May Days

May 15, 2013
Isaac Friesen and Wanda Wall-Bergen |

It has been a busy few weeks with travel, a new set of courses, and the happy arrival of my Uncle Bob and Cousin Jon. Due to all the activity, my body finally wore down a couple days ago and I contracted a cold and sore throat. However that did not stop me from staying up to stream game 7 of the Leafs-Bruins game- my first taste of hockey in over two years. Up 4-1 with only 11 minutes to play it looked like my beloved Leafs would pull off the series upset. You probably know what happened next.

I have been a Leaf fan since as long as I can remember. Despite nine straight years out of the playoffs, considerations for my emotional health, and basic human reason; my allegiance never wavered. It has not always been easy. The Egyptian nationalist Mustafa Kamil Pasha famously said 'If I weren't Egyptian, I would have wished to be an Egyptian.' Well if I weren't a Leaf fan, and I most certainly wouldn't have wished to be one.

Otherwise life is back to normal for us in Beni Suef. A new slate of courses began last week, with classes full of eager and enthusiastic students. The streets are awash with onions, apples and watermelons. And with daily highs in the 30s, it is safe to say that Egypt's heavenly spring has come to an end. Ceiling fans have almost already become a necessity, while the sun is best avoided midday.

Coming back from beautiful Spain was a bit of an adjustment. But we are genuinely happy to be back in dusty, little Beni Suef. Even after short trips to Cairo, Beni Suef always seems to receive us like a soft catcher's mitt. People here are so friendly. From the smiles of fruits vendors to the handshakes of the children on our street, it has not taken long to feel at home again.

Most young people are focused on high school and university exams. Those whose faces are not planted in a textbook are mainly talking about politics or football. Most notably Egypt's many Barcelona FC fans walk about in a stupor- not willing to accept the teams 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Bayern Munich in last month's Champions League showdown. I tell them it could be worse.

I want conclude by sharing a story that captures the spirit and struggle in Egypt at present. Nowadays a very common dividing line in Egypt concerns one's position on the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Whether talking to young children at schools or strangers on the train we are often asked, 'Do you like Morsi?' It is an unfortunate and overly-simplistic discourse- but it is a reality.

So here is the story: our friend works as a secretary at a government school in the countryside. Some of the school's faculty supports the Brotherhood, while others oppose the group. One day the school was rewarded with a visit by a government Minister (and member of the MB) from Cairo. Upon his entourage's entrance into the school, a young, Muslim teacher approached the Minister and told him Egypt's education system was a mess, and that it had only gotten worse with the MB in power. Soon thereafter the Minister left in a huff.

Immediately following the incident, pro-MB teachers began a push to have the outspoken teacher fired, making allegations of ethical corruption of the students, and even trying to manipulate compromising photos of the male teacher. The high school students became aware of the scheme and countered with an outcry of their own, as by all accounts the young teacher was quite beloved.

The following day the hallways were alight with tension and excitement. Things came to a head with a meeting between all teachers of concern, who eventually agreed with the principal to forget the entire matter and move on as if nothing had happened. But the students would have none of it, demanding that the pro-MB teachers be fired. The students would not budge, and ultimately all teachers involved were transferred to new schools.

An incident like this would never have occurred before the revolution. Some Egyptians argue this combativeness is symptomatic of a newfound lack of respect for authority. Others see it more positively. For all its present failures, it is undeniable that the revolution won Egyptians greater freedom of speech. And if one is looking for reasons for optimism in Egypt, the emerging voices of the country's millions and millions of young people might be a good place to start.

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