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Egypt: reflections from the author of "Down the Nile"

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The overwhelming sense I had was that the people felt they had no real freedom or power over their own destiny and no faith in the government's interest in their needs. They had no choice but to yield to and obey the police and the military.

A man could be thrown in jail for supposedly showing disrespect to a foreign tourist, whether or not the tourist had any evidence of such. The government was more a force to be endured rather than one to be appealed to for assistance.

Q: A lot of Egyptians live outside the big cities. Is their world a lot different? How do you think that might play out?
In a population of 90 million people it's never possible to find a truly unified voice.

The people demonstrating in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria are young educated professionals, government workers, business people, civil servants. Because they're educated and informed they take their democratic rights and responsibilities seriously. They understand what democracy should be. They have enough faith in the democratic process and enough hope for the future that they finally dared to say no to a government that has for years not only disrespected their rights as citizens but disregarded their basic needs.

But more than half of Egypt's population lives in rural areas. The farmers and fishermen living along the Nile beyond the cities are generally less well educated and more conservative, and though they live in extreme poverty (40 percent of the Egyptian population lives below the poverty level) and their daily lives are unbelievably difficult, they are generally less vocal and less inclined to feel that they could collectively effect any great change in their circumstances.

The turmoil taking place now in Cairo and the period of disorder and instability that's likely to reign in its aftermath could, in the short term, affect rural Egyptians in adverse forms that might give rise to real resentment.

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