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Class Divisions in Egypt Make a Comeback

Posted by vmsalama on July 23, 2012

by Vivian Salama

Al-Monitor (click here for original story)

July 22, 2012

CAIRO — Moustafa Talaat takes long puffs of his Marlboro cigarette while reminiscing over the impassioned days of the Egyptian revolution. Every afternoon in February 2011, the Egyptian native of Zamalek, an affluent neighborhood in Cairo, would leave his engineering job by noon — no one was working any way — and head to Tahrir Square to join the masses calling for an end to the reign of Hosni Mubarak.

On one particular day in the square, he recalls: “A man asked me for a cigarette. He was uneducated, wore slippers and a galabeya (a traditional ankle-length garment) — a simple man.” He pauses, reflecting deeply on the brief encounter. “We talked for a little bit and it occurred to me that until then, I never really mingled with the lower cl…” He stopped — embarrassed to complete the thought.

The C-word is making a comeback into Egyptian rhetoric, embalmed since the reign of Gamal Abdel Nasser when socialism camouflaged class distinctions and set a tone for the empowerment of Egypt’s working class. The experiment was brief, and the existence of significant class divisions never ceased to exist. However, acknowledgement grew increasingly taboo, prompting many in Egypt to shy away from the very realities that may have fueled certain elements of the Arab Spring.

With Egypt’s first free-and-fair presidential election now one for the history books, its impact on the social dynamic of the country may have had a more lasting effect on society than the political transition itself. To many here, Mohamed Morsi, the commoner-turned-president, represents far more than a victory for the revolution. Just as many African-Americans perceived Barack Obama’s win as a milestone for their community, many in Egypt see Morsi as an ally for the lower-income citizens of Egypt. His opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, by contrast, bore an association with the very elitism linked to the Mubarak regime and represented a premature demise of the Egyptian struggle. Even as Morsi rides out his honeymoon period with the Egyptian populace, he has not yet won the hearts and minds of many, particularly those who perceive him as “different,” whether for ideological or socio-economic reasons. (more…)


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