My love and adulation for this country called Egypt did not remain only on the hearsay of the wonderful memories that my father brought back with him. I too had the full opportunity to know its people during my interaction with them in the Gulf and then some visits to the land of the pyramids.
First thing I noticed about Egyptians was that, like us desis, as they landed in the middle east to earn petrodollars, the whole emphasis was to save as many riyals as possible, to take back home. Like us in the early nineties there was a huge gap between the paypacks in the gulf and back home. We shared pay scales with the Egyptians, which were almost a third of those who came with western passports for doing the same work . So we had common grudges to whine about.
And the gap between the have and the have-nots in Egypt was almost as contrasting if not less than back home, both India and Pakistan. Citadel and the mosque of Mohamed Ali with a chandelier famous for its 10,000 lights overlooking the slums of the City of the Dead made us feel home in Cairo. The simple citizens, enamored by foreign looking faces and then eager to help for the tip was also strikingly similar. But what added to the charm was the name they gave to the tip-the bakhsheesh.
There are all kinds of people in every community, however there are some traits I find common to most Egyptians:
They are fiercely patriotic—calling themselves—“Masr, Umm al Donia” (Egypt the mother of the world) owing perhaps to their glorious past. Though of late, in the past few years when the discontent was brewing, this term has become more of a satirical, mocking jargon.
But I noticed that they never put a blanket blame on their country or ever talked ill about it, en masse. Of course they do indulge in the intellectual debate on lack of democracy and criticise their govt. They even do it with a terrific sense of humor which let them maintain their sanity in these 30 years of oppressive dictatorship. It was this sense of humor which let them face all adversities with grace and a smile.
Political awareness even amongst the farmers in the remote Upper Egypt topped with a great sense of humor made me dote on them. On the issue of Hosni Mubarak being a US ally, they did not give it a religious shade of anti Islam—instead found humor in it too. They equated his regime to be a PCO (public telephone booth) which talks so long as there is coins (US Dollars and Aid for supporting them) coming into it and stops speaking as soon as the money is gone.
Once I even had a friend ask me if I knew who was the president before Hosni Mubarak—and he did not accept my answer of Anwer Sadaat. According to him it was Jesus Christ—hinting at his long regime.
Egyptians are great readers too. The knowledge of their history is at their tips and gives them great pride, owing to their reading habit as a nation. They take immense pride in their glorious past and the culture, music, dramas, their dialect of Arabic and even at their being the ‘poor’ among the Arabs. A study by Alice Scale and Zikry called the Reading Habits of Adults in Egypt which said: they like to read, read newspapers, they read fiction, take course to improve reading ,and retained what they read for long time.
Now moving on I would like to describe three Egyptians who have made me overawed by them one time or more:
The first is my best and the closest friend since past 14 years and she happens to be an Egyptian—who lost her husband in her mid thirties with two junior school kids left to look after. I dreaded how would she survive, but the way she has bounced back as a lioness is worth the mention here, though she happens to be a nobody for all the readers except me. An extremely courageous, smart and intelligent woman that she is—living in the Gulf as a widow and facing the daily gossips and pressures to remarry—she chose not to, to raise her kids with peace. And then carried on with her bubbly personality and fulfilling the life as both mom and dad to her kids with absolutely no support from her inlaws(again striking similiarity to the treatment of widows by her in laws) . And she has carried on her further education doing MRCGP Exam for which she had to come to appear in the Exam in Karachi. Despite a lot of discouraging from friends both Egyptian and Pakistanis to avoid going to Pakistan, especially being a single mom, she insisted to go and with the argument to me that “If you can return back from Pakistan safely why would I not?“
On the day when the incident of Bolton Market fire and suicide attack on Shia procession took place she was in town. She had no acqaintence there, but on calling her she did not even show a grain of fear in her voice.
The second one is none other than the current First lady: Susan Mubarak. Yes she is the gorgeous looking wife of Hosni Mubarak, the corrupt dictator. She may have been misusing her husband’s power or luxuries but it is just one action of hers which made me have great respect for her. In 1990 presiding the The Society of Integrated Care, Mrs. Susan Mubarak started a cultural project in the summer vacations called the READ FOR ALL FESTIVAL. The philosophy behind the project was based on a sound belief in the importance of the role of reading in raising up generations. It also focused on the right of the child for reading. And she regarded reading “as a human right as equal as the rights for education, health and food.”
‘Reading is very essential for confronting the challenges of the age in which possession of knowledge gives power over the possession of wealth’, she believed.
From merely 1856 libraries in 1990 it rose to over 9 500 in 19999. Within the activities of the Reading for All Festival (summer 1999, Susan, adopted the project of establishing 5000 school libraries. Among which 4000 libraries being all over Egyptian villages. The project aimed at providing services to the communities surrounding the libraries. It also targeted the positive utilization of leisure time in order to build up the personal and social identity of the Egyptian individual. Besides, it encouraged self-learning of the adults and youngsters in addition to providing better opportunities for broadening minds and better understanding of problems through direct contact with various information resources.
Last but not the least the contemporary Egyptian I find great is Mohammed al Baradei I do not talk of the newfound greatness in him because he is leading them in the revolution. Not even because he was the head of IAEA for three terms. Not even because he is a Nobel Laureatte. It is due to the stands he took while in that position holding the spirit of a UN Organisation as a as truly neutral and non partisan. And that is what makes him great.
Despite the worries of this chaos going out of hand or turning into the grips of Islamic radicals—I feel world would be such a different place if democracy is restored in Egypt, with Mohammed al Baradei in the lead in a democratic Egypt. He would contribute towards my dream of a world without borders and without wars.
Articles in the newspapers to blogs are all giving reactions to this man’s role in the uprising appropriate to their outlook.
Years ago in 2003, he as a head of IAEA he had warned US and the Bush administration of the non existence of Iraq nuclear program and weapons of mass destruction. But was lashed by the neocons and even the Washington post opposed his stance.
If they had heeded his objective observations, the Americans wouldn’t be in such a soup today.
To the allegations IAEA had said: “Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that these documents – which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger – are in fact not authentic. We have the therefore concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded. “
This was on the allegation by the US about their allegations on Nuclear negotiations between Niger and Egypt.
Even with Iran he had been very neutral—asking Iran to clarify some important issues but at the same time telling the world community that “the agency has no concrete evidence of ongoing nuclear weapons program or undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran.
Way back in 2007 Bolton had remarked Baradei as an apologist for Iran just because the gentleman had refused to endorse the US backed Israel led attack on Iran.
His neutrality was so neutral that on one hand he criticized Iran for being non cooperative enough and on the other hand also saying it in so many words that attack will be the worst thing that can happen and that robust diplomacy is the ultimate solution to the Iranian standoff.
A Jewish blogger wrote:
“He is a stooge of Iran, and I don’t use the term lightly. When he was the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, for which he got a Nobel Peace Prize, he fronted for them, he distorted the reports.”
He’s been highly critical of Arab autocrats and the Western governments that prop them up.
“Western policy towards this part of the world has been a total failure, in my view,” he told the Guardian, in March 2010. “It has not been based on dialogue, understanding, supporting civil society and empowering people, but rather it’s been based on supporting authoritarian systems as long as the oil keeps pumping.”
Once talking to Hard Talk he had remarked that he could have earned a great deal being some one’s voice in this coveted position of IAEA Head but wished to have better sleep at night than more money. That was the day I started to revere this man, who I had taken for granted as a CIA agent earlier on.
Although many Egyptians might not fully want a person regarded as an expatriate coming in to take over the opposition to Mubarak’s police state, others regard him, as a man who gave their country a very high and positive international profile in a world that was rapidly becoming Islamophobic and racist toward Arabs.
We can relate to that by our dismay at expats like Sonia Gandhi or Shaukat Aziz getting into power.
As the Egyptians gather in the Tahrir Square and prepare to start the million march, the whole world has its eyes on how this man will steer the direction of the revolution which is till now a ‘leaderless’ one. They will need someone to lead and who could be more suitable than a moderate, educated, conscientious Al Baradei.
He is a man who is not even at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood and is at the moment a member of ‘movement for change’ of which even Muslim Brotherhood is a member.
Impatiently we all await how the things will unfold.