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Rural Egyptians Welcome Change, Economic Worries Linger

Elizabeth Arrott | Kafr Torky, Egypt February 16, 2011

The Egyptian village of Kafr Torky lies along the banks of the Nile, seemingly a world away from the passions that played out further north, in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Yet even in such a bucolic setting, the demonstrations and ultimate victory of the protesters proved riveting. The villagers share some of the complaints, especially economic, that are still bringing protests in the nation's cities.

Ragab el-Gazzar says he would return from his job transporting bricks from a factory to Kafr Torky around 10:00 at night, then switch on the television.

He recounts, with deep respect, that "the youth were saying what I could not say."

For the first time in his 40 some years, el-Gazzar saw the fear of speaking out disappear. But as he stands in a field just outside the last village wall, the first green sprouts of a new crop emerging from the soil, he wavers.

El-Gazzar liked Hosni Mubarak, the man who ruled Egypt for most of his life. The villager blames those around the former president for giving bad advice. Moreover, as much as he admires the protesters for raising their political voice, such freedoms are not his only concern.

He says that, for 30 years, the president ensured peace and prosperity. He adds he has seen what his father and grandfather never did.

A neighbor is quick to disagree.

Fouad Abdel Hamid Zahran, a farmer who describes himself as the village sheikh, says those who work the soil are tired. There are no pesticides, no seeds. Fertilizer is expensive, he says, adding that the old agricultural cooperatives no longer exist. He says "I am worn out."

El-Gazzar concedes that some things have declined, among them, education. He once had a promising future.

This man who transports bricks has a university education, holding a bachelor's degree in law. Like so many educated Egyptians unable to find work in their professions, he also worries about his children.

A father of four, he shares the concerns of those protesting economic conditions in cities across Egypt, protests still going strong even after Mubarak stepped down.

He wonders why the Egyptian people did not speak out before, why they put up with what he calls 30 years of oppression. But then, his ambivalence returns. He is forgiving, not just of the former president and what he did, but even of the widely despised police.

"There were good ones along with the bad," he says, and when they all disappeared during the unrest, he feared criminals could attack his home and he wished for the police to return.

But of one thing he is certain: a pride in country common to all sides during the protests, where battles were fought between groups each raising the Egyptian flag.

"It is enough we have the Nile," he says; we want nothing. "We plant and we eat and we can farm our land."

While many questions remain about Egypt's future, el-Gazzar says he is not afraid of what is coming. He adds for emphasis, "I am never afraid when I am on Egyptian soil."

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