The Country of My Birth
I don’t have many recollections of Egypt, except foggy images of lights pawing at my eyes and pushing me awake the night my grandmother died just before my fourth birthday. Some fragrances, even now, of flowers or exotic spices, sometimes remind me of the country of my birth. Beans and other dishes my mother used to make prompt a memory of an experience I’m sure I had, but when I reach for it, it turns to mist. I recall noises, a man shouting in the street below our balcony selling his wares. I can’t remember his eyes, just his voice. He spoke a language I once understood and still catch the odd sound on my lips or in my throat. From the time I was six I was raised in Canada. I shouldn’t recall Arabic words, but I do. It’s interesting what my memory hoards.
My father on the other hand was raised in Egypt. He speaks Arabic fluently, along with his native Greek, and several other languages. He talks about Egypt with affection and a longing that is difficult to comprehend particularly given the problems that led him to uproot his family so many years ago, and the troubles that face the country now. My dad still wonders if he should have remained in Egypt, allowed himself and his family to stay put.
When the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak fell to the protesters in the streets, my dad said that the Egyptian army had always controlled the government. Mubarak was their front man. And that front man had become a liability because of the persistent protests associated with the Arab spring. My dad thought the army would remove Mubarak and felt that the person who replaced Mubarak would be hand picked by the army, no matter what was happening or being said on the surface.
Egypt held an election. And freely elected the Muslim Brotherhood. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the Muslim Brotherhood. Their stand on Israel, women and other cultural groups like the Coptics incite violence and superiority rather than understanding and equality. But, it’s no longer my country and my thoughts don’t really matter. From all appearances the Brotherhood was elected fairly.
Now a year has passed and the public is no longer happy with Mohamed Morsi and the Brotherhood. Okay, I get that. It’s not that we’re ecstatic with our own government, a group who themselves have seen their popularity plummet sharply (a recently release Nanos poll found that 51.5 per cent of Canadians would not consider voting for the Conservatives). But I don’t see people in the streets protesting to kick these guys out of office nor do I see our military coming in to take control. That’s just not how it’s done in democracies.
“You see,” my dad says as he watches the daily protests, “things haven’t changed in Egypt and they won’t for a long time.” I have to give my dad his due. When he’s right, he’s right.
Worse still, it now appears that the Egyptian military’s actions smack of military rule. And that’s never a good sign for democracy. See CBC article about the dangerous precedent of military rule.
Sometimes I wonder if the method of public protests in Egypt and Turkey and other places in the world is the way it should be done.
I don’t know. At times I wish I too could take to the streets, but I know my real power and voice lies at the ballot box. Voting, and writing letters to my MLA, the Prime Minister and anyone else who will listen is how I exercise democracy.
I was raised in this country of order and safety, in the certainty that our institutions work for us, not against us. And I believe that (even with the current government). When I see the anger in the Egyptians, I know they don’t have the same faith in their institutions.
My memories of Egypt are at best distant. I care deeply for the country of my birth, but watch from afar unable to find a way back.
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