Thursday, June 21, 2012

The start of a challenging journey... ?


According to many of my friends and colleagues here in Egypt, it is a critical day today as today there will be the official results of the elections announced. And they tell me, actually some warn me, that there is a very high chance for significant disturbances. That there will be new demonstrations on Tahrir square today, protest marches and even violence in the streets.
Some have given me the advice to bring my travel stuff to the office, such that I can go straight to the airport if need be.

I find this sort of hard to believe as I really have a hard time imagining the Egyptian people to be violent and rioterish. Of course there are some individuals who are just that, but I feel the masses are these friendly, helpful, not aggressive at all kind people.

We'll see today and for what it's wort, I wish my friends, colleagues and the rest of Egypt that today is the true start of their journey towards a better future, however that needs to be implemented.


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Yes! a new president... almost.


Traffic is pretty bad today, so I have some time to create another blog post.

Last weekend we had the second round of the presidential elections. Only two candidates left out of the 13 or so that were in the 1st round.
Basically what they did was that they created a short-list, numbers 1 and 2 of the first round and now the Egyptian people could vote on either one of them.

There's a lot to do about these elections. All kinds of theories that the 1st round was rigged. That the army had manipulated the proceedings such that their candidate would be in the final round. I don't want to speculate whether this is correct or not.
Meanwhile the parliament has been dissolved as they've been established in an unconstitutional manner and the constitution also has been determined to be unconstitutional. So now there's a new president but no parliament nor a constitution. How weird is that? In my humble opinion, this renders the president more or less powerless. But chances are I am wrong.

I think that there's another aspect to all of this. This is that I'm not really convinced that what Egypt needs right now is a democracy.
If you look at what is wrong in this country, from a very limited view from an expat, is a lack of education and proper schools. Healthcare is pretty bad, as is social security and general welfare. I would argue that Egypt needs this to be fixed more than becoming a democracy. Anyway, democracy is largely overrated anyway. Look at the mess in Europe. Belgium still has no proper government, the Dutch government had to step down, Greece is going to the voting docks on regular basis. Furthermore, democracy and swift action don't seem to go side-by-side. The problem with democracy is that it rules a country by consensus, which rules out fast decisions.
Typically I'm wrong when it comes to politics and macro economics, but I think I'm pretty close to being right when I say that when 60% of a country's population is living below the poverty line, that's not a good thing and needs to be addressed. And when 40+% of the population is illiterate, that's bad as well and needs to be addressed.
Was Egypt better of with the old regime? Definitely not, it was 30 years in power and Egypt is in its current state because or despite of the Mubarak regime. I would say that Egypt needs a benevolent ruler that has all the best for his or her people.

But benevolent rulers are hard to find.

There's another important aspect that makes me believe that Egypt is not ready for democracy just yet. It's the fact that its culture is very hierarchical. I can see it everywhere. Managers refer to their team members as subordinates, hierarchical status in organizations is key for most people I've met. I see it around me a lot. People higher up in the hierarchy are not open to discuss matters with 'lower' people. The culture here in Egypt as I experience it is very totalitarian. People are not used to question their managers or even themselves. Orders are followed blindly it seems at times, which I believe has to do with that when you're not doing as told you're punished, even though your way of doing it is more beneficial. Coming from Holland, where consensus is key, everybody seems to have the right to veto and the first thing you do when given an assignment is to question its validity this seems very unnatural and illogical. I don't agree with the Dutch stance either, there needs to be a boss, but it does motivate people to think along and the enterprise benefits from this greatly as it leverages the collective mind of its employees.
But I'm digressing, in a democracy, you need people that think for themselves, that show initiative and that are part of an environment where this is allowed, even promoted. This takes time and it takes educated people.

Anyway, I truly wish that Egypt will become a better place for its people. Very rarely I've come across a people that across the board are so nice and friendly. And I think it is a shame that the masses have been treated to badly over the years, unnecessarily so. The country is not a poor country, it has so much to offer to all. And if not anything else, the revolution has opened the door to the opportunity to change all of this. For all Egyptians, and I hope that the next government doesn't succumb to the temptations of power and money.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

What strikes me still


What still strikes me as out of this world is how culture, tradition, religion and the western world come together here in Egypt.

Just now I was passing the Starbucks in Maadi and while waiting for traffic, a lady in a BURKA, completely covered, walks out of the Starbucks zipping her Cafe Latte, Cappuccino or whatever she ordered. Elegantly lifting her face covering veil.

Egypt is fairly liberal when it comes to religion and the Islam in particular. Compared to the rest of the region that is. So you don't see women in BURKA that often. Althpugh you still see them regularly.

Women with their heads covered by a veil are very common though, and it is always funny to see them use that very same veil to hold their mobile phone, sort of a Blue Toothless handsfree set. Granted, I've seen this in the Netherlands as well, but it stays funny.

Some time ago I was on a tour in one of the older parts in Cairo, visiting a few of the Coptic churches. A very worthwhile experience. While stroling around I saw this Coptic priest, all in black, long beard. Talking into his iPhone 4.

The interesting part of all this is that in the western world, typically, in my experience we're no longer that traditional. We're moving with the waves of fashion, technology and change accordingly. We don't adopt new things that much while holding on to what we value from the past, instead we evolve into the new, whereas here in Egypt, I see this strong hold of the past on the population. The new is meshed with the old, but the old prevails in many if not most cases. Which one is the better I can't say, whatever makes people happy I'd say. But it does make for an interesting experience and of course another blog post.