These views on Egypt are based on direct observations during sparse visits over the years, occasional news from friends living there (now emigrated to the US), reports received from international agencies and, of course, the ubiquitous media news.
Lately, a professor at the American University in Cairo shed light on what the population feels about the local “Arab spring”. Another source of information is a fellow professor at the same institution who keeps a blog on mostly academic subjects, but where the local reality frequently transpires.
What they say is that even for those who live there, it is sometimes difficult to understand what is actually going on. There are still many supporters of the previous regime (and they are not only members of the former president’s party), who seem to be a force to be reckoned with. They prize the long years of peace, the tolerance between the various religious communities, the stability that allowed tourism to flourish, a certain economic growth and a timid but progressive secularization of the society. The media seems to have played down that fact in their reporting on the various factions fighting for prominence in Tahrir Square and elsewhere.
The results of the last elections can be seen in many ways, from a poor understanding of the actual meaning of the vote by some, others who just followed instructions, to those who voted for the Islamists in the hope they would control the entrenched corruption, practiced in large-scale and at the highest level.
The everyday “baksheesh” is there, like in many parts of the world, a way of life. From the passport control at the airport, to taxis, porters, waiters, policemen, guides at the Cairo Museum, what you get depends directly on how much you give on top of the regular fare. To the point that, even when receiving foreign delegates to an international event, on at least one occasion is reported that the local authorities had greased the paws of all those involved, to guarantee the smoothness of the operations. What the population most resent is the appropriation of the state resources by the same groups of profiteers, independently of regime change and who is in power.
The economy is in shambles. The Egyptian pound is in a free fall, turning ever more expensive the imports denominated in dollars and the subsidies for food, energy and other commodities. Without subsidies the people would starve. The IMF would not agree on a loan without a reliable government in place and a negotiated agreement to solve at least the most damaging of the present economic ills and structural shortcomings. It will be money down the drain, anyway.
The forthcoming parliamentary elections will likely only bring more political infighting between the Brotherhood and socialists, secularists, free-market liberals and who-knows-what. It is unlikely that anything would change to the better anytime soon. This last revolution can likely be another disaster, as Morsi and his religious faction has a stronghold on all political powers, the writing of the constitution, the legal system and the national institutions. Another disgrace, of the many the Nile strip has endured during its very long history.
For Egypt is very important for anyone with a general view of the history of mankind. It is a warning that what occurred in the past can be repeated in the future, as human nature remains the same despite the advance of science, technology and the trappings of modernity. Its archaeological findings defy time; its ancient architecture defines the concept of monumental. Its symbols were, over the ages, stolen for legitimacy by every aspiring power. You can recognize Egypt's inspiration on Greek and Roman temples, as you can see the art, inscriptions and statues in museums of the major cities of the world. Its obelisks transmit the sense of awe as much as they grace the squares of Rome, Paris, London or Berlin.
After agriculture brought a sedentary life, Sumerians started engraving stories of the creation of their world; other groups organized themselves into cities and sent merchants by land and sea to trade their products. Egypt combined it all to give birth to civilization. Before falling under the Greek Ptolemys, the Roman Empire and the Arab invasion, Egypt was the lighthouse of mankind.
The priests of its temples wrote the book for all religions of mysteries and initiatic ceremonies to manipulate the populace. They codified the rites for ensuring that life after death, the most enduring human myth, turned into the most successful business racked of antiquity: mummification. They established the central belief in three major gods, mimicking the nuclear family, as well as the rival theological belief in a single god-Sun, plus a plethora of minor gods for every taste and occasion. They invented the hollow statues permitting them to speak through a god’s mouth, together with the magicians' tricks giving the illusion of miracles. Their elaborate ceremonies, hats and symbols can still be seen in present day churches and secret societies.
Their accounts of history, written and represented on the walls of temples, set the rules for all future autocrats and their propaganda media: laudatory to the pharaoh in size and description, boosting the morale of the fellahs by transforming defeats or ties in battle into magnificent victories. All this made eternal by engraved texts and images in bas-reliefs, who will ever doubt their veracity?
The local tribes enslaved by the ancient Egyptians, later created their own versions of those beliefs and practices. Mainly Judaism, which begot Christianity, which begot Islam. All together they managed to destroy the Roman Empire and its Pantheon, supplanting the traditional veneration of the gods of nature and human-like ancestors. Those religions and their multiple quarrelling sects would also nourish war for millennia among themselves.
Egypt is an addiction. Like all addictions, you know it can be bad for you, its expensive and difficult to stop. For decades the United States has been keeping the country afloat with massive injections of annual stipenda. Without illusions that like in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the fantasy world of Moslemdom, all the good comes from Allah and all the bad from the "crusaders"... Europe tries to appear supportive but actually acts standoffish. The neighbouring countries respect Egypt’s size and fear its influence, but keep their distances.
After so many years of decay, occupation, destruction, neglect (and stealing of artefacts) by foreign powers, followed by mismanagement and wars by a succession of home-grown autocrats, Egypt was engulfed by the Arab Spring. Without surprise, the usual sequence followed: a strongman is brought down by death or rebellion and then a new strongman emerges. This time Mubarak fell and Morsi with the Muslim Brotherhood are grabbing all powers. There is no place yet for western democracy. In the background, the army lets the present pawns play to the world and the local masses, provided they do not cross the red line of its own interests and privileges.