I had been to Egypt a few times before this winter’s trip. I don’t remember anything very special about my other visits. Yes, I trekked to the pyramids, strolled beside the Nile, and mingled among the people. However, I departed without experiencing any particular emotions. But this time proved very different. Everything changed. First of all, I felt this sudden bond with these brave people who had struggled for freedom and had successfully ousted the dictator who had ruled them for 30 years.
I could hardly wait to see Tahrir Square (Freedom Square). I marveled how the police, after the revolution, had blocked several parts around the Square to prevent mass demonstrations. I thought this very ironic. How much blood had been shed, I wondered, to prevent the blockade of freedom marches and public protests? And yet, a year after Mubarak was toppled, nothing much has changed. There were still some tents pitched on the square, but not many other signs of the massive protests were visible.
This time the Nile seemed more beautiful, more vibrant than I had remembered it. Perhaps now I could better appreciate all the history that had passed along this ancient river. Though the river was more vibrant, the Revolution had taken its toll on merchants and the tourist trade. It appeared that people were in some kind of limbo, that they were neither here nor there.
I took a picture of some graffiti written on one of the walls across from the American University of Cairo. What most impressed me was the statement, “You can kill me, but you cannot kill my voice.” I wonder what had happened to the author of this stunning statement. I admire freedom fighters. It is the freedom fighters who took part in the American Revolution and won. I believe that there is nothing more precious than liberty. I toured the Square. People bustled back and forth paying little heed to anything except getting on to their destinations. Sometimes at night, throughout Cairo, some young people would call their fellow countrymen to support a continued resistance. But those who gathered round them were not the crowds of the Revolution. Had people lost faith in their struggle?
I took a train ride from Cairo to Alexandria. The view was stunning. All along the way, farmers were working and planting. The fields grew green with vegetables and fruits. Children played along the canals. There, in the countryside, it seemed as if life had not changed much for centuries. In Alex, as in Cairo, I spoke to some of the people and asked them how their lives had changed since the Revolution. I didn’t expect to hear them remark that nothing much had changed at all, except that now times were harder than before. Egyptians just seemed to be waiting for a post-revolutionary era when people would enjoy better lives and the tourist trade would boom once again.
Looking back at the marvelous days I spent in Egypt, I feel a kind of sadness. What was the use of all the bloodshed I wonder. So many people died, many more were injured. The brave people rose up against impossible odds and revolted against their oppressors. Yes, Hosni Mubarak is no longer in power. But I’m afraid that the army now is very much in charge and perhaps tyranny has merely exchanged hands. I remember too how polite the Egyptian people were. When I waited at the airport to board the plane, all the seats were full. One young man jumped up and offered me his place. On the plane, I was so lost in thought that I forgot to put my computer bag in the overhead compartment. The same young man walked over to me, picked up my bag, and gently secured it above where I was sitting. When the plane landed, he came and took out my bag and handed it over to me. It reminded me of the great service at the hotels in Cairo and Alex where I stayed and the little quaint cafes where waiters were willing to do anything to please their customers.
I pray that life will improve for all the Egyptians and that corruption will become a distant memory. I hope that business will be better than before and the tourist trade once more will bring back those eager to see a part of Egypt’s past and Egypt’s present. I wish that Egyptians will be able to take part in the decisions that their government makes and that each citizen will prosper. I pray that when I return the next time, I will see happiness on the faces of a people who have been oppressed for far too long.