Posted @ 10:15:36 on 04 February 2011
It is a strange thing living under a dictator... This week the news in Egypt has obviously been foremost in our lives. Each day as soon as one of us gets home, the news goes on, or the internet goes on (for the arabic speaking news) and it has made my week feel desperately sad, overall. I have been really busy on a course this week, and doing the usual routine of rushing to lectures, etc as well, and the one thing that has overwhelmed me is how this news mostly doesn't really affect most people, so they go about their lives as if everything is normal, and for most people, everything is normal. This is not a criticism, as it is natural and just a part of human nature, and it is a real luxury that we can do this. During the day I have half my attention on wondering what has been happening since my last news fix this morning, and the papers are frustrating as they aren't really up to date by the time we get them in our hand. Each date we watch the protests, proud of the anti-government protesters and their bravery in standing up for their rights, and disgusted by the pro-government thugs that this dispicable man sent in to beat, and kick and throw petrol bombs at his opponents. The closest thing I can equate it to is that when my Mum died, I went around feeling surprised that the world was still turning, and people hadn't stopped their lives. When something so catastrophic happens in your own life it is hard to remember that not everyone feels the same. I know it is not my country, but by marriage it is. I exist in this strange halfway place - not fully connected, but not disconnected either. And I know the places they talk about on the news, which feels weird, as I keep thinking how different it all looked last time I was there. This week I have been weedling more and more information out of E, as he doesn't really talk all that much about it all. He loves his country, and we still hope to live there one day, if it is at all possible to do it, and hopefully the changes that have to come will make that a much easier prospect. I remember when E first arrived here and I asked him about Mubarak and how he had been in power for thirty years without interuption, it hadn't automatically occurred to E that this was a dictatorship. Elections were held at regular intervals, and generally people didn't really ask questions all that much, and if they did ask questions, they had to be very careful who they asked, as you could get arrested. When E said to me last week not to post any criticism about mubarak on my facebook update, this was because if we were in Egypt, I could be arrested for that. The police regularly beat and torture people for no good reason. They have lived in a state of military emergency rule for 30 years. After a while it all becomes background noise. I remembered asking him about Mubarak when I was in Egypt the first time, and he gave me a very brief answer and then changed the subject. This is because as a tour guide you are not allowed to discuss politics or religion, or you will lose your license. No wonder then that your average tourist will come back from Egypt and say how lovely it was, and while they might notice the very heavy presence of police and army, they wouldn't necessarily realise what that means. (I certainly didn't at first) When we were over there, I hadn't twigged why (for instance) we had to carry our marriage certificate everywhere just to prove why I (and englishwoman) was alone with him (an egyptian man) because they assumed one or both of us was up to no good. That you have to take ID papers with you everywhere you go for when you are stopped by the police and questioned about what you are doing (even just going to the shops for provisions) A few months ago, E told me that the government was trying to take his family's land away from them, the land where they grow their food and run their farm (because earning enough money to feed your family is really hard). This has been a regular practice apparently, and while his uncles were trying to find a way of fighting this in court, I thought no more of it, as I assumed that anything involving courts and government forces would take several months to sort out. I didn't hear any more, until this morning when I casually mentioned that I wondered if they would get the land back if Mubarak steps down. His response was to shrug his shoulders and tell me it had already become a new road. You can't plant corn or graze your animals on tarmac. People in Luxor have been turfed out of their houses over the last few years to make way for new roads, and new facilities for the tourist industry. Their next plan is to demolish all local homes built close to hotels, to clean it up, and make it more shiny for the tourists, which would mean the family home too is at risk, as it is near one of the largest hotels in Luxor. But when whole families are turned out of their houses (and by families I mean parents, children, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, not just parents and 2.4 children) they don't receive compensation enough to replace them, and so they are dumped in the street. The government takes their homes so they have no where to live, and takes their land so they have nowhere to grow food. And as reported on the news last night, it is not uncommon for people having to survive on £2 per day. However much we complain about old Bum Face and Cleggy, they don't come anywhere close to this, and yet standing up to this kind of bullying, ignorance on the part of politicians all over the world is just so vital, whether we live in a "democracy" or not. When I asked E why he hadn't told me that a road had been planted in the middle of his family's fields, he said "because it is a shame on my family". I find this so heartbreaking. It seems like living under a dictator is like living with an abusive parent or spouse, who makes you feel it is all your fault that they have beaten and abused you and made you feel dirty, while they just act as if they are the injured party when you criticise them or fight back Inside I am crying that the world is just so unfair.