Al-Ahram Weekly Online   31 December 2009 - 6 January 2010
Issue No. 979
New Decade's special edition
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Infinite dreams

The sound of 2020 is musical but is the future going to be that agreeable? Al-Ahram Weekly asks Egyptians from different backgrounds about their visions

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Crowded cities, more pollution and tougher economic conditions are some of the challenges facing Egyptians in 2020

Where will we be in 10 years time? The future will be a reflection of the present, according to many of those asked in a poll of how Egyptians see the future. Yet, while someone currently leading a comfortable style of life does not necessarily predict a rosy future, neither does a struggling citizen trying to make ends meet sees one that is necessarily bleak.

The dreams of those sampled predict a higher status for Egypt in sports, international politics, education and economics. On the other hand, fears of stagnation, chaos and over-crowdedness loom over the lives of worriers. People's personal dreams lie concealed in their dreams of a better future for their homeland.

Twenty-five-year-old banker Hatem Hamad's dream is for Egypt to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Exporting new technologies to the world and having more than 3,000 universities and colleges, in addition to gold medals from the Olympics, are high on his list of wishes for Egypt. "We will be the second wealthiest nation, and everyone will want to live here. All this is in my head, though. It won't necessarily happen."

If such a rosy future is to come to pass, there is a serious need for planning, according to Rasha Nael, 26, a housewife. Currently, she says, "we don't have any." Other developing countries are on a faster track, which is mirrored in their infrastructure and financial level.

Senior sales manager for Logistics and Supply Chain Services, Hatem Afifi, 23, sees development and growth in the future, but he does not see any major changes on the political level. "Economically, there will be major shifts with the expansion of the volume of trading and commerce. If we manage to keep the same level, our position will be better in the global market."

It is the Egyptians alone who can bring about change in the country, he adds. "Optimism also depends on the will of the Egyptians to understand the importance of taking the initiative to develop and preclude repeating the same mistakes over and over again," Afifi says.

Even if life in Egypt in 2020 could mean more pollution, more overcrowded cities and fewer job opportunities, there is still hope, says Soheir Mahfouz, 55, a professor of linguistics, translation and simultaneous interpretation at the Faculty of Al-Alsun, Ain Shams University. "I am very optimistic, and I have my reasons. I believe in the potential of our younger generation, the makers of tomorrow. All you have to do is provide them with a role model to look up to. Believe me, it works wonders," she says.

Mahfouz sees a younger generation that follows its benevolent heart and uses its bright minds to come up with fresh ideas. She believes a better future is ahead of us.

Somaya Abdel-Mawla, 40, a housewife, also sees 2020 as offering a brighter future thanks to the help of Egyptian youth. Young people, she says, have the right character for a better future. "The media always depicts young people as shallow, but on the contrary many of them are active and intellectual. The fact that the ruling National Democratic Party is trying to present its youth members on the political scene is a further positive sign."

Islam Moguib, 23, a mass communication graduate of Cairo University, is also optimistic, though he envisions a larger population and a greater difference between social classes. However, "technology will enhance every aspect of Egyptians' lives." Moguib's wish is that the public sector will be strengthened and employees' wages increased. "If the public sector worked like the private one, or like the public sector does in Europe, the country would be massively enhanced."

The increasing population seems to be the number one concern for many. Randa Ibrahim, 23, a microbiology diploma student at Cairo University, believes that a larger population will include richer citizens and more indigent ones, with a steadily diminishing middle class. "Good education and masters degrees will guarantee jobs in the private sector, while those without these things will be hard put to it to find a job. The answer is education and improving personal and work skills."

Many others are broadly pessimistic. Nehal Seddik, 36, a bank branch manager, imagines that Egypt in 2020 will not be much better than where it is today, and that the future in Egypt will be tougher on all Egyptians. She says her wish is to "liberate Egyptians from their daily financial stress, because I think that this is the biggest threat for Egypt's stability and national security."

However, she does not expect this to come about. In fact, "the worst is yet to come. Even if future indicators sound optimistic, I can't help but feel otherwise."

Another citizen who sees nothing good happening in the next decade is Abdel-Sabour, 53, an electrician. "Nothing will change, and the only concern for Egyptians will be to provide food on the table and throw their dreams and ambitions in the bin. It will be the land of the living dead," he says.

From a different age group, but with similarly harsh expectations, Hisham Nasr, 14, a student at Talaae Al-Kamal School, believes that the educational system is the greatest example that nothing will change in the future. He takes his school textbooks as an example. "They have not changed in 10 years, so why will they change in the future?" At his young age, he thinks the key to a better future for the country is all about education and competing technologically. "Good education is the way to produce a strong generation to lead the country," Nasr says.

Eighteen-year-old Adham Alaa, a freshman law student at Ain Shams University, also sees a high-tech Egypt in the future, one that facilitates people's lives while also affecting traditions and morals. "A widening gap between the classes is the worst that could happen in Egypt," he says.

American Diploma high school student Ahmed Khairi argues that Egypt's situation is going to deteriorate even more in relation to how the world is progressing in technology and science. Egypt is far behind, Khairi believes, and the only way it can catch up is if a scientific revolution takes place.

"I wish we could advance in the military field. We need to create weapons, so we can defend ourselves when we need to and gain other countries' respect." Khairi's worst-case scenario is that by 2020 Egypt is invaded or goes to war. As for his personal wish, he says "I want to be a professional football player."

Omar Youssef, who is in the first year of high school, has a contradictory opinion. "I see Egypt moving forward towards development," Youssef says. "I'm optimistic because Egypt is going to move forward through our efforts." Youssef wants to be a businessman, and this is how he feels he is going to help people.

Swimming coach at Ahli Club in Cairo Shamseddin Mahmoud, in his mid-30s, is concerned by how things are going in the country. He thinks that most problems lie in the hands of the public and their culture. "We are the ones who need to change," he says. He strongly believes that the reason we are not on the right track of development is resistance to improvement.

"Where are our scientists and intellectuals? Most of them are living outside the country. I hope that this culture of fighting new ideas vanishes by 2020, and that people realise that nationalism is about devotion to work, family and country and not just about encouraging the national football team."

Another pessimist, this time working in an international company, is 29-year-old engineer Karim Boutros, who is convinced that 2020 will be much tougher on Egyptians. "Changing for the sake of a better future is a two-way street between society and the government, and I believe that society is indolent enough to leave the burden to the government, so the result can't be good," he says.

Again education is a key word, and the answer is in the hands of the people, "who can change this reality".

Coming from a different social and financial background, 40- year-old Abdel-Tawab Gaber, who has been working as a building caretaker for the past 10 years and is father to four children, has views similar to those of Boutros. Abdel-Tawab is tired of nepotism and corruption, and he does not want to see any more abuse of power by officials. "I want to see transparency and accountability. I want another Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, the Muslim caliph who was known for his just rule."

Abdel-Tawab is hoping that by 2020 ordinary people's standards of living will improve. "I'm hoping for better hospitals and health insurance, better means of transportation, and better education for our children."

As for Dina Abu Ghazala, 24, a journalist with the BBC, she thinks that life will be tougher for Egyptians in 2020 and life in Cairo will be more chaotic because of the increasing population. "The worst political scenario for Egypt would be the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood as the only opposition power in Egypt. My biggest dream is to see an illiteracy-free country."

Rania Abdel-Rahim, in her mid-30 and working in finance in the private sector, shares prevailing feelings of pessimism. She expects the same level, if not more embezzlement and nepotism. In addition to the lack of democracy and the violations of human rights, she fears seeing an Egypt that resembles Iran. "This is my worst nightmare, seeing a fanatical Egypt if the Brotherhood takes over."

As for Judge Ayman El-Husseini, 33, the larger population in Egypt in 2020 will mean an increase in the crime rate. "We will need better security forces to control this danger," he says, adding that "I hope [President Hosni] Mubarak's plans for development come true."

Nadia Ahmed, a housewife and grandmother, believes the year 2020 will witness a closer world, with great shifts in the areas of communication, information and satellite broadcasting, resulting in better global awareness and common humanitarian grounds.

"However, we need to make sure that we do our part in this globalisation and do not forget our own history, traditions and cultural identity." She feels sad about her conviction that the number of unemployed will increase despite efforts to lower it.

Finding a link between the future and the religious convictions of the population, Heba Gaber, 14, a pupil at the Hadaek Al-Ahram Public School in Giza, argues that people have gone astray from worshipping and many have lost their morals, such that the future will probably be worse than the present. However, Gaber is optimistic that Egypt will be able to progress in science and technology and become a successful and developed nation. On a personal note, she hopes that her father will be able to go on pilgrimage.

For Hussein Murad, 50, a microbus driver who lives in one of the poorer areas of Giza, the future is bleak. "I think we will be taken over by America and Israel in 2020," he says. Murad thinks that the future of the Egyptians will be even darker and gloomier by 2020. "People will go from bad to worse. Poverty and the number of homeless people will increase." Murad only hopes for security, which is also his personal dream. He has a two-year-old daughter and he is concerned for her future and whether he will be able to support her.

Competing for the worst scenario for Egypt is Salma Mustafa, a junior student at the Faculty of Arts, Sociology Department, who forecasts that swine flu will have eradicated most of the Egyptian population by 2020. A very pessimistic Mustafa laments a past during which she was not alive 30 years ago. "I have been told that people had better morals then and that the crime rate was not that high. If social injustice keeps escalating, with the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer, there will be no hope for a better future."

Life has been tough for 26-year-old Basma Qorani, who is illiterate and the mother of two-year-old Fatemah. Working as a housekeeper to help support herself since she was six with her three sisters, she longs for a social system that supports people like her and her family. "My father worked as a building caretaker all his life. Now he is old and can't support himself." Qorani is hoping to find a project for him, like a kiosk, to help him generate some income.

As for the more affluent, such as Hiam Mohamed, a 52-year-old head of department at the Ministry of Education, she is also concerned about constant increases in the cost of living in Egypt. Although she is optimistic that Egypt in general may get better by 2020, she is still fearful for the future. For her, the worst-case scenario is that people will not be able to satisfy their basic needs because of sky-rocketing prices. Her deep-seated wish is that the country will have a real democratic system.

Cleanliness and respect for people's needs is what Gamal Ghoneim, 45, a taxi driver, wishes to see by 2020. However, he is hard put to see a better future for Egypt. "If there was any intention to improve the situation, signs would have appeared today," he says.

Pharmacist and sales and marketing director in a reputable hospital Peter Mansour believes that Egypt is at a crossroads. "By 2020, if Egypt isn't a well-established democratic state chaos will prevail. In order to achieve this, we have to have elections characterised by integrity." According to Mansour, under the conditions present now, no one can nominate himself or herself for the presidency. "The opposition parties are also facing obstacles to have their share of an honest and fair political life in Egypt," he says.

Nevertheless, Mansour sees many positive projects that have been inaugurated lately, such as the new Ring Road and the new Ain Sokhna Road, but on the economic and financial front he feels that Egypt is heading down a steep slope.

He does not feel either optimistic or pessimistic about the future. "I'm a realist. I believe in plans and actions," he says. His best-case scenario for Egypt in 2020 would be cooperation between the NGOs, the private sector and the state to secure better life conditions for all Egyptians. As for the worst he can imagine, this would be if injustice prevails, thus resulting in chaos and crime. As a personal wish, Mansour says that he is now 32 years old, and he wishes to become one of the best- known marketers in the Middle East by 2020.

Despite the harsh conditions that Hussein Aref, 31, a barber in the Dweiqa poorer area, lives in, he thinks the country will be better in 2020 than it is today. He thinks that it will be cleaner and homeless people will have apartments to live in. He wants Egypt to be better for all and every person to be able to find a job.

Omar Abdel-Wahed, 14, a student, has a humorous take on the future.

"The number of cars and microbuses will at least triple, and Cairo will turn into one gigantic parking space. People will become uglier and dumber because of the pollution, while on the bright side, Farghali, the famous fresh juice shop in Mohandessin, will sell canned watermelon juice."

On a similar note, Abdel-Wahed opines that the likes of Am Hosni, a famous Egyptian fast-snack spot, will take over all the McDonald's and KFC branches. "I think rich people will be richer, and poor ones will be more miserable," he says. "You know what? I might even be president."

Written by Dena Rashed, opinions sampled by Salonaz Sami, Amira El-Naqeeb, Soha Hesham and Ahmed Abu Ghazala.

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