, Salem, MA

July 9, 2013

From Salem to Cairo: Voice from troubled land

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — Four months ago Yasmine Saleh went home to Cairo. Now she finds herself in a society tottering on the brink of civil war.

Formerly a postdoctoral intern in counseling and health services at Salem State University, Saleh, 43, is on a yearlong sabbatical in Egypt, anxious to share her professional expertise with fellow Egyptians after living for 10 years in Massachusetts.

Unhappily, it has become a trial and a danger just getting to her graduate students at the American University.

“I have been living my life with a lot of precaution,” she wrote this week in response to an email from The Salem News. Everything is planned — where to go, when to go, whom to go with and what route to take.

“On the very long drive to get to my teaching job ... I would plan my day around (the traffic.) So I would leave my house four hours before class to ensure that I would not be late. (I would) be in a locked car with some money and a cell phone. ... In case we are stopped somewhere and the car hijacked (which often happens these days), my plan was to give them the car and all my belongings and find a way back with what I had in my pocket.”

With the country’s standard of living spiraling downward, Saleh, who has a doctorate in psychology, has conducted therapy by candlelight as power outages came daily. Prices have soared from week to week. Lines grew around gas stations. And she has endured verbal harassment in the streets.

“Nothing you can do about it,” Saleh explains. Weapons are everywhere, from switchblades to guns, owners “brandishing them in someone’s face over the least offense. ... And no police presence to ensure safety. ... Most people are hypervigilant and anxious and worried about the future. ... They are also angry and frustrated as they watch their lives going from bad to worse. They feel the revolution is being hijacked by some more power-hungry individuals who also undermine and insult their intelligence.”

Dissatisfaction with deposed president Mohammed Morsi crossed religious lines, particularly among women.

“The administrative assistant at the clinic where I practice — who, by the way, is veiled and extremely religious — would complain to me daily of how insulted she felt when Mohamed Morsi spoke. She often stated to me that being simple did not make her a simpleton and that she did not appreciate how her religion, Islam, was being seized, used and misinterpreted.

“My cleaning lady would ... rant and rave about how angry she felt about what was being said about the role of women, and thanking God that she had only a son and not a daughter.”

Saleh had returned to Egypt with high hopes. “I missed a lot of things about home,” she wrote.

In the heady days of the Arab Spring in January 2011, she was working in Salem. “I spent 18 days glued to all sources of media in awe and inspired by what was going on.” Until then-president Hosni Mubarak was ousted, however, she also lived in fear for her relatives.

Yet, within a year, the military still in charge, she was impatient with the slow transition to a democracy. She wrote in the Salem News, “Freedom of the press and basic human rights are worse than they were at this time last year.” Then, with the election of Morsi in June 2012, she saw “a wonderful chance for change” sabotaged. Though democratically elected, Saleh believes, Morsi’s fundamentalist government was not democratic.

“On many occasions, I felt that the rug was being pulled from under those who fought so boldly for the simple and basic human rights: freedom, a decent life, and justice. ... I was so saddened and cried to watch the simplest of rights being denied... rights that we often take for granted in the West, the right to live a life of your own choosing ... to live side by side near those who may be different than you.”

The complaint extended beyond Morsi’s fundamentalism; Saleh decries his incompetence. Responding to power outages, he suggested “maybe housewives should reduce the amount of laundry they did.”

Confusion over just who or what the United States government supports has created a consensus — anger at America. Protesters believe the Obama Administration supports the Muslim Brotherhood and the Brotherhood accuses it of supporting the military coup.

“The bottom line, Saleh writes, “is the negative response to what is viewed as the constant meddling of the U. S. in the affairs of others, all for the sake of supporting the state of Israel.”

In the wake of Morsi’s ouster, Saleh says, “The army did what it needed to do ... support the will of the people.”

Saleh isn’t certain how long she will remain in Egypt. “I take things as they come.” Much depends on the quality of life, and “if I enjoy my life here and feel that I am doing rewarding work professionally.”

She yearns for a better life in Egypt. “I hope that peace will come to this country. ... I would like to see Egypt regain its footing on a path towards true democracy including freedom and justice. ... I would love to see Egypt and Egyptians get all they rightfully deserve in my lifetime.”