Egypt protests: Jason Stewart shares his experiences
- February 6, 2011 4:39 PM |
- By Your Voice
Tourists make their way to a terminal to attempt to leave Egypt, at Cairo airport, Egypt, Wednesday, Feb.2, 2011. The U.S. began evacuating nonessential government personnel and their families Wednesday, while crowds piled up at Cairo's airport as more than 8,000 people played the odds in hopes of securing a seat aboard a commercial airline that would allow them to escape the chaos engulfing Egypt. (Victoria Hazou/ Associated Press)
Bio: Jason Stewart is a Canadian who has been working as a Grade 4 language arts teacher at Misr Language Schools in Cairo, Egypt. In a phone interview with CBCNews.ca, Jason described his experiences as he, his wife and daughter attempted to catch a flight out of Cairo on Jan. 29.
**This interview has been edited for length
We had been keeping a close eye on developments in Egypt for a while. After the bombing of a church in Alexandria and the shootings of some Coptic Christians on a train, I had thought that there would be a problem between the Christians and Muslims. As it turns out, it's a political thing.
Jan. 25 is known as Police Day in Egypt, a holiday to celebrate the men in uniform. The police in Egypt had become a symbol of oppression and corruption. After the uprising in Tunisia, the Egyptian people felt emboldened enough to try to make a change of their own.
I have Egyptian friends -- they all felt like [the protests were] going to be just a one- or two-day thing. They didn't think it would be as big as it turned out to be. I think everyone is surprised at the scale of it. Everyone was caught off guard.
At the beginning, it was mostly younger people without jobs taking part, which is why they thought it was just going to blow over -- they thought it was just a student thing.
Something about these protests spoke to people, and I understand where it's coming from, because in my time there, I saw the level of poverty common in Egypt. When you go to stores, there's an Egyptian price for Egyptian products, and then there's a foreign price for foreign products. The difference between the two is unbelievable.
When the protests began, [my wife] and I talked about what would need to happen before we decided to leave. Then, on Friday, the Internet was cut off. As we turned on CNN, we saw things escalating before our eyes. We watched, more concerned, but still didn't feel the need to evacuate the country.
We saw a headline that changed it all for us: "Delta Airlines is cancelling flights into and out of Cairo tomorrow."
Right away, we both turned to each other and said, "That's it, we have to get out." At that point, we were actually past the curfew time, so we decided that as soon as the curfew was up, we were going to leave right away.
As luck would have it, one of our neighbours was a taxi driver. [I asked] if he could take us to the airport the next morning, and he agreed.
When we got to the airport there were almost no tickets left. Desperation was setting in.
I passed a guard some money and said, "I need a ticket." He nodded, pocketed the bribe and pointed me to another counter. And sure enough, it worked.
If we didn't have any cash, we would have been stuck. Credit cards weren't working and neither were ATMs. Some of our friends in Egypt were not able to withdraw money from their bank accounts a day earlier. It really put people in a dire situation.
I can't describe the relief I felt as that plane took off with my family safely by my side. The rest of my story consists of mysteriously cancelled tickets in London, misplaced baggage in Toronto and a bag not arriving in Rochester but, as annoying as those might be, I don't care. My family is safe and there are lots of people stuck in the airport in Cairo or sealed inside their homes, living in fear. I can't complain at all.
In the West, we sometimes have this perspective of people in the Middle East being violent or prone to that sort of thing. But they're really fighting for the freedoms we take for granted.
I would hate for people to have this sense of, "Oh that's just the way they are there ... they get upset and fight and kill each other," when it's absolutely not the truth.
I don't think Mubarak will step down. I think it has become an ego thing with him now -- he doesn't want to be deposed. Not because it's the right thing for his country, but because it's right for him. The Egyptian people are not going to accept him anymore, and I guess it really comes down to what the army does. If the army finally says, "That's it, Mubarak must go," then he'll go. If they just stand around and don't get involved -- like they have been -- I think this conflict is going to go on for a long time.
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