Our guide, a well educated and articulate man of 40, 2 beautiful girls & lovely wife - had never encountered a strike. Tri-lingual. He earns $25/day, during a season that lasts from November to April. On that, he can afford a nice two-level flat in a prosperous part of Cairo, private school for his 8 year old. 8 year old is at a Catholic school run by Irish nuns, learning English & very bright. He had never encountered a strike, had no idea what it was or how it might work. Had no idea what a constitution did or was. Prays not 5 times a day, but once a week. Not secular, but not particularly religious either. Knew more about Christianity than most Americans I have encountered. Did not vote on the constitution - like 68% of his countrymen.
He was our translator and filter - and an honest spokesman for even those groups with whom he disagreed. He really tried to give us all sides, and when he didn't know something, he admitted it and went in search of honest, nuanced answers.
With all of that:
- Egyptians want stability, and are willing to tolerate a lot to get it.
- No one wants another dictatorship. Once they found their voices, they are very reluctant to be silent again.
- The tourists can come back, assured that they are safe, welcome and wanted. Needed.
- Investment is also badly needed. There are thousands of projects sitting idle, waiting for investments to start things up again. Construction alone, once begun, will swallow massive amounts of labor and resolve much of the unemployment problem. Add tourism to that, and Egypt will again bloom.
- Poverty is and will be a huge problem. In some areas - Abydos, Minya, Dendera - the extreme poverty seems millennia-old and deep. There are schools everywhere, potential investment opportunities everywhere.
- The Army operates separately from the rest of the country. I had read about it, but nothing prepared me for the on the ground reality of it. Enormous walled compounds - Army. Retired generals routinely become governors, further entrenching Army influence around the country. Special facilities everywhere for officers - special holiday compounds, special medical facilities, special roads (far better than the government roads). They have factories - making cars, consumer electronics, etc. - and the military control the investments therein as well as production and profit. They also have an abubdance of near- slave labor in the constant supply of recruits. the less education you have,, the longer your national service. Ttree years for the poorest & least educated, who are treated as unskilled labor, police supplements, factory grunts. Getting that kind of system rooted out and accountable is going to be damned hard work. Needs to be done. ASAP. Complicated that any power that tries it is going to need the military to buy in, and that doesn't seem likely. Big problem.
- What we see in the news is incredibly misleading. Riots in the street? No. People are everywhere in the streets - shopping, talking, arguing, civil, sober, industrious, going on with their lives. Violence everywhere? No. Anti-American? Absolutely not. We were welcomed with big, genuine smiles. Even in remote villages, children shouted "hello!!" And welcomed us with grins and thumbs-up cheers of "Obama!!" Tension? No. Fear? No. Anger? Some, but nothing like what the media shows.
- We need a new vocabulary and a new narrative for post-Mubarak Egypt, less laden with Orientalist judgements and values. If that is true for Egypt, it suggests that what we in the West and the media even within the region are doing might well be true in other areas, other issues. The truth should lead, not the hype and blood.