Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Egypt, Once More, With Feeling

It pains me to see what's happening in Egypt; as exciting as it may be to see the people rise up against a clueless autocrat, it has a real impact on everyday life. People are dying, but they are also losing their jobs as the country shuts down and people are afraid to visit.

The Muslim Brotherhood used religious tradition and anti-Mubarak sentiment as a springboard to power, and I initially had the same hope for them that I had for AK in Turkey (an optimism that turned out to be a little bit off base, it seems). I can't claim to really understand the issues--I lived a life of privilege in Cairo for four years--but if I had to advise MoMo, this is what I would tell him:

  • You need to be honest. Transition to democracy and prosperity is going to take awhile, and you need to explain that, while at the same time making people feel optimistic about the future;
  • You need to make things easier and better for tourists. Why are the pyramids and the Egyptian museum so poorly kept, badly signed and full of disagreeable people? You hold all the aces in the travel game. Put out your damn cigarette and make some bets.
  • Be a real democracy. Stop trying to make end runs around the constitution and don't be afraid to give up power when the people like someone else's ideas better. 
  • End religious intolerance and discrimination against women. Right now.
  • Make kids learn English. All of them. The Germans seemed to have managed to hold on to their identity. You can too.
  • End fuel subsidies. Give money to poor people instead. Buy a few more subway cars for the Cairo metro. I rode it every day for four years.
You're welcome.

Nevertheless, I am not an optimist. When you are asking people to give up power, and another coup looks like the best available option, I feel a little queasy. But after seeing the courtesy with which motorists treat pedestrians in Belgrade, I do think that you could tame Cairo's traffic. You might even make a little money while you're at it.

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