Growing up in a family where politics and history were often the subject of discussion at the dinner table, one thing seemed to always resurface when we spoke about Egypt: Abdel Nasser. At a young age one tends to simplify things into differentiating what is bad and what is good and to me Nasser was the bad ‘boogie man’ who stole land from big families. The founder of Pan Arabism is often revered by the poor and detested by the privileged Egyptians, and some may say he destroyed Egypt’s sophistication and prestige ushering it into an era of ignorance.
In any case, Nasser is an important figure in the region’s modern history and I mention him because it was curious to me that we never discussed Hosni Mubarak and his regime in the same way. Generally speaking, we lived in the same system but under a different ideological umbrella. Maybe the fact that my father’s job didn’t allow us to discuss such things without jeopardizing his career had some part in it, however as I grew up and took part in these political debates with friends and family in Egypt no one in my milieu seemed to criticize or even be the least unsettled by what was happening in the country.
The reality of the corruption, the poverty, the social injustice and the lack of freedom was disturbing to me as a teenager who had lived in both the U.S. and Brazil before moving to Egypt. In no way am I implying that these countries are perfect models of democracy but that comes to show you how bad things really were in Egypt. I eventually conformed to this ‘bubble life’ where kids went to international schools, spoke mostly English and French, lived in luxury villas or apartments, had a driver, cook, housekeeper, butler etc. you name it. Life was good… for us at least.
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This dichotomy between rich and poor is the reality on the ground and has unfortunately been ingrained in Egyptians’ mentality. The living conditions of the poorer social strata were governed by injustice but what was common to all people was the oppression and lack of freedom by a repressive regime. Of course the elites could have their way but that came at a price the poor couldn’t afford.
Sixty years on, Egyptians of all walks of life are still facing the same issues. Nasser’s socialist dream of taking from the rich and giving to the poor was not achieved. Instead the increasingly arbitrary rule established under the charismatic leader widened the gap between the two creating more social injustice and resentment. And the lack of effective reforms and progress brought the country to an unsustainable stalemate for everyone except for a few benefitting from the tea party.
As a result. a year ago Egyptians united in Tahrir Square demanding ‘Bread, Freedom and Social justice’. For the first time since the British occupation, Egyptians took their destiny into their own hands in the hope of restoring national identity and dignity. The Revolution that took place on January 25th last year didn’t last 18 days, it is a process still under way. What is certain is that there is no going back, Egyptians have made history launching a new era for their country; breaking free from an era characterized by oppression and corruption.
In light of the recent elections showing an Islamist majority in Parliament, if the Islamists’ conservative policies retain this stalemate then their political lifespan will not survive for long. Egypt needs a new foundation that will allow its society and government to develop and progress into the 21st century. Islam is indeed a major cultural aspect in Egyptians lives, even for Copts, however Islamists must adapt to a revolutionary Egypt, it will not conform to them.