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Could Mariam Moustafa’s Incident Have Happened in Egypt?

March 22, 2018
A file photo of a Cairo market

The recent news that Egyptian student Mariam Moustafa has died of her injuries following a brutal attack in Nottingham, UK, is deeply saddening, bringing to light a societal contrast that needs to be addressed.

The Egyptian public is rightly outraged, and social media is abuzz with shock, as well as exclamations that something like this would never happen in Egypt – and this is likely true.

It was not long ago that the UK was horrified at the brutal gang rape, and subsequent death of, physiotherapy intern Jyoti Singh Pandey on a private bus in South Delhi, India. The idea that this could happen to a woman on a bus was simply unheard of, and unsurprisingly the case gained national and international condemnation as India became demonised as an unsafe travel destination.

Though sexual assault was not part of the recent incident in Nottingham, Moustafa’s injuries were serious enough to also bring an end to her life. What is most shocking about the affair is, however, that it happened both in a public area, and then continued on a public bus – and, with the exception of a man who appears to offer her some protection on the bus as shown a recently released video, did anything to stop it.

It is an unfortunate fact that the media in the UK has become somewhat hysterical concerning all things Middle Eastern. Terrorists are around every corner, and according to the tabloids, Islam is a threat and is spreading rapidly across the nation.

To those with xenophobic tendencies, the (white) Briton will soon be a racial minority, so all immigrants – including those from the Middle East – seem menacing. Considering the stance often taken by the Western media, it is unsurprising that travel to the Middle East, besides the wealthy Gulf states, is warned against.

My announcement that I was moving to Egypt was met with concern about the dangers of extremists and unsavoury men, with one friend emphatically warning me to stay away from Cairo because it is, apparently, horrendously unsafe. Yet, based on my experience, nothing could be further from the truth.

Cairo Opera House

Egyptians have often expressed surprise when I say that I moved to Cairo simply because I fell in love with the city – I suspect largely due to socio-economic and political issues.

I am well aware that as a foreigner I have access to certain privileges and a strong economy that allow me to live a comfortable life here, and that I will never experience the hardships faced by the average citizen. Yet, it is largely the culture, as well as the temperament of the people, that drew me here.

I am constantly greeted with humour and smiles, and I am overwhelmed by the kindness people are so used to expressing. Should I ever get into trouble, I can pretty much guarantee that people would rush to help me from all sides, and even the simplest of predicaments promotes a wholehearted attempt by kind strangers to solve the problem. I am lucky to have experienced the most incredible generosity.

While there are generous, well-meaning people everywhere in the world, the feeling I have in Egypt is mostly absent from where I grew up. The fact that a crime like that committed against Moustafa could happen in a busy public area outside a shopping center without any attempt to intervene shows that it is seriously time for the West to rethink popular opinion on the relative safety of Egypt. When the attackers followed Moustafa onto the bus and continued to abuse her, why didn’t the driver stop? Why didn’t the driver call the police?

Yes, there is some serious political unrest, but what most in the West do not realise is that the majority of the issues they hear about are confined to a very small region of the country. Yet in the UK, threats are of a different nature. Whilst I am the first to praise the British people’s moving solidarity and heroism in the event of a serious attack, when it comes to city street crime, there is a growing culture of standing idly by as someone else is in trouble.

Many people are simply too afraid to intervene – for fear of themselves and for fear of no one else stepping in to back them up. What this can be attributed to, I suspect, is a combination of a genuinely increased threat, namely from knife crime and acid attack, and the consistent feed of anxiety the population is subjected to.

To some, it may seem like I am painting a bleak picture of my homeland, and I must stress that the United Kingdom is in many ways a fantastic, inspiring place to live. I am truly grateful to have had the privilege of being born there. But, like most places, it is not without its struggles, and the struggles there are different to those experienced anywhere else in the world.

What I must say, however, is that there seems a great cultural strength in Egypt that prevents incidents like what happened to Moustafa from occurring. And indeed, to the more hysterical tabloids in the West, I must ask how Islam can be such a threat when it likely plays a big role in preventing events like this?

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