When I first returned to Dubai from Egypt I was exhausted. It was a postponed honeymoon trip, but in true “Team KLAB” style, we spent the whole time adventuring and traversing the country on local trains, in homestays and traipsing about monuments. It was our kind of holiday. At the time, when anyone asked me, I responded to say that the trip was “challenging” and in some cases, that was an understatement. I haven’t finished my series on our explorations through Egypt, but there were some difficult issues faced in the country resulting from the revolution and the political instability that underpinned so many of our conversations with the local workers and families we met. The country was poverty-stricken, filled with angst and anxiety, queues, withheld produce and services, angry mobs and desperate touts in need of some sort of custom to help them get through the day. Egypt was, and still is, in trouble and it will take a long time for them to recover and reclaim their powerful stronghold, despite them being the largest nation in the Arab region.
And so, now that the Egyptian election has been finalised, and those stresses and hard memories have faded, all that I have are my wonderful rose tinted glasses to look back on my time with the people of Egypt. That, and my very trusty notebook. I’ve been waiting to write about a lunch that we had with a local family in Luxor. I will preface this with the fact that Luxor is my least favourite city in the world, and I was already massively frustrated with the political situation coming into this lunch as the lack of a tourism industry affected my time there. Unemployed youths had nothing to do with their days but leer and make crude comments or insults about my figure, follow me into bathrooms or follow both of us for hundreds of metres in an attempt to gain some business. Luxor was not a nice place to be, and even one of my Egyptian friends clenched his jaw with frustration even at my mere mention of the city on my return. But in Luxor, the reason things were so difficult for me, was because it was so difficult for them. Holding the Valley of the Kings, a massive alabaster trade, Tutankahmen’s tomb and mummy, Colossi Memnon, lush acreage and its convenient placement between Aswan and Cairo, Luxor was a top destination for tourism in Egypt. It depended so heavily on the industry for employment and income. The city has fallen to pieces without it.
We found ourselves sitting in the living room of a vast home in the back streets of Luxor, hosted by an Egyptian family for a home-cooked lunch spread. We sipped lemon drinks to ease our tummies after our whirlwind donkey-riding, tomb-exploring, felafel-eating, tout-avoiding morning dash around Luxor before the heat set in. We sat, knowing that it was the sheer value of the tourism industry that had proffered this man the opportunity to provide such a standard of living for his family. Our guide, Maged, naturally began to talk to our host about the latest in the political developments. It concerned him, as our late-March trip was the first time he’d guided a tour since January, and I wrote earlier about the effects of the revolution on his wedding. There was apparently some new development in the news, something more about the Muslim brotherhood and their intentions for the election. Prior to this trip, I’d had no inclinations as to whether or not the brotherhood would be a positive move ahead for Egypt; my colleagues had seemed to think it would help to pull the country back together, to bring some order. Throw yourself among the Coptic Christian tourism populace and a whole new story emerges; one filled with frustration and sorrow.
The industry naturally had its ebbs and flows in the Egyptian economy. Each time some terrorist catastrophe or massacre came through, it affected their income for a short time. However, the Egyptian people had always accounted for this and saved their pennies in the high seasons to make up for the shortfalls in crisis. It would often get them through for three to six months until the economy and industry recovered, building up again as travellers put their faith back into the country. However, no one anticipated an eighteen-month crisis. No one anticipated that the country would essentially come to a standstill except for the brazen among us.
Roasted chicken in spicy tomato sauce, baked zucchini, grilled eggplant, potatoes, breads and salads graced the table as the discussion continued. We were already well-stuffed from our driver’s generous breakfast felafels but continued to delicately eat our way around the platters. It was then that I finally asked why it was really so wrong that the Muslim brotherhood might take up government in Egypt. Well, they don’t want to rely on tourism. Now, I can see the logic here: the Egyptians are a proud, industrious people. They are so well known throughout history for their innovation, intelligence and development; so much of their past influences how I think we should develop solutions for the future, I can see why they might want to stop their reliance on everyone else.
The Muslim brotherhood wants to take away this reliance on the intermittent and unstable tourist dollar and focus on agriculture. But herein lays the problem: how do you just negate an entire, major industry for a country, and what do you do with those people who have built their lives around the education and guidance of travellers? Our guide had university degrees in history and architecture. He knew of little else beyond his world of English speaking glory and phenomenal monuments. Even our devout Muslim friend from Cairo had his concerns about the political uprising, preferring to believe that this would lead to a second coming rather than a change of state. What do you do in this situation? How on earth can you displace the lives of so many and turn to an industry that you barely have the resources and infrastructure to manage, and certainly don’t have the funds to develop, thanks to the inherent corruption within the system? How can you suddenly decide that a radical revert back to fundamental Islamic principles will be able to work in such a religiously diverse and forward-thinking Arab nation? These people have fought for the right to democracy for years now, been through more than one revolution, only to find that their new leader may well now take them back to a position far behind were they were.
All this “progress” with a 51.7% vote, only a portion of the citizens even submitting votes and 800,000 invalid votes. Can we really see this as a democratic voice? Do we honestly believe that the proud people of Egypt have finally gotten everything they’ve fought, protested and died for among the throes of Tahrir Square? Mubarak’s gutted offices still stand proudly behind the Egyptian National Museum as a sign of the revolution, a monument to those of the uprising, and yet after all this time, we come to a point where a divided country will have to stare at that building with angst and anxiety over an uncertain future as they once more protest for their rights to employment. How many of those whose lives are dedicated to the tourism industry will gather outside the gates of the museum and stare at that office with no idea of where their future lay? How many people will still queue for hours with limited access to resources that are vital for their day-to-day lives?
I feel for Egypt at this difficult time. The political movement was such an influential part of our connections with the people that we met in Egypt; it was often the creator of conversation with people that we had no other connections with. Everyone had something to say, and it was an eye-opener as to just how much a revolution and uprising affects the people, hearts and souls of a community not just a “country” as we constantly see objectified in the news. It changed our view of Egypt and pulled at our hearts. We saw such great strength in this wonderful community of proud, hard-working citizens, and now my heart is heavy in thinking of their futures. I am not flippant in my words. I care for my Egyptian colleagues, watch their sadness in knowing that they can’t go home to work or share their lives with the family structures that Egyptians hold so highly. I see their angst for their families that are still struggling at home. I see their sad eyes and feel it in their sighs. They want to be strong. They want to work hard. They want to grow and take their country to new heights. And I want that for them. Let’s hope for their futures. Cross your fingers. Actually, cross your everythings.