Sha’abi to Chique… A Reflection on #Jan25 and the Realities of Modern Egypt
On my first trip to Cairo, I never imagined the lifestyle and landscape I would soon be entering upon… I imagined a place with dirt roads and donkeys, abayas and gellabayas as Egyptians say. I imagined the sha’abi Egypt, where Arabs acted like Arabs! Is that too much to ask for? And when I arrived, what I got was America. An Arab version yes. But I cannot tell you how bizarre it is to experience this global phenomenon of American cultural and economic imperialism for the first time ever.
Sure, I had heard of the IMF and the World Bank, but I had never experienced its effects first hand and seen how truly immense its impacts had been on Cairo. You cannot realize the true nature of post-colonial legacies, corruption and class segregation until you experience it yourself. I entered a world where Coca Cola is Nancy Agram’s favorite drink… and the youthful thinkers and academics of the day grab a nonfat latte from their local Starbucks and finish off their day with a number 5 from Hardees.
It seemed too much to be true, and I found myself wondering how the “normal” Egyptians lived. Was this the new normal? Really, how did it even become like this in the first place? Where were the everyday Egyptians that made their living selling fuul on the streets or working in a factory? Where did the taxi driver sleep at night? And wondering all this as I sipped my lemon juice at a Nilefront café… What more is all this than an exhibit designed to capture the souls of the consumer, it’s captured mine. Where does the exhibit end and reality begin…? It’s all too good to be true. On January 25th 2011, the exhibit that became reality was shattered and its true self was exposed. So here’s to the Egyptians that would not buy it, with neither their hearts, minds or ginays. Here’s to the myth that satisfaction exists with the purchase of a new pair of jeans or in a double tall caramel espresso. To those that said no thanks to the falsities of the dunya and yes to the eternal rewards of the akhira.
hob we salam,
abaya = A loose-fitting full-length robe worn by some Muslim women
gellabaya = Egyptian word for abaya
sha’abi = Traditional, popular culture in Egypt
fuul = Egyptian staple, cooked fava beans often served with bread
ginay = Egyptian pound, currency
dunay = Worldly life
akhira = After life