Thirteen years ago, I married a tall, handsome, shambling, funny, religious Egyptian man. Since then, this ancient land of pharaohs and pyramids has never been far from my thoughts. I’ve visited the country twice. Most of my husband’s family still lives there. We are far away from the turmoil here in the United States, but we’re only one Skype call away from his brother, his cousins, his uncles and aunts, his nieces and nephews. So many of them have been struggling just to survive, pinching piasters in order to buy their daily bread. Their stories of corruption in business dealings, their frustration at the inability of the government to efficiently deal with everyday issues such as making sure the lights go on and the water comes out of the tap, their fear that prices will keep on rising, are all common themes.
I saw it firsthand when I was there, most recently about eight years ago, well before the Arab Spring began to make inroads on the Mubarak regime. I saw the palms out waiting to be greased, starting at the airport, out in the parking lot, in the shops, in government offices, and anywhere one person had to come into contact with another person for business or personal needs. It disgusted me and made my husband despair of ever being able to move back to Egypt. He had grown accustomed to the easy routine in the US. You call the cable guy, sure he makes you wait for four hours, but he doesn’t demand you slip $20 into his hand before he’ll cross your threshold to hook up your set. You tell the electric company to start your account on the first of August and you’re not sitting in the dark sweating in mid-September. By and large, the pervasive corruption I saw in Egypt is largely absent here in the U.S. So when the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi was announced as the next president of Egypt about an hour ago, I was happy. I even shed a few tears. I allowed myself to hope.
I know that things won’t suddenly improve and angels will not descend on clouds while singing praises to Allah. I know that even now in Tahrir Square some pigs masquerading as men are playing grabass with women who allowed themselves to forget what happened last time they went to Tahrir without a phalanx of guardians. I know that the army is still going to try to control things and pull the teeth of the Brotherhood and I know that the young educated unemployed nearly homeless not-able-to-afford-to-marry men and women will not be granted jobs and apartments with cute little balconies from which to hang their frilly garments. I know there will still be manufactured hostile encounters between Muslims and Christians. I know the patronage system will remain alive and well and that the poorest of the poor will still be living in the cemeteries and digging in the trash heaps. I know that. I know that for millions, life will get only marginally better or no better at all. But still I hope.
I hope that the food prices will stabilize so that poor family can buy bread. I hope that a woman who wears hijab can get a job as a police officer and a woman who does not wear hijab is not molested because men tag her as a “whore”. I hope that some of the college graduates can get jobs and apartments and marry before their sexual frustration makes them go cuckoo. I hope that the corrupt business model breaks down and that people who want to start a business don’t have to pay baksheesh (bribes) to everyone from the local gendarme to the tax office to the neighborhood drug dealer to save their windows from being smashed in. I hope that no one will be arrested because his beard is too long, or because he stood next to the wrong person at the Friday prayer, or he prayed at the wrong mosque, or visited the wrong website while at the internet cafe. I hope, I pray, that there will be improvements in Egypt. I hope, I pray, there will be mercy in Egypt. I hope, I pray, there will be true Islam in Egypt. And the West, who is so terrified of an “Islamist’ being elected as president, had better pray the same thing. Because if there is true Islam in Egypt it will serve as a beacon to the rest of the world. But if the Muslim Brotherhood just tries to slap a coat of Islamic paint over the current corrupt oppressive infrastructure, they are doomed to fail.
So I hope, and I cheer with the men and women in Tahrir Square, and I understand the deep sigh of my husband as he steps away from the TV to go about his daily routine, and I understand that this world is a test and things will only get more challenging as we stumble our way towards the Day of Judgment, and I know that it’s not going to be an easy road, but I also know that the next time my husband needs to travel to Egypt, his father won’t have to beg him to shave his beard. And that’s a start.