Why this Expat (Still) Loves Egypt

I find myself looking forward to a post-midnight-Cinderella-like Cairo during the hours just before dawn. The city, like a child with a continuous temper tantrum deafening the day, suddenly falls quiet, gently stirring every now and again with the sound of wheels speeding past on the tarmac road. With the commotion of the day laid to rest, albeit temporarily, one can finally think, wind down, and reflect.

It’s during these moments when I can think about Egypt, my beloved, a firm favorite ever since I knew of its existence. And although many complain about Egypt, personifying the country as a female, I often feel the need to distinguish between the country that is full of charm and charisma, and the man-made system that has reduced the country to the state it is in today.

This is presumably because I have always imagined Egypt to be a dazzling young woman, full of so much potential. But because she was used, abused, and abandoned, she grew up in poverty, finding herself naked and exposed. Passers-by would pretend she was not there, fixing their gaze straight ahead. Some would throw her scraps of clothing, only out of embarrassment for having to see such a sight every morning.

Negligence, and being taken advantage of, paralyzed this once beautiful woman, now filthy; opportunistic flies swarming around her as though she were rotten meat. While the people around her will passionately say, we hate this woman, we hate Egypt, the way I see it is, we hate the state Egypt is in; we have grown to despise the way she is and has been, inhumanely, and barbarically, treated.

Luckily, we often catch a glimpse of her beauty in the form of her supple land where trees will grow in its desert, where the Nile is its gift, where blue skies shower us with warmth and forgiveness for what can only be described as the madness that has been carried out on the land below. Sometimes we catch a glimpse of what she could be if only people were to realize she wasn’t to blame, that she was beautiful; it was just the state that she was in that made her repulsive, that has made so many Egyptians want to leave her.

And sometimes, I don’t blame them for wanting to escape. It often seems like the status quo wants to keep this woman on the street, begging for a morsel of compassion, asking for someone to clothe her vulnerabilities. Those who try to help her feel like they are fighting a losing battle, because as soon as they offer a piece of clothing, ten people tear at it, wanting it for themselves.

Sometimes, when I am up in the early hours of the morning, listening to Egypt’s quiet, yet broken heartbeat, I imagine her telling me that she was a victim of injustice. Tell them, she would say, tell them it wasn’t her fault she was pieced together in torn clothing; tell them it wasn’t her fault she was dirty, with a foul stench. Tell them, she wasn’t the one who was hurting them, who deserved the curses thrown her way. In her pleading hazel eyes, I would imagine the bronze Pyramids reflected in them, the breathtaking vistas, the warmth of the people who really do love her, despite what she looks like now, despite the state she is in.

And in these moments I find myself whispering to her, out loud to the open sky, with tears filling my eyes: habibty ya Masr.

Egypt- even in the maddening darkness, there is beauty and hope.

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