Conditions in Egypt not what they appear

Egyptian family meal
Egyptian family meal


“Believe nothing of what you hear and half of what you see.”

That saying has always been attributed to Confucius, but it could certainly apply to the situation in Egypt today. In the ten days since I first arrived, I have received numerous emails from friends and family warning me of the terrible problems here in Egypt.

Truth is, if you were here in my shoes you would have a difficult time believing anything you see on TV or read in the newspaper. I have spoken with dozens of people from farmers to lawyers, businesspeople and religious figures to a Supreme Court justice and I can tell you for most of the 80 million or so Egyptians, life goes on as it always has in the past. Even in Cairo, there are only a few trouble areas. Most of them are demonstrations against the current government with few incidents of violence, a new phenomenon in a country rising from 5,000 years of repressive dictators. I found people generally concerned about where the country is headed, but then they talk about their jobs, this year’s crops, prices and the sad state of Egyptian soccer teams.

Uncle Abdu with Hanna and Taha
Uncle Abdu with Hanna and Taha

People almost universally complain about President Mohammed Morsi and how little he has done since taking office seven months ago, but then say it is probably too early to judge him. The parliamentary elections, or rather, the revised parliamentary elections (more on that later) are expected in two months or so and many people say they will vote for anyone but Muslim Brotherhood candidates. Of course, they also feel MB and other religious party candidates will probably win a majority of seats in the new parliament anyway.  Candidates are chosen by the government from a list of potential competitors. In the last election, the one that was voided by Mubarak-era judges, the field of candidates numbered about 10,000. The new list is due to be published by the end of this month and to date, few potential candidates have risen in name recognition. It’s not like the U.S., where candidates start running about four years before an election.

The most publicized negative news has concerned the omnipresent demonstrations in and around Tahrir Square, a criminal incident at one hotel and the tragic soccer riots two hours away in Port Said. Yes, there are demonstrations in a number of the biggest cities, but they are more akin to the “99 percent-er  sit-ins in our country last year. Egypt is a big country, and the 99 percent-ers here are the ones who go about their daily lives, trying to make a living and enjoy their families.

Father and son gathering oranges for market
Father and son gathering oranges for market

What is even more surprising is that Egypt’s economy is in shambles – unemployment is high, tourism is almost non-existent and population growth is not making the situation any better. People are scraping by for one reason – family. When all else fails, the family is always there to support them. If it means providing food, shelter or just the comfort in knowing that you have the love of a family, it makes all other concerns secondary.

My last visit here was just days before President Mubarak resigned. I was in Tahrir Square then, during what will forever be known as “the revolution.” A knowledgeable friend told me there were three kinds of people among the million or so who gathered there. He said, “There are the revolutionaries, the onlookers and the hyenas.”

The hyenas are those people who see any kind of disruptive activity as an opportunity to create mayhem, steal or destroy. The hyenas are still around and are responsible for much of the trouble that makes headlines in the west. Bad news sells newspapers as they say, whether in Egypt or here at home. Keep that in mind before deciding the sky is falling.

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