The New Egyptian Civic Awareness (I)

Cabbie Mohammed Abdullah in Cairo. (INQUIRER / Trudy Rubin)

I was riding in a cab with my translator Eyad – a young TV presenter with longish hair - when the cabbie asked him if he had been at the revolution in Tahrir Square. When Eyad said yes, the cabbie, a burly man in his forties named Mohammed Abdullah, told him that the revolution meant it was time for all Egyptians to start changing themselves.

In Egypt, as in much of the Arab world, there has never been much sense of civic awareness of protecting public space. Governments are corrupt and distrusted, and people tend to focus on family and clan; most have little sense of the common weal and little understanding of civic activism. That seems to be changing here since the Revolution of Jan. 25.

"When I went on picnics with my wife and kids," Abdullah said, "she told me to put my garbage in a plastic bag. But I used to throw it on the street and say 'this is not my country.' I threw trash out of the cab window.

"Now I tell me wife you were right, and I carry a plastic bag in my cab. We have to take responsibility even in small ways for our country now."

Abdullah recounted how when anyone used to go to a police station to get their car registered, the police would make them wait for hours or go outside to find somewhere that would photocopy the necessary documents. But yesterday his friend went to a police station for such papers "and this time they gave him a soda and photocopied the papers for him. They don’t dare treat us like dirt anymore."

"I am a window on the streets of Cairo," Abdullah went on, "and everyone from young to old is happy about what has happened. We had reached a point of depression that we thought we would never see this day. I used to sit at night in a café with friends and we would say this is the way Egyptians are and it will never change.

"Now I am proud to be an Egyptian. When my kids go out to play they carry the Egyptian flag. But we have to change from within ourselves to be better citizens," he said "and not be fooled by people who might want to take control again."

He looked at Eyad, and said, "You, the Facebook Egyptians are so different from the older generation. The biggest proof is the non-violent demonstrations you did from Day One. Egyptians showed how civilized we were. We were civilized 6000 years ago, but we were going through a bad time, and now we have that civilization back again."