Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t

 I have been a city-girl my whole life. Born, raised and lived my entire life in the city; in the same city. I was raised surrounded by high buildings, noise and pollution. I can never imagine living the country-side or in a small town or village or even in the suburbs. I am a city-girl. That being said, I no longer want to live in this particular city or any city that resembles it; not for long periods of time at least. I can’t live in capitals with intolerable traffic, all forms of pollution and hostile environments. I realize that there are world capitals that don’t fit this profile, and are actually characterized as the most beautiful cities in the world.  While that is true and while there are some cities from both categories, if we for the time being assume there just are two, that happen to be the most popular cities in the world.

Cairo fits the profile I have described above, perfectly; that is in addition to it being one of the most populous cities in the world.  Therefore I have been raised in a polluted, over-crowded, noisy, at times even over-whelming city. I have known no other home, but as of recently it doesn’t feel like home. I have become a stranger in my own city, a guest of sort. I and everyone I know live in a world outside of this country, but still within the parameters of the city. I am constantly in contact with the residents of this city, but until I return to the bubble I was brought up in, and in which my friends, family and closest acquaintances live, I feel that I don’t belong.

As I have already mentioned I was raised in a large metropolitan city and I can only live in a place that provides very much the same facilities, but doesn’t resemble this city. I realize I’m being a little cryptic, I’ll elaborate. I am rarely ever in contact with nature, excluding air obviously. This city, and many that are quite like it, is dead. I never lived near a sea, a mountain, forest or a river (that isn’t surrounded by buildings and is so polluted that it looks more like sewage).

This all brings me to the title of this entry. All what I have said explains how the environment I live in has led to my elevated stress level, but it doesn’t why it’s not easy to change this environment. Growing up I was under the impression that I would always live here, under rigid social rules and familial expectations (all of you in my situation can easily relate), and I had accepted that fact for so long. However a couple of years ago, I found this to be a choice which is suicidal more than an actual fact. Recently I realized that living in Egypt is impossible and that it needs to be temporary. This all explains the reasons why I would be damned if I don’t leave, in addition to the current political, economic and social status of the country.

Saying that I want to leave is very easy, implementing it though is excruciating. The political situation in the country, which makes leaving a necessity, impedes the process of leaving, as well as complicates life for those who would like to leave as much as those who don’t. A place where a person is born should not outline his/her entire life. Life should be based on the choices one makes; it shouldn’t be based on the choices one can’t make, or damned by other people’s choices or their perceptions.

Child Brides

Child Bride

There have been speculations in Egypt regarding the passing of new marriage laws; laws that particularly deal with the minimum age for marriage for girls. Currently the minimum age for marriage in Egypt is eighteen, for both girls and boys. This law is an amendment of a previous law, which legally allowed girls to get married at sixteen. These speculations however revolve around child marriages, thereby allowing girls as young as nine-years-old to get married. There, however, haven’t been any confirmations regarding this matter. On the other hand in 2001 Egypt ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, which states that it is prohibited for any party (boy or girl) below the age of eighteen to get married or betrothed. Unfortunately, child marriage continues to be a problem in Egypt for many years, therefore legalizing this phenomenon would therefore be catastrophic. This issue can be discussed from various different perspectives, in order to get an overall view of the problem.

Some advocates of this phenomenon rely heavily on religion; by referring back to Prophet Muhammad’s marriage of Aisha, who was at the time nine.  But this notion can be falsified, giving more than one reason. First there is no proof that Aisha was nine at the time of the marriage, some scholars believe her age to have been between nine and nineteen. Therefore if she was in fact nineteen she was mature enough to consent to the marriage. Second in Arabia, during the seventh-century, adulthood was defined by puberty rather than law, making such an affair quite common during that time. Third, which is clearly stated in the Qur’an, is that marriage must be between two consenting adults. Therefore according to the religious text, marriage without consent, which is certainly the case when one of the parties is not even mature enough to give their consent, is invalid and void.

 However the more common perspective for such an imbalanced unity between two people is purely economic. The parents of the bride-to-be receive a respectable dowry, which becomes the focal point of the marriage process, in exchange for their daughter. Therefore debasing the entire marriage process to nothing more than a business transaction, where the girl is nothing more than a product. Results of a joint study between the Ministry of Social Affairs and UNICEF show another form of child marriage practiced in Egypt, one which is closer to prostitution than marriage.  Where young, usually village girls, marry wealthy men from Arab Gulf countries for a short period of time, usually the summer, in exchange for an agreed upon amount of money. In this case the marriage constitutes a legal form of prostitution. However there is no consent on the girl’s part, especially since some of the documents needed for the marriage, for example the birth certificates, are forged for the purpose of this union.

Girls who are married before the age of eighteen are forced into such a marriage, which in itself has negative effect on the girl’s psychological wellbeing. However the severity of the problem becomes clearer, when looking closer at the marriage itself. Victims of child marriage are subjects to sexual violence, due to forced intercourse by the much older spouse, domestic violence and early child birth. Often girls who are pregnant at a very young age either die during the pregnancy or during child-birth. These girls also have a higher chance of being affected by HIV/AIDS or other sexual transmitted diseases. Due to the huge age gap between the spouses these girls are unable to negotiate with their husbands on issues such as safe sex or even ask for a divorce, when it becomes too much for them to handle. Ultimately they become trapped in a forced, abusive, uneven marriage.

In addition young girls, who are forced into such an affair, are forced to quit their education. By doing so they are not given the chance to develop themselves or get involved in the professional arena. Thereby excluding nearly half the workforce at an early age, this becomes a key aspect as to why Egyptian economy is continuing to deteriorate. Child marriage induces domestic violence, rape, psychological trauma and prohibits young girls from, not only being productive members of society, but from being healthy human beings. Passing such laws will therefore not only affect a marginalized community in the Egyptian society, but the entire society as a whole.

*First published in AUC Times

The Dark Cloud

After a long and grueling process, Egypt has finally chosen a president. However the results were not entirely satisfactory, neither were the options but that isn’t relevant at the moment. After the first round of elections, the choices were between the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood and one of Egypt’s former prime ministers. Therefore the situation was bleak to say the very least, because the second round of elections and by extension the final decision was to be between the worst two candidates; in my opinion at least. When the second round came around a lot of conflict arose between the different political parties, the supporters of each of the candidates and pretty much the rest of the population. Voters stood in the blazing heat, this negatively affected the election process because a large number of people were discouraged by the heat wave that swept over Egypt during the days of the election; that is in addition to the people who abstained or chose to make use of the long weekend instead.

Millions of Egyptians waited anxiously for the results of this historical event which were revealed today. Today the new president was unveiled. The Muslim Brotherhood won the elections and for the first time in over 80 years they will have control of the nation. I am truly worried and highly unoptimistic right now. The Muslim Brotherhood have a long history of violence and were severely oppressed for decades, that, in addition to their lack of political experience concerns me deeply. Because even though they are extremely organized they are also extremely narrow-minded and are in a word extremists. Therefore many conflicts will occur between them and the opposition, who are a lot. Putting into consideration that they only got around 30% of the votes in the first round, therefore more than half the population do not support them. As for the other 21% who voted for them, they found that they were just the best of the worst. The reason why I refer to the brotherhood as a whole and not the candidate, is because they constantly act as a group.

As for me, I am pessimistic at the moment and believe that my best option is to pack my bags and leave the country, which is something that has been on my mind for quite some time now. The reason I say that, is because I honestly don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I don’t think it will be in my best favor nor am I willing to wait and find out. The process of leaving is unfortunately excruciating, that on the other hand is a whole other topic.

On Education

Most of the decisions I’ve made regarding my education were made for the wrong reasons. Around the time you become a teenager, you are fed this notion that you have to take specific classes, in order to choose a major that will land you the best job; putting into consideration that the definition of a good job actually means a more lucrative job. I’m sorry to say I bought it, believing that the only way to get a “good” job is to have a “prestigious” major; regardless of what really makes you happy or what you’re truly passionate about.

As a freshman in college I chose the wrong major, which I then changed, due to this particular mind-set and I’ve regretted it ever since. It made me feel like a failure, not to mention it destroyed my grades and my self-esteem. This brings me to my second point: grades, the merit you are given for conforming to the traditional outlook on learning. Grades have become like a game to me. Each assignment is worth a certain percentage of my grade in a particular class, and all the classes added up make your overall grade, therefore each assignment is worth a certain number of points and the more points you achieve the higher your chances to make it to the next level. It has all turned into a game, the excessive need to earn grades, and to get a degree have overshadowed the real reason why one goes to college, to learn. Then again students don’t really choose what they want to learn.

It is true one chooses their major, supposedly based on their interests; however you don’t actually choose what to learn. I just watched a movie called Accepted, which is about a boy who gets rejected by every university he applies to, so he decides to create his own university. And in it, students are given the chance to create their own curriculum and choose what they what to learn. I realize of course that this is completely unorthodox and unfeasible, however learning something because you really want to learn it, is the only way it will actually be of any value to you.  I recently read a history book, because I wanted to read it, not because it was assigned to me or because I was required to read it, but because I really wanted to. I’m not particularly fond of sitting in a classroom while listening to someone talk about a topic I may not even be interested in, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like learning. I love learning new things; I would just prefer doing it on my own terms.

Voting & Verdict

A little over a week ago a historical event took place in Egypt. For the first time in 7,000 years, and yes I’m really not exaggerating, the people were given the right to choose their next leader. There are only a handful of countries in this world whose history stretches over not centuries but millenniums. And yet up until the 21st century A.D. the people of this nation were never given a true, legitimate, honest chance to choose their leader. In May 2012 the Egyptians were finally given that right. As many others, I stood in line and voted; believing that for the first time in my life my voice will actually make a difference. However the results of what seemed to be honest elections were highly disappointing. The second round of the elections will be between two extremes, both of which will do more harm than good. What the final results of the elections will be, though, no one knows.

Today on the other hand was the trial of the century. Egypt’s former president along with his sons, the minister of interior and his top associates, awaited the much-anticipated verdict, along with millions of people. It was unsatisfactory and unfair to say the least. Both the former president and minister of interior were sentenced to life in prison, which probably won’t happen, while the rest walked. Of course the result is more protests!!

How I feel about this whole thing and about the future of this place: Very Pessimistic! 

Quality Control

The quality of most Egyptian produced products is below average at best. Locally made products are almost always at lower quality than imported goods, and a lot of the time for almost the exact same price. The country has a surplus of labor, which are either unqualified or unwilling to work. That negatively affects the quality of the products that are produced in Egypt. In a post-revolutionary era; people are striving for democracy and a better political system, which is their right. However without production and the restructuring of the entire economy, the country cannot develop.

Production of manufactured goods, rather than raw materials, is crucial for the development of any country. But the quality of those goods is also a very important factor. Producing a quality product is what differentiates a good manufacturer from a bad one. But the overall quality of manufactured goods in the entire nation is poor, and the price of the good is in no way proportional to the quality of that exact same product; then the country cannot and will not develop.

A lot of Egyptians don’t trust the quality of Egyptian products. Egyptian workers unfortunately lack the skills to manufacture complex products, but what is saddening is that they are unwilling to properly produce simple products.  Therefore the only hope to develop the Egyptian industry is to not only train the workers, but hire qualified laborers that are willing to produce a quality product.