By Rana Allam
It is quite interesting when people, whether Egyptian or otherwise, ask the question: “Why are you still taking to the streets in protest?” I then stand speechless and wonder whether they follow the news, all types of news; political, economic or cultural.
A quick skim would explain why there are still protests and even result in another question: “’Why isn’t everyone out on the streets?’
Now, let’s recall again the 25th of January revolution chants– Bread, Freedom, Social Justice and Human Dignity– and study the progress of each demand. Also, let’s keep in mind that at the time those demands were chanted, no one chanted ‘Islamic Shari’a’, or ‘Democracy’ for that matter!
I am not an economist, but those that are seem united in their impression that our economy is free falling towards rock-bottom within six months. Annual inflation rate rose by 6.6%, as compared to January 2012; prices hiked between 5 to 10% depending on the commodity, over 2% for medical services, and transportation rose 5%. Those are the numbers given by the government’s own Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS). Moreover, unemployment increased to 13%, and in a country that used to bring in at least 11 million tourists annually, we now have barely any tourism to speak of.
Factories have closed down, and businesses are struggling to stay open. The Egypt Food Observatory report of the World Food Program stated that 86% of Egyptians are struggling to feed their children and stay sheltered. Personal bank loans have increased which means that even upper-middle class Egyptians are suffering, not just the poorer groups of society.
Queues on bread, gas, and butane cylinders are growing. Not to mention that electricity and water cuts have become part of many Egyptians’ daily lives. Due to budgetary cuts in private companies, people are being fired, laid off, having to deal with salary cuts, or working double shifts.
Adding insult to injury, our government officials continue to give statements confirming that all is well. The president would unflinchingly lie to the public with improvement percentages, and his media would report false economic news, like for example, millions of euros in aid from Germany or that the investment sector is attracting billions of dollars.
Bread? The government limited our intake to three loaves per day, and have you seen how small and dirty that loaf of bread is these days?
A quick look at the new constitution would be a great indicator of how limited our freedoms have become since the revolution that demanded freedom.
They have, simply, constitutionalised conformity to tradition. Their constitution states that we are free as long as we adhere to “Egyptian family values”. Of course, no one bothered to tell us what exactly those values are. They could range from women not working to 12 year-old girls married off to men growing beards and marrying four women to God-knows-what!
They also defined what religions are to be accepted.
And even those religions that are deemed “holy” are having issues, with the Islamist preachers and self-proclaimed sheikhs appearing on TV channels and in mosques branding everyone who is not an ultra- conservative Wahabi an unholy being, every non-veiled woman a prostitute, and every liberal or socialist an infidel that will burn in hell.They stooped to the level where a very well known preacher who owns a TV channel would appear on his show saying that female protesters want to be raped. He said on TV that women who celebrate Valentine’s Day are Christian crusaders and/or prostitutes. Some of these ‘beards’ will tell you that our fellow Egyptian Copts will burn in hell ; that their money and their women, in some cases their lives, are there for the taking. Non-Islamist Muslims are now labeled mortaddin (those who lost their belief in Islam) and should be killed, or dallin (Lost) and should be returned to the Path using violence if necessary. Naturally with this rhetoric, if you are a Baha’i or a Shi’a or a Hindu or a Buddhist… or whatever, you should be hanged.
Freedom of speech? Many of us are just waiting for the day we are brought in for questioning. You could be jailed for a Facebook post, if someone somewhere decided to. A recent report issued by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said that the number of lawsuits against citizens, whether from the media or elsewhere, accused of insulting the president in six months exceeded the total number for those accused of this same “crime” since the law was created in 1909. That would include royalty, foreign occupation, and military rule.
President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have raised the bar of limiting freedom of speech, to the point where a TV presenter is facing charges because she had a guest who spoke against Morsi and belonged to a group that they deemed “violent”.
TV channels are being shut down for insulting Morsi, but those spreading hatred and violence among Egyptians remain untouched, simply because they are pro-Morsi Islamists.
Not one of the government’s initiatives or programs addressed the issue of social justice. Wages are still very low for employees and workers, and very high for managers. We still see a worker making EGP 700 a month, while in the same organization a manager or consultant would be taking EGP 700,000 a month.
The difference between government-provided healthcare, and that of the private hospitals, is the difference between life and death. The same goes for education. The status of healthcare and education provided for the poor of this country is enough to make people turn violent. When a man takes his dying child or mother to a hospital and they refuse admitting the patient because they can’t afford admission fees, leaving them to die on the doorsteps of the hospital, this is a disaster. It gets worse when a few blocks away, the same man sees a five-star hospital with empty beds and advanced medical equipment that would have saved his loved one’s life. Patients are required to buy syringes, cotton, medicine, and blood because government-run hospitals don’t provide them. Patients are left to heal after major surgeries on the floors of hospitals’ corridors. This is, of course, not Morsi’s doing, but what has he done to fix it? What has the government done? What is the plan to improve this? There is none that we have seen.
Egypt is witnessing the worst of times regarding dignity and the value of an Egyptian. The famous stripped man video sums it up. The organized politically-motivated sexual assault on Egyptian women, deemed the female victim’s fault by the Shura Council Human Rights Committee, is enough to lower your gaze when you speak of Egyptian dignity.
Reports of sexual assault on detained men in prison or detention facilities have also increased. Don’t fall under the false impression that sexual assault happens only to women, men and children face the same fate, especially inside detention cells.
Torture by the police is a regular occurrence. Let’s put it this way: you are more likely to be tortured if you got detained. And you might get detained if some policeman doesn’t like you, you would be taken for protesting if you were walking near a protest. And the government has just decided to give their lower ranked policemen even more arms; pistols they can go home with when off duty.
Children die on their way to school because of bad roads, or train crashes; or when they are ‘shot by mistake’ by a state employee. Almost 100 children are being held in adult detention facilities; so much for human dignity.
In 2011, it was the torture of Khaled Said that pushed people to the streets – today, there is a new Khaled Said almost every day. And you ask us why we continue protesting?
The worker tasked with painting over the graffiti protesters donned on the presidential palace walls said it all in just a few words, while moving his paint-roller over the words “Down with Morsi”:
“There is no hope in the regime; it did nothing…all false promises. People protest because they need to; prices are hiking, education is bad, garbage is piling up on the streets, traffic is still horrible. We elected Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, and they did nothing. People are eating from the trash, workers sit around jobless without a pound in their pockets. Half of those protesting are young men with no hope. He (Morsi) resides in a glass house isolated from us. Their sheikhs are issuing fatwas to kill protesters; do they think we are chickens? This (protests) will continue every day, and no one can help them (the Brotherhood and Morsi); their only way out is honesty.”
This is why we still take to the streets. For honesty.
Rana Allam started as an Egypt politics reporter in Al Ahram Weekly, then moved to e-journalism in 2004 as a Content Manager for several journalism websites such as masrawy.com, arabfinance.com and msnarabia.com. She is currently the managing editor for the Daily News Egypt newspaper (www.dailynewsegypt.com). Follow her on Twitter : @Run_Rana
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