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Nuala McKeever: Why the Egyptians can teach us a thing or two about duty


Troubled times: President Mubarak

Troubled times: President Mubarak


Troubled times: President Mubarak

I’ve always thought that the taxi-driver-ometer is a good way to take the current socio-political temperature without having to stand on the street and ask passers-by directly.

As I was being taxied across the city the other day, the subject came up of the bomb alert outside Xtravision on the Antrim Road.

I thought this might lead to a discussion of what routes were and weren’t closed, how long the alert might last and maybe a few well-tongued phrases from each of us about the inconvenience/pointlessness/out-of-date nature of the whole thing, depending on the political point of view of the driver and the level of trust that had developed in the car between my house and where I was going.

But no, straight away, the driver launched into an unabridged account of why he no longer uses the Xtravision branch near him, because he claimed the manager once accused him on the phone of being aggressive when all he’d done was call up to question a fine for being a late-returner.

The Border question? The legitimacy or otherwise of armed struggle? Political vacuum as breeding ground for dissident growth?

No way Pedro. This guy had enough aggro right there in his own life to keep us going from my house to ANY destination.

What made it more interesting was that the story came out backwards. Which is how I often read papers and magazines, starting at the back and working forward if something grips me.

He gave me the finale first, just to make his point. But all it took was the merest, “Really?” from me and he was off, peeling back layer upon layer of upset, inconvenience, outrage, disbelief and sheer affrontedness.

And all delivered in a low monotone, which, he assured me, was the exact same tone of voice he’d used on said phone call to the branch manager, so how on earth she could possibly have accused him of being aggressive, well ...

As entertainment goes, it was ok, although The King’s Speech would have nothing to fear from it as an Oscar contender. But apart from passing the time, it demonstrated just how the world is prioritised for most of us. Private and personal first, public and social second.

I care about what’s happening in Egypt, but if my house were to go on fire, Mubarak et al would slide rapidly down my list of concerns.

But what does it say about us that, for the most part, we don’t even regard the bomb, left by dissident republican group Oglaigh na hEireann, as anything to do with us? It’s “them” doing something that another lot of “thems” has to deal with.

In contrast, one Egyptian man, quoted in the paper yesterday, demonstrated a remarkable attitude to the trouble there. Atef Seif Ed-Din went out into Tahrir Square and started picking up debris after the police had opened fire with teargas on the people there the night before.

He says, “I’m out here ... today, not because anybody asked me to, but because it was my duty. Whereas [the police] threw bombs around, the people want to prove that they can look after it better.” Could he be persuaded to come here and lead us by example into seeing that the public IS the private, and vice versa?

Belfast Telegraph