Middle East

Egyptians hope life will improve with return of a military strongman

Egyptian men rush to catch a train Image copyright AP

Egypt is going though a period of dramatic politic change. Presidential elections are in sight and some Egyptians are looking to the military to supply the stability that they crave.

In Aswan I board the 163 train for Luxor - a ticket in the shape of a crumpled pink piece of paper my pass for the four hour journey north.

As I step into the carriage the first thing I notice is the strong stench of urine and cigarette smoke that hangs in the air.

Walking over discarded strips of sugar cane, I find an empty seat next to a window, its glass cracked and the metal frame buckled - a thick layer of dirt preventing any view outside.

Streams of vendors pass through the carriage, their wares balanced on their heads - tissues, crisps, cigarettes, sunglasses, bananas.

A man with a scarf tied round his head shouts "Chai! Chai!" and pours sweet tea from an enormous steaming aluminium kettle.

I turn my attention to my fellow passengers. At the front of the carriage a group of Coptic Christians sits together - the cross each of them has tattooed between thumb and index finger flashing as they pass food between themselves.

Behind them, a group of young Egyptians in tight designer T-shirts and slicked-back hair smoke endless cigarettes and play Egyptian pop on their mobile phones.

Across from me a striking farmer sits resplendent in a brilliant white headscarf, trimmed moustache and dark woollen galabeya, his impressive wooden staff propped against the side of the carriage.

Mahmoud, aged just five months, sits on his mother's lap directly opposite, dummy attached to his blue denim dungarees as he is passed around, nodding off, in the southern Egyptian heat.

Mahmoud's father, Ahmed, a shy looking man who appears far older than his 28 years, breaks some cheese and bread and, as is custom in Egypt, shares them with the fellow passengers.

I accept his offer and we start talking.

Ahmed is on his way back to Luxor, having just attended his brother's wedding in Aswan.

Image copyright PA

He used to work for a tour operator arranging hot air balloon trips, but he was laid off just one month before Mahmoud's birth due to low tourist numbers.

"I have been sitting at home for the last six months," he said.

"Before the revolution I used to sometimes earn 1,000 Egyptian pounds (£88), now I often don't even have one Egyptian pound - I rely on help from my family. Sometimes I even work in a coffee shop or a restaurant," he says.

It is a familiar story throughout Egypt - the lack of tourism due to security fears since the 2011 revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak has had a devastating impact on communities throughout the country, with Luxor and Aswan among the worst hit.

"But it will get better," he says, "things will get better now."

Curious, I ask why.

"Sisi," he says.

Before my train journey I had seen signs of widespread public support in Aswan for Field Marshal Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, the army chief who led the forced deposition of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi.

Stickers were plastered on the inside of coffee shops depicting him in aviator sunglasses alongside other Egyptian national heroes - late presidents Gamal Abdul Nasser and Anwar Sadat.

One sticker had the same shades-wearing icon with an image of an eagle, and the words, "Best soldiers in the World".

This in the wake of a vote to approve the text of the new constitution. A staggering 98.1% voted "Yes", although admittedly, with a turnout of less than 39%, it was not quite the overwhelming victory proclaimed by the newspaper headlines.

The Sunday edition of al-Youm al-Sabaa decried, "Sisi is the solution" whilst "The joy of the constitution is complete" was al-Gomhuria's lead piece. And Al-Masry Al-Youm announced "A new constitution for a new era".

"The army took control of the land, all are afraid of them," Ahmed continues with an air of triumph.

I wonder whether this might mean less freedom for the population.

Image copyright AP

"No, there is freedom - if you work well there is, if you don't then there will be a problem, no freedom," he says.

I see little sign of the people who only a year-and-a-half ago elected Mohammed Morsi as their president.

While Egyptians yearn for more security, a strong-handed army does appear to have genuine support. But at what price?

Ahmed continues, "The Muslim Brotherhood wanted all the keys of the country, jobs only for their relatives, no-one else. Now the army has control, the Muslim Brotherhood never did. It will get better."

"Sisi is our leader," he insists, "Sisi is strong. Sisi is a lion."

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