Egypt vs Pakistan
Egypt, or Ejypt, as the Arabs pronounce it, is an interesting place with funny people. An ancient civilization, co-existing alongside a somewhat neglected, contemporary reality. I’m not putting any regional affiliation/ethnicity down. At the end of the day we’re all human beings with idiosyncrasies and shaped by our experiences and exposure. I could just as well be writing about Pakistanis and their peculiarities; which belongs to a different entry.
For starters, Egypt is a middle income developing country. Its GNP per capita is US$ 1,881. Compared to Pakistan it is a relatively rich country, which only has a GNP per capita of US$ 971. Keeping these numbers in mind and knowing Pakistan’s development issues quite well, I was shocked to see the actual state of affairs in Egypt.
The first time I went to Cairo, I was living in the most affluent area of Zamalek, which is where most of the embassies and ambassadorial residences are located. Zamalek is on an island on the Nile so it is centrally located. When the weather is nice you can walk to Downtown Cairo where the Egyptian Museum is located in Tahrir Square, the place of the Egyptian Revolution 2011. I was staying in the best locality in Zamalek, Gezira el Wosta. The best supermarket is there, the best meat is there. Every residential building has its own guard. The streets corners are also guarded by the street police. It is very safe. Ironically however, and strangely enough, even though I was living in the best area if not in all of Egypt, then certainly the best area in Cairo, it felt like a dump.
I’m used to dust everywhere, pathetic and pedestrian unfriendly road network/infrastructure, having lived in different developing countries of various national incomes levels. It’s the rubbish everywhere which got to me.
In Pakistan I have never been to a house which had a toilet where the flush didn’t work, even when I used to do fieldwork in the rural areas. Overall, there is a general poor standard of living. On a more superficial level, I saw 30+ year old cars which I have never even seen in a secondhand car shop in Pakistan. Considering that Pakistan has half the national income of Egypt, I was shocked because from the impression I had of Egyptians in the United Arab Emirates, is that Egypt is better than Pakistan in every way. However, when I went there, explored the country and continue to do so, Pakistan is a five star hotel compared to Egypt, in every way.
Poverty is not something to look down upon, it is nothing to be ashamed of either. It is a fact of life and it is a condition you can learn a lot from. Compared to Pakistanis, Egyptians are a very subdued nation, they stick to their work and try to get on with life without questioning things. It is a survival strategy to avoid trouble with the authorities. For instance the taxi drivers will not talk to you about general affairs in their country, they will take you to your destination and that’s it. The silence could be because I don’t speak Arabic and the taxi drivers don’t feel confident speaking English.
In Pakistan on the other hand, the taxi drivers have all the gossip, they know what is happening within their country as well as around the world. They will sit with their fellow taxi drivers at the tea stall during their meal or tea breaks and discuss happenings of all sorts. Even the illiterate taxi drivers will join in and contribute with their analyses and observations.
Every male who has basic schooling, which in Pakistan is up to 5th grade, or maybe only attended school for 1 or 2 years and has basic literacy skills, will read an Urdu daily. Many of them have a lot of religious knowledge.
Maybe their lack of formal education encourages them to seek information or it could be that they just happen to be formally educated, but taxi driving is the only source of income they can get hold of.
Finally, even the relatively educated taxi drivers in Egypt who speak English don’t talk much. Or as mentioned before about not speaking Arabic, it could be that they are cautious about talking to foreigners about how things are in Egypt.