The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Clean streets, first sign of elections

Only 15 minutes away from where I live, right off Gisr El-Suez, there is a garbage dump. The all-encompassing pile of trash is routinely picked up in the morning by the government's waste collection truck, only to reappear again the same night, at the same spot, thanks to the same truck that whisked it away earlier. According to local popular belief, the government no longer knows what to do, or where to put, the trash it collects, so they simply transport it from one location to the other; creating a temporary illusion of cleanliness and sparing everyone the sight of street children fishing for anything to eat or sell in the elusive dump.

One day about two weeks ago, the truck picked up the trash for its usual tour of Cairo, only this time they didn't drop it back off. 

“Look there, turns out we've got a sidewalk! But doesn't the street look naked?” said Ramadan, the owner of a kiosk overlooking the dump. The following day, Ramadan was surprised to see that the now naked sidewalks were growing sickly-thin trees, and the wall behind them was freshly painted. Slogans in bright green, red and blue, were drawn on it, one of which informed passersby that "A true revolutionary rebels against corruption, and once he removes it, calms down to build and prosper." Further down the road, a bench that was installed during the last parliamentary elections was replaced by a new one and a sign that said "Brought to you by the Freedom and Justice Party." 

A few blocks away from that street is Al-Mokhtar school, a beat-up building which looks like it might make a run for it, if it weren't weighed down by dust and double its capacity in students. The school was also surrounded by trash, until one night last week. Unlike the previous dump, this one is in a residential area, thus its trash accumulates faster, even though its regularly burned. A few days later, the trash was back in its customary position. However, the "good deed doers" came back later in the week to paint the 99 names of Allah and more slogans on the walls of the school, leaving the trash untouched. Presumably, whoever is 'beautifying' the streets in the dead of night is more interested in writing "Good people clean and build for Egypt" rather than actually clean.

Further beyond the school are the slums of El-Merg. Since any attempts to beautify that area would be less successful than my mother's attempts to lose weight via clapping and turning in her seat, the FJP took a different approach. Medical convoys bearing the Muslim Brotherhood’s logo barely managed to maneuver their way through the fits-one-car-only two-way streets to park in front of local clinics, where they offered to treat anyone and everyone for free. Worth noting that the medical supplies they used were from the ministry of health, and not coming out of the MB's own pocket. 

Although by now most parties seem to agree that the Egyptian people can see through empty promises and that it will take more than the usual "bottle of oil and a bag of sugar" to "win" their votes, these favors are likely to pay off. Not necessarily because the people believe they are genuine or would even last after April, but because, as Ramadan puts it, many people now regard them as a compensation (some as a toll) the elite must give the poor to "sit their behind on a chair for four years."