x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Artists take cue from Egypt's sombre tone

Poverty, political corruption, commercialism, pollution and lack of national unity blamed in books, music, poetry and film for dour mood

In a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan, Egypt ranked 74th on a scale of happiness among 97 nations.
In a recent study conducted by the University of Michigan, Egypt ranked 74th on a scale of happiness among 97 nations.

CAIRO // "I don't recognise myself, I lost myself, I'm no longer myself, these are not my features, this is not me," goes the hit single by Abdel Baset Hamouda, a popular Egyptian singer. "Suddenly, I discovered I had aged, the shock exhausted me, I cried, wondering if this is my end, and the end of my story."

In a country where more and more people are suffering from depression - widely attributed to widespread poverty and political repression - it is no surprise Hamouda's I Don't Recognise Myself went straight to the top of the Egyptian charts. "I didn't mean to make people sad, but this is what people want [to hear] as it reflects their suffering," said Hamouda, who lives in Doweiqa, the shantytown where a rockslide last week killed scores of people.

"People are pained and tired. When you look around you, you hardly see anyone laughing. For most people, every day is a struggle to make ends meet." And singers are not the only artists voicing the frustrations of society. "People are depressed O president, they are no longer laughing," said Ahmed Helmi, one of Egypt's most promising young comedians, in the summer's hit movie Sorry for the Disturbance, in which the actor imagines himself writing letters of complaint to the president.

In the introduction to Egyptians' Pains, which was released this summer, author Khalil Fadel, a psychologist, dedicated the book to his neglected countrymen and women. "To those who drowned in the sea and river, to those whose blood was spilled on asphalt, to those who burnt inside trains and theatres, to the dead on the beaches of migration, in prison trucks, and to those who are suffering for losing them and to all those who are dead while alive: to all of those I dedicate this frank and harsh text," he wrote.

Though there are no definite figures available, Ramez Taha, a consultant psychologist, who launched a campaign that teaches stress management in July, said many psychologists estimate about 16 million out of a population of 78m suffer from depression. "The campaign came after we noticed as psychologists the growing number of cases of depression and the spread of aggressive attitudes, violence and drug addiction," Dr Taha said.

"There are also many physical diseases that are the result of psychological pressure. Many people have become tense and angry as a result of the daily struggle to provide their family with food. People are becoming psychologically burnt [out], exhausted and depressed." In a recent study, the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research gauged the happiness of populations in 97 countries, asking people how happy and satisfied they were with their lives. The results, published in the July issue of the academic journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, ranked Egypt 74th (Denmark came first and Zimbabwe came last).

"There is a gloomy mood in Egypt," said Nevine Abdel Hadi, in her 40s. "Despite the festive spirit of Ramadan many people are not in the mood to celebrate, and not only for financial reasons. Egypt is becoming a tough place to live in." Fadel, the author, blamed the gloominess on "the daily struggle to survive" and the growth of "materialism" and commercialism, which have replaced tradition. "Egyptians look and walk like they're exhausted. They carry their tiredness and concerns on their heads and it shows on their foreheads," he wrote in his book. "Many Egyptians are suffering from pollution, diabetes and heart problems and growing depression."

Galal Amin, a professor of economics at the American University in Cairo and author of Whatever Happened to the Egyptians?, blamed the misgovernance of the current regime, which has been in power since 1981. "If the government is a devil that is spreading corruption everywhere, which is what many Egyptians believe, turning their lives into confusion with conflicting decisions, then the Egyptian people have themselves changed a lot from what they used to be."

Wassim el Sissy, an Egyptologist, agreed. "The Egyptians' morals have deteriorated as a result of the oppressive regime, which is capable of destroying any character. "The main reason for the deterioration of Egyptians' morals is poverty, which undermines many values, the loss of the middle class and the absence of a national project that could unite the Egyptians." Whatever the cause of Egypt's despondence, as long as it continues the country's artists will express it in their work.

"I long for a land that doesn't compromise my dignity and doesn't humiliate me," wrote Farouk Goweida, a poet, in his popular poem, This Country is No Longer Mine. "Sorrow and sadness go on making fun of us, visiting us always without appointments, something is broken in my eyes, while I loved it a lot, it sold itself to scoundrels." nmagd@thenational.ae