Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Letter from Cairo 16th February 2011

Tahrir Square is back to normal!

The whole world seems to be going mad, especially the Arab world.  After Tunisia and Egypt, there were uprisings in Algeria and Yemen and of course the usual scuffles in Iraq, but now Bahrain seems to have joined the list.  And the chants are the same “El Sha3b yurid escaat el nezam” - “The people want the fall of the regime”.  This whole situation really is snowballing but, selfishly, all my hopes are with Egypt and I think we stand a good chance of coming out of this in a positive manner.

Everything is moving so thick and fast that it is extremely difficult to keep up with things.

The army has managed to get rid of the hardliners in the square but the police are still protesting and many of our workers are staging strikes.  Obviously, with the dictatorial regime that we had, strikes were almost unheard of but now everyone is jumping on the bandwagon.  The nation seems to think that, because we have had a revolution, things are going to change overnight and that a non-existent government is going to hand out pay rises and dividends immediately.  They need to understand that, with the help of the army, Egypt is trying to get back to normal and that the country will be able to put together widespread changes - but they take time.

The army has, however, continued to make promises; they have declared that there will be a referendum within two months and that the constitution will be amended to enable free and fair elections and that this will be carried out within 10 days.
We still have the same cabinet but the Prime Minister has said that opposition figures will soon be appointed to the 'new' cabinet.  I have put the word new in quotes because the new cabinet is still part of the old regime.  However, if they do put in the promised members this could be a significant development but I fear that it will be a bumpy ride towards democracy. 

Meanwhile, Cairo rumbles on and were you none the wiser, you would not be aware that a revolution had just taken place and, in many ways, is still taking place.  The traffic is as heavy as ever and will be even worse when all the schools open next week.  The air is thick with pollution and the layer of smog lies, once again, over the basin in which Cairo sits.  It is particularly windy at the moment and the garbage which is strewn in the road is swirling and lifting as if it had a life of its own.  The weeds continue to poke their heads through crumbling pavements, the potholes continue to be a risk to life and limb and the trees are weighed down with their usual layer of dust.  Beside the wall of the Gezira club and in front of my window one can see the pavement, which has been dug up at least four times, to my knowledge, in order to repair pipes or electricity cables.  Broken tiles are pushed into piles at various points in the road, and walking from my house to the Gezira club is like taking part in an aussault course; you have to hop, skip, jump and duck in order to get from one end to the other.  And all this is in full view of the Marriott Hotel and designed for the pleasure of the tourists.

If Mubarak's regime is to be punished for misappropriation of funds and other sins, I would suggest that their greatest crime is the shameful neglect of the city of Cairo.  There is nowhere to take a stroll with a loved one or the family; no wide pavements, no decent walkways along the banks of the Nile, no clean gardens with tendered flowers.  It breaks my heart that the city that I love so much, despite its many faults, has been so sadly left to fall into disrepair. 

It must be said that lackeys of the so-called dignitaries always cleared the streets of traffic when their masters were chauffeured from one place to another, much to the indignation of ordinary citizens who, when going to or from work, would find themselves sitting in their cars or in buses at a standstill whilst streets and bridges were closed for the passing of some minister or other.  But I cannot believe that they were unaware of the unsightliness around them. 

Tourists arrive in the millions every year and their packaged tours enable them to see Egypt's great past.  However, the few who venture out of their hotels into the streets must be appalled by the sad state into which the city has been allowed to fall.  Of course, they will find the Khan Khalili souk very charming and vibrant in spite of the harassment of the multi-lingual shop owners who vie with each other to sell their somewhat tacky souvenirs.  They will enjoy a trip to the pyramids where, again, they will be harassed to buy more trinkets or to take a bumpy camel ride or to mount a horse which has passed its sell-by date.

I feel I can speak with greater freedom now.  There is so little that the toppled regime has done for its country and it is more and more apparent that personal gain was the primary aim of its members.  Where is the education reform that was promised for so many years?  The state schools have not changed in the thirty five years that I have been here.  The students still learn by rote and the present education system does not encourage critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork or innovation.  Yes, more schools have been built and there is an increase in enrollment rates but the system remains the same and, as a result, the public's general knowledge is very poor.  There is much social brainwashing in the schools as well as in the media and much ignorance, all fostered by the ex regime. 

However, many Egyptians have educated themselves and have become very aware, through internet, by watching foreign news and foreign films, that there is another world out there, a free democratic world, and this is what they have fought for in a most peaceful manner. 

But it is only the end of the beginning. What begins now is the struggle for Egypt’s future and we hope that it will be rebuilt slowly but surely and without external interference. 


  1. This is ... just...fantastic :) I think its wonderful to see someone from the inside letting all of us know what is going on from a more down to earth perspective. The situation in Egypt is constantly "blown up" by the news... and i feel like i cannot trust it now. but reading this reassures me . thank you.

  2. I'm glad you mention the Cairo pavements thing, Rosemary. It's one of the most infuriating things and yes, truly it isn't to laugh about, but to bemoan. Last visit I took some superb photos of the Cairo pavement experience.

    Reading this, especially the trees weighed down with dust, is almost as vivid as being there.