by Pamela Cioni
Collecting stories and making a reportage is no easy, straightforward work. It means formulating hypothesis that often shatter on reality, making programmes over and over again and facing unexpected challenges; there are stories that open up as if on stage, others that slip away into the folds of fear, shame and social control. It also means re-thinking oneself constantly in order to understand how far one can go into people’s intimacy and how close one can get with a camera or a microphone.
The journey that took us to some remote suburbs of Cairo inevitably meant all that: the photo-portraits and the short stories accompanying them that make the book are the result of long negotiations, denials, approaches, mutual curiosity, closures and then sudden openings.
Quite often the people we met were carried away by the desire to tell their stories through their favourite places – the bedroom, the rose garden, the shore of the Nile, the well furnished living-room. It is from these private places that they drew sufficient strength or desperation to eventually attend the public spaces. Those public places where people become visible, important, revolutionary even without knowing or wanting it. Although there is always a price to pay for that: for the women of these communities leaving home, taking a primary school certificate, attending an English class, joining committees to talk about politics or about themselves, means getting rid of their traditional role of mothers and wifes even only for a few hours. It is a break with the past and they have to pay for it: slander, attacks, or more constraints imposed by their families.
Whilst youths – boys and girls who are starting to talk about workers’ rights and unions in the public arena and to develop grassroot’s policies in reaction to the corruption of the recently collapsed regime – express their new status as Egyptians, born in and around Tahrir Square. They are proud to belong to this country , too long berated. And it is all happening here, in these suburbs, hundreds of kilometers away from the city of Cairo we got used to see on TV everywhere in the world during the last year.
This is where the Parliament election of december 2011 – the first free election in the last 30 years – saw the landslide victory of El Nur – the Salafites’ party – the most fundamentalists among political Moslem; this is where the rate of girls becoming premature wifes and mothers is among the highest in the country, just like that of genital mutilations and school dropouts; this is where millions of brick factory workers are still exploited by a slave system of production. It is happening here under the tall palm-trees lining the Nile and the high chimneys of the factories in the middle of the desert , marking and spoiling the landscape. It is happening in a place that shows all the troubles and contradictions of modern Egypt, where the challenge of the revolution is the highest.
But it clearly emerges from the things that everybody says, from that “before and after” recurring in their stories, that this period of revolution that swept and is still sweeping the country with its ups and downs like a wave, also upsets the destinies of those who live here. For many of them the initial euphoria has by now given room to fear, uncertainty and the desire to find some kind of order, whatever it may be; yet from their words and from the choices they make every day, challenging the rules of a conservative and traditional society, it clearly appears that an unstoppable process of change has indeed started within each one of them.