Why some Egyptians wish their revolution had never happened

Umm Karim, a mother of four, can only afford one meal per day. Her teenage sons both lost their jobs when the factory they worked in burned down in Egypt's revolution.

Mohamed Abd El-Ghany/Reuters/File
A boy watches as pro-democracy supporters gather in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Feb. 18. Even as Egypt's uprising inspires escalating protests from Libya to Bahrain, some Egyptians are beginning to wish that their own revolution had never happened.

Even as Egypt's uprising inspires escalating protests from Libya to Bahrain, some Egyptians are beginning to wish that their own revolution had never happened.

“It’s hard for me to rest because I’m feeling bad for my kids,” says Said Shaban, who hasn't slept well for weeks and doesn’t know how he is going to find money to feed his children dinner. “My main disappointment in the revolution is that it caused unsettlement.... Ever since the revolution started, I have not had a job. Life for me is disrupted.”

Living 25 miles from Tahrir Square, Mr. Shaban wasn’t involved in Egypt’s 18 days of protests, or the labor strikes that have swept the country for weeks. But like others living in poor Egyptian towns far from the reaches of downtown Cairo, he is feeling the economic reverberations of the nation’s massive uprising.

Egyptians are no strangers to economic woes; 40 percent of the population lives on roughly $2 or less a day, according to the World Bank. But the added strain of the revolution is casting a shadow over hopes for change in places like al-Maraziq, the bustling, dusty town where Shaban lives.

'I miss going to school'

Many in al-Maraziq, including Shaban, take jobs by the day. Some work in construction, inside factories, or farm the region’s land, which is known by locals as the town of 2 million palm trees for its thriving forestry. But building projects have paused and business ventures have been disrupted in light of ongoing political instability.

On Sunday, Shaban bought breakfast for two Egyptian pounds, roughly 35 cents, using money he borrowed from his nephew. The next day, he said, he would have to take money from a neighbor, “but they can’t help me forever.”

Some poor Egyptians have taken to the streets in recent weeks demanding workers’ rights and increased salaries. On Wednesday, jobless protesters set fire to part of the Ministry of Interior building.

One mechanic in al-Maraziq, Said Said, says that business has declined. He also now pays more for paints and spare parts, as strikes have slowed production of various materials. Like others who face economic hardships, he wonders if Egypt's political upheaval will improve his situation.

“There is one main thing on my mind right now,” says Mr. Said. “After the revolution, will I be able to get a proper job as a skilled laborer, or will I keep working out of this shop?”

His 11-year-old nephew, Mourad Said, stood outside, his forehead freckled with blue paint from the morning’s work. For weeks, public schools like his have been closed. Instead of going to his favorite class, Arabic, he instead works here at his uncle’s shop.

“I really don’t know about the revolution,” he said, his brown eyes looking confused. “But I miss going to school.”

'I wish the revolution had never happened'

Down a narrow alley lined by towering brick walls, Umm Karim lives in a one-room apartment. As the last rays of sun disappear, she still hasn’t cooked her only meal for the day. “I wish the revolution never happened,” she says, her voice strong but tired. The mother of four can’t afford more than one daily dish in the days after Mubarak’s fall.

Her two teenage boys used to provide her with money that they earned at a local paper factory. The factory, however, burned down during the revolution, and they, too, are now out of work. Farag and Sameh are now sleeping on the living room floor with the rest of the family.

Like others in this town, Umm Karim is feeling impatient. But despite daily hardships, some don’t mind suffering if there is hope for a better future.

“No matter how long we wait, it’s going to be worth it,” Um Karim’s neighbor Maghdi Said says. “It’s just a matter of time.”

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