We could hardly believe it when we heard it. It’s not a pretty story.
Almost every week’s topic in CASA is related to economics and development in Egypt. Like the rest of the Arab world, more than half the population is under 30, and unemployment is over 40%. Even graduates of Masters programs can hardly find work. This we knew. Though Egypt is a country with some oil reserves and other mineral wealth, it is not enough to bring to Egyptians the kinds of wealth that Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries and Libya can give to their people. And though Egypt gets a lot of foreign aid from the United States and elsewhere, the sheer number of people means that aid is worth pennies per capita, as opposed to dozens of dollars per capita for a country like Jordan.
What shocked us was a bit of information dropped by our Listening professor. Recently, he said, he read about a man from the vast impoverished class of Egypt who, not having enough money to feed his family till the end of the month, instead spent that money on poison. He served it up in dinner, and killed himself and his whole family. Our professor assured us that there were many reported stories like this every year … and that’s just the reported ones!
I found myself trying to put myself in that position. What kind of pressure would have to be on a man to do such a thing? What kind of self-loathing and regret about his own life choices would have to be brewing inside him? What kind of despair for the future would be required to do that to his children? There are depths of poverty, hopelessness and despair in this country that I will never quite be able to comprehend.