Sunday, January 13, 2013

Why don’t you get up and fight?

Why don’t you get up and fight for your right? It’s this question that I’ve been asking again and again since my second visit to Egypt.

My first and my second stay in Egypt are worlds apart. Worlds of knowledge, quasi. Upon my first visit, contrary to what I usually do, I came unprepared and ignorant to a country which was completely strange to me. Yet what I observed inside and outside the hotel resort at that time fuelled my intellectual curiosity and I searched answers for the many “whys”. When Saddam Hussein was executed shortly after Christmas 2006, I dearly wanted to know what the Egyptian newspapers wrote and what the people thought. I got into a conversation with a jeweller and he replied: ”Egypt has other problems than Saddam Hussein.” As if he wanted to stress these words, he waved a French passport around. I will never forget that moment; I felt embarrassed and realised that I did not know anything about Egypt.

Hardly had I returned back home, did I stock up on information from internet and the library about the country and its economy. The more I read, the more I wanted to know and the more questions popped up inside me.

Four months later, I went back to Egypt, travelled around, asked and watched. I asked everybody that came across my way and to whom I could make myself understood, I let them talk and listened patiently. I heard amazing, distressing, unbelievable and incomprehensible things. It was about broken relations, financial distress, work problems, tribes, existing and broken dreams. Of course, I also wanted to know more about politics but many of my interlocutors shirked, whispered or looked asquint to the left and to the right before they answered at all.

„Why don’t you get up, stand up and fight for your rights?“ [Jimmy Cliff]

How can one live in such misery? How can one put up with the daily harassment of the police at each corner of the street, at numerous checkpoints, the dictation and the random arrests? How can one live with a tight censorship and lopsided information of the state media? How can one live day by day with an all pervasive corruption? How can a young person plan his life that leads straight forward into a cul-de-sac and that does not permit any vision? How can an elderly person put up with this cul-de-sac and experience a continual degradation of the living conditions since the 50ies?

One of the answers was: „Because Mubarak holds all the powers: military, police, justice and parliament”. Another one was: “We have opposition; we have got some Muslim Brothers in parliament.” Or: “There is no opposition abroad.” But also: “We have internet, we know how it is outside.”

All this did not satisfy me. I grew up in a liberal country and was brought up and educated with liberal ideas. My mind cannot accept such resignation and passivity.

Thus, I searched for reasons and soon found some:

Egyptians are lazy
I mean: without any initiative, without any idea, without any fighting spirit, passive, indulgent. Don’t they prefer to sit in coffee shops, smoke shisha, watch football games or try to cheat tourists? I wasn’t completely wrong with this answer but it was too superficial.

On the course of further stays in this wide, varied and incomprehensible country, I uncovered lay after lay of the surface and gradually started to understand better. There are many reasons for the seemingly or real passivity.

The political system
Just imagine: the one year old boy who tries his first clumsy steps with his baby legs, sees Mubarak. The same boy who plays football with his comrades day after day on a dry sandy court and most probably dreams of a football career with Ahly, sees the “father of the nation” Mubarak on TV. The teenager, who sends sneaky looks at girls, only knows Mubarak, the “father of the nation”, praising his good deeds on his daily TV speech. The young man who is about to marry his young bride doesn’t know anything else than Mubarak, the National Democratic Party, a rigorous police state and no freedom. The young father, who fights every day to feed his family, hears and sees only Mubarak…

About 50 % of the Egyptian population doesn’t know any other state system than Mubarak’s dictatorship. How should a human being, who has never ever during all his life – 30 or 40 years – experienced anything else should be able to imagine another political system? I don’t mean to say that Egyptians are too stupid to do this, please, do not misunderstand. No! I want to say that the majority of those who are between 30 or 40 years old have never known anything else and therefore, cannot imagine a different political system. The freedom that we in Europe live and take for granted, does not exist in Egypt and is unknown to many.

The Egyptian educational system does not train up independent thinking human beings. Pupils have to learn by heart in order to obtain a certain number of marks. According to the points achieved, different Universities or ways of education can be pursued. Those who don’t get the highest marks, simply study law, teaching or anything else instead of becoming a doctor or an engineer. Children neither learn how to learn nor to use their brain to find for example alternatives, scrutinize facts, to criticise or to analyse. Teachers work for a pittance und therefore usually have another job to make ends meet. Only the one who can afford private lessons or go to a private school can make progress. The others learn by heart, repeat, obey and do what they are told to do. There is no place for personal development, creativity or even revolt.

How should anybody become initiative in such a system?

Culture, tradition and religion
I’m unable to separate these three values; for me, they are entangled, inter-dependent and tightly linked. Same as the religion demands obedience, such does the family that recognizes and respects the father (and later the eldest son) as family patriarch. Everything is done for the family; there is no way against the family (respectively the patriarch) except one risks the thorough and final breach with the family. In a wider circle, it’s the same within the tribes.

Furthermore, Egyptians are pacific and full of zest for life. Revolt is something that others do.

Obedience towards the superior (family, teacher, employer, police, and president) is entrenched and every time when I am a silent onlooker, I get startled. However, this is Egypt.

I cannot say that I „grasp“ now why this people doesn’t get up and fight all together, however, I understand much better. They just have another hard disk in their head that is built, programmed and loaded with different data – this is what I sometimes think.

Nevertheless, there was this uproar, this revolution that continues, that is pasty like cold honey and that comes in half-heartedly. I keep on asking my interlocutor “Why don’t you get up and fight?” and frequently the answer is “What can we do?”

This helpless sentence is a stich into my mind and into my heart as well. It makes me aware that a lot of time still has to go by until something really changes in the land of the Nile. Meanwhile, those who can, emigrate and the others somehow huddle through having faith in Allah to support them.

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