I have spent the past 5 days in a quiet, peaceful corner of Egypt, where the only real signs that a revolution has occurred is the fact that is very little money left in any of the cash machines. It seems the country pretty much ground to a halt over the past three weeks, and now the army and the people are working very hard to get things (including the bank clearing system) moving again. So much so that when my iphone finally started working yesterday my first text message was from the armed forces, telling me and everyone else on the network to ‘go back to work’. It was in arabic, and the man who translated it was kind enough to reassure me that this particular instruction did not apply to me.
One of the other quirks of arriving in Egypt the day that Mubarak finally stepped down is that I have fast developed a reputation for being pretty much one of the only English tourists in the Red Sea town of Dahab. Every other country in the world stopped flying here as soon as the protests started – easyjet seem to be the only airline not to have halted their flight schedule. This means of course that everyone in town seems to know my name and is keen to sit me down and share their views over several cups of Bedouin tea. Everyone is talking about the revolution, keenly aware it seems that the eyes of the world are on them.
“People need freedom,” one man just told me as we sat in his coffee shop watching protests erupting in Libya, Bahrain and Algeria on an old 24inch tv. “And now, we know we can have it. We didn’t know this before. Now, we know. And they know.”
Although, while most seem happy, the overall level of jubilation has been more under-stated than I expected. This, it seems, is not a part of the world where it pays to be overly confident about what the future might hold. For the most part however, people seem happy that Mubarak has gone, and happier still that it was the people that forced him to leave. On my first day here, I met a man called Aimon who, typically, owns an Egyptian rug shop. He was the first to tell me that Mubarak had left and when I asked him if he was happy his response was positive but measured; “it is a good thing he is gone, yes. It was very bad for the country – you cannot make money unless you know someone in government. Now, maybe, it will be better.” Aimon used to be a teacher in Suez, but because he could only earn 1200 Egyptian Pounds (around 130 GBP) a month he decided he could improve his prospects by moving to the Red Sea, opening a shop and capitalising on the ever growing tourism industry. His family, including his wife and four children, are still in Suez. He has worked here in Dahab – about a 5 hour drive away – for 11 years. “If I knew a government person, I could earn much more. Maybe now things will change. We need teachers, so it is important they can live on what they earn.”
Among the younger Egyptians, rumours of their bright new futures abound. “Now Mubarak is gone everyone will get 50 dollars a day from the Suez Canal! Before, Mubarak take it all. Now, it will be given to the people.” When we questioned them on where they had heard this news, they simply said “everyone is saying this”.
Others however are more concerned. I talked at length with a guy called Zavvi – a friend of a friend – who was asking the same question I was asking – what next? He is heading to Berlin to study for degree in electronics in March having served in the army for two years. He met Mubarak on two occasions and when he heard the news of his leader’s departure, he cried. “Yes, he should go, but why now? He said he will go in 6 months, why can’t we trust him to do this? Now we have no leader, and many people want power. It is dangerous for us, for the country. But the young people can’t see the consequences – they are not educated and they just want action now. But Egypt is too important for there to be uncertainty.”
Much like everyone else here though, Zavvi has absolute faith and trust in the army. “They are for the people. They are educated and they want the best for this country – I think we will be safe with them for a while. But they have many jobs to do; they can’t run the country forever.” Furthermore, everyone is incredibly proud of the way the people have conducted themselves in the global media spotlight. “Now, everyone knows about Egypt because of the the strength of the people, not just the pyramids,” everyone is saying.
Maybe it is easier for people to rest easily in this beautiful place. Hours away from any of the major protests, Dahab has been relatively untouched by the chaos and while the reduction in tourists is proving difficult, everyone is confident that in a few weeks the industry will be back in full flow. From what I’ve seen, it’s the people arriving here from Cairo who have be most affected. Ben, a British journalist, arrived here yesterday, delighted to be somewhere where he was going to be kept awake at night not by gunshots but by the sounds of the crashing waves. He said Cairo felt like a warzone these past three weeks, and that many people have been killed. Foreigners were targeted and quickly fled. He thinks it’s starting to settle down, but I couldn’t help but think that it’s not often you see a journalist look so nervous. It was a reminder that while Dahab remained peaceful, other parts of Egypt have had to suffer to achieve this revolution, and for some it will take a long time to recover from the experience.
Picture Credit: Denis Boquet on Flickr