Back in France, and trying to sort through my time in Egypt. It has been a little over a month since Hosni Mubarak resigned as president of Egypt amidst massive protests.
I set of to Egypt on a little more than a whim, a possibly naïve desire to see post revolution Egypt, and just maybe be able to tell peoples’ stories and make some sort of difference.
As a tourist I have been warmly welcomed here, but as a tourist and a non-Arabic speaker, most of the people I have interacted with have been in the tourist industry, which has made it difficult for me to get a full picture of views on post-Mubarak Egypt. Although everyone is happy to speak with me about the revolution, fewer want to talk about current political specifics out of fear that I might think Egypt is still in turmoil. Also, generally most of the people I have spoke to have been men, which means although many women played key roles in the January 25 revolution, I have not been able to speak to them about their feelings on Egypt now, and specifically haven’t been learn more about the issues surrounding the exclusion of women from the current ruling council.
The streets in Cairo are still covered in signs for the January 25 revolution, and many of the cars are adorned with stickers reading “January 25″ in Arabic and English. Generally there is a feeling of hope, and the idea that now anything is possible. Virtually everyone I have spoken to has told me how the future will be better than the past. “If not for me, for my son,” a man who works as a tour guide tells me.
Under Mubarak, I am told, Egypt and the Egyptian people suffered greatly. The economic injustice is one of the main reasons almost everyone says the protests started. “People here sometimes live on ten Egyptian pounds a day, while Mubarak stole billions from the country. It’s not right.”
“Human rights were also a problem,” a man in a sidewalk café says. Another thing I have heard often here is how the police were not to be trusted; a position backed up by the recent revelation of secret police files kept by the Egyptian government.
Now, most people say they are taking it a day at a time, and the important thing is that Mubarak is gone, and Egypt can move on. “I am 28, Mubarak is all I ever knew,” a store worker says, while talking about possibilities for the future. “I went to university, but the only work I could get is here.”
The conflicts sweeping much of the area are also on the minds of many Egyptians. “Gadaffi is crazy. He kills is own people.” Yet while voicing support for the Libyan opposition and people in Bahrain, Yemen, and other places, many people are worried about what role the West will play, deeply aware of the sordid past of colonialism and occupation in the area. As for Egypt, “It is between Egyptians,” I’m told.
Yesterday Egyptians voted on a number of constitutional reform questions. Although most people here supported the overthrow of Mubarak, there doesn’t appear to be as unified a position on what should come next.
The people who have been willing to speak with me about the vote, and the current situation in Egypt have expressed a variety of opinions ranging from “Now, I just want Egypt to move on, to “We need time to work this out. France, the US both took years to work out their constitutions. People can’t expect us to do it right away.”
Egypt as a tourist
I have had a lot of questions about what Egypt is like for tourists right now, and also a lot of requests from people here to tell people back home that tourists are welcome here.
At the moment there is a lot of confusion about travel to Egypt. The US State Department still has a warning in place against non essential travel to Egypt, and many tour operators have canceled their trips. However, in many ways it’s the ideal time to visit Egypt.
At no time have I felt unsafe by the political situation here. I can’t even count how many times I have people walk up to me and and tell me that I am welcome here. Also, I’m convinced you are way more likely to be hit by a car trying to cross the street in Cairo than get caught up in any turmoil.
One of the reasons I had never been to Egypt is that the prospect of seeing the Pyramids alongside busloads of other tourists, jostling for a place to even see Sphinx, never appealed to me. Instead I had the Pyramids almost to myself. It was the same at the Valley of the Kings, and other famous sites. Even the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, which has seen fewer cancellations than the rest of Egypt, doesn’t feel too crowded.