Posted by: j | May 4, 2009

In the Army Now

This may have been one of the saddest days I’ve faced since being in Egypt. A day at the beach has never been more depressing.

Hany is one of the first people I met in Cairo when I arrived back in 2007. He was actively involved with AUC’s International Student community, and was one of the first to welcome all of the new study abroad kids to Egypt. His outgoing personality and his willingness to bend over backwards to help made him easy to befriend. Leaving America and coming to Egypt is not an easy endeavor, as you might have gathered from reading my blog. Hany fully understood our culture shock, and did everything in his power to make our time more enjoyable. He was our “go-to” guy when we had embarrassing questions about Egyptian culture or when we couldn’t make sense of our Arabic homework. Moreover, he has inspired hundreds of international students to contribute their time to the Egyptian community by asking them to join the NGO he founded. Basically, Hany is one of the most genuinely selfless and amazing people I have ever met.

Which is why it was so hard to say goodbye to him today.

Military service is mandatory for all males in Egypt (with a few exceptions). Hany’s number was called, and as a result, he will most likely be leaving for the army tomorrow. As a sort of last hoorah, he, our friend Elissa, and myself took a day trip to Ain Sokhna. I watched Hany put on a happy face the entire time, but never completely relax. How could he, when his entire life is being put on hold? He is watching greatest achievement, the NGO he founded while he was still an undergraduate, slip out of his hands and into the control of people like me, who aren’t permanent fixtures in Cairo. I watched him as he held his head in his hands as the sun dipped below the horizon. I saw him nearly break. I listened to him as he vented his frustrations about the military, his country, and the NGO. He told me he felt weak. I’ve never seen Hany as anything less than cool and composed; a perfect businessman and colleague, and a natural leader. I couldn’t bear witnessing him crumble like that.

But I can’t blame Hany for feeling helpless; for not being able to see the silver lining. How could one possibly feel compelled to serve and defend a government that provides next to nothing for its people? A government so corrupt and full of greed that it treats Egyptians like second-class citizens in their own country? It’s no wonder everyone tries to wriggle out of their military service. It’s seems impossible to feel a sense of loyalty and pride towards a regime such as Mubarak’s. But then again, if it were possible to feel this way, perhaps military service wouldn’t have to be forced upon the populace.

Yet today, despite his impending departure, Hany talked of his love for his country and his people. He told me how he could have emigrated to Canada when he studied abroad there in college, but chose not to because he didn’t want to give up his ties to Egypt. The problem is that Hany does so much more to serve his country outside the military than he ever could within it. His contributions to Egypt’s underpriveledged communities are far-reaching and effective.

What can he do in the army? Open gates for passing cars? Stand on the street with an unloaded AK47 and harass women? With the execption of the Egytpian Secret Police, called the mukhaberat, the Egyptian military system is unorganized, inefficient, and ineffective. Hany’s service will most likely not be spent doing anything productive or stimulating. And because he will probably only be required to serve one year (knock on wood!), the military won’t even be able to take advantage of his skills as an engineer. He will essentially waste 1-3 years of his life by being denied practical work experience and delaying his MBA.

I don’t know what else to say except that I will deeply miss Hany and all that he does for the people surrounding him. Today in Ain Sokhna I promised him I would do my best to keep the NGO on its feet. After making this promise, we watched the final minutes of the sunset and a pod of dolphins leisurely swim near the rocks where we were perched. For a moment, I think he felt at peace. I really hope he was.


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