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As the election year in Egypt circles closer to a change of power, I can’t help but wonder if the disenfranchised adults have finally found a path that will serve them.

While traveling to Aswan from Luxor on Christmas Day, I began to understand first hand the arguments that protesters have made global in the past years. Mahmud, the guide our hotel had hired for us, is a brilliant young man we had the pleasure of viewing Karnak Temple with, so we were looking forward to the long drive to Aswan under his tutelage. After prompting, he outlined the process it took for him to become a certified guide: four years of intensive study followed by an exam administered by the Department of Antiquities. While he seemed to take great relish telling the more scandalous ancient stories to tourists, Mahmud really didn’t seem to be in the business out of passion.

Even with the steady hours and professional salary, he is really frustrated with the direction his life is taking. He can’t afford a car, which he would really like, because the idea of taking a bank loan simply isn’t a part of his culture. (When pressed, he did admit that this was a course some people took, but the prevailing attitude is to do it on your own, so I don’t think he’ll be getting a loan any time soon.) More than a car, however, he wants a wife: he seemed to feel like he won’t really be an adult until he can afford to provide for a wife and a family. He’s 25, two years younger than me, and has been working to build his own home in Luxor for years: but it’s still not enough.

I had never thought before what it would feel like to live in a society that demanded certain actions from me before I would be considered an adult, and at the same time, be unable to take those actions because of my society. Mahmud is a devout Muslim, and very matter-of-factly told me that he’d really like to have a relationship with a woman, but for him, his option is to marry…or nothing. He’s not culturally permitted to date, but he is culturally expected to marry and have a big family that he can support. However, even after years of study and employment in the largest industry in Egypt, he’s no closer to this goal now than he was four years ago.

No wonder there is such frustration fueling the situation in North Africa and the Middle East!

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