Memories of Egypt will affect how people respond to this crisis

Thousands visited the country before the slide into violence

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Many i readers will hold some memory of Egypt; plane-loads of UK citizens used to join 12 million other foreigners each year in travelling to the North African nation, at least up until the 2011 revolt. As tourists, they won’t have seen much of Mubarak’s police state. More likely they came back to the UK with one or two words of Arabic (“habibi”, “shokran”) plus a backpack of semi-ironic trinkets: a pharaoh head bottle-opener, or hieroglyphics bookmark.

How different Egypt looks now. The pictures in this newspaper have evoked horror since the first military massacre of more than 70 Muslim Brotherhood supporters, on July 27th. There was the boy holding a bloody rag to his face after the second massacre, of more than 500 people, on August 14th. His place was taken by a topless man, wrenching out of a friend’s arms mid-scream, in a report on further killing last Friday. And few will have missed the sight of rows of corpses wrapped in white linen, or the words of Robert Fisk or Alastair Beach on how they met their fate. The word that crops us most is ‘blood’ - running on to mosque floors, drying and liquefying in the heat.

Dreadful as they unquestionably are, these images, and these reports, won’t be entirely new to newspaper readers. Conflict in the Middle East has exposed similar moments of rage and grief to the world since the start of the 20th century. You can probably piece together a stereotypical image – a mangled car, bodies being carried, homes turned to rubble  - then crudely place it down in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya or Syria. But is the public connection to Egypt different, somehow?

I suspect so. At the very least, it will be different for those who were lucky enough to visit the Gift of the Nile at some point – a number greater than the total to visit all the above Middle Eastern conflict sites put together, I would hazard. These one-time tourists will be in a position to juxtapose the images of charred streets and suffering with personal, mundane memories – of shopkeeper chat, mechanics at work, tour-guides, families.  Of course, if there is something to be drawn from this, it is that the violence in every one of those other states – which dwarfs in scale that so far visited on Egypt - came at just the same cost for its everyday victims, however much we might lack the same kind of context to appreciate it.

For my part, three of the most exciting weeks of my life were spent in Egypt in 2011, after the fall of Mubarak. I can only hope the people who made that time so inspiring get through this okay.