas, a ylvp participant and a famous Egyptian blogger, was from the very first people talking about the issue and helping in gaining the attention of formal media outlets to talk about it.
Poverty and sexual frustration are not the only problems Egyptians seem to suffer from. Officals and policemen corruption seem to be also a major concern. I have witnessed myself a taxi driver bribing a policeman so that he won’t withdraw his driving licence. Wael has also brought the attention of people in Egypt and the world to the torture happening in Egyptian jails through several videos he posted on his blog. 3 policemen was sentenced to 3 months in prison as a result. It is a terrible thing when the people who suppose to help you are the same people who abuses you and violate your rights. Wael says ‘People in Egypt today fear policemen more than they fear theives’!
He himself suffered from such corruption two days ago when his policeman neighbout attacked him in his own house for a stupid internet problem and hit him and his mother. He lost a teeth and had several bruises. He filed a complaint to the police department. Let’s hope he gets some justice.
While ‘Misr ba2at asya awi 3ala ahlaha’ (Egypt became so hard on its people) Hind Sabri said it in Yacoobian building film, Egyptians still say ‘Misr om el donia’ (Egypt is the mother of the world) – a common Egyptian phrase -. As hard as life seem to be for the Egyptians, Cairo never sleeps, and despite all the hectic and traffic, people spend their nights in coffe shops chatting and smoking shisha.
Will Misr be easier on its people? Will a brighter future emerge for those people? I certainly have much hope in my young Egyptian friends. Misr needs change, a major one….
I love Egypt and i miss going there … and to be honest i think all of the countries are hard on their citizens now not only Egypt which is a wonderful country full culture and history.
A woman having a cigarette alone on a beach is ‘provacative’? Lord have mercy. Think I’ll skip Egypt.
I enjoy reading your posts so much. Street harassment is a big issue here too in the USA. I think it’s a big issue anywhere. It really angers me when people try to make it about what the women are wearing. As your post shows, it truly doesn’t matter about what the women are wearing, it’s about men treating women, any women, as their personal property. >>Some women do dress provocatively, and I don’t approve of that, but it doesn’t give men the right to harass them. I always tell people that instead of telling women to cover up, and acting as if women’s bodies are shameful, maybe we should be teaching our men to respect all women, regardless of whether these women have any respect for themselves.
Sash, it is sure full of culture and history, but I think that it is more tough on its citizens than some other countries. Life is really hard there.>>Kinzi, sadly that it the case 😦>>Tina, I am so glad to hear that you enjoy reading my posts :):). >>I dont think that it is as bad in the USA as it is in Cairo. Have you been there? It is horrible the look on those young men faces. But I do agree, we need to educate everyone to respect women regardless what they chose to wear.
I have never been to Egypt so I can’t say where it is worse. Actually I have never been out of this country. I was planning to visit another country but I got laid off a few months ago 😦>>As a woman I have had to deal with everything you can think of. Staring, noises, comments, and even threats when you don’t respond to their comments. It’s horrible that women have to deal with these things.
I totally agree with you Tina, it is even more horrible at this part of the world. I hope that you find a good paying job soon and be able to come and visit us 🙂
It sounds so sad that Egypt with all it’s glory has come to this, it’s a vicious cycle, I mean on the one hand you have the corrupt regime that’s doing everything in it’s power.. to stay in power, with complete disregard to the good of the people. The regime in Egypt is secular and actively works to suppress religious parties like the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt! Which explains exactly why people are turning to religion, it’s a combination of brain washing in the media, the suppression exercised by the government and over all loss of identity people feel that push them towards religion, and more dangerously, fundamental forms of it! The longer the regime stays in power, the more suppression it will exercise, and the more religious people will become. >For the people of a country as rich as Egypt to live in poverty is sad, for the land of the Nile not to grow it’s own crops and be completely dependent on “the west” for it’s rice and wheat is simply unfathomable. >But still, I think you blew things a bit out of proportion, I went last to Egypt last year (Cairo, not Alexandria) and the poverty is sort of more in your face than it is here, the city is really dirty, but although you could see some harassment, none of the ladies with us felt threatened, we went out for walks at 3 am and did not feel scared at all, if anything it felt really safe.
I am not sure if it is really the supression of the government is what pushes people to turn to religion. I guess there are other reasons as well that contribute to this. Some say that is has to do with Egyptian workers in Saudi Arabia and the spread of al wahhabi sect that is increasing dramatically in Egypt.
I can share my experience of Alexandria over a decade ago when it was far better, in the sense of being easier on people generally and women specifically, than today.
When I went out alone or with another woman in the day or in the evening, I would be leered at, followed, whispered to and muttered at in the streets regularly. Furthermore, I was made to feel that this never happens to other women, so somehow I was bringing this on myself.
And forget about standing still and gazing out into the sea on the Corniche, nevermind smoking a cigarette. That’s just asking for trouble.
On the other hand, when I was out with my husband, it was like I was invisible to all other men, including waiters etc etc.
The longer I was there, the bigger and baggier my clothes became. And that was some time ago. I can imagine that it is a million times worse now.
Cairo has always been easier for women to navigate, but it has gotten far worse as well.
In addition to the worsening political and economic situation, I think that the post 9/11 world and the minimal contact with more western cultures, compared to pre-Nasser times, and the ongoing conservative influences from the Gulf have played a role in addition to the other points mentioned.
Although there is much to love about Egypt, I am glad that I left when I did.
Anon, I am sorry to hear about your bad experience. I really hope things would change one day. The shore of Alexandria is really wonderful. I hope they use it right 🙂