Morals and The Egyptian Society

I made a mistake one day and got out of a taxi without thinking about anything except that I wanted to grab two cups of coffee for myself and one other girl who was with me. She was traveling to the States and we were on our way to the airport. She made a mistake too, and came with me and left her bags in the taxi. You all know the end of the story or else it wouldn’t be told. I wouldn’t bother writing about a man who was honest and didn’t drive off with everything that young girl owned. I wouldn’t write about the fact that an average Egyptian driver did not jump at the first opportunity to steal from a girl who was the age of his daughter. No, I am writing to share my interpretation of that event and the following whirlwind of trying to correct the evil that had been done.

As the reality of what happened settled in, two guys came in for the rescue. And at that moment I was presented with a choice, should I trust an Egyptian guy again, but this time with my person and not just bags? Or should I run off and try to do it all myself. I usually choose to not rely on someone, or anyone, but this time I needed help. So I got in the car with a complete stranger as the On The Run employees nodded assuredly that I could trust this person. He is a regular customer, they whispered as they encouraged me to go chase the cab thief. This person, who was later joined by a friend of his, turned out to be blessings. They drove us around to the airport, to the gas station again, to the police station and they did the talking, and they even bought us water and juice. Best of all, they made us smile, laugh, as they lightly poked fun at me and at the whole situation and its absurdity (though apparently it is not an absurd thing, and we are taught as Egyptians to never trust anyone, right?).

So here I was, presented with two extreme realities in one 5-hour period. A man who without blinking an eye robbed two young girls on their way to the airport; and two young guys, while definitely ‘interested’ in us, changed their whole plans that day to help us. However, despite the goodness of these two guys, my main observation was that our society has been compromised. I mean that in the sense of our core moral and value system. An Egyptian citizen, at the first chance possible, stole. He knew he would get by with it. He knew he would not get caught. So he did it. But what’s more disturbing is that we know what went through his mind. This man assumed that he was more ghalban then her. Obviously if you have bags, it means you are rich, and obviously if you are traveling it means you have money. I drive a taxi. Aren’t all foreigners wealthy?

What he didn’t know was that he was taking everything this girl ever owned, including the pictures of her daughter that she had just lost to another Egyptian man one week before. What he didn’t know was that this girl was in debt to her government because of that ticket. What he didn’t know was that the camera he got a hold of was her career.

Yes, our society is compromised. If this was an isolated incident we could maybe excuse it, but we all know that it is not and that the two of us are not the only victims in this country. Don’t you also have a story to tell? Were you not lied to? Were you conned? Were you not robbed or stood up? Were you not harassed?

In fact, which of the following characteristics of our society are you not familiar with? Don’t we lie, we assume the worst in all situations, we expect people to fail, we are emotionally unstable and punish those who are not, we don’t listen, we don’t read, we don’t exercise, we are avid smokers, we are impatient and short-tempered, we are overweight, men harass women regularly, and women accept it regularly, we manipulate each other ruthlessly, we cheat, and worse of all, we don’t respect each other, not even our own selves.

Now, it is true that Egypt’s social structure was built on strong values. Things like collectivism and the honor system, are all familiar to us. Remnants of these values still exist, but we have been compromised. Our strengths have disappeared under dirty rugs and dusty cupboards, thrown away with each piece of trash we throw out our windows. I don’t mean to sound purely negative, but am I wrong?

Our men, when they want to save face, they throw fits and swear at each other on the street. The louder one is he who is manly enough. Even during the revolution, we saw people grappling for honor and dignity; the families of the martyrs’ loudly demanding dignity. (If you remember the incident at the Balloon Theater. That story ended with more martyrs and not gained dignity.) In our jobs, we always look for the worst in others and proudly proclaim it to as many other people as they can. We openly reveal this information to those outside of our office, not realizing that this weakness actually reflects on ourselves. In relationships, men and women manipulate each other and never for once trust each other. We lie obsessively about why we are late or how ‘angry we are at someone’ because we want to show that we miss them. While we don’t mean to appear this way, we always come across as hypocritical.

Religion and values taught me that this is not how one lives; that you believe in what you do, and you do what you believe; that people know you for what you do and what you believe. But Egypt teaches me that it’s all okay and that in fact, anything is okay.

So when an Egyptian knows he can harass a woman and get by with it; when the driver knows he can rob and get by with it; when anything is possible, slowly but surely, the society takes the opportunity where it exists. This is true of our society. So my conclusion rests at this, my society is morally corrupted and compromised.

Is there a solution? I can only start with myself. I will do what I believe, and I will believe what I do. I will act out my beliefs and stand morally and consciously clear. I wish I could change the whole society, but unfortunately we know this is not possible. But, we can slowly leave a mark. This should be our personal and moral responsibility to challenge and not excuse any behavior that is not consistent with what we believe. Let us then leave our mark.


One thought on “Morals and The Egyptian Society

  1. Sorry to hear about your experience… I know how shocking and disappointing such an incident can be, as exactly the same thing happened to me a few months ago! Last October, had 2 Australian guests with me, on our way back to their hotel from Khan il Khalili we had to stop at a pharmacy to pick something up for them; the taxi driver took off with their bags. Now, many people reading our stories (esp. outside Egypt) may say “what the heck were you people thinking, leaving personal possessions in a taxi with a stranger?” … but this was something that people wouldn’t think twice about in the past! I’ve lived in Egypt 13 years, and done that many times without a problem. I was always so thrilled with the good-heartedness and honesty of the vast majority of the Egyptian population. But no more. Something has intrinsically changed since the revolution.

    As a slightly amusing postscript however, I am happy to report that the thieving taxi driver in my story did not “make out like a bandit” as he’d probably hoped… yes, I’m sure he was thrilled at the thought of what might be inside the large suitcase that we loaded into the trunk of his car; I’m sure he assumed that my guests had just arrived in the country and the case was filled with expensive clothes, etc…. what he didn’t know was that we had just bought that case in the Khan and, not only was it empty, but the salesman had set the combination for us in the shop and so our Ali Baba driver would not have been able to open it or use it anyway. Yay, Karma! 🙂

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