THE ARAB SPRING SEEMS TO HAVE SPRUNG A LEAK IN EGYPT

THE BACKGROUND

In World War Two between 1943 and 1946 my father served as a member of the Military Police, having achieved transfer from the Green Howards just as they were setting off to Galipolli and the carnage that befell them there. That is another story but explains a little of my fascination of this land ,that to me ,as a six year old seemed a world away from the village in Yorkshire where I was born and began to be raised.

My father, in the Police Force at home, had risen to be Company Sergeant Major and held posts in various Egyptian cities in those war years, chiefly in places like Alexandria and Port Said. He returned home with casebooks full of fascinating crime events, that captivated me as a youngster. To me it was like having my own Sexton Blake or Dick Barton {top detectives and agents of the time} telling me exclusively of their adventures. As a background to each case, my father would paint word pictures, generously aided by expansive use of his hands and arms, backed up with postcards and photographs he had brought home from the area. Thus, I became , as an impressionable child, familiar with the Land of the Pharoahs at a very early age.

Even so, I was not to visit there till I reached my 60"s when things had moved on from my father"s time. In his day, Egypt had a King ,destined to be the last of the line. King Farouk was effectively a playboy ,propped up by the British who needed the Suez Canal as a vital route for both war and peacetime activity and trade.Subsequent to World War Two, Egypt revolted against the Monarchy and effectively the British, and the Generals took power. From Neguib, Nasser and ultimately Mubarak, the latter being elevated by the untimely assaaination of the enlightened Sadat, the Generals ,through the army have kept tight control over the country but in a more benign way than operated by similar leaderships in neighbouring countries. However, Power corrupts and absolute Power corrupts absolutely and Egypt was far from an exception to this. Mubarak, friend of the West, held sway for 40 years during which, some Egyptians advanced well but left behind them a large majority of poor, uneducated people, for whom life had changed but little from the time of the Pharoahs, let alone World War Two. Even so, advances such as TV, then the mobile phone and the internet were not to be denied across the whole of the population as the years went on. The desire of Mubarak to have his dynasty continued via his son was the catalyst the educated and middle classes needed to bring out protest to the streets of Cairo in Jan /Feb of 2011, following hard on the heels of the Tunisian people who had succeded in their own revolt in the earliest month of the year.

The protests, organised via internet and mobile phones spread to other key cities but , with great pragmatism, left out the key Tourist resorts of Sharm and Hurghada, for example, and touched but lightly at Luxor, historic base of the Pyramids. Curiously, the Army sent tanks to the streets, but merely as observers whilst, it seemed that the Generals made their minds up as to their next step. Then, and suddenly, that decision was made behind closed and secret doors. Mubbarak was toppled and fled to Sharm to be later arrested and now is in the trial process that, as with all official matters in Egypt is likely to take a long time and will likely not be concluded before the death of the old man.

However, those on the streets, in the mass at least saw this as their victory and a wave of great rejoicing swept the middle classes resulting in general euphoria and a belief that their Arab spring was a great new dawning. The poor continued to scavenge for an existance ,as for them change simply meant more of the same. This then, was the backcloth that 2011 in Egypt was unfolded in front of, for an expectant part of the poulation ant the world at large to marvel at.

THE MONTHS OF ASPIRATION.

Following the ened of the successful protests, from March to October, Egypt slipped back from the World Radar as LIBYA took center stage. Life continued as normal, the poor scavenged. the traders bemoaned the drop in Tourist visitors and general trade, the middle classes chattered away and behind the scenes, the Army held the reins as ever, whilst determining an acceptable face to present to the nation, and the backers from West or maybe East now, that would fit without affecting their position as the actual pwer holders. To get this in perspective, in Egypt, the Army not only holds the usual brief for defence of the nation etc. but it also has a retail function, selling for example, products as diverse as bread and nappies to the population!

Euphoria is a heady mixture and whilst it lasts, provides manna to the troubled breast but it is but temporary. Thus, elections were promised, an interim Prime Minister appointed {Egypt always does things back to front to Wesren eyes} and on the face of things all seemed to be progressing fine. As ever the reality is not always what we are told or see on TV and so as we returned to Egypt for the start of November, I held both my counsel and to an extent ,my breath as to what reality would await us.

THE CURRENT REALITY.

We arrived in Egypt on 31 October and returned to UK on Dec9. The 40 days and nights gave ample opportunity to both survey the scene and to discuss events with Egyptians across the board.

So what benefits are tangible from the Arab Spring? What differences to the lives of the people have ensued? How important and successful were the long awaited{ by some only} elections?. In all truth things have altered not a favourable jot for the majority and as for the elections, we will come to them shortly.

On the surface things have not changed, save for a discernible lack of Tourists in key Hotel areas in our town of Hurghada. Many traders face ruin as they seek to pay rents from little or no income. Even Hotels like the Hilton have 90% of beds unoccupied week on week and renewed skirmishes in Cairo do not help them. There is an air of resignation here as people feel trapped between the old and an unknown new that to date is offering them little if anything beneficial. The more educated vary from the frustrated to the more sanguine who, in true Egyptian style painstakingly explain that radical change inevitably takes time and patience is essential to ensure a brand new bright tomorrow. The truth is that life goes on and so far at least any benefits that have come from the so called revolution are, like the treasures of the Pharoahs, amazingly well hidden and disguised.

So what of the elections? TV pictures showed enthusiastic voters in ordely queues waiting to vote. 62% WERE CLAIMED TO HAVE DONE SO, DESPITE THE BIBLICAL CONCEPT OF INSISTENCE THAT THE VOTE HAD TO BE CAST IN THE TOWN OF BIRTH. ONE CAN JUST IMAGINE MOST TAXI DRIVERS IN hURGHADA DRIVING IN CONVOY TO LUXOR, FROM WHERE MOST ORIGINATE, TO VOTE. AFTER ALL IT IS ONLY A 6 /8 HOUR ROUND TRIP ! Believe that and you will believe anything.

I asked the two boys in the supermarket adjacent to our residence about voting and the elections! My questions were greeted with blank stares and requests to explain what an election was? These are not middl;e class, but neither are they the poor. They speak English, have a basic education and can use a computer and a calculator, but still the elections mean nothing to them. Many traders were the same and even some who did know about the elections, could not find it possible to go to vote. So 62% VOTED? I ASK 62% OF WHAT?

The results of Phases 1 and 2 will be out, we are told in January and that the Muslim Brotherhood, by far the longest and best organised party, is set to win. Probably so, but as to what that will mean to the average Egyptian I could not forecast. Every Democracy has to start somewhere. Meanwhile, nothing alters so far for the better it seems but there is one constant factor. Behind the wire and safe in the luxury compounds,the Generals sit comfortably. They are both the problem and the solution for Egypt and for the forseeable future expect no change in their status or their control. To Western ears this may seem unacceptable but in the reality that is Egypt, maybe the people are lucky they are there.Maybe also, as yet the people have reason to remember to be careful of what you wish for lest you get it!


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