Read in Arabic

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Nation of Paradoxes

"God rewards those that are generous", stated the old man immediately after Friday prayers had concluded, his dark eyes scanning the small crowd of worshippers that had congregated in a small mosque in a Cairo suburb. "Please", the man said, "My children are starving and I have nothing to give them". "Please," his voice growing more desperate by the second, "I want my darling children to live". With that, the old man moved slowly to a corner by the exit, his head down, hoping that those present would take heed of his message.

The largest shopping mall in Egypt, City Stars, is located on a congested street in Nasr City, Cairo. Inside, Egypt's elite walk the marble floors browsing European and American designer stores, purchasing items that would make even the most spend free westerner cringe at the prices. Yet, many fortunate Egyptians remain undeterred by the high prices, seemingly spending at will on foreign made items. These Egyptians remain unfazed by the global economic recession and the rising prices of Egypt's staple foods. They live in Egypt's most luxurious neighborhoods, enjoying the relative comfort and peace of gated housing projects such as al Rehab, and Tagama al Khamis. To the remaining Egyptians however, and this is the vast majority, life is a daily struggle.

Right outside the bubble that is City Stars, beggars rush the outgoing shoppers pleading for spare change. Some, too proud to beg, attempt to sell everything from toilet paper to flip-flops, to parsley. Occasionally, a generous shopper would stop and reach into their pocket, pulling out enough money to feed the beggar for a week; or enough money for a cup of coffee at the many new Starbucks' that have been popping up all over Cairo. Most however, are not that lucky, either ignored by the crowd of shoppers or yelled at by frustrated men and women who would rather not be reminded of the severe poverty that plague their countrymen.

Now I'm no communist, I understand that in life there are those that have and those that do not. But the enormous gap between the rich and the poor in this country has left me questioning whether or not Egypt's reported GDP growth over the last few years has benefited anyone other than a handful of Egyptians. What's worse is that the Egyptian leadership seems unwilling to directly address this issue, choosing instead to continue opening up Egypt's markets to foreign investment, a path followed, and abandoned, by so many other nations in the past. Poverty is not alleviated by opening up Armani stores, or by lowering property taxes in Egypt's most exclusive areas, but can only be eliminated when those in power make the welfare of the poor their priority. Unfortunately, for the 35 million Egyptians who live on less than $2 a day, the Egyptian government has chosen to focus its energy on the rich; catering to their every whim, as Egypts poor sit patiently, waiting for assistance.

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