Egypt’s Harsh Reality

By Farah Halime, editor of Rebel Economy 

Two days ago I stared hard in the face of the consequences of the neglect and deprivation arising from nearly 60 years of autocratic rule in Egypt.

I was threatened by a group of men with a six-inch blade and had a lit cigarette thrown at me.  It was because I’d splashed water in the face of a man who had been heckling me non-stop in traffic.

The men had been sitting in a minibus adjacent to me for 15 minutes, all the while taunting me with wagging tongues and juvenile chat-up lines.

In a flash of anger, and for the first time after living for a year in Cairo, I retaliated physically and splashed water in the face of the main assailant.

I had messed with the wrong men.  Within seconds, the group jumped out of the minibus in the middle of traffic, surrounded the taxi I was in and tried opening the doors.  My friend, who had been sitting next to me all along, reached over to lock my door.

The men looked at me, wild in their expression, and I looked back in anger. I tried to confront the men. It was then that I realised that my friend had been trying to stop me leaving, rather than the men entering the car.

Resigning themselves to the fact they couldn’t get in to my passenger seat, the main perpetrator threw his cigarette at me through the front door open window.  I screamed in anger and he screamed back.

He then showed me his shiny blade in full view of the tens of other cars surrounding us, and I shut up.

I don’t blame these men for their behaviour.  I blame the Egyptian government and its neglect.  

These men are the reason why deaths occur at protests, the reason crime in slums is incessant, the reason why some women can’t leave their house anymore for fear of attacks or sexual harassment.

They are uneducated and have no access to education. They are poor and never have had the opportunity to develop a career and earn their own money.  They are ignorant, in part, because the government is ignorant of them.

A senior banker at a big bank in Egypt once said to me: “You know Farah, I hate all this scum, these dirty people in Egypt. That’s why we have all these problems”.

No, it’s not.  It’s people like him that are too scared to admit that they are benefiting unfairly while millions live in squalor.  I understand why these men lost their temper at me, a middle-class girl sitting in an air-conditioned taxi humiliating them with an act of defiance.

Egypt must take heed of these disgusting actions and realise the fundamental problem of the state: a lack of health, education and access to general welfare has distorted society. This is the reason why Hosni Mubarak should be serving a life sentence in prison, not just his role in killing protesters last year.

It is President Morsi’s main priority to provide the possibility of a better way of life.  Forget Islamic finance, loans and grants and public private partnerships.

Egypt has to restructure its ideals and reflect that in its budget and policy-making.  Subsidies are not a cure-all, but health and education are.  So why does Egypt spend more on ludicrous energy subsidies than health and education combined?

The incident has made me more aware of the consequences of my knee-jerk reaction.  Though I am unlikely to react the same way again, I do not regret what I did.  Even so, do not be angry but feel pity, because these men are among many that have been abandoned by the state. 


  • Faisal
    Posted September 30, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    I salute your bravery, and most of all your understanding, it is at its core an education problem, thats the only way to promulgate feminism and better understanding and respect of women in the middle east. I firmly believe its not incompatible with Islam, we have to change and promote equality its the only way to go forward in my view.

  • Y
    Posted September 30, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    Being aware of economic dynamics and exploitation is probably the best start to protecting yourself today, especially on the streets. And when, it doesn’t look like social equity wholly suits the philosophy of the current government.

    We’re living according to a system which survives by hyper-flaunting consumption, hierarchy and highlighting differences by class, wealth and gender (as an incentive scheme)…, at some point, everyone becomes a target whether rich/poor, men/women etc. then power play and violence become natural. A created jungle.

    I enjoyed your post because I read a realization that without regretting your instinctual aggressive action, you may feel as though you have ‘fallen in a trap’ I relate to. I felt I had become a pawn, neither of us won anything.

    On opposite ends of the economic spectrum, those thugs on the bus and the banker have lots in common. They’re making gross judgements and playing out a role they’re either unaware of or too cowardly to confront. Their criminal behavior or comments reflect psyches weak with self-loathing or victimhood – “hungry ghosts.”

    Your conclusion is a direction where, you could play the game but choose to take some ownership of the situation and not be a victim. There’s more dignity gained and energy towards good. As a social epidemic it requires a large-scale approach. So what is happening? Where are the strategies promoting economic independence, sharing cheap technology to educate, cure and free people? Industrial programs, PPP alone are not going to solve unemployment. Morsy’s policies so far values private capital growth which will cause further social instability and deterioration.

  • Posted September 30, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Permalink

    you should be angry at the men and not the government. there are poor countries and people everywhere, and they don’t all behave like this. in fact very few do. there is no excuse for this kind of behavior, and the government’s fault in this case is in the permissive security environment that allows people to do this in the street.

    • Y
      Posted October 1, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      I find your comment more racist than objective: “there are poor countries and people everywhere, and they don’t all behave like this. in fact very few do:

      1- this kind of behavior is displayed in all countries (despite culture, race) where the rich-poor gap is growing, if anything, least so in Egypt miraculously. Do you not read about violence against women in S.Africa, Brazil, France, the US.??
      2- If you want to measure people’s ‘civility’ look at their actions when there is no state security. What happened in America during a 3-hour electrical black-out? What happened in Egypt during an 18-day security black-out?

      It doesn’t help, after revolution in Egypt, to insinuate that we are an inferior people that needs to look to the west as a benchmark. It’s a neocolonial roadblock argument used against economic and cultural progress.

  • Mona V.
    Posted October 1, 2012 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I understand where you are coming from, the lack of education afforded to young men (and women), and the lack of security afforded to every day citizens in Egypt is abhorrent and is definitely part of the problem, and will – if fixed hopefully temper these kind of attacks.

    But, I’m a woman – and I have lived in Sierra Leone, Sudan & Lebanon (where I am from). I have travelled to India, China and Malaysia. Even in Yemen I was treated with more respect than in Egypt.

    I can whole heartedly say that this country – Egypt – is the worst place I have EVER, EVER been. It is not just the problem of the government it’s a society that allows it as well.

    • Simon Says
      Posted October 1, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      that’s a crushing verdict from Mona V.

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