Turning Stones - George McKale


Desperate times in Aswan

This week I write about what’s going on in Egypt, and Sonoma’s Sister City there, Aswan. I have provided several updates over the last few years, but in the past month, Egypt finds itself deeper and deeper in a state of utter chaos. There has been tremendous loss of life and liberty.

I have visited Aswan four times in the last three years.  I have made friends there, grown to enjoy the intriguing culture and can speak a few words in Arabic. When its time to depart from Aswan, I always tell my friends I hope to see you again soon.  Always the response is “Insha’Allah “ (if God’s willing).

One source in Aswan writes, “How are you? And thank you for asking about us.

We are trying to be fine! of course you know what happen in Egypt after the second revolution and yes, we live a very hard times because of the bad acts of Muslim Brotherhood after what happened they threaten the people in every place with violence, terrorist attacks, we get up every day worrying about what they will do next, you imagine every day we have so many killed soldiers and citizens in Sinai and other cities because of what they call “legality” what legality they speak about will comes with blood and violence!!! or by this the way they will rule the country?!!”

The latest news coming out of Egypt is the probable release of Hosni Mubarak, who ran the country from 1981 until his overthrow on February 11, 2011. Hundreds of protesters were killed during this uprising, however on February 11, Mubarak stepped down and the military dissolved the parliament and suspended their constitution. My first visit to Egypt was four months before “The Revolution.”  I would make one more trip to Egypt later in 2011.

In May of 2012, there were initial presidential elections which included a field of 13 candidates. Ultimately, two finalists, if you will, emerged, Mohammed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq.  Morsi represented the Muslim Brotherhood while Shafiq was the last Prime Minister under Mubarak.

Bill Boerum, myself and my son Andrew were there in June of 2012 when Morsi won with 51.7 percent of the vote. There were no protests. Throughout the country there seemed to be a new sense of hope.

Five months ago Boerum, myself and my son Matthew, headed to Aswan to complete the Sanitation Project, a project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  The Sonoma-Aswan committee purchased dump trucks and supplies giving them to one of the poorest neighborhoods in Aswan, El Nasriya. During this trip, there was more tension in the air then I had experienced in the past. While President Mursi, the first elected president in 5,000 years was initially tolerated, it became quite clear that nothing was being done by him to alleviate the poverty running rampant throughout Egypt.

On June 30, millions of Egyptians gathered to demonstrate Morsi’s first year in office. On July 1, the military gave President Morsi 48 hours to resolve disputes with the protestors, or threatened to take matters into it’s own hands. On July 3, Egypt’s military chief announced that Morsi had been deposed. On July 4, Supreme Constitutional Court Chief Justice Adly Mansour was sworn in as Egypt’s interim president.  The next few weeks brought bloodshed scattered throughout the country as pro-Morsi groups protested the downfall of their leader.

On July 26, the military chief called for anti-Morsi protestors to take to the streets to support the actions of the military, allowing them to stop “potential terrorism” as Morsi supporters also gather in the streets of Cairo. Diplomats from the EU and US arrive in Egypt to attempt to resolve the crisis, including visits by John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

As my source in Aswan writes, “Yesterday we heard a very strange statement by senators McCain and Graham describing what happened as ‘a coup’ and demanding releasing M.B leaders — the same leaders who provoke about violence against every one disagree with them!!- i wonder the strange defending and support of the American administration of M.B without looking and put in consideration the Egyptians will and who you are defending of? a terrorist group who has now vision to rule a great country like Egypt.”

On August 14, riot police cleared two pro-Morsi encampments killing 638 people. As of this writing, well over 1,000 people have died in the last month. My informant writes, “You can`t imagine how much fury and anger of the people about what happen because of all this the economy is so bad, there is no tourists in Aswan or Luxor a lot of people lost their jobs, so many people lives a very hard situation, we pray every day to get over this.”

I do not know when I will return to Egypt. I have heard from many friends and the situation is desperate.  I hope for a quick resolution. I hope for stability.  I hope to return as a friend and a tourist. Insha’Allah.

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