Part 3: Seeing revolution from the rooftops

Swiss-Egyptian social worker Hamed Selim lives in Zurich. He’s been here for over two decades now, but still goes back to support his family in Cairo with money and anything else they might need. This time his return (in 2012) comes more than one year after the country’s revolution. WRS’s Tony Ganzer heads with Selim to the roof of a building near Tahrir square where his family still lives, with a bird’s eye view of the revolution:

From mounted speakers on the buildings of downtown Cairo seeps the evening call to prayer for Muslims here. The streets are crowded with cars and vendors, the buildings are tall and worn. But up above it all is where Hamed Selim spent his childhood.

“I was born in downtown of Cairo,” Selim says, recalling his native Egypt from a radio studio in Zurich. “I lived on a roof of downtown of Cairo, not in an apartment. But it’s really shiny and nice and big and beautiful, and lots of neighbors and everybody know each other and such things. It’s like a small village.”

The roof is where his mother and other family still live. Twelve people stay in this small, three-room home, originally just one room made for building employees.

But over the years with help from remittances from Switzerland, Hamed’s family has expanded and transformed its home of the last 60 years.

“In the beginning it was only one room which we use to live six person inside, father, mother and four brothers. We closed a [balcony] we make it a room, as a kitchen, and we make another small [balcony] as bathroom, yeah. And then we built extra room, place for another three,” Selim says.

His family is, and always has been, poor.

His mother Karima calls it ‘living on a fixed income.’ She gets 500 Egyptian pounds, or about 70 Swiss francs, a month from her now-deceased husband’s pension. Electricity costs alone can run between 200 to 300 Egyptian pounds a month, Selim says.

It’s with this reality that Karima Selim is optimistic for the latest revolution.

Hamed translates for his mother, explaining that she said in the beginning she was in the time from the king, Farouk, this is from the Muhammad Ali family, until the revolution came from Nasser, the life was really interesting and nice and secure. And after Nasser start the life goes down until this new revolution came, which is really good for Egypt.

We are suffering now, she continues, lots of bad things happening in the street and all over, but she’s really optimist.

Karima Selim sits in a chair in the main room of her home—three large couches line three walls. The space serves are living room, dining room, and bedroom depending on needs.

Muhammed is one of her sons. He says he earns about 350 Egyptian pounds a month in his office job, that’s about 50 Swiss francs. He says everything is still terribly expensive in Egypt after the revolution, but things are slowly improving. They need more stability, he says, but progress is already being seen with rising wages, as he’s been promoted.

An uncle of the family, also named Muhammed, has lived in the United Arab Emirates for the last 35 years, but returned to Egypt last year.

Hamed translates as his uncle says the revolution should have come since a long time ago because the land need it, but now it’s happened and he’s thankful for this, but we have to push ourselves in the right direction. He’s waiting for something better comes as a result from this revolution. Didn’t come yet. He’s really optimist, he says it’s going to be better than it is now.

Karima Selim says having her son Hamed in Switzerland, and traveling the world, it’s like she’s seen the world, though she’s never left Egypt, and she considers this rooftop her home.

The family seems content to watch the evolution of Egypt from up high, observing changes below.

This story was part of a 2013 Edward Murrow award winning entry

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