Posted by: Hereandthere40 | January 19, 2011

Egypt: Changing my Muslim Bigotry

This place has a way of getting through to thick skulls, even skulls as thick as my own.  The first half hour cab ride did have me thinking that I was in for a real uninvited adventure, however it did not turn out that way.  I have visited other Arab (Gulf) nations and for the most part have always felt unwanted, or felt an attempt on Arab nationals to make me and my fellow expats feel inferior. (this is generally speaking, and I am not including non gulf Arab speaking nations such as Iraq, some of the most spiritual/giving people I have ever met are Iraqi’s)  This was not the case at all in Egypt either.

Green=Arabic speaking - Blue=Partially Arabic speaking

Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and UAE are oil rich nations that import their labor.  Indians, Pakistanis, and Filipino’s collectively reside in these nations and out number the nationals of these gulf states.  Whether you are at the subway station, shopping mall, supermarket, or construction site, you will RARELY see a gulf state national performing a labor or service industry job.  I promise you this, Dubai would not be what it is today without all of the blood sweat and tears Filipinos and Indians have put into the “Modern Marvel” projects you see on the discovery channel. People in the gulf have been raised to believe that you are either born somebody, or you’re not.  So I often hear people making statements that they are the “third cousin of the crown prince” or sheik etc.  I always want to respond by saying “yeah well I met the guy who invented velcro.” These are the same people that cut in line at the supermarket, or drive their S500 Mercedes on the side walk to get one position ahead of you in a traffic jam.  They do not see themselves as respected, for this they force it, it is quite sad.  In no way would I blame this behavior on the individual.  The Gulf states have been rich from oil revenues for 40 years, and have done nothing to promote individualism.  Only now are they starting to build universities and institutions that will start evolve this form of caste system that exists.

Egypt on the other hand has 83 Million people, it is the most populous Arab speaking nation.  They do not possess nor export oil on a large scale that could benefit such a large population, so the people work to live like the rest of the world.  For this they understand politics, hardships, and compromise.  They do have higher education institutions that are second to none in the Arab speaking region.  Unfortunetly the primary and secondary education systems are not strong enough to get enough Egyptians to this level.

Each and every cab driver, waiter, or bartender I spoke with wanted my opinion on global/political issues.  They too offered theirs.  These are people of 40 plus years old expressing their views, and most importantly their dreams and aspirations to complete strangers.  I regret to say, that I quit talking about my dreams when I was around 25 years old, and I believe most American adults fall into the same category.  Its not that they do not have them, but manifesting them and putting them out there is what motivates yourself and inspires others.  This is something that I hold in high regard for any country, people thinking freely, and critically. Freedom of the press educates the eager minds that weren’t fortunate enough to attend university.  I also found that Egyptians do not hate Americans.  (Although most I spoke with still do not care for Mr. Bush or his father)  They know the American people work hard and are generally good people, this was very refreshing for me to hear.  That is the first time I had felt a consensus like this in the past 8-9 years or so.  This part of the world has started to turn me bitter and into somewhat of a bigot over the past three years.  Seeing the ration-el makes sense, though. Oppression has caused a lot of these views in a lot of the peoples of this region.

While I was in Egypt an attack occurred on a Coptic Christian Church in Alexandria on new years eve.  23 died and 97 were wounded while attending mass and bringing in the new year.  I was in Cairo in my hotel at the time and knew nothing about what had happened.  That morning I woke up and walked down the street from my hotel to grab a coffee, I looked over the front page of a newspaper while waiting to order.  Their was a shot of bloody faces and a seriously damaged Coptic church on the front page.  I cannot read Arabic very well, so naturally I assumed this happened in Iraq.  The Muslim woman working at the coffee shop watched my face as I continued to scan the front page of the paper.  I assumed she was judging whether or not I could read Arabic.  I looked up at her and ordered a coffee to take-away.  She looked at me and smiled, she also said she was sorry and happy new year.  I didn’t understand why she said sorry, but I smiled back anyway and wished her a happy new year.  Once my coffee was ready I walked out of the coffee shop and back to the hotel.

Cairo City Centre Hotel "Shabby but great terrace" 14 and Chambolion

The hotel is on the sixth floor of a shabby building right downtown Cairo.  One very nice aspect of the hotel is that it has a terrific terrace with seats where all guests can commune and enjoy the city scape views.  I sat out on the terrace, and began sipping my coffee.  A few feet away was a British Couple.  The Man appeared upset based on the tone of his voice.  Naturally being nosy, I listened in.  The man was talking to his wife, “those Muthafu$%^s, how could THEY do this on new years eve”  As I listened further I realized that the newspaper heading at the coffee shop was local and occurred right here in Egypt.  The Muslim woman at the cafe was trying to gauge my reaction, she clearly was concerned that Christians and foreigners would judge her and her religion by that atrocity.  Inevitably some will, as the British gentleman sitting next to me.  I know most Americans are better than that, they didn’t hate all rednecks when Mcveigh and Nichols bombed Oklahoma cities Federal Building.  What I do know is that Egypt is 80% Muslim, and 20% Christian.  I also know that Christians and Muslims work together in harmony each day in the workplace.  On the 30th I had my teeth cleaned in Cairo, two dental hygienist cleaned my teeth, one Muslim, one Christian, both female, no problems.  I know this is a small example but this co-existence is everywhere you go in Egypt, if you don’t see it you’re blind.

In short, Egypt seems to me to be the epicenter for free thought in the Muslim world.  Personally interacting with the Egyptians has helped me from stereotyping the Muslim world as a whole.  Before I left for Egypt I told myself, “I better go see the Pyramids because I am NEVER coming back to this part of the world again.”  Egypt has touched me in a way of understanding, and also gives me hope that change will be coming soon to Egypt, and more importantly some of its neighbors.  Of course Egypts government will need to do more to protect the Coptic Christians, they can start by accepting that those responsible may well have been Egyptians rather than blaming this act on foreign terrorists.  Also I believe that the fact that the Egyptians do suffer from hard times and work for a living has fostered their open-minded and peaceful views.  Point blank, these governments/dictators/kings/and sheiks trying to hold onto power are inadvertently creating these extremists, monsters, and the occasional harmless idiot by not letting the truth be heard.  Additionally, I believe there is a lot of hope for reform in the Arab speaking nations.  Tunisia’s president was forced to leave his country last week due to uprisings and protests from the youth, if this spreads to the gulf states we may see regime changes, less suppression, more education, and free press. Which hopefully equals less suicide bombers, less hate crimes, and less human rights violations of Ethnic Arabs, Kurds, and many others struggling in the region.

Lucas Rokosz

I apologize that this is not a travel blog.  The past three years in the middle east has changed me and my views of a whole group of people in a negative way.  This short trip to Egypt has yet changed me again and shed some much needed light on me.  For this I felt it was more important for to me to record these thoughts at the very least for my own remembrance.

 


Responses

  1. Well done Luke….Much food for thought…The woman in the coffee shop intrigues me.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Lucas. It often only takes a few individual personal connections to change one’s bigotry against an entire population. I can tell that you have grown and learned so much over there. I can’t wait to see you and to hear all about it. Love you!


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