Sunday, May 27, 2012

Day 2 at the Polls

The results are now in, and we'll be trying to sort out the disappointing results as we go.  This is what we observed on the second day of the elections, along with an interesting visit to a successful eco-enterprise near Cairo:

Turn-out was lighter than expected, and the day was again as normal as could be as far as we could see.  Whatever else might be said about the outcome, that a new president would come to power through a basically peaceful process is a step in the right direction.  Many workers (including state employees) were given the afternoon off to vote, and there was a general air of excitement, but no sense of unrest.  There is nothing I am seeing or experiencing in the streets that would lead me to think that democracy isn’t working here (in contrast to what many in the West seem to expect from the “Arab world”).  Not that democracy is the answer to all the problems by any means (as Churchill once quipped, it is the worst form of government every invented—except for all the rest).
The Metro stops, with the "Murbarek" station named erased.  It is now officially known as the Ramses station.  His name has been erased from the city.

We drove out of Cairo in the morning to visit the eco-friendly company Sekem, seeing nothing of note in terms of voting along the way.  There were reports of long lines at some stations, but we didn’t see them.  Later in the afternoon we walked through Biladi, past auto mechanics fixing cars on the street, bakeries, perfume shops, and half-finished apartment buildings, seeing one polling station where an older man walked in with the help of a younger assistant.  The security guys wouldn’t let us take any pictures without a press pass, not that there was much to record anyway.

A political statement from someone with good aim and several balloons of black paint (the poster is for Moussa).  Note the "sun" logo. Each candidate has a symbol associated with them, for any voters who can't read.

As we continue to talk to the Egyptians we meet, we hear of support for Abou Fatouh, Morsy, Moussa, but no one saying Shafiq.  The fellow who is helping make arrangements for us here said he voted for several candidates to disqualify his ballot (but to make sure no one else came and voted for him).  Once bitten twice shy for him, it seems.  Certainly there is still a fair amount of cynicism for a people who have been let down by their government so many times.  I worry a bit about those that are disenfranchised, and about what appears to be a relatively low turn-out.  Some may already feel jaded (as has been the case in the U.S. for some time), and other perhaps feel that it is simply not their place to vote.  This leaves it then to those who feel they have some personal stake in the outcome and vote out of self interest (rather than the sense of social justice which has been such a large part of the impetus for the revolution).  With the results we are now hearing, eyes turn again to Tahrir, to see what the "street" has to say about the vote.
On our tour bus heading out of Cairo.  Along the way, we passed a number of businesses, may of them owned by the military.  They have a very large stake in the economy.

Our visit today was to the ecological business Sekem (the ancient Egyptian word for “vitality”) as an example of sustainable development.  They have taken a patch of desert west of Cairo and turned it into an oasis and garden where they produce organic crops, herbs, medicines, and clothing.  The company was started by an Austrian-educated Egyptian doctor named Ibrahim Abouleish.  He is a student of Rudolph Steiner, anthroposophy, and biodynamic farming.  It is Waldorf meets Egypt, and the result is what they call the “economics of love.”  2000 people work there, around 500 students attend an Egyptian version of Waldorf School (complete with the ethereal water color paintings on the wall and the pastel color scheme), and annual revenue somewhere north of 100 million dollars.
Yvonne (a German who has lived in Egypt for almost 30 years now) introducing us to the strikingly clean facility of Sekem.  The founder, Dr. Abouleish, has made a point of setting up the place as orderly and clean (evidently having been impressed by what he saw in Austria when he was in school there).

It was very clean and orderly, fragrant and we all started feeling healthier the minute we got to the place.  I had a striking experience when we went into the huge warehouse full of hundreds of sacks of peppermint, chamomile, anise, licorice, and calendula.  I felt my lungs almost immediately open up and I could breath easier.  My lungs and throat have really felt the effects of the air pollution in Cairo, and the change in that space was quite dramatic. 

Some of the students had some misgivings about the place, wondering to what degree the workers were underpaid or exploited, and about the neocolonial feel to it, with the German management eating lunch with us, while the young Egyptian workers stuffed organic cotton into cute little toys to sell to over-pampered babies in Santa Cruz, Berlin, and Boulder.  It may be problematic in some ways, but it’s hard to find a better example of “humane capitalism” out there.  And in terms of sustainable development, their large-scale organic and biodynamic farming practices are amazing. 

Sometimes I wonder about the cynicism of people who are critical of this kind of operation—seeing it as too idealistic or too exploitative—as if somehow this sort of thing just isn’t supposed to happen or is too good to be true.  Perhaps.  But I wouldn’t want us to reject such initiatives too quickly, at least not until someone else comes up with something better.  As with most things, it was a mixed bag, with the upper management being European, and the wages being low, but it certainly looked a whole lot better than what we were seeing in Cairo.  With 40% of the people living on less than $2/day, the workers there were making around $1.50/hr, with healthcare, day care, education, and pleasant work environment.

Back in Tahrir, we visited a tent set up in support of the Syrian opposition and bought some hand crafted goods to support the refugee families.  It was good to talk with the Syrian exiles, painfully aware of the contrast between the positive political developments in Egypt and the ongoing violence in Syria.  But it will be only a matter of time before Assad is gone, and Syria too is holding their elections.
A display of anti-Assad posters in the Syrian resistance tent in Tahrir.  At the door to the tent was a poster of Assad on the floor, so everyone had to step on his face to enter, a sign of great disrespect.

No comments:

Post a Comment