May 19, 2013
Dispatches From Cairo: Egypt’s War on NGOs
Posted on Dec 30, 2011
In fact, in Egypt there is a lack of accurate information in almost every aspect of society—current events, public understanding of laws, punctuality, the work of researchers and experts, knowledge of government and security operations. The effect is an acceptance of inexactitude that permeates the culture and allows the people to tolerate an ever-changing kaleidoscope of “truth” and vastly inconsistent facts and figures manipulated in glaringly blatant ways. The lack of basic information has been an obvious barrier to cohesive partisan choices based on facts and has deeply complicated the transition to an effective democratic process.
While the generals pretend to be reluctant rulers, the power remains in the hands of the military, which by design fosters confusion and fear that thwart the shift to a new system of government. A good example of the obfuscation is the current, almost undecipherable electoral procedure—a referendum, two elections of three rounds each for a legislature, another referendum on a constitution, and then a presidential election. Domination of the elections by conservative forces such as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis is no surprise; they offer a mirage of stability. The people know the Quran and Shariah. Allah is great. God save us.
On Friday, those supporting the ruling generals finally had their own demonstration square, and dueling protests took place in central Cairo, thankfully a few miles apart.
In the Abbasiya district, some hundreds of pro-military demonstrators accused foreign journalists of manipulating reports of military abuse and charged U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with interfering in Egypt. One sign bearing a picture of Clinton said, “Hilary stay out of Egypt’s business and better watch your husband’s wandering eye.”
The protest against the generals occurred in Tahrir Square, where the demonstrators held up pictures of “bluebrawoman” and other images. It was the largest protest since February, estimated by some at more than 100,000. The crowd was peaceful and actually euphoric, as in some earlier moments of the revolution, with women being protected symbolically. Revolutionary pride was regained for the day.
On Wednesday, I walked across the metro tracks en route to my home, going over the covered bridge, happy to discover that it was newly endowed with light. I held up my scarf to cover my face, to keep from attracting male attention and also to protect against a strong wind carrying dirt from the deep drifts of garbage along the inside of the bridge; skinny cats caroused nearby. I bought some taffies at the candy shop at the bottom before climbing the 100 steps to go over the bridge.
In the new orange light (such a relief from the previous darkness), I saw the small, curled body of a boy lying in a pile of garbage, barefoot and filthy with his arms around a large plastic soccer ball. I stopped to see if he was dead or alive. He seemed alive by the way his arms held his ball. People passed and looked at me hesitating there. I shot them a questioning, worried look: Is this child OK? Do we just assume he’s sleeping and has parents nearby? But they avoided looking at him, and their disdainful glances made it clear that they thought I should too.
I decided the boy was all right, just taking a nap. I shifted my eyes toward the bottom of the steps on my side, seeking the usual beggars. Perhaps he was with one of them. I saw four or five beggars in their usual spots, unmoved to clear the rubbish around them. Plastic bags and sandy dirt flew through the air.
I looked back at the boy. I wouldn’t wake him. A dozen possible stories entered my mind. He had fought with his parents, he’s sleeping here awhile and he’ll go back to them.
I left my bag of taffy. He didn’t move. I was going to say something to the beggar woman I see everyday on the bottom of the steps, but the couple who passed me on the bridge looked at me again as if I was impolite to be concerned.
No statistics here.
There had been several kids like the boy in Tahrir, running around with purpose, bringing water, food, doing errands, finding a welcome and a sense of belonging—there among the legs of an Egyptian revolution that will become their world.
Now, what NGO will help the boy I saw that night?
As I count the casualties of 2011 in this fading year of cataclysmic shift, I have been thinking of that child. I even dreamed about him and the ball—he was laughing.
He was gone from the spot the next day, the day NGOs went down.
Happy New Year, Egypt. Koll sana wenta tayeb. May the next year be good to you. Insha allah.
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