The stirring, iconic scenes of courage and national unity, sacrifice and magnanimity, have long since faded, like a discarded bouquet of lotus and jasmine.If you want signs of hope, you may have to look elsewhere:
They have been replaced with endless strikes; attacks on churches; countless, sometimes bloody, demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square; growing radical Islamist (Salafi) control of Sinai; cross-border attacks on Israel (and Israel’s inevitable response); and, finally, the sacking of a sovereign embassy with the ruling military’s apparent complicity. For the first time in Egypt’s five thousand years of Pharaonic-style rule, the people have put the top man on trial, but the exercise somehow seems cheap and tawdry.
Meanwhile, tourism has all but died and investment has retreated as chaos reigns and foreign currency reserves shrink to a memory. There is even talk of imminent mass famine, as Egypt can no longer afford to import staple foods and can’t even effectively get subsidized bread to those who actually need it. By almost any measure, things looked better for most people under the reviled ancien regime. While violent crime (bag-snatchings, burglaries, petty thefts, domestic murders, kidnappings, and muggings) were on the rise in Mubarak’s last years, they have surged since his fall. One novelty of the new Egypt is an epidemic of attacks on police stations in which guns are stolen and people often killed. That simply did not happen under Mubarak.
Add the siege and destruction of state security headquarters around the country since Mubarak resigned in February and the growing boom in baltagiya (gang thuggery), and it all reinforces the impression that Egypt really is a country where mobs and criminals roam at will. That is true even if many places still seem more or less as safe as before. The reality hardly reaches the international media, whose representatives savor the still-thriving local bar scene. Yet even alcohol and Western beachwear may soon be banned if the Muslim Brotherhood, that they were praising only yesterday, and more openly radical Salafis, get their way.
The decline in tourism — down more than one third the second quarter of this year from the same period in 2010 — has been catastrophic. There has also been a total halt to building starts, at least in that sector. And there will likely be an Islamist plurality, if not majority, when elections are held. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has said it will permit no international monitors to ensure their transparency. Political parties are able to form more freely and media are less restricted than before, but bloggers and television have both seen crackdowns, and book censorship continues. The hated emergency law, in force almost continuously since 1967, has just been renewed for another six months. And twelve thousand citizens have been held for military trials since February — more than during the whole three decades of Mubarak’s arguably milder tyranny.Not as far as any of us can tell.
Of course, things could turn around; the Islamists, radical nationalists, and criminals could be defeated; an honest police force could be created and put on the streets; and democracy could bloom on the banks of the Nile. But is any of that really happening now?
I love Egyptian history and culture. I hope it can avoid the Hell that it is becoming.