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...Wu’s conclusion about Egyptian women workers is simple: as long as they lack a basic desire to escape the familiar, it’s unlikely that they will change anything fundamental about their lives. He sees Egypt in similar terms. “It would have been better if they hadn’t removed Mubarak,” he told me. I often hear such comments from Chinese entrepreneurs, and to a Westerner they sound cynical, because the assumption is that any outsider wants to see Egypt reformed.

But in certain ways the perspective of the Chinese may be clearer, because they see Egypt for what it is, not for what they hope it might become. During the revolution of 2011, Westerners usually believed that they were witnessing the rise of a powerful social movement, whereas the Chinese in Egypt tended to perceive the collapse of a weak state. For Chinese entrepreneurs, the contact is so local and pragmatic that they aren’t obsessed with national political movements or religious trends. They rarely talk about politics or the Muslim Brotherhood, but the issue of women’s status often comes up, because it profoundly affects any activity in Egypt. Some Chinese, like the lingerie dealers, have found clever ways to profit from the gender issue, while other entrepreneurs have struggled because their factory zone was planned without consideration of this basic feature of Egyptian society. And, from the Chinese perspective, the fundamental issue in Egypt is not politics, or religion, or militarism—it’s family. Husbands and wives, parents and children: in Egypt, these relationships haven’t been changed at all by the Arab Spring, and until that happens there is no point in talking about a revolution...

The Chinese Lingerie Venders of Egypt - The New Yorker

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