ravings, rantings and ramblings
The first ever protest was recorded in 1152 BC, in Egypt, when tomb workers refused to work for non-payment of wages which was usually in bread. More than 3000 years later, the normal Egyptian went on strike for what boils down to the daily bread.
Agriculture has been a strong point since the Nile irrigated the lands. Despite Egypt’s dependence on foreign food supplies, agriculture remained a key factor for Egypt’s economy. Sugarcane, cabbage, rice, brinjal, wheat, citrus, grapes and dates among other things, have been feeding the country and its cousins.
That apart, you have the Suez Canal that collects a toll on every and any vessel that wishes to cross from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and vice versa.
And then, there remains the obvious – tourism. THe entire world thinks and believes that Egypt survives on tourism. Blame them not, for theirs was a civilisation that garnered the attention of all others – Greeks, Spaniards, Sudanese, Syrians, Persians etc. After my visit to Egypt, I felt that just about any stone in that country could have historic value. Across the length and breadth of the Nile, one could take a history lesson on the Egyptian civilisation and the various Arabic and non-Arabic influences it has had. Egypt earns a major lot through its tourism industry.
For once my heart bled when looters ravaged my pilgrimage and ransacked the Cairo museum. Broken exhibit boxes, shattered black Tutankhamun statues, missing royal linen and necklaces and mummies with severed heads. Egypt will never be the same if Egyptians are not able to protect their heritage and historical legacy. I was bothered more about Amenhotep III’s security than those thousands who gathered at Tahrir Square.
The question that arises, naturally is, why is the average Egyptian so desperate? Why is that the men of marriageable ages cannot marry? Why is it that any Egyptian professional is open to accepting ‘bakshish’ and most times demanding the same? Why is it that most Egyptians find it convenient to migrate to other countries and take up residency and never return to Misr (Egypt)?
Two years ago, I was chatting with my tour guide, Romany, a fine Egyptian gentleman. Romany was unmarried and a government certified history and culture guide. Funny that our conversations were about contemporary Egypt and its impoverished image and not about the pyramids and the tombs of the ’emirs’. Romany, was a bit hesitant and then held himself back. It is not prudent to speak against the President. He reconstructed his answer and gave me and my wife a statistical answer. He said that an average Egyptian earned 100 Egyptian pounds in a month. And the cost of a kilo of mutton was 40 Egyptian pounds. That is one-fourth of your salary gone! Of course, there is room for bias and error here. Other statistics say that the average MHI is about 300 EGP (Egyptian Pounds). Whatever be the case, it looks gloomy and measly! Egyptian friends and colleagues here in Dubai, ratify the same and rue that they feel so despondent in their own country.
Sitting in an internet cafe by the Nile in Luxor on a chilly, rainy January afternoon, the shopkeeper approached me and offered me some ‘suleimani’ tea. I accepted and we got into a conversation. Almost immediately he asked me if I could get him a job in Dubai. I was a little taken aback. The shopkeeper quickly rattled off his skills and reasons about why life outside Egypt is better than running an internet cafe and curio shop. We exchanged e-mail ids and he praised Indians to the skies, with the hope that, that would warranty him a job.
During my stay in Cairo, I felt I was in a huge dusty city that looked unstructured and dirty. Buildings were bereft of cement, more cubby-holes than homes, dirty streets, broken roads, congested city squares; in fact I have no recollection of any colours save the desert sands in Giza and Saqqara and the village of Korn in Luxor or the sugarcane farms. Clearly, there has had been some bad economics where the average Misri has very poor purchasing power. So, where is the all the money going?
Enter the one constant thing in Egypt’s fluctuating fortunes – President Hosni Mubarak. Every election, the President’s speech always positioned Egypt as standing at the threshold of change and history. Really? Maybe now, Mr ex-President. What exactly do you mean, Mr ex-President, when you say ‘standing at the threshold of history’? Does corruption define it? Do quasi-democratic systems define it? Does poverty and despondency define it? Does lack of job security prove it? Does lack of food security define it?
Mohamed Hosni Mubarak once said, “Whoever does not command the means to feed himself can either neither feel freedom nor dignity.”
I think the bread-hungry Egyptian just managed to answer that.