I’m struggling to make sense of Egypt and Egyptians. I’m really really struggling. I’ve reached a point
I took this picture during the January 25 revolution in 2011.
where I bury memories so deep inside of me that most recent events in Egypt are a mere blur in my head. People talk about the various huge post-January 25, 2011 demonstrations in which hundreds have been killed and all I can find in my memories is a hazy image of me sitting in front of a laptop or a television set in a complete state of incomprehension. I hear the names of people in jail or of people who have been killed and all I can say is, “Wait. Which one is that?”
Being away from Egypt for just over a year now has been a small blessing. I needed to break away from it all. I was suffocating. But just when I think I’m pushing through what I’m sure is post-traumatic stress disorder from the hundreds of events that have happened since the revolution, something new happens in Egypt and I feel like someone has a huge, hairy hand on my head, shoving my whole body into a crouch in a small, dirty, smelly sack.
I can’t breathe.
Why is Egypt the way it is? Why are so many Egyptians the way they are? Why can’t we have normal problems? And a normal life? Why has it become so commonplace for Egyptians to be killed by the police, the army, thugs, and neglect? How is it that there is no justice for the innocent while the guilty get away with their crimes scot-free? What is wrong with us? (more…)
I grew up in the United States as a child and a young teenager. Even so, Egypt grew in my heart with me. My father constantly told us glorious stories of his youth, growing up in the village, living through the 1952 Revolution (although quite young at the time), and protesting against President Gamal Abdel-Nasser. He told us how Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together peacefully and how a person’s religion was almost irrelevant. Before I ever visited Egypt as a youngster, I recall seeing my father, with my five-year-old eyes, watching the news from Egypt very closely in October 1973. I had no comprehension of the war going on between Egypt and Israel at the time. Even so, I have a clear memory in my head of my father weeping with joy in front of the television set on October 6, 1973, when the Egyptian army successfully crossed Israel’s Barlev Line.
The Egypt of my youth was one of wonderful summer holidays. It was an Egypt where sheep roamed freely with people on the streets of Cairo. It was an Egypt of sun, warmth, lots of good food, neighborhood children to play with, walking along the main street of Roksy with its flashy shoe stores and then eating the best shawerma in the whole world, riding on camels in front of the Pyramids, streets with few cars, doting grandparents and uncles and aunts and extended family members who were all also called uncle and aunt…
I finally settled in Cairo in 1986 to start university at the age of 17. It was so exciting for me. (more…)
There are some places in this world that require you to walk long and far and with a certain amount of risk to life and limb in order to reach them. Months and sometimes years of training are needed to achieve the physical strength and the mental willpower necessary to take you to these places. These places are worth seeing.
Our night ascent to the summit of Egypt’s highest peak was grueling at times. We were pushing hard and were not taking breaks. The moon shone bright over our heads. Our headlamps were not required. My breathing became heavier and heavier as we went higher and higher. I began to feel the weight of my backpack that was carrying four-days-worth of clothes and snacks. “Why do I keep doing this to myself?” I thought. “I am not enjoying this. I feel miserable. What is wrong with me?”
We reached the summit in a short three hours. My best friend Arwa slumped down on the floor of the summit hut, shivering. I took her in my arms and rubbed her back to warm her. We ate a quick snack and jumped into our sleeping bags, lying side by side with our two Bedouin guides barely a meter away.
After a very restless sleep – altitude gives me nightmares – I woke up and saw the door to our stone hut was lined by a dim halo of light. I put on my sandals and fleece jacket and opened the door.
This was why I did it, I suddenly remembered. Below me lay a wide expanse of clouds and mountain range, shining under the rising sun.
Ever since I’ve known Egypt, I’ve seen street beggars and street children. Story after media story has been written about them locally and internationally. They are so commonplace most of us don’t give them a second thought. The children come from broken homes, or have run away from home, or are kidnapped from home, or are simply used by their parents and extended families as a source of income. There are large gangs of beggars in Egypt. It’s an underground society. I remember an Egyptian movie made about them in the 70s or 80s that depicted beggars who played the role of a deformed person in need of money during the day who went home to a nice, fully furnished apartment in the evening.
In Egypt, we know all about the beggars and their underground society. Yet we continue to indulge them. And they are allowed to roam our streets freely. (more…)