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….