04 March, 2012

Visa renewal, politics, and the prosecution of civil society workers in Egypt

Renewing my visa in Egypt was a relatively simple affair.  My host from the Boomerang Hotel accompanied me to the Luxor passport office, and "expedited" my application by talking to one of the officials; a 4 EGP "baksheesh," or tip, was slipped into the civil servant's hands sotto voce to grease the wheels of bureaucracy.  I dropped my passport and application at 9h30, and was told to return at 13h00 to collect my new visa.  

On the visa renewal form was a question about the applicant's religion, something one would not see in North America or Western Europe.  But the question of faith is an omnipresent consideration in a region layered with milleniums of sectarian complications.  Moreover, though I presented my American passport, the visa official questioned me rather extensively about my nationality, and seemed to be challenged by the notion that a non-caucasian could be from the United States.  Was it ignorance, provincialism, or simply the challenging state of Egypt-American relations that led her to her inquiries?

Discussing politics has been a complicated affair.  Egyptians on the one hand are warm and welcoming, want foreign investment and assistance, but are also at times suspicious of our motives. During the past month many individuals I have spoken to are especially uneasy about the government's ongoing prosecution of international civil society workers.

"Why would they be arrested and charged," some have expressed to me, "if they are not guilty of violating Egyptian laws?"  Opinions have ranged from the assumption of guilt based on the NGO workers' recent flight, to public outrage in reaction to the government's decision to permit the Americans and Europeans to leave Egypt before the trial.  Charges of political interference with Egypt's judicial process were brought forth, and the Muslim Brotherhood-led Parliament have promised inquiries to investigate those who may be responsible for releasing the non-Egyptian defendants.  Nationalist sentiments are running high, with a range of parliamentary factions expressing dismay that Egyptian sovereignty was once again compromised under foreign pressure.

1 comment:

Baino said...

It's interesting that you mention 'motives' our assumption in the west I guess is that everyone 'knows' or is exposed to what we are ...not the case..it also works in reverse, look at our misunderstandings about the middle east and Africa (the latest kerfuffle regarding Joseph Konyo,for instance, the guy's been doing it for years yet only now is the world becoming aware.) And the US is offering support and has troops trying to find him but few seem to know this. My hope is that internet based communications,Twitter etc. will somehow help to break down these prejudices and the ignorance held on both sides. Interesting times indeed. Anyway don't want to get too preachy, I'm not across all the issues but you sound like you're in the thick of it