Egypt: Echoes of the revolution far from Cairo

Nagaa Hammadi The streets of Nagaa Hammadi are much quieter than those of Cairo

When the 25 January revolution happened in Egypt in 2011, the capital Cairo became the focus of world attention. Millions of Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square to call for bread, freedom and social justice. But millions more watched events from afar. Sixty per cent of the country's population live outside the big urban centres of Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said. In the latest in her series of reports, Egypt's Challenge, the BBC's Shaimaa Khalil travels to Upper Egypt to examine the effects of the revolution two years on.

"You're going from one Egypt to another Egypt," Yassin Gaber, a young Egyptian journalist, told me on my trip to the south.

"You slip into a different world geographically, culturally and politically. People's priorities are a bit different."

We were travelling by train overnight, about 600km (370 miles) south, to the town of Nagaa Hammadi on the banks of the Nile.

Start Quote

Moataz

Violence happens easily, for the smallest reasons and quite quickly”

End Quote Moataz

Another companion on our journey was Islam Hammam, who is from Nagaa Hammadi and returns regularly to visit his family. He had agreed to show me his hometown and be my guide to a part of Egypt I had never visited before.

Islam is 21 years old, and a student in Cairo. He is also a member of the Sixth of April movement, which was at the forefront of revolutionary protests in Tahrir Square.

Islam told me that Upper Egypt had always felt abandoned by the government during the time of former President Hosni Mubarak, and the revolution does not seem to have changed that sentiment.

"Some people do feel the benefits of the revolution - that now we have freedom. Others are not bothered, they just want jobs and stability. They feel things are worse now," he said.

"So when I come back, I try to raise political awareness."

'Violence is normal'

One of the first things I noticed when we arrived in Nagaa Hammadi was a man on a motorcycle with a Kalashnikov strapped to his back. I soon saw two more.

They were not police officers, just ordinary civilians.

There have been many reports about the proliferation of weapons in Upper Egypt since the revolution.

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Shaimaa Khalil
  • Listen to Shaimaa Khalil's documentary Egypt's Challenge on the BBC World Service on Tuesday 21 May at 08:05, 14:32 and 19:05 GMT

"Violence is normal here. This has always been the case," Moataz, one of Islam's friends, told me.

"Before, it was controlled. Now there's no control. It's just chaotic. Violence happens easily, for the smallest reasons and quite quickly," he said.

"People used to buy weapons and hide them for an emergency and now the emergency has come."

Both Islam and Moataz smiled when I asked about police control in Nagaa Hammadi.

They told me the police often depended on powerful members of the community as well as family elders to help them protect the town. That is how things are done in the south.

"They're the government's way of controlling Upper Egypt - the powerful families," Moataz told me.

In a nearby village, farmer and landowner Karam Hussein told me that despite being a supporter of President Mohammed Morsi, he felt very frustrated at the lack of development in Upper Egypt.

Farmer Karam Hussein Karam Hussein says people in Upper Egypt feel marginalised

The sense of abandonment by those in power has not changed after the revolution, Mr Hussein said.

"For things to happen here we have to do them ourselves, we pay for it all. What are the development projects they have for us? Nothing.

"Unless something horrible happens - an infestation of some sort or a catastrophe in one of the factories - they don't ask about us. So of course we feel marginalised," he added.

Map

Mr Hussein said that despite being far from Cairo, most people in Upper Egypt followed the events in the capital.

"Just because we are marginalised doesn't mean we are ignorant. Of course farmers are aware of politics and they follow it."

Before we left the village, we were invited by some of the elders to talk over mint tea and Shisha pipes.

Our young guide, Islam, got into a heated debate with them about the right to demonstrate, and I realised what a rare sight this was - young and old talking politics and discussing the revolution.

"We weren't able to do that before. This is part of the change," Islam told me, smiling.

Listen to The Documentary: Egypt's Challenge on Tuesday 21 May on the BBC World Service.

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