Before arriving in Egypt I was expecting to come to a country that carried the air of revolution in its atmosphere. I was anticipating the sight of young Egyptian men swarming the streets with their chests puffed out as if wearing Superman capes on their backs, along side Egyptian women, strapped with Arabian drums beating down on them with cheers of nationalistic pride. But no such sights have yet been seen. The streets of Cairo look the same as they did before the revolution. The roads are still busy with loud and aggressive traffic, and people still walk around in the sun with tired and agitated looks on their faces.
As I was turning the key to enter our flat in Cairo on my second night here, I heard loud screaming for help from a woman below in the distance. I ran down flights of stairs in hope to aid some kind of rescue, but found nothing.
This fairly uncommon experience was to be a precursor to much of what I would hear about post-revolution Egypt from its citizens thereafter. Crime rates immediately after the revolution had increased dramatically. In an apparent attempt to disrupt and sabbotage demonstrations, corrupt Police Chiefs had released prisoners on mass, and officers fled their stations intentionally leaving their arms behind.
It is the general understanding of the public that the streets of Egypt are now scattered with armed criminals. Tens of thousands of cars have been stolen since the revolution. Gun point highway car robberies seem commonplace, where a simple 'hand over your keys or we'll shoot you' is offered to long distance drivers. Bag snatching motorcyclists have also risen, along with general muggings leading to fear and worry throughout the public. Police are said to either be too scared or too weak to do much about the condition.
Criminals, however, have not always gotten away with their crimes. In one town on the Nile Delta, a group of locals, fed up of the fear and persecution caused by common crooks, overpowered one known serial rapist, cut off his arms, legs then his head, and rode around their town on a cart displaying him as a warning sign to other criminals. Similar incidents are said to have happened in at least 2 other areas. It is such resistance from locals (not always this extreme) and the general passing of normalising time that has led to the steady decrease in crime in these later months.
With regards to people's current sentiments concerning the revolution, the question of government, and who should run it, it has been incredibly difficult to locate any substantial common streams. Just when I think I've spoken to enough people of a certain class to make a rough generalisation, enough contrary voices from the same groups make this impossible. Since their unity in toppling Mubarak, the people of Egypt have been incredibly divided on almost every topical issue. Some claim that nothing but increased crime and increased food prices have come from the revolution, wishing it had never happened; while others acknowledge the present difficulties as a necessary intermediate stage to better things. The optimistic latter are a majority. Though even here there is dispute over when such positive change will be. Some expect change in a year, some say at least 5, while some claim only the children of Egypt are likely to reap the benefits. Many adults who had reservations about the youth-led revolution have also conceded that they were taken pleasantly by surprise by the movement, which seemed to shatter their preconceptions of the young male generation being a people who gel their hair, wear their jeans low, spend all day playing games consoles, and are wholly disinterested in politics. At the same time, it is the opinion of some that revolutionaries are quite literally 'taking liberties' in unhelpful ways. Routine police ID and license checks were often rudely shrugged off or resisted by gloating citizens who found the police force largely impotent. This, however, is steadying back to normal now.
A few changes in the TV and entertainment industry are noteworthy. The new-found freedom of expression has meant that dramas, news reports, and broadcasted political discussions no longer need to toe the strict government line. Many recent and current TV shows and soaps have depicted the ugly realities of Mubarak's regime highlighting corruption and torture. And although many senior officials have been represented by actors, no serious role depicting the ex-President himself has yet been offered. Perhaps the fear-factor has not relented entirely. Nevertheless, these are huge changes from a time when a journalist would be arrested on the grounds for speaking against the President for writing that Mubarak was ill (which he was).
Music has also enjoyed the new liberties of expression. The now incredibly popular song "Ezay" (How) by artist Muhammad Mounir made before the revolution was banned by Mubarak's Regime for it's themes of nationalistic love and despair. Mounir addresses his love, Egypt, as a conscious land with lines such as "how can I hold my head up high when you force it down... how can you leave me this weak, why aren't you standing by my side?" On release at the outset of the revolution, the song instantly became one of the most popular anthems for the cause and was played on radio stations alongside a resurgence of old nationalistic songs from as far back as the 1950s. In similar spirit, a sudden rise of "I Love Egypt" merchandise has become widespread in the country in way that was not present before.
So what's happening with Mubarak now? Well his trial for corruption and the unlawful killing of around 850 protesters continues without conclusion. The corruption charges require an endless search through files and documents, while he blames the killings of protesters on army generals who he claims acted without his knowledge. If his fragile court appearance on a stretcher was intended partly to win people's sympathy, then it is most certainly working. A surprisingly high number of Egyptians (though still a minority) are claiming it immoral to put a sick man in his 80's through such disgrace and humiliation. His initial few spoken words in court: "I deny all those accusations completely" have been rendered a mobile ringtone by the Facebook generation. In addition and as a sign of the country's resentment for their ex-President, all images of his face around the country have long been taken down or destroyed, and the Metro station named after him as been re-named 'The Martyrs'.
Now that Mubarak's oppression of opposing political parties has ceased, many new parties have suddenly sprung up. So many in fact, that one Egyptian citizen claimed it was as if friends sitting around a shisha pipe started to think: "hey, why don't we make a political party!" The most significant party enjoying their gasp of free air after being suppressed by the old regime is The Muslim Brotherhood. Some of their highest ranking members who were long imprisoned by the old regime, had initially respectfully refused to flee prison when the gates were suddenly opened during the discord of the revolution. Being one of the most organised and oldest political parties in Egypt, many are of the opinion that they stand best chance of succeeding in elections in the immediate coming months. However, this seems due to newer parties not being able to fix up and organise themselves enough in time for elections, rather than the majority of citizens genuinely wanting the Brotherhood to rule. For this reason, many liberals are calling for a fundamental constitution to made before elections, which the Muslim Brotherhood would have to abide by if they were to succeed. This, some liberals hope, would then curtail the extent to which they could impose their interpretation of Islamic Law on Egypt. Needless to say, America and Israel are voicing their concerns.
Thus the affects of the revolution on the people of Egypt are currently mixed, dramatic and still highly anticipated. It's strange to see peaceful locals show one another the new electric taser they've just bought for self defense, or discuss what would be the best way to duck fire from an automatic weapon while driving, but one can hardly put a price on the freedom of expression that people, the media, and political shows are now enjoying. Many of the Egyptian people, rightly or wrongly, still continue to protest and blame the old government and seem to expect change to happen around them. At the same time, some few citizens are taking it upon themselves to change, typically using the small example of littering on the streets - a common and self-ruining practice of Egyptians - as a simple indicator for this change within. They quote the Qur'anic verse: 'God does not change the condition of a people until they change themselves', and see this as the only principle of genuine success for the country. The number of such inward-thinking people, however, does not seem high enough to make such a change likely any time soon.
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