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[Ehab Kotb] Revolution leaving much of Egypt behind

CAIRO ― Dramatic and once unimaginable changes have occurred in Egypt over the last six months. President Hosni Mubarak has been ousted from office. The people have won the right to new and free elections. The long-feared secret police appears to have been muzzled.

But this revolution has only occurred in Cairo and the northern part of the country.

Upper Egypt, an area that forms more than two-thirds of the country, is quite different and remains largely untouched by the changes that are occurring daily.

Compared with the north of the country, Upper Egypt has been historically disadvantaged; there are fewer job opportunities; a weaker health service; poor education and even worse transport links.

People are not as ambitious as they are in the capital because they are busy with more basic economic and security needs. There are a lot of gangs in the streets, and crime is one the rise. It’s unsafe to walk the streets after dark in certain areas. The state of the security situation, which is perceived as poor in Cairo, is even worse there.

That’s why the upheavals in the north have really scared those in the south. They see any change as a threat to the little stability and security they have in their lives.

Those that hoped that the revolution would improve the situation in the region have been disappointed. If anything, the situation is worse, with unemployment very high and security deteriorating. Even the Egyptian media pays little attention to conditions outside the major city centers.

Instead of progress following Mubarak’s ouster, there has been an increase in violence against Egyptian Christians. Labor unrest has also erupted over low wages.

There has also been industrial action, with a sit-in in Egypt’s largest aluminum factory in Nag Hamadi over low wages, and strikes by railway workers.

Right now, the government in Cairo seems too distracted to deal with these issues. And that’s a shame. Upper Egypt is rich in natural resources, which could the economy and lower unemployment.

In addition, the area is rich in historical sites, not just Luxor and Aswan, so there could be real development of tourism too.

Locally, however, there seems to be little political will to take advantage of the changing climate, with the same old faces dominating the landscape.

Meanwhile, the civil society movement credited with bringing about The Arab Spring across the region has been slow to develop here.

With elections scheduled for the fall, it remains unclear what party will dominate the region. Most are so busy attempting to organize themselves they’re unable to focus on the needs of the electorate in Upper Egypt.

Yet, unless the people of Upper Egypt become involved in the political life of the country and invested in its future, there is little chance that the revolution we have all witnessed will ultimately succeed. It’s important for the whole country that Upper Egypt be engaged in the changes taking place, rather than just responding to the dictates of Cairo.

By Ehab Kotb, The Institute for War&Peace Reporting

Ehab Kotb is a member of the Middle East program for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting, a nonprofit organization that trains journalists in areas of conflict. ― Ed.

(McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)
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