The sound of British pop records playing in the background while the television set is tuned to a Premiership game with Martin Tyler commenting. The atmosphere in the Cairo household is more British than if we were in Camden. As an Egyptian teenager growing up in Cairo and totally obsessed with British culture, I created my own bubble of ‘British routine’ day in, day out with one aspiration at the back of my mind; one day I will live in the United Kingdom.
I was not the only one. Millions of my African and Middle Eastern peers, young and old, have always dreamed of living in Europe to escape their domestic hardships and lack of democracy, tolerance and freedoms in our less fortunate developing countries. For hundreds of millions, the hope for domestic change is all but gone – especially after the ill-fated outcome of the Arab Spring revolts. The only existing resort was to escape all this and live to dream of moving to Europe.
Britain has often remained in our mindset as representative of European civilization and endurance at its best.
While a number of Eastern European governments have publicly objected to the presence of any immigrants on their soil; a number of European cultures have – even if stereotypically – been known for being xenophobic despite their intake of immigrants and other foreigners over the years; Britain has often remained in our mindset as representative of European civilization and endurance at its best. Millions of Muslims have lived there for decades with minimal encounters of discrimination and many immigrants from Eastern Europe and elsewhere on the planet have made the move to Britain in more recent years.
While the USA represented the American dream and ‘perfect democracy’ in the 70s and 80s, the image of the North American giant has been completely tarnished by its foreign policies, as well as its electoral behaviour that has shown occasional leanings towards right-wing politicians.
They elected George W. Bush for presidency over two terms and no wonder they are now rallying behind Donald Trump and his lighter version Clinton.
But America is merely few hundreds years old. It’s a country with high rates of obesity and many rednecks, who are ‘politically ignorant’. They elected George W. Bush for presidency over two terms and no wonder they are now rallying behind Donald Trump and his lighter version Clinton. That is our perspective towards politics in America. Even many American citizens that we meet along their travels have told us similar things and made jokes about it.
But Britain is different. Again, in our mindset, Britain has been the genuine European civilization. Britain is where people are properly educated and tolerant. Britain is the modern history of this world and unlike the ‘Yanks’, we are happy to have them in our world… despite Tony Blair.
Britain will remain as our promised land of tolerance and coexistence, we confidently kept telling ourselves.
For us, the presence of nations like Britain has always been essential to keep us sane: it is something good that we can share with our fellow humans on that island. It can always be our last resort for decent living even if we’ll never afford visiting it let alone living there. It is the phony dream that helps us sleep at night and entrenches our belief in life on this turbulent planet.
Extreme right wingers and their policies appear here and there, they threat in France and Austria and sometimes Germany and they rule in Hungary and Poland, but Britain? No way. Britain is where the knowledgeable and enlightened voter is still in command despite some recent setbacks. Britain will always shrug off any attempts to take a xenophobic or isolation turn like leaving the EU. Britain will remain as our promised land of tolerance and coexistence, we confidently kept telling ourselves.
Then comes the referendum, and those who want to surround the island with walls win. And there are no specific financial or political gains that we can see from such an exit! Just an attempt ‘to kick out foreign labour taking our jobs’! Just like that. It has been in the making, of course, but for hopeful foreigners like us, we went to bed and woke up to find ‘fascists winning a vote’ and in Britain.
Even the educated and tolerant British voters are making such choices.
We are astonished in agony to see that our main point of reference has proved us wrong and betrayed our confidence in such manner. Now even the educated and tolerant British voters are making such choices. Where can we dream of going to next? How will we bear our tough living conditions without the dream of a move, study abroad, a business conference? Even that dream is being taken away from us, and by none other than those we believed in the most out of many others in the ‘democratic western hemisphere’.
Had it been Americans, or even Germans, making such a vote, we wouldn’t have been that devastated. But to us, Brexit is a lot worse than the worst that we can expect from an American voter, worse even than electing Trump himself.