Mr Umberbi supports his wife and four children, aged 2 to 6, by charging visitors to Giza's pyramids who want to have their photographs taken on his two camels - or at least he did until Egypt's popular uprising and the ensuing violence killed the tourist trade and his business stone dead. Suddenly he had no customers and no money to feed either his family or the hungry camels which live in a tiny stable at the end of the passage.
An Egyptian lesson
I was reading the webnews today, and i came across one particular article that spoke about the human cost of the Egyptian uprising. I found it an interesting analysis that i hadn't considered before.
He wanted the demonstrations to stop, not because he loved Mubarak, or the oppressive Government, but because he loved his family. It seems paradoxical -- you would imagine that a father would want a change of Government so that it can lead to a better future for his family (that always seems to be the buzzphrase for revolutionaries, "Rise up today so that your children can lead a better life!"). But the demonstrations have removed his ability to feed his family by taking away his livelihood, and the repercussions of that are very real, damn the goodness of a free democracy. He isn't alone.
6% of Egypt's GDP is drawn from the tourism industry -- literally overnight, that has gone to 0. Hundreds of thousands of jobs have suddenly evaporated, leaving potentially millions of empty stomachs and hungry voices. The economic repercussions don't stop there, of course. The ripple affect will sweep across multiple industries -- financial markets will be hit, construction, retail -- everyone will feel the pinch. 10-15% contraction of the economy is probably a conservative figure. Millions of people will be left jobless (on top of the already disastrous 25% unemployment rate).
Where does all of this lead? History tells us that when the chips are down, when people no longer have faith in the Government, or in the rest of the world to help them, they will turn to religion. Iran. Iraq. Afghanistan. Lebanon. Palestine. Will we soon add Egypt to that list? The return of a religiously fundamentalist government, conservative (defiantly so perhaps, as we've seen with Hamas), and fully right wing. Democratically elected, no less. Salvation promised, if not on Earth, but in the Hereafter, insyallah. That's the last thing the Middle East needs. God help them.
There is a lesson in all of this for us here in Malaysia, and it's not the type of lesson that the Opposition would want you to believe. Social uprising, revolution, and political change is a romantic wonder -- we all have something we hate about our lives, and i think it's a convenient out to blame the Government for it. Price of petrol? Rising costs of living? Dead (murdered?) witnesses in custody? The rape of the Sarawak rain forests? Blown up Mongolian models? Stupid price of cars? Unemployment? Racial animosity? Everyone has a beef somewhere, and the cure all solution is a swift change of Government.
I put to you that the easiest thing to do would be to change the Government. As the Egyptian lesson has shown us, changing a Government is just a matter of getting a few hundred thousand people to be upset, bring their grievances to the streets, and try to provoke a Tianamen Square-type incident to gain international sympathy. People will die for their beliefs, but that's collateral costs, and small losses compared to what can be gained. Right?
Pay heed to Egypt. We will be wise to avoid their mistakes. And i don't mean the demonstrations and riots.