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Why I would rather live in Gaza than Egypt, my birthplace

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Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor

(Read caption) Fisherman bring their daily catch to the market near the Gaza City port as buyers gather to bid for fish one early September morning in 2011.

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The hell of Gaza is better that the paradise of Egypt: This could be hard to believe since Gaza has a reputation of being unsafe, but this is the conclusion I have reached after searching for a safer place to live with my wife and baby boy.

How could this be? Just two years ago, Egypt appeared to some to be on the cusp of an exciting democratic revolution, which would bring more power to the people and give them the freedom Arabs across the Middle East have been yearning for after half a century of Western-backed dictators.

Instead, on my nine visits since then, I have found the country so changed for the worse that I would rather live in a tiny coastal territory with no sovereignty, unemployment rates of more than 30 percent, and a government punished by Israel and the West, both of which consider the ruling Hamas movement to be a terrorist organization.

To be sure, I have faced frequent violence between Israel and Gaza militants, as well as hazards in my career as a journalist – especially during military conflicts with Israel, such as the 2008-09 war and the 2012 Pillar of Defense operation.

And I thought I had found a way out.

In 2012, I got Egyptian citizenship, since I was born to an Egyptian mother and a Palestinian father. This, together with my desire for safety and stability, was a strong motive for me to move back to Egypt, where I was born and spent 14 years of my childhood, and where three sisters and my mother's family live.

I received more than half a dozen job offers from media outlets, and also had promising plans to start an education center to teach students English, math, science, and other subjects.

The salaries were not as high as what I receive in Gaza, but since I was looking for safety and stability, I did not care much about money. Things were rosy in my eyes, although many of my relatives and friends in Gaza criticized my decision because the economic and security situation in Egypt was not that good.

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I did not believe them until last month. 

I traveled to Egypt together with a coworker to receive a media course for TV journalists, which also drew journalists from Yemen, Libya, Iran, and China. 

On the second of day of the course, we had a field training, in which we were to film a feature story about how the roadblocks placed by the police around government buildings negatively impacted the lives of both pedestrians and residents downtown.

While filming, we were in front of Tahrir Square, the birthplace of the Egyptian revolution. A Yemeni colleague was taking photos with his mobile phone of the place that means a lot for a Yemeni who demonstrated in Sanaa’s Change Square to topple a dictatorship.

As he was taking pictures, a teenager snatched the iPhone 4 from my colleague’s hand and walked away confidently. The Yemeni followed him and tried to stop him. To his surprise, the boy turned back with a knife in his hand and threatened that he will stab my colleague if he continues to ask for the phone.

We were nine guys and three women. We thought that we could help him if we all go out of the minibus and frighten the boy, but the boy went wild and started to scream.

A few seconds later, more than 20 of his peers came with knives and sticks and were about to attack us. An older guy riding a motorbike came and the boy jumped behind the biker and they sped off. No one even tried to stop and watch what was going on. At this very moment, our fear made us get into the minibus and drive away.

This was a turning point for me. After watching this, only one thing was on my mind, how could I live here? It's not the incident itself that made me change my mind to move to Egypt, but rather the passersby who were watching us being attacked and blackmailed by thugs at daytime. While Egyptians are known for being helpful, the spike in criminal activity has made many reluctant to intervene as they would have before the revolution.

Tahrir Square is one of the most crowded squares, if not the most, in Egypt. To have your cellphone stolen at daytime and in front of hundreds of watchers, one needs to think 100 times before deciding to settle in Egypt, but thank God, I only thought once and decided not endanger the lives of family in country that almost has no safety.

It's not that I've given up on Egypt forever. My love of Egypt is endless and priceless. It's my birthplace and the country that embraced me for 14 years, the country that granted me citizenship. 

But I feel so sad that Egypt is no longer safe. Once this country was the safest place in the world with millions of foreign tourists spending their most beautiful times under its warm loving sun or enjoying its golden beaches. 

The problem is that after the revolution the prisons were emptied. There now seem to be more criminals than policemen on the streets. I have heard true stories of rape, kidnapping, murder, and many crimes.

One more thing that has frightened me about the new Egypt: extremism. Islamic extremism is growing rapidly in Egypt, this has been notable after the revolution, and more clear after the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi took office a year ago today.

Gaza is ruled by an Islamic party, but there is no extremism. Gaza is blockaded and frequently attacked by Israel, but the crime level is very low and internal security is near to excellent.

From my heart, I hope that Egypt will be safe like Gaza soon.

Ahmed Aldabba is a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor in Gaza City, Gaza.


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