Saturday, February 13, 2010

Reflections on Cairo

It is simply difficult to describe and put in words what I saw and
felt in Cairo. First as a city it is massive in size and in
population, second aesthetically speaking it is simply put an ugly city
(quite possibly the ugliest city I ever visited and without a doubt
the ugliest capital I ever visited even worse than San Salvador and
Sana'a). Considering how beautiful the city was back in the 60s this is something !!

The city is depressed and depressing for a number of reasons:

1) the extreme poverty that surrounds you from the moment
you leave the airport , a poverty that is so immense you can not even
conceive it.

2) The city is filthy and polluted, the sky line is dingy
gray colorless and lifeless. Watching the city during the day is like
looking at a black and white film from the 1940s, the city lacks
color, the only vivid color you see is the color of dirt that
surrounds the buildings and the air you breathe. At night it is
actually tolerable ( darkness to Cairo is like beer goggles)

3) The traffic is so bad that driving is the second worst thing you can do ,
the worst is trying to cross the streets and avoid getting hit by the
manic drivers. The sound of car horns is on 24 hours a day it is so
horrid that noise pollution is as bad as air pollution. The sound of car
horns I heard in one day is equivalent to all the car horns I heard in
my life.

4) The city is full of hustlers , con artists and pretty much
it is rare that you run into a native at the tourist areas that is not
trying to rip you off in one way or another.

5) The religiousness of people, you would know what Marx meant when he coined "religion is the
opiate of the masses" when you walk the streets of Cairo. The people
are so hopeless and their despair is so high that God becomes their
only answer and the after life is the only thing they look forward
too. 95% of Muslim women wear hijab ( some wear provocative clothes
tight jeans and a hijab !!!) And you find people praying on the sidewalks during the call to
Prayers. This religiousness does seem to contradict their unethical behavior !! a person
can rip you off and at the same time tell you that he just came from the mosque so there is no way he actually
is capable of ripping you off although you know and he knows that he just did.
The invocation of Allah and praying is like the card Blanche they use to justify their unethical behavior. One of the strangest paradoxes I saw was a window filled with belly dancing clothes across from the Azhar mosque!!

Politically and socially the country is bankrupt.
Corruption is at the core of every thing . The only way to make money
is to be corrupt ( take bribes , cheat. , steal) people who are honest
and try to make an honest living are poor and gave nothing. 10% of the
population is filthy rich , maybe Another 10 are middle class and 80%
are poor (over 50% of those are extremely poor)
At the core of this disparity is corruption and the common man
recognizes that the rich are rich because they are unprincipled,
unethical and steal. This has created a climate of unease and disgruntleness
among the silent majority where you feel that at any given moment the country will turn upside
down. Strangely enough people in general seem to love anwar saddat and
camp David accord. They thing it's the best thing Egypt has done. Some
see nothing wrong with normalization with "Israel" and others blame Nasser
and Palestine for all of their ills. Mubarak is unpopular but people
are afraid of the Alternative so the status quo is better than the
unknown despite of the grim state they are in.
It's hard to predict what is going to happen but the sentiment I felt
is that a straw will break the camels back and the fate of Egypt could
become like that of Iran during the shah years. The current state is
unsustainable that is a fact. Any change will be dire and unpredictable , but change
is coming , it is only a matter of time.

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