© Submitted photo
Corner Brook native Debbie Joseph has a little fun as she visits the Egyptian pyramids.
CAIRO, Egypt — After the Arab Spring uprising nearly two years ago, Debbie Joseph felt better days were ahead in Egypt.
So did most of the Egyptians who helped oust Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 after 18 days of protestation against his 30-year rule.
Joseph, who now goes by the name Zainab Yousef Abdullah, has been teaching in the Middle East for the last three years since moving there from Corner Brook. She lived in Saudi Arabia for two years before moving to the 6th of October City area of Cairo this past July.
In recent weeks, she has watched her new country’s unrest growing since new president Mohammed Morsi gave himself sweeping new powers, including control of the judiciary.
Egyptians are in the process of voting in a constitutional referendum. It looks as though Morsi’s draft constitution will be approved, but there have been allegations that the voting was not conducted fairly.
The citizens, as they did when fed up with Mubarak, have been protesting against Morsi’s heavy-handedness for weeks and that could escalate if anti-government forces dislike the voting results.
“People really had hoped that, with this new president, things would be different and he would be concentrating more on the economy and getting things back in shape in Egypt,” Joseph said in a recent telephone interview from Cairo. “It doesn’t look that way at all. To me, and to many others, it looks like he’s become more of a bit of a dictator.”
The government has also blocked public access to many news channels and it is difficult to find out what is happening in Egypt. Joseph said that only adds to the tension.
With the police and military being told to arrest protestors, or even use violence against them in some cases, Joseph has been heeding the warnings to avoid areas where protests may be happening.
The focal point of the protests, much as it was in the spring of 2011, has been Tahrir Square in Cairo. But the political rallies, which Joseph said are more organized than most people think, don’t just happen in Tahrir Square.
Being cautious, even if just going out to run an errand as simple as grocery shopping, is foremost on Joseph’s mind whenever she steps outside her apartment.
“Our driver, who is a friend and an Egyptian, knows the routes he can take us,” she said. “It may take a little longer to get there, but at least we are going around the protest area and we get there without getting tangled up in the confusion.”
Joseph teaches at Heritage International School and the students there are mostly well off. While most of the angry protests are fuelled by the poorer members of Egyptian society, Joseph said the frustration is felt throughout the population.
Joseph has heard the Grade 3 students she teaches talking about it.
Recently, a little girl in Grade 1 organized a protest parade at Joseph’s school all on her own. Joseph was on duty that day when the children, led by this little girl carrying her Egyptian flag, marched around the playground chanting “down with Morsi!”
The teachers had no idea the kids were planning to do it.
“They’re listening to their parents talking about it constantly,” said Joseph. “It’s a big issue. It’s their lives, their livelihoods, their country, their freedom, their safety.”
Even her Egyptian friends tell Joseph they believe another revolution is coming, even though they just experienced one such a short time ago.
“These people love their country and they are ready to fight for it,” she said. “They are sick and tired of this situation.”