General thoughts on Egypt
Trip Start May 05, 2008
97Trip End May 09, 2009
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Egypt is a country of contrasts and one where hope is unfortunately not a hot commodity. On the one hand, Egyptians are very proud to be Egyptian: their immense history, the wonderful monuments, the strong and vibrant culture... On the other hand, Egypt's current state is that of a country on the brink of a crisis. Egypt's economy and livelihood depends on four pillars: the Nile and the environment, the Suez Canal, oil and tourism.
Most Egyptians live on the banks of the Nile, in rural areas and depend on agriculture. Since the 1960s, the population has boomed and almost every available parcel of land is cultivated. Unfortunately, somewhat poor infrastructure combined with a general disinterest and lack of understanding about people's effect on the environment has meant that the country is very polluted. Garbage lines every street and every irrigation canal and the situation is just getting worse. The peasants can already barely make ends meet and the population is still growing. Food is thus becoming more and more expensive and the government has to subsidize it, along with many consumer goods. Many people thus move to the city and become part of the working poor.
The Suez Canal and the oil industry, though veritable gold mines, don't create many jobs; the economic surplus which they bring is being diverted instead by the government in subsidies and in lots of bullsh*t jobs in the tourism industry. We say bullsh*t, because we saw so many people loafing around in tourism jobs: like five people in uniform around an unplugged metal detector, talking and smoking, and waving everyone through. All these jobs are a drain on the country, but the government keeps them because unemployment is high. From discussions with Egyptians, it seems that every other industry is expanding very slowly if at all. The baksheesh (tipping for every conceivable service) culture bogs every enterprise down and one is hired on the basis of connections and not on merit. Thus, even though labour is cheap, the country does not present an attractive investment opportunity to foreigners, which adds to the vicious circle. There's a general state of apathy around: we saw so many men in the prime of their life just sitting around in the streets sipping tea and smoking sheesha, when they could be out doing something else. Even most of those who work, don't seem to be doing with determination or joy, but simply with a quiet desperation to get money for the short run and with as little effort as possible.
Of course, this sounds harsh and most Egyptians wouldn't accept this characterization, blaming instead the government, which is supposed to wave a magic wand and create jobs for all the unemployed. Many Egyptians told us how lucky we are to have good governments in the west. We suspect that the bad government here is no coincidence: in fact it is hard to see what a liberal democracy would do here if it were inaugurated tomorrow. Indeed, the government does seem rather heavy-handed and at times Egypt feels like a police state, but we feel that this is only a part of the problem. Many Egyptians seem to be turning towards Islam as a solution and while from our experience, strong believers in Islam seem indeed to be more honest and determined, an Islamic republic could not turn this disastrous state of affairs around any time soon. Still, this also explains why so many of the Islamic terrorists everyone talks about, come from Egypt.So what does all this mean for Egypt? Hard to say, but we'll be glad not to be around in the next few years when the proverbial waste hits the fan. Then again, it is said that Egypt is the lynchpin of the Middle-East, so this could affect us in ways we can't even begin to foresee...