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Why don't the children of the poor revolt in Egypt?

Why don't the children of the poor revolt in Egypt?

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Opinion Public Liberties Freedom of Assembly

Wednesday 14 February 202402:03 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

لماذا لا يثور أولاد الفقراء في مصر؟


Across Egyptian social media, the following words have recently gained traction: “I've hated him since 2013. You hated him when you got hungry. We're not the same.” Perhaps hundreds, or even thousands, who have shared this post agree in distinguishing between those in opposition for freedom’s sake, and those angry over the price of bread and rising hunger. For some, bread is inferior to the upholding of democratic values: justice, dignity and freedom. Many Egyptians have repeatedly experienced the loss of democratic values, but few know what it feels like to feel true hunger.

Across Egyptian social media, the following words have recently gained traction: “I've hated him since 2013. You hated him when you got hungry. We're not the same.

The post does not only point to millions of impoverished Egyptians who, due to their circumstances, involuntarily ignore politics. It evaluates the middle class, and perhaps even targets Egypt’s political class, that have not been part of “the president's haters since 2013”. I am focusing on Egypt’s impoverished citizens, because there is a much delayed message that must be relayed, and because this is not the first time that intellectuals dismiss the poor as 'simpletons' or belittle their demands.

Why don't the children of the poor rise up?

Poverty has many faces, and one of its lesser seen faces is poverty of knowledge: a lack of access to information or modern technology delivering access to a world of knowledge. This does not only stem from a lack of financial means, but also from surrounding circumstances and coincidence. For example, during the revolution, the people of Cairo admonished the people of Upper Egypt for their failure to participate in the first three days of the revolution, blaming the railway infrastructure. Those in Cairo were unaware that the scenes they were witnessing in Tahrir Square were not, for the most part, seen by many Upper Egyptians, except for those who happened to be in the capital.

The people of Cairo admonished the people of Upper Egypt for not participating in the first three days of the revolution. Those in Cairo were unaware that the scenes they were witnessing in Tahrir Square were not, for the most part, seen by most Upper Egyptians

Why didn't Upper Egypt rise on January 25th? Facebook, the main mode of communication at the time, had not yet spread into the homes of many Egyptians far from the capital. As a result, those in Upper Egypt were unable to, for many years, access the same information as some of their other fellow countrymen. I know this because I lived in Upper Egypt and only left four years after the start of the revolution. If those who blamed us knew about our lack of access, they would apologize and empathize. They would that "revolutionary poverty" prevents access to information.

A girl once met a woman and child who appeared to be poor. The child was offering drawings for sale. When the girl suggested the woman sell the child’s drawings on social media to earn money with greater ease, the woman said she doesn't know how to do that. Now, try asking the same woman why she doesn't follow the economy and politics, or the analyses of al-Mokhbir Eqtisadi, for example. She might admit a lack of knowledge regarding “those economic guys” apart from that Madbouly character “from the ministry.” It is impossible to ignore the “revolutionary poverty” combined here with materialism.

Intellectuals insult those who vote for someone in exchange for food or a job. Clearly, we don't all weigh the carton of food or job security the same. Those who do not lack oil, sugar, or rice, and those who have job security, will think that the ‘other’ is a willing slave

Food aid and job security

This indifference can be seen more blatantly during elections. Intellectuals insult those who vote for someone in exchange for a carton of food or job security. Clearly, we don't all weigh the carton of food or job security the same. Those who do not lack oil, sugar, and rice will undoubtedly not fall into the trap of dirty election money. And those who work without fear of losing their jobs will think that the person who fears being laid off is a willing slave – missing the point, yet again.

The problem is not in personal traits that make one person strive for freedom and the other not seek it, but rather in the different worlds each side lives in. The more difficult your world, the easier it is to be forced into silence, complacency or submission. Poverty remains a fundamental pillar for all dictatorial regimes, whether material or revolutionary poverty.

The problem isn't in personal traits that make one person strive for freedom and the other not seek it, but rather in the different worlds each side lives in. The more difficult your world, the easier it is to be forced into silence, complacency or submission. Poverty remains a fundamental pillar for all dictatorial regimes

Modern technology plays an important role in increasing popular awareness. By having access to a parent’s Facebook or phone, a child is able to experience an entirely different world from their phone-less, technology-deprived peers. And each person’s world is determined by their unique digital feed. These differing worlds are not determined by their occupants’ desire for knowledge, as much as by the abundance of information, and also the way those deemed 'simpletons' use apps such as TikTok, where users prefer to showcase the minutiae of their lives rather than presenting information-driven content. Access to technology does not necessarily mean equal access to information.

We did not mean that

Some insult the poor and the hungry for their anger about the rising cost of basic goods, claiming that those who did not critique the current president at the start of his term “only care about their bellies.” Regret can be heard from some who participated in the January revolution, because “Mubarak was better.”

Some insult the poor and the hungry for their anger about the rising cost of basic goods, claiming that those who did not critique the current president at the start of his term “only care about their bellies.”

I am not comparing Sisi and Mubarak, and personally, I have been opposed to Sisi since he prevented candidates from running against him. I did not think I needed to document the history of my personal stance, because I did not think that dignity would be ranked or that I would need to prove the timing of my positions. However, I wish to recall certain events that followed the revolution, specifically, the subsequent electoral events. A majority of people chose revolution. However, at the time, the revolutionaries themselves didn't agree on the best future for Egypt, and votes were split between Hamdeen Sabahi, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Khaled Ali. The three aforementioned candidates were, at the time, deemed the most suitable figures to expel any last remnants of Mubarak and limit the power of the Muslim Brotherhood, to the extent that they, if united, could have won the elections decisively from the first round with twice the number of votes than their closest competitors. The fragmentation of votes narrowed the candidates down to Ahmed Shafik and Mohamed Morsi. Can the people be blamed for this?

The same people betrayed by the politicians are required, once again, to side with the intellectuals and the revolution, despite the lack of security, terrorism, lack of services, and high prices delivered by the Muslim Brotherhood during the year they ruled Egypt. The economic situation is worse now, but people’s lack of enthusiasm in criticizing Sisi from the beginning of his rule is logical in the aftermath of those elections. In the early days of his presidency, security improved, and we almost stopped hearing of terrorism. It seemed natural for society not to join the intellectual class in their opposition to Sisi until Egypt’s economic situation worsened.

When things are at their worst, large swathes of society finally agree to hate or oppose a regime. Is it fair to mock this majority because of their lack of awareness and thus their inability to reach the same conclusions at the same time?

Freedom and bread

Those aware of these dynamics see the interconnectedness between ‘freedom’ and ‘bread’, but many see it from one side; to ensure a certain quality of life, there must be freedom to monitor, oppose, and hold society accountable. However, on the other hand, in order to demand freedom, living conditions must meet a certain standard enabling individuals to gamble with the instability of their affairs and the possibility of losing their jobs. However, it seems that only when things are at their worst that large swathes of society finally agree to hate or oppose a regime. Is it fair to mock this majority because of their lack of awareness and thus their inability to reach the same conclusions at the same time?

Let us remember that understanding people is the first step in initiating discussion aimed to bring meaningful change; people are not the opponent, and that poverty is not just material.


* The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Raseef22


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