The politics of Egypt

Sudan is often criticised for being a politically repressive society. Lack of press freedom. Intimidation of government critics. Etc.

But, in my twelve months of writing about the country, I have yet to fully understand the criticism levelled at the regime in this respect – particularly the suggestion that the local population are afraid to speak out. The moment you get into a taxi or amjad, the driver will start to shoot his mouth off about the government. Over steaming mugs of jabana, complete strangers will often espouse their political viewpoints in loud voices, often at cafes known to be frequented by government officials. I often strike up conversations with relative strangers about the political situation in the country, and usually receive a pretty direct reply.

Now, contrast this with Egypt, a country that has a somewhat ill-deserved reputation for being modern, liberal and sympathetic to the West.

Yesterday, we were invited to dinner by an Egyptian we had met in a cafe. Once we had pushed our platters away and the sheesha had been fetched, I thought I’d steer the conversation towards the politics of the country, and find out what our host thought about the current government. That morning, I had read an article about a raid on the house of a Muslim Brotherhood member (this organisation, reputed to foster extremism, has been banned in Egypt for a number of years).

My host answered that politicians in Egypt were very honest and he thought a lot of Mubarak in particular. But he answered in the kind of quick, dismissive way which suggested he didn’t much like the turn the conversation was taking. We talked about how to prepare the perfect tagine, instead.

Later, Violetta remarked that he seemed very nervous of me, and highly suspicious of how much I seemed to know about Egyptian politics.

An interesting comparison between the two countries, I thought.


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