Opinion | Columnists

Shades of an evolving Egypt

A visiting observer can feel the pangs of a dynamic movement between both sides of the equation — the government and the people

  • By Mohammad Hassan Al Harbi 
Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 20:00 October 12, 2012
  • Gulf News

Egypt is no longer the country that we knew before and will no longer be the same in the future. The Arab-African country has changed a lot after the January 25 revolution, which only managed to overthrow the head of the former ruling regime and not the whole system and the culture of corruption.

However, Egypt seems to be progressing slowly as the government has been acting very carefully at every step to satisfy the Egyptian street, specifically those who had revolted against the former regime.

Many things have changed in Egypt that may not be felt by the Egyptians. But for a visitor, the fact that a lot of things have changed is quite obvious. The visitor can easily feel and see that people’s dreams and behaviour are no longer the same.

This feeling can be clearly felt as soon as the visitor’s feet touch the ground at Cairo airport and through talks with a taxi driver and from even the attitude of the passport control officers and airport staff members.

The visiting observer can feel the pangs of dynamic movement between both sides of the equation — the government and the people represented by political parties.

The visitor can notice these changes and movements more than the common people on the Egyptian street, who barely know the details, yet remain waiting and looking forward to see concrete actions on the ground.

During my recent visit to Egypt, a retired airline officer told me: “We expect the new government to fulfil its promises and the pledges it made, whether those highlighted in the speech delivered by Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi when he took the office, or promises highlighted in his successive statements.”

Walking across the streets of Cairo, I visited a vital road that leads to Tahrir Square, the iconic symbol of the January 25 revolution that led to the end of the former president, Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule and the fall of his government. I noticed that the revolutionary graffiti, including images, portraits, slogans and other artworks, went up on the walls, depicting the revolution, its goals, heroes and the events.

The graffiti, which has been among the most powerful forms and tools of Egypt’s revolution and the successive turbulent events, was created by talented artists, some of which are engaged in youth movements that belong to the January revolution. Some of the graffiti works depict the government’s unfulfilled promises, while others are satirical ones, dedicated specifically to ridiculing and making fun of the Muslim Brotherhood, in an Egyptian colloquial accent.

Some others are meant to offend the president personally and his government using very rude and indecent language for the slogans written on the walls, apart from funny cartoons depicting Muslim Brotherhood’s members with long beards. Such an attitude is not socially acceptable at present, especially in a country where conservatism is growing by the day.

“There is a difference between exercising the right to oppose, which is guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution and impoliteness and ill-manners practised by jobless young men,” said my Egyptian friend who took us on a tour of Cairo.

The youth who drew the graffiti are mostly jobless in a country where unemployment has reached 12 per cent, according to a report released by the National Statistics Centre.

In fact, many Egyptians support this viewpoint, as they believe that Mursi becoming Egypt’s first democratically elected president is a result that must be respected and hence Mursi must be respected and given a chance for the duration of his four years in office and if there is any objection to his government’s performance, it should be within political dialogue regulations and as per law.

Moreover, these graphics that distort the walls of the streets in Cairo’s “downtown” — the historic capital of Egypt — will not reflect well for Egypt. The talented artists who made the graffiti drawings should focus on their capital, which is supposed to be “cleaner and brighter than it used to be, especially after the revolution”.

Anyone who visits Cairo would notice traffic congestions and pollution — a problem that should be tackled as a priority. But the new thing is the aggressive attitude of motorists who drive at high speed and without any care or attention for those crossing the roads. The aggressive behaviour of motorists is one of the main reasons that led to an increase in traffic accidents in 2011-2012, constituting 44 per cent of total accidents in the Arab world. According to statistics issued by the Council of Arab Interior Ministers in Tunisia, a total of 35,000 people were killed and 250,000 others were injured in road accidents in 2011-2012.

Recently, the merger of four Nasserist political parties into a single bloc, called the Nasserite Party was announced. They are— the Arabic Democratic Nasserist Party, the National Accord Party, the Arabic Dignity Party and the Popular Nasserist Conference.

The move is part of early preparations by political parties, especially leftist-Egyptian parties, for the next presidential elections, which failed to achieve enough voices in the parliamentary and presidential elections due to lack of organisation and mobilisation, unlike the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic political parties, which proved to have a wider popular base and good organisation.

On another aspect of the political scenario in Egypt, there is a serious problem facing the members of the Constitution Drafting Committee with regard to women’s rights and affairs. During an exclusive interview with committee member Dr Amna Naseer, professor of the philosophy of Islamic faith, Naseer said the current problem related to women is between Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood.

She believes Salafists are growing in number continuously in Egypt, which is considered by the Salafists as the “Replacement Land”, to attract Salafists form Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia. Naseer said that the Salafists will make considerable efforts to control the Egyptian state over the next four years. She referred to the influential role of money, good organisation and regional support from influential countries in politics in the post-revolution state.

In fact, it is very difficult to rule a country the size of Egypt whose population is estimated at approximately 91 million people. Hence, ruling Egypt is not at all an easy mission, especially after the former regime left behind a heavy legacy that has had its negative social, economic and psychological reflections on common Egyptians.

However, high priority should be given to three problems that need to be solved in the first phase of a long-term plan, so as to satisfy the Egyptian people and make them feel that there are some positive results on the ground.

First, it is necessary to replace the corrupt administrative system with a new sophisticated one in state institutions. The second thing is that the country is in need of a firm traffic control system that slaps stringent penalties on violators. Third is the cleanliness of cities, specifically Cairo. Achievement of these three goals will give a good sign about the government’s good intent and seriousness to work to serve the country and its citizens.

Mohammad Hassan Al Harbi is a writer and journalist.

Gulf News

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