The television news yesterday showed the sons of Egypt’s ex-president Mubarak being taken to Toura prison in south east Cairo. The prison is adjacent to a large cement factory that sends clouds of dust pollution into it vicinity but it is not far from the outskirts of the affluent suburb of Maadi where I had lived for many years. I soon found myself reflecting on the changes that the last few months have brought to Egypt.
Mrs. Suzan Mubarak was a frequent visitor to Maadi’s library and orphanage as she was a patron of both and as a resident of Maadi I regularly saw the preparations for her regular visits. Each visit was heralded by the arrival of large numbers of municipalian trucks carrying potted plants and flowers that were used to line the streets. Maadi is a very green area but nevertheless the plants were brought in to add more colour and a few minutes after Mrs Mubarak’s car had driven away the trucks followed her entourage, stopping en route to collect the plants from the streets and leaving Maadi to go back to normality.
When Mubarak travelled to his home, to the airport to receive dignitaries or for any reason at all the streets were lined on each side by thousands of armed policemen who stood 2-3m apart with their backs to the road while marksmen could be seen on the rooftops of high rise buildings, all to ensure his safety. My office in FAO was situated in Dokki where some of the ministerial buildings where and the movement of ministers with their escorts etc regularly aggravated the already chaotic Cairo traffic. It was also impossible to walk along the pavements in front of the buildings of the ruling party. Now I understand that over 300 of these buildings have been burnt out.
Throughout their history the Egyptians maintained a respect for authority, indeed it was not uncommon to hear someone call a policeman ‘Pasha’, and we are now seeing TV images of those who were recently in authority wearing the white dress of prisoners. How times have changed.
I have been told that crime in Egypt has increased in the last two months and that life is somewhat chaotic there. I was in Egypt a week before the revolution started and during the frequent taxi journeys I took I talked to the drivers and listened to what they had to say about the changes that had taken place in the last year or so, taxi drivers are the most accurate source of information’s all through the third world. They talked about many things but their greatest concern was the rising costs of food. By the end of last year the cost of a kilo of tomatoes (Oota) reached 10- 15EGP and I could recall when the price had been a half to one of an Egyptian pound, two three years ago. A kilo of meat cost 80EGP on average yet it had once been, few years, possible to buy top quality meat in the supermarkets of Maadi for 12-20 EGP a kilo.
The average wage of a policeman is under 200 EGP, not the 500EGP that some say that it is the official minimum wages, and the black uniformed central security policeman is paid 100-200 EGP a month plus a daily ration of 2-3 pieces of bread made from coarse flour, one or two spring onions and, if he is lucky, some Tameih of Fool. How can a man be expected to feed himself and a family on such a salary?
While the situation that has led to revolt in Libya is very different, rising food prices, inter alia, were major contributing factors to the revolution and the overthrow of Mubarak, but we shall have to wait and see if food prices or other matters now improve. However it is already certain that this year will see a huge investigation, involving many cases, into corruption involving agricultural land.
The Egyptians are a very friendly people, with great scense of humour, who have been the victims of their rulers and we can but wish Egypt and her people all the best for their future.