It’s Friday, which means that I think I can get away with writing something not specifically related to local government, so long as it’s interesting. The Egyptian Revolution is both interesting and unrelated to (California) local government.
Millions of people around the world are watching intently the protests in Egypt and I’m one of them. My interest in the budding revolution, however, is intensified by the fact that only recently did my wife and I return from the country.
At the risk of sharing too much personal information, in December of last year, I was married to a wonderful woman. At the end of the month, we set off for our exotic honeymoon destination: Egypt. We planned a quick stop in Munich, a few days in Cairo, about a week at a Red Sea beach resort, and a few days in Luxor.
The trip was a fascinating juxtaposition between new and old, clean and dirty, orderly and chaos.
For those of you who have never been to Munich, go. The people were friendly. The food and the beer was wonderful. And it really helped us define what Egypt (and Cairo) is. Where Munich is small and organized, Cairo is not.
Imagine a city, 1/3rd the size of Los Angeles, but with five times the population. While Los Angeles has a population density of about 8,200 people per square mile, Cairo is closer to 44,500.
It is a city that was designed for 2 million residents but now has 20 million. There are 16 million cars.
The people are well educated, the illiteracy rate is low, and the average Egyptian completes 11 years of school. In Cairo, which is home to 19 Universities, that number is much higher.
But despite those statistics, unemployment is rampant; underemployment is worse. The average Egyptian lives on just $2 per day.
Finally, people lost faith in their government.
When all of those are combined, you see hundreds of people take to the street, joined by thousands and then millions of their friends and countrymen.
We were fortunate to make a friend in Egypt, who was willing to share with us what life was like away from the touristy areas. We went into an Egyptian café to watch the biggest football match of the year. When we left, we saw the riot police preparing to keep the peace, should the celebrations get out of hand.
Seeing police on the street wasn’t abnormal. In fact, actually being out of the “Tourist Police’s” sight would have been the abnormality. They were everywhere. Men, standing guard for the protection of tourists, were on every street corner, the entrance to every landmark, stationed in hotel lobbies and airports.
Several blocks from our hotel was Tahrir (Liberty) Square. Just a few weeks ago, my wife and I walked through the gates at the Egyptian Museum. We walked down the street to a local department store, then crossed the street to go to our favorite Egyptian restaurant.
Yesterday, I saw an all-out war being waged in that same area. The casualties of that war could have been any of the million or so people I peacefully passed on the streets just weeks ago.
One day, my wife and I were riding in a taxi to go and see the Pyramids, and we drove by what seemed to be a thousand political posters, still glued to fences from the previous election.
Both my wife and I are government/political people, we started asking our friend some questions about the election and the government. The answers were candid, and they caught me so off-guard that they were easily discountable.
What she told us was that she didn’t vote in the previous elections. She’d never actually voted in her life. She said it didn’t matter who you voted for the incumbent party always won. They always did whatever they wanted to. And they would just pocket the money and perks.
She asked rhetorically: “Why vote if it doesn’t matter?”
She was a college graduate working on her Master’s degree. And I thought (wrongly) that she was like some of our disillusioned college-aged students. It is too easy to discount that which catches us off guard. Only later does it become evident that apathy doesn’t mean untrue. Instead, apathy can be the result of a truth so ubiquitous that it defies the expected norm.
I saw on Facebook the other day that our friend has been demonstrating as well. Proudly, the profile picture was changed to one of her posing with the Egyptian flag.
Perhaps it’s the government fanatic in me, the politico in my wife, or the fact that we were just there, but the Egyptian Revolution is as fascinating as it is terrifying.
I just hope that in the end, peace is restored, prosperity renewed, and stability in the region ensured. But most of all, I hope that my friend and her countrymen are spared unnecessary injury, pain, and suffering.