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?