As the Twitter trending and my recent use of hashtags would suggest, the crisis in Egypt (and now the “new Egypt”) is something I am interested in following. I am also finding that many of my peers don’t understand exactly what is going on in Egypt, or understand the people who are protesting.
To begin there are a few things to know. First, the class distinctions in Egypt are stark. In many places the lines between lower, middle and upper class are often blurred, in Egypt they are clearly delineated. Egypt’s lower class citizens are mainly homeless and are very visible to the general public who visit or live in the city of Cairo. To compare the homeless population of New York City to the lower class in Cairo would not be a fair analogy. American travelers to Cairo (myself being one of them) have found that hords of homeless children follow tourists and beg for money. Second, the middle class is a little better off, in terms of being able to live in a house, but many still struggle with employment issues, especially in the past ten years. The middle class citizen attend public schools and most family members work to provide for the entire household. Finally, the biggest jump in class separation comes between the middle and upper class as the upper class people hire the middle class citizens as maids and cooks, attend private schools (from elementary school through university), and they go on vacations away from the city during the hot summer months, usually to Sharm El-Sheikh, a resort town you may recognize as being Hosni Mubarak’s place of exhile.
I was surprised, yet half expected it when I first heard of the protest in Egypt. I was not surprised that the people of Egypt were calling for revolution and new leadership, I mean it’s about time. Hosni Mubarak held power for 30 years and used the Egyptian’s money in selfish ways leaving the people with very little and a substandard lifestyle. For example, donkey’s pull large carts to pick up garbage. Then that garbage is left in heaps in various parts of the city to decompose.
And on the other hand I was shocked that protests were going through the streets. Mainly because regimes like Mubarak’s rely on fear and repression. The people of Egypt have lived in fear of the government for years. I also believe that other governments have lived in fear of Hosni Mubarak as well. The United States of America has been a notorious enabler of the Egyptian authority.
The fear can come in many forms, but what I remember from my trip to Egypt in 2005 is that people fear the military personnel holding machine guns. They stand on every corner. I think the threat to America is not in that fear of military presence but what can be done with weapons of war in the hands of an angry dictator.
There have been two forms of protest in the past 20 day. The visible protest of people in the streets and in Tahrir Square. These people are the middle and lower class citizens who seek fairness in governance and employment. The other protest, a cyber lead by the upper class, educated, youth of Cairo. Many found their voice on Twitter and Facebook, and helped spread this revolution to a global level.
So today we look towards the future. The people are calling for a new way of life, for fairness. It will be interesting how the new Egypt will bring the different social groups or social classes together. It has been said that the people of Egypt are reluctant to seek help from President Obama because they want to move away from ideas of the past, ideas President Obama worked with Mubarak to create. Another question that resonates is in the peoples’ curiosity. How will their ideas, fears, and wants play into the reshaping their nation? Will Cairo achieve democracy or will it follow in the footsteps of East Berlin?