Cairo: The Selfish City?
News of Sudanese artist Mohammed Hussein Bahnass' death from freezing on the streets of Cairo has Conor Sheils wondering why we don't do enough to help the homeless in our city.
Over the weekend, Cairo was shocked by the news of a talented Sudanese artist who froze to death as he slept on the streets. Renowned writer and painter, Mohammed Hussein Bahnass, moved to Cairo two years ago to exhibit his works following a successful showcase in France. Unfortunately, the tough Egyptian economic situation saw the 43-year-old end up homeless and sleeping rough in the city's downtown area. He was a popular and well liked character, responsible for murals, conversation and good-will towards others despite his own hardship. But last week he froze to death alone. When? Nobody knows.
Bahnass' tragic death comes just days before Christmas - a time of year supposed to foster good will amongst all men. Yet, he died alone and uncared for - like many others on the capital's chilly winter streets, just minutes from Cairo's expensive bars and restaurants.In a city like Cairo, reliable statistics for the exact number of homeless people are difficult to find but the figure is expected to stretch to several hundred thousand with as many as 50,000 children. However, Bahnass' plight was hampered even more - he was Sudanese.
Thousands of Sudanese people come to Egypt every year seeking a better life and many, as refugees, are unable to work legally so scrape a living in any way possible. Upon arriving in Egypt, like many African migrants, refugees and indeed the country's own homeless are often treated with suspicion, unkindness and outright malice from heartless bastards who should know better. They are seen by many in Egyptian society as lazy, dirty and sub human - a view which should fill the mind of any right thinking person with utter disgust.
Who are we to judge people like Bahnass, as we shuffle past to hop in a cab to the nearest designer mall or stuff our faces with overpriced sushi? Is this really what we've become - a nation of people so obsessed with the latest designer goods or wannabe Manhattan lifestyles that we've forgotten we live in a developing country; a country filled with talented, kind and caring people like Bahnass who have been forgotten amid Egypt's bitter social divide.
All these people ask is 1LE in a desperate effort to have a hot drink or a meal to stave off the bitter Cairo night time chill. Most Cairenes will walk by, either caught up in political struggle or living in an upper middle class bubble, ignoring the poverty and the impoverished who litter the streets crying out for help.
Their plea is simple - a couple of pounds could quite literally save their lives. Of course it's all very well to sit here and talk about 'doing our bit' and such similar, fluffy, 'feed the world' bullshit. But how many of us will actually do something? This winter - in between your festive Turkey and your must-go New Years’ do - spare a thought for those outside your home, on your street, in your city.
Bahnass' death cannot be in vain. Now is the time that we, as a city, should take a long hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves - "So this is Christmas - and what have YOU done?"
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