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Georgia: steps for freedom.

Summary: CAIRO - I was one of eight Egyptian journalists recently invited to Georgia to find out more about its 2003 Rose Revolution. Our trip was organised by the Georgian Embassy in Cairo.

It was a high-powered five-day visit, as we met with top officials in the country: the President, the Prime Minister and the ministers of foreign affairs, health, interior, and sustainable and economic development.

We also met with the First Deputy Minister of Education, the Georgian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Georgian Parliament and the Governor of the capital, Tbilisi.

Our group was accompanied by Georgian Ambassador to Egypt Archil Dzuliashvili.

We received a great welcome from all the above-mentioned VIPs, who promised to help Egypt in each of their respective fields. We were given plenty of time to talk with them and ask them about their revolution and its impact on all walks of life in Georgia.

In fact, there are many similarities between their revolution and ours here in Egypt. First of all, both revolutions erupted to fight corruption.

The first thing they did in Georgia was to reform the police sector. According to Ivane Merabishvili, the Minister of Interior, 18,000 policemen (about 90 per cent of the country's policemen) were fired from their posts.

He said that young people enthusiastic about serving justice were appointed in their place. In the two months that Georgia was bereft of policemen, crime actually decreased! The government then reduced the number of policemen from 85,000 to 26,000, saving the State a lot of money and also allowing policemen to get paid more.

The catchiest thing about his Ministry was the building itself. It's made of glass, reflecting their policy of transparency, as the Minister kept on telling us.

Not far from the Ministry, we visited a police station. We also saw public services for issuing IDs and passports for citizens. All the offices use computers and they're not very crowded (unlike in Egypt).

Our next port of call was a prison, at the gate of which the security men and women asked us to leave everything on our bus -- passports, notebooks, cameras and even pens.

Minister of Corrections and Legal Assistance Khatuna Kalmakhelidze, a woman in her thirties, welcomed us. She introduced herself and briefed us about the nature of the work in the prison, before letting us into this new prison, built only 18 months ago. We entered a cell and were surprised by how luxurious it was. It contained a TV, AC, a big bed and a bathroom.

"I don't even have a bathroom in my own office!" said the Minister, and we all laughed.

There was also a sports ground for playing basketball, football and other sports, as the Minister stressed that it's important for inmates to have fun.

The streets in Georgia have totally changed since the revolution for many reasons, as Tornike Shiolashvili, who works for the Municipal Cleaning Service, told us.

He said that, before their revolution, there were about 1,000 garbage collectors, but now the number has jumped to around 3,000, with some of them volunteers.

There are also media campaigns to encourage people not to throw rubbish in streets; the fine for doing so is $30.

July 31 is Garbage Collectors' Day, when the nation's best garbage collector gets a special award.

We also visited a State-owned school, attended by the 'generation of the revolution'. We saw classes for children and young people. Sadly, there is no comparison between these classes and Egyptian ones.

In each class, there are about 30 pupils, connected to each other and the teacher by Internet as each pupil has a laptop. We didn't have time to visit the school's laboratories, but I imagine they were state-of-the-art affairs.

Every day, we had lunch in a local restaurant. Georgian people are lovely and we as Egyptians felt that they were very much like us.

To be honest, we found some of the food strange. Some dishes were delicious, others weren't. The most wonderful thing was a soft drink called natakhtari. I also liked all the fresh fruit.

As many readers probably know, Georgia is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world.

The fertile valleys of the South Caucasus, which Georgia straddles, are believed by many archaeologists to be the source of the world's first cultivated grapevines and neolithic wine production, over 8,000 years ago.

We visited Sighnaghi, one of the country's smallest towns, whose economy relies heavily on the production of wine.

Shergil Pirtshelani, who works for a wine company, said that the traditional Georgia method of winemaking, which involves using a qvevri for fermentation, maceration and storage, imparts a unique taste to their wines.

A qvevri is a large clay vessel with a conical bottom, which is insulated on the inside with beeswax and buried in the ground.

He said that Georgians use wine for expressing their hospitality.

In the last day of the visit, we were meant to visit Svaneti, the highest inhabited area in the Caucasus. Four of the 10 highest peaks of the Caucasus are located in the region, including Mount Shkhara at 5,201m (17,059 feet) Georgia's highest mountain.

However, due to the very cold weather, there were no flights that day. But maybe next time we can visit Svaneti.

Copyright Eltahir House 2011

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Publication:The Egyptian Gazette (Cairo, Egypt)
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:Dec 4, 2011
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