Egypt: Its People, Its Political Battlefield

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Eman’s “I Voted” Index Finger – Alexandria, Egypt – May 2012

Considering all that’s occurred in Egypt since I departed the country three weeks ago, it would be beyond selfish to follow up An Egypt Travel Manifesto with a prosaic rundown of the sights and sounds. I thought of opening with a rant about my detention in U.S. Customs & Immigration at Newark International Airport, but that 20-minute hold up – while totally unexpected and a little frightening – was far more comical than life altering, especially compared to what the Egyptian people are experiencing now.

Egypt’s presidential election was held halfway through our seven-day tour and the atmosphere was surprisingly calm during those two days of voting. In fact, our hotel in Cairo – the Semiramis InterContinental – is a 10-minute walk from Tahrir Square. That climate shifted drastically once we left.

The health of former and dishonorably ousted president, Hosni Mubarak, has seriously deteriorated. Egypt’s first democratically-elected Parliament in more than sixty years was just disbanded by a panel of judges that Mubarak appointed. Two of the original thirteen presidential candidates will compete in a runoff election this weekend, but neither choice seems to be a popular or positive alternative among the majority of Egyptians.

Yes, we visited some amazing places (the Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, the Temple of Karnak, etc.) and captured thousands of photos (you can link to some of them below), but I think what we’ll remember most is the people of Egypt.

During our last night in Cairo, the travel agency arranged for the tour group to meet with Ashraf Khalil, author of Liberation Square: Inside Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation. In addition to giving us his analysis of the election, the government and the political upheaval, Khalil actually thanked and commended us for visiting Egypt during a time when most will not.

Tourism in Egypt represents 11 percent of its economy versus the U.S. economy which takes in a little under three percent of its gross domestic product from travel and tourism. From the hundreds of unfinished resorts along the Red Sea to the dozens of merchant boys as young as eight years old who swarmed the tour bus doors at each stop, it’s evident that the current turmoil has greatly impacted travel in a country whose residents greatly depend on it. With the few Egyptian pounds we managed to spend in the local markets, I’m hoping we were able to give to Egypt as much as we learned from it.

Our tour guides – Eman and Dalia – possess an overwhelming wealth of knowledge and sense of pride in their home and its richly complex history. They’re academically-trained guides, so I guess this should be expected. However, Eman is currently her blind mother’s sole caretaker, and Dalia is a wife and mother in a country where women are not exactly on equal footing with their male counterparts. To have such an unfailing esteem for your homeland despite this, is an embodiment of courage I think only a few could cull themselves to have, and it was a honor to travel with and learn from them.

Eman proudly displayed her inked-stained voting finger for days following the election. The “I Voted” sticker I acquired this past Tuesday – following Alexandria, Virginia’s primaries for the U.S. House of Representatives and city council – was stuffed in my jacket pocket.

While I definitely appreciate my right and ability to vote, and the U.S. political system is by no means on par with Egypt’s, it’s hard to stay consistently upbeat about any political process that has become so overwhelmingly negative when it doesn’t need to be.

Come November 6, 2012, the “I Voted” sticker I obtain that day might suffer the same fate as its predecessor, but the cartouche pendant that Eman once wore around her neck and gave to me on the last night of our trip, will still be worn proudly around my neck. The pendant’s symbols represent prosperity, eternal life and protection.

You can view my photos of Egypt on Flickr:

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6 thoughts on “Egypt: Its People, Its Political Battlefield

  1. Thanks for your very recognizable story.

    We also had the privilege of being guided through Egypt by Eman. This unforgettable experience took place during 8 days in 2006. She has the talent of making you feel very welcome. Sometimes iIt felt unfair that my life looks so easy compared to hers. An example of her commitment to her guests: As we travelled to an area Eman had not been before she felt obliged to skip sleep and study al night to have a good story to tell to us the other day.

    We came to Egypt more or less by accident (to witness a total solar eclipse) and intended to visit some monuments only as a side trip. Due to Eman, whom I usually call my little sister, I got truly interested in Egypt in ancient but also in modern times. I am very proud of her achievements and follow the news on the Egyptian people day by day. We intend to visit Egypt again next year for three weeks. The most important requirement for that trip is having the same magic guide as we had last time.

    • Thanks so much for your comment. Nice to hear from someone who also had an opportunity to experience Eman’s wealth of knowledge. She is truly a gem among the current turmoil. Love her positive energy. Hope I’ll get see her again some day. Perhaps you and I will cross paths as well. Please let me know when you do get ready to embark on your next trip to Egypt.

  2. Thank you Crystal (by the way I like your name :)) for the amazing article , Eman is my best friend and I’m very proud of her ,
    Next time when you visit Egypt I would like to see you, Thank you for visiting Egypt at those days

  3. Crystal,

    I like that phrase “her positive energy”. It is just that positive atmosphere she creates that makes you feel so welcome. And as you say on top of that her knowledge with Eman’s passion to spread it 😉

    We are planning to visit Egypt & Eman in week 13,14 and 15 of 2013. Plan is to go to Cairo, Alexandria, then down the Nile to Abu Simbel, spend two days on a Nile boat and finally return to Cairo thru the oasis of the westen Desert. I’m planning to bring my telescope along to do some star watching in the dark desert..

    Roshan,

    I hope to meet you then too 😉

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