4:14pm

Tue April 12, 2011
Anti-Government Protests Roil Egypt

With No One In Charge, Frustration Rises In Suez

Many people in Egypt credit protesters in Suez city with spurring the popular uprising that led to the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Three of them died in a hail of police bullets on the first day, motivating tens of thousands of people to take to the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities.

But 10 weeks later, Suez residents are disillusioned with a revolution they complain has turned their city on its head.

It's easy to see that no government is in charge in Suez. There are no police officers directing the frenetic traffic on a major thoroughfare. Nor are there any garbage collectors to deal with trash lying about.

Residents interviewed say since the revolution, it has been up to them to handle such tasks. Volunteers sweep the streets and secure their schools, homes and businesses with neighborhood patrols.

They have even taken on the mantle of watchdog over the little government work that is under way. Hisham Haddad, 28, is part of a group called Youth of Suez. On this day, he and others are headed to the waterfront to check on the progress of a beach improvement project.

"We want Suez to become as important as Cairo," he says. "After all, much of our national income comes from the Suez Canal, our oil refineries and industrial zones. So we need to find trusted figures to run this place."

Growing Frustration

Municipal worker Elham Mohamed agrees about the need for trusted figures.

She tells Haddad that's why he ought to skip the beach and take his youth group to the market to be a watchdog over price gouging. She and other residents estimate food and other supplies cost a third or more now than they did before the revolution.

"As to real changes and reform? Nothing happened," she says. "People are drinking contaminated water, we don't have jobs and our youth can't make a living."

Such frustration is common in Suez.

Residents have long felt neglected. They claim Mubarak never once visited their city during his three decades in power. His governor there was widely viewed as corrupt. So when the anti-Mubarak uprising began in late January, Suez residents joined in with gusto. Residents rejoiced when Mubarak stepped down and when their unpopular governor was sacked. The governor's aide, who was appointed a month later to oversee the transition, was also fired.

Since then, no one has been in charge. The Egyptian army is there, but residents say it stays out of running things. Instead, soldiers focus on protecting the Suez Canal.

A Failure?

Resident Hani Haddad, Hisham's brother, says he feels it's a disgrace that the city has been left to fester. He calls the revolution a failure.

Hani, 32, says the only positive thing to come out of it is that people are now free to express their opinions.

But that novelty is wearing off. Hani says that, other than his brother and others from the youth group, few people gather these days in Suez's "Hyde Park" — named after the park in London with its famous speaker's corner.

At one of his schools in Suez a short drive away, Sheik Hafez Salama waves such pessimism aside.

The 86-year-old, who is revered here for leading popular resistance against Israeli troops in 1973, says people should be thankful that the army isn't standing against the people as it is in neighboring Libya.

He dons a medal he says Libyan rebels gave him a few days ago when he was with a delegation delivering supplies there.

The sheik says Suez residents now have the freedom to elect rulers who will no longer be able to rob the region as Mubarak did.

He says he and other influential elders are stepping in to keep Suez running in the meantime.

Can Changes Last?

At a cafe in a Suez slum called Kuwait, businessman Mohamed Abdel Mowti says there have been some improvements.

"Nobody pays bribes anymore," he says. "I went to get my car registered and it took 10 minutes. Before the revolution, it would take three or four days at least and I had to pay off everybody, including the police officers, the mechanic checking the car, and the employee issuing the paperwork."

But Mowti wonders whether such changes can last, given how previous civilian administrators spent their time lining their pockets and handing lucrative jobs to relatives and friends.

He says he would be happier if Egypt's current military rulers would appoint a military governor to rule Suez. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.