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What do Egyptians really want?

What do Egyptians really want?

We’ve all been watching the drama unfold in Egypt these past two weeks. But, asks Linda Heard of Arab News, given their vast number, do the people even know what they want?

February 8, 2011 2:45 by

It’s been crazy in my adopted hometown Alexandria over these past two weeks. Life here reminds me of the theme of some of those post-Armageddon Hollywood movies where lawlessness reigns.

I am still feeling like pinching myself when I watch my husband pick up his weapon — his late mother’s walking stick — to join the vigilantes below, who are doing a fine job of protecting our neighborhood against marauding thugs and recently-escaped prisoners who are often armed with guns stolen from torched police stations.

Each night our guys sit around a fire made from old doors filched from a demolished apartment block, smoke cigarettes and drink sweet tea until some yells “haramia” (thieves) or blows a whistle when they grab their knives, batons, homemade swords and petrol bombs and run in search of infiltrators.

Their spirits are astonishingly high considering most haven’t enjoyed a proper night’s sleep for 10 days. They say they’re happy to continue for as long as it takes but as most of these people, who include a doctor, a high-ranking policeman, owners of small shops and company employees have had to return to work this week, that’s noble but not really feasible.

So when will this standoff between the Egyptian government and the youth movement leading the opposition end? And more importantly what will be the outcome? In truth, nobody knows. Where is Paul the Octopus when he’s needed?

The situation is more complicated than just stalemate between President Hosni Mubarak who is digging in his heels and the demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square who are just as stubborn as the only leader most of them have ever known. That may be the battle of wills most visible on our screens but there are many more taking place under the surface including a simmering class conflict.

Egyptians have been split into pro-Mubarak and pro-democracy camps in the minds of most onlookers but it isn’t as simple as that. There are many schools of thought as to what happens next or should he stay or should he go?

Most billionaires and wealthy businessmen — aside from well-known government cronies who have been lining their pockets at the expense of ordinary Egyptians — have done very well under President Mubarak. Under his watch, the country has remained peaceful and stable enjoying an economic growth of some six percent annually. These are the people who live in Cairo’s upmarket areas such as Zamalek, Garden City and Maadi or in New Cairo gated communities with swimming pools and golf courses. A few may pay lip service to “the revolution” but most maintain an “I’m all right Jack” attitude and would prefer to maintain the status quo.

At the other end of the spectrum are people living below the poverty line on less than $2 per day that make up 40 percent of Egypt’s population. Such people don’t have the luxury of hanging out in squares protesting. They live from hand to mouth and often have a couple of kids at home to feed. If chaos reigns indefinitely, preventing them from cleaning shoes on the pavement or selling corn-on-the-cob or sweet potatoes from a handcart, whatever their political leanings, they are going to revolt against what they believe are yuppie revolutionaries who can always fall back on mama and baba for survival. Like the super rich, many of the very poor would also like to retain the status quo at least until there is a better alternative on the horizon.

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