Saturday, February 5, 2011

Vermont/Egypt: a Connection

Sometimes events that seem far away turn out to have a local connection. Today we feature another guest blogger, SMC senior political science major Matthew Miller. Matt spent the break between fall and spring semesters studying in Egypt. Naturally, he has been following events there closely. He offers these reflections:

Spending two weeks in any country does not automatically make you an expert on that country and I am by no means an expert on Egypt. There were many thing
s that I missed, not being able to speak the language fluently. This having been said, there were some things that jumped out at me and became apparent while I was in Egypt.

An uprising in Egypt at this time was a surprise, but the fact that there is anger at Mubarak is not surprising. After events in Tunisia I suspect there were a lot of Egyptians who thought “I am in that same situation as they”. One example was a cab driver I had. He was a college graduate with a degree in social service. Now I know that this type of skill could be put to good use in Cairo but here he was driving a cab. The level of unemployment is very high and especially for the younger 20s generation. I saw many of these unemployed walking around with their girlfriends or just hanging outside of shops. It was not uncommon for lines of them to be almost a block long in some cases. The massive unemployment, the skyrocketing cost of living, the disgusting state of life in Cairo, the crumbling infrastructure, the squatter settlements, were all things that people were grumbling about that affected their daily lives. Many people seemed content with keeping their heads down and going about their daily lives until their livelihood and standard of living decreased. Then Mubarak began to run into problems.

Add to this discontent the problems of corruption in politics, the construction industry, and the ministry of the interior, Mubarak's lack of a successor and you begin to see a country that had major problems looming on the horizon. When in country, I was expecting the problems of Egypt to come to a head during the lead up to elections later this year.

Tunisia changed this. It provided a spark for the current protest in Cairo. The problem was that the police are literally everywhere in Egypt. There are just too many police to allow any protest movement to gain momentum. Al-Jazeera had a statistic saying that there is one police officer for every 37 people in Egypt. As crazy as that ratio sounds, I am not too surprised by this. Literally there was a police officer on every street corner with an AK-47. The police are known to torture people and their brutality is a major deterrent for a movement. Look at how the protests in Syria have no momentum because the police are so brutal. This is how Facebook and social media were able to help this revolution, but the revolutions foundation was already laid. Facebook was only able to help carry the momentum in a faster manner. My analogy is that the snowball was able to be put together faster due to social media but the snow was already there ready to be packed.

I do not think that it is a certainty that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) will necessarily come to power in a democratic election, there is that possibility though. Over the past few years Egyptian society has gotten more conservative, you could easily see that the few women who were seen out in public were all wearing a headscarf or hijab (I only saw a few women without any head covering and I had a very strong suspicion that two of them were prostitutes due to the makeup and clothing that they were wearing). I would argue that Egypt has turned more religious and socially conservative because of the increased hopelessness of the Egyptian people. As life became more and more miserable religion became a way out for people. It is a phenomenon that happens all over the world, and Egypt is no different.

After graduation, Matt will be attending graduate school to study international relations.

1 comment:

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