I’ve been following the news out of Cairo (and lately, Suez) with great interest. And not just because my secret boyfriend Anderson Cooper was punched in the face 10 times by an angry, anti-American mob. At first it was largely due to concern for the safety of my friend Jenny who lives in Cairo. Thank goodness, she is safely in the U.S. right now. I visited her in the summer of 2008 and experienced a bit of Egyptian life and culture.
I’d like to point out a few things to ponder if you don’t know much about Egypt.
- Notice that the vast majority of protesters are men. Women aren’t really allowed to be out in public without being accompanied by her husband or a male relative. The women I did occasionally see where always wearing a veil (hijab), and some of them wore a niqab, so that only their eyes could be seen.
- Traveling around with several other Western women, we were openly gawked at by Egyptian men, even though we had our legs covered and wore scarves around our faces. For me at least, this was as much for sun protection as anything else. I often felt uncomfortable because men would constantly try to talk to us and get our attentions. One of the women with me was even inappropriately groped by a man on a cell phone! This occurred in broad daylight on a busy street. She spoke Arabic fluently, but was too shocked to say a word to the perpetrator before he meandered away (still on his phone).
Tourism is huge in Egypt, accounting for 11% of their GDP. Tourism will likely be down for along while after this. Though not the easiest foreign destination to visit, Egypt still fascinates. I sincerely hope that I can return one day to a more free and vibrant Egypt where people like me can feel more comfortable. Until then, I miss the food, the ancient history, the beach at Dahab, and the beautiful, climbable mountains in the vast desert.
I cheer and applaud the pro-democracy protesters who are risking their lives right now. I wish each of them safety and success in this very difficult struggle.