Sunday, December 5, 2010

Elections round 2 so far...

By 2pm, there are a few things we know about the second round of parliamentary elections in Egypt today:
  1. 283 seats, more than half the total number of seats in parliament, are being contested today (meaning no candidate for those seats won the 50%+1 majority needed in last Sunday's elections).
  2. Of those seats, 188 are being contested between members of the same party - the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). 114 are being contested outright between NDP members, and another 74 are being contested between NDP members and independents running under the party's platform.
  3. There are rumors that in an attempt to fix its massive over-rigging last week, the goverment is rigging votes in favor of non-NDP candidates this time around. According to tweets and Al-Ahram's English online portal, an NDP candidate in Dakahleya's Aga district has withdrawn from today's runoff citing vote-rigging in favor of his competitor, a Tagammu candidate.
  4. Voter turnout is, as expected, noticeably lower than it was last week. According to the High Elections Commission (HEC), voter turnout last Sunday was 35% (There is strong suspicion that the number is vastly inflated. In Qasr el-Nil, a strategic district in downtown Cairo, only about 8.5% of registered voters cast ballots). We'll see what the "official" numbers are, but voter turnout might hover around 10% at the most today.
  5. Reports of violence, vote-rigging, polling stations opening late, representatives and monitors not being allowed into polling stations, and other irregularities have already been reported.
  6. Only 2 of 9 Wafd party run-off candidates headed the party's decision to boycott the second round of elections. Wafd party officials say those who disobeyed the party's order will be stripped of their party membership.
  7. Even if every independent and opposition candidate won their seat today - including those of the Wafd and Muslim Brotherhood who are boycotting - the NDP would still control approximately 80% of the seats in Parliament.
That's it for now, folks. Tune in later for more updates.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Vote rigging caught on video during Egypt election

The following video shows a man filling out ballots for the women's quota in Belbeis, Sharkeya. In the background another man fills out regular ballots.

Also, the BBC acquired video of blatant ballot stuffing, which can be viewed on their website here:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Voting results: Qasr el-Nil district

Here are the facts & figures of the Qasr el-Nil election:
  • There are 76,000 people registered to vote in the district. 6,235 votes were cast, making voter turnout less than 9%.
  • Of those votes, only 5,851 were valid.
  • According to the 'official' tally, Hisham Mustafa Khalil received 3,300 votes and Gameela Ismail 1,300. Abzulaziz Mustafa, candidate for the workers' seat, received 3,900.
In order to be declared the winner, a Parliamentary candidate must receive at least 50%+1 of the valid votes in his/her district. In the case of Qasr el-Nil, that would be 2,927 votes.

Gameela Ismail submitted reports contesting the validity of the votes in 8 of the 102 ballot boxes in Qasr el-Nil, which accounted for 1,200 votes. Of the reports, the judge overseeing the district approved one. He did not rule on the other 7. If the judge had accepted her contentions, Khalil would have officially been awarded 2,100 of the votes, which is not 50% of the votes.

There would have been a run-off election between Gameela and Khalil. As it stands, Khalil will be announced the winner of the seat.

The ballot boxes contested by Ismail included boxes from the Cairo Tower polling station, where Gameela's representative as well as representatives of candidate Hamada Morsi witnessed ballot stuffing by Khalil supporters.

Election Updates

9:37am: Gameela is number 14 on the Qasr el-Nil ballot, not 17 as she was initially listed

12:00 noon: Voters at the Maaruf & Tahrir polling station at the Chemistry Authority on Ramsis Street say they have been told to write their full names on their ballots rather than check off the candidate they are casting their vote for. Gameela Ismail has been arguing with the authorities for about half an hour. More security is showing up, no resolution yet. I've spoken with women who say they did write their names and signatures on the ballots. Controversy over whether those votes will be counted or not.

7:50pm: I don't even know where to begin. For now, the facts as I know them: rigged votes were placed in boxes at the television station and the polling station by Cairo Tower. Candidate Hamada Morsi has a bag full of supposed bribe money. Morsi also confronted security and others at the voting locations while they were trying to add votes to ballot boxes. He and his supporters attempted to break the ballot boxes so rigged votes could not be counted.

12:00 midnight: An officer came outside the counting station in Qasr el-Nil to look for some of the election officials. Supposedly they are checking into inconsistencies with certain ballot boxes. Otherwise, all is calm.

First photos of the day: ballot boxes

Here are my first photos of the day, perhaps the first photos of Egypt's 2010 Parliamentary Elections.

Gameela Ismail and I stopped at Salem School in Bulaq at 2:30am. Salem School is the polling station which was mysteriously discovered to have been added to the Qasr el-Nil district yesterday, despite being physically located in Bulaq district rather than Qasr el-Nil.

Outside the school, Gameela's banners and posters were the only ones from Qasr el-Nil which appeared. The other banners were all from Bulaq candidates.

Seventeen voting boxes are supposed to be located at the school. Here you can see the covered ballot boxes in one of the classrooms:

In another classroom we found ballot boxes that had not yet been covered. On the right, the ballot box for the women's quota, which is on a completely separate voting scheme than the regular seats.

On the left, the regular ballot box.

We hurried through the different parts of the school, while the elderly bawab called half-heartedly for us to come back down, that there was nothing to see. Shortly before leaving we encountered the two men who were arranging the classrooms. They insisted emphatically that there would be no voting for Qasr el-Nil at Salem School. One of them even got a superior on the phone, and after a long conversation again relayed that only voting for Bulaq would take place at the school.

Gameela was doubtful, the head police officer of Qasr el-Nil had informed her the school was indeed a polling station. Additionally, it was on the official list of polling stations for Qasr el-Nil.

Later that night, another candidate visited the Bulaq police station and found two ballot boxes already full of votes. More information to come as soon as I get my hands on it.

Stay tuned for updates.

Update 8:22am: From what I have gathered, the person who found the prepared ballot boxes was unable to file a police report over them because they were wrapped in cellophane. Essentially, he couldn't prove what was inside them, although it was obvious what they were. Journalist Ian Lee has reported a similar story from Alexandria: he saw packages with wax seals leave a polling station about an hour ago. A man holding one said they were t-shirts.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Egypt: On the Eve of Elections

Gameela Ismail campaigning before elections
Tomorrow Egypt will hold parliamentary elections. The world is watching and the government is ready. Reports of irregularities are already making local and international news. Everyone wonders what will happen - will the opposition win any seats? What about the Muslim Brotherhood? Perhaps most importantly: will the vote be fair?

It's important for observers to realize what appears on Egypt's surface and what happens under it are two entirely different things.

One of the best pieces of advice I received back when I was doing research for a capstone thesis on current Egyptian politics was to try to be as Egyptian as possible when looking at what was happening around me. It sounds simple, but it is both difficult and vitally important. It's like looking at an orange and breaking it open to find an onion.

Here are a few quick facts about Egyptian politics:
  1. Egypt is a dictatorship. Egypt's 82-year-old president, Hosni Mubarak, has held the position for thirty years.  This makes him Egypt's third-longest ruler ever, including the pharaohs of old. One way Mubarak holds onto his power is through the army. Egypt has lived under Emergency Law - essentially military rule - since Anwar Sadat was assassinated thirty years ago.
  2. Egypt does not have a pluralistic political system. Many outsiders look at Egyptians politics, see the names of many political parties, and come to the conclusion that there is a vibrant, pluralistic political life. In reality, nearly all of Egypt's "opposition" parties have deals with the government whereby they act like opposition for the media in return for certain political or other benefits.
  3. Egyptian elections are neither free nor fair. Egyptians know this. It contributes to the extreme apathy most Egyptians feel. Additionally, Egyptian politicians buy votes. Outright. Egyptians know this as well, and some even call candidates to find out who will pay the most for their vote.
  4. Egyptians are terrified of their government. There are exceptions of course, but many Egyptians would literally start shaking in their boots if someone confronted them with criticism of the government. They whisper that there is always someone listening - and usually, they're right.
Gearing up for tomorrow's elections, the regime has already made it difficult for candidates or observers to expect a fair race. In 2005, the elections were spread out over a period of time to ensure each polling station would be overseen by a judge. This year, all the elections will take place in one day - meaning there is no possible way for judicial oversight.

Secondly, the government waited until a month before the election to announce its official date. It also stipulated that campaigning would only be permitted starting fourteen days before the election. The campaign period was strategically scheduled during a major, week-long Islamic holiday.

More recently, the government has stated that journalists will need special passes to report on the elections and that Egyptian civil society has the right to observe the elections, but not the right to monitor them.

Getting around the restrictions
There is always an exception to the rule. In the case of this year's parliamentary elections, that exception may well be independent candidate Gameela Ismail (for more about Gameela, check out my earlier post about campaigning with her).

"I am outside the regime's calculations," Gameela told me a few weeks ago, just after she had submitted her papers to run for parliament in Qasr el-Nil, a strategic district in downtown Cairo. To outsiders, it may seem impossible an impossible battle.

Yet Gameela may have exactly what it takes to get around the regime's restrictions. Gameela has battled Egyptian State Security for years and knows exactly what it is capable of.

The combination of Gameela's knowledge of State Security's tricks and their strong desire to keep her at arm's length could serve her well in Sunday's polls. Gameela knows how to deal with State Security and State Security knows better than to make her mad. She'll sit in their offices or keep them standing in the street until she gets what she wants - I've witnessed both tactics.

Over the past few days, many independent and opposition candidates have found their petitions to have representatives in the polling stations on Election Day denied outright. Gameela had a day-long verbal battle with State Security in Qasr el-Nil, but at the end of the day she got what she wanted: permission for her representatives to be in the polling stations.

(Representatives are allowed to remain inside the polling stations to keep an eye on the ballot boxes and watch for irregularities.)

Will it be enough to win her the election? Maybe not, but she has a fighting chance.

Voting stations changed, Ismail considering withdrawal

Less than 24 hours before Egypt's Parliamentary elections, authorities have rearranged which polling stations voters should report to in the strategic Qasr el-Nil district in downtown Cairo. The change was discovered less than two hours ago when independent candidate Gameela Ismail arrived at the Qasr el-Nil police station to file her list of representatives for the district. Representatives are permitted to remain inside polling stations and watch for irregularities.

Representatives may only observe in the polling station to which they are assigned to vote. The last-minute rearrangement means many of Ismai's representatives - and those of other candidates - are no longer valid, as they are now assigned to different polling stations.

The woman in charge of the lists at the Qasr el-Nil station told Ismail it would be impossible to provide her with a copy of the new lists by 5pm, the deadline for turning in the paperwork for representatives.

"How can I communicate with people quickly to find new representatives?" Ismail asked.

She threatened to withdraw from the race if the issue was not resolved before five pm. "I will not run if there is no judiciary oversight and no representatives watching the boxes," she said.

UPDATE: By late afternoon, authorities at two different police stations sorted out their issues and assured Gameela that there was no problem and voting lists had not been changed. She held her press conference - late - and confirmed that she would be running in tomorrow's elections.

In other news, it has just been discovered that there is another polling station in Qasr el-Nil, which no one knew about. Who is supposed to vote there is still unclear. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Campaigning with Gameela: Day Two

Gameela speaks to residens of the poverty-stricken
Bulaq neighborhood
A dozen young men and women spread down the street, handing out pamphlets and holding large, black-white-and-red posters. Not far behind, a woman with bright, smiling eyes followed, shaking hands and speaking with shopkeepers and residents. Four television cameras and a half-dozen journalists and photographers observed her every move, capturing her interactions on film.

Yesterday was my second day following the parliamentary campaign of prominent public figure Gameela Ismail. Gameela is running for parliament in Qasr el-Nil, a key district in downtown Cairo, against seasoned ruling-party politician Hisham Mostafa Khalil (Khalil's father was once Prime Minister of Egypt).

Gameela has seen and experienced more in the way of dirty politics than most Americans or Europeans could imagine. She learned how to deal with campaign tricks when she ran for Shura Council in 2001, and again when she ran Ayman Nour’s presidential campaign in 2005. When Nour was imprisoned under false pretenses, Gameela managed to raise their two sons and keep the political party running for the next four years, despite constant harassment from the government. She received phone calls late at night threatening the safety of her children, and was even caught inside the party headquarters when a rival faction attempted to burn them down. Gameela survived these trials and became known and respected throughout Egypt for her strength and courage.

After everything she has faced in her fight for democracy and civil rights in Egypt, Gameela is running for parliament against a strong government force. Why? Because she refuses to stand by and watch a parliamentary campaign with no worthy candidates in the district where she has spent her entire life.

And she thinks she has a chance to win.

Gameela speaks to media outside the
Gezira School in Zamalek
The morning began outside Cilantro cafe in Zamalek at 7:30am. More than twenty State Security officers were prowling the area when Gameela’s car pulled up. As her son and sister-in-law covered the car with election posters, Gameela spoke to the already waiting media – CNN, another television crew, German and Japanese reporters – and a half-dozen of her supporters.

The morning was spent visiting schools in the Zamalek area. Soon, a total of four television cameras were following Gameela – CNN, BBC, and two programs from Dream TV – in addition to reporters and a dozen of Gameela’s supporters.

The group then headed downtown to the Mugamma. The Mugamma is a giant, Soviet-looking building smack in the middle of Midan Tahrir, one of Cairo’s most important squares (also home to the Egyptian Museum and the old campus of the American University in Cairo). Gameela considers the Mugamma to be the biggest mark of the State – and she is right. Everyone, from Egyptians needing identity cards to foreigners obtaining visas, must pass through the Mugamma’s doors at least once during their lives in Egypt.

Outside the entrance the thirty or so people now in Gameela's entourage set up camp – supporters passed out Gameela’s pamphlets while reporters filmed Gameela’s interactions with security outside the Mugamma, who were reluctant to let any of the group inside the building and were extremely uncomfortable with the presence of TV cameras. Finally Gameela entered the building with a dozen or so supporters, but without the television crews.

Hanging Gameela's poster on a
wall inside the Mugamma
She headed straight for the Ministry of Education, where she knocked on every door and introduced herself to everyone she encountered. Even here, in this important Government building, the people were receptive to her. They hung her posters on their walls. “The people were so brave,” Gameela said later. “They spoke up loudly against the government.”

Eventually the group made its way out of the Mugamma and moved to one of the poorest areas in Gameela’s district. That is where my story began – as Gameela moved through the streets speaking with potential voters. It’s a hard battle here: the people like Gameela, and many would support her. But unlike the other candidates, Gameela refuses to buy votes.

“A few days ago, this woman’s sister called me,” Gameela told the group, referring to a woman she had just met. “She said, we like you, we want to support you. How much are you paying?”

Gameela's poster hangs over a
shop in Bulaq
The woman's query literally meant, how much money will you give us to vote for you. In many ways it is endemic corruption. Candidates offer poor Egyptians 500 Egyptian Pounds – less than US $100 – for their votes. Half is paid up front, the other half after they take a picture of their ballots with their mobile phones. Then, whoever wins disappears for the next five years.

Gameela wants to change this. “I want the people to understand that I will not pay them for their votes, but that if I win I will work for them for free for the next five years,” she said.

It will be a difficult battle, and only days remain before the elections take place. Bizarrely, the Egyptian government only allows fourteen days of campaigning before elections take place.

Surrounded by a mixed group of journalists, supporters, and potential voters, Gameela pauses to look up at someone speaking to her from their window. Behind her, a young man holds her election poster high, creating a backdrop. She smiles, and the expression on her face echoes the one on her poster – she is looking toward the future with hope, and perhaps that is the key that will help her effect her vision for Qasr el-Nil, and perhaps, eventually, for her country.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

I Am Slave

Long periods of dark despair and frantic moments of hope are brilliantly portrayed through excellent cinematography in this stirring British film. Based on the real-life experiences of a young Sudanese woman named Mende Nazer, I Am Slave tells the story of Malia, a young girl who is kidnapped from her home in the Nubar mountains of Sudan and comes to be the domestic slave of an Arab family in London.

The film opens with a flashback: Malia is twelve years old, a princess in her tribe, watching her father win a wrestling match. Flashbacks throughout the film show Malia's father telling her bedtime stories, her village being attacked, and Malia's sudden shift from a tribal princess to a domestic slave in Khartoum.

With skillful cinematography and sparse dialogue, the film portrays Malia's pain and fear as she is locked in her room for days at a time and threatened with the murder of her family in Sudan should she try to run. As real-life Mende finally found the courage to escape her masters, so Malia finally discovers the strength to leave.

Despite the film's suggestion of a happy ending, closing captions reveal that more than 5,000 young women are believed to be held as domestic slaves in London today, and that some 200,000 people are believed to have been enslaved in Sudan.

The film's producers have not only created an emotional and moving film, but are also attempting to bring to light one of the most savage problems in the world today: the continuing enslavement of human beings.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Gameela Ismail's Facebook account disabled by Facebook

Prominent public figure Gameela Ismail's Facebook account was disabled today. A report has been filed to Facebook, but no response received yet. Gameela believes the action must be politically motivated in regard to something she posted yesterday.

She did not turn off her account - it was disabled by Facebook for violating it's terms of use, which includes things such as using a fake name, impersonating someone, or harassment. Gameela had not engaged in any such violations.

Will update with more info if/when available.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Egyptian State Security intimidated by two women

Our female 'babysitter'
Today was somewhat fascinating from an objective perspective, if intensely boring for those actually involved.

I spent three and a half hours standing in the street with prominent public figure and activist Gameela Ismail this afternoon, after we were prevented from reaching our intended destination by Egyptian State Security. While droves of young football fans were rioting in Zamalek and over 1,000 demonstrators (according to the accounts of others) were gathered near Abdeen Palace, Gameela and I were apparently important enough to have the attention of more than a dozen high-level security officers and the divided attention of around 80 uniformed and plain-clothes police. Who knew two women needed so many babysitters!

Gameela and I reached a side street leading to Abdeen Square - where the President lives, in Abdeen Palace - around 4:15pm. We were stopped just steps from the square itself by a handful of plainclothes officers. They instantly recognized Gameela, who is something of an icon to Egyptians (wife of former Presidential candidate Ayman Nour, Gameela has become an advocate for women's, human, and civil rights, and is extremely active in fighting the regime). Within moments, the number of officers around us multiplied and we were also joined by three women, one in uniform.

Over the next three and a half hours, our babysitters consistantly refused to let us enter Abdeen Square. They tried to get us to go around by means of a narrow alleyway, but Gameela and I were smart enough not to fall for that. Uniformed and plainclothes police diverted pedestrians, and one high-ranking plainclothes officer even told passerby not to look at us.

While being kept from the demonstration - which we could neither see nor hear - was frustrating, I did find it telling that State Security found it necessary to spend so many resources on two women, especially after it became clear that other demonstrators were not coming to our location. Yet our security remained tight, particularly after Gameela managed to move about 5 meters closer to the square when our babysitters were distracted. We were closely surrounded by a group of fifteen uniformed and plainclothes police, and the uniformed female officer and another plainclothes office joined us in our little circle. At least 30 other State Security members watched us from within 30 meters, with others spread beyond that.

Around 7:30pm we learned, via phone and Twitter, that the day's protest was winding down. A few minutes later Gameela told the lead babysitter 'salam w'alaikom' and we walked past our guards away from the square, back towards the car, and left.

What I have to wonder is why we were so interesting. Even if the large numbers of state security were mere coincidence, why was it necessary to keep us so surrounded, particularly when we were still clearly in the eye of passerby? Why was state security so intent to keep Gameela from joining the protest, when other figures such as Ayman Nour and Hamdeen Sabbahi were already there? Is Egypt's State Security really that scared of Gameela Ismail?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Al-Ahram Published Doctored Picture of Leaders

Tuesday's edition of government-run newspaper Al-Ahram published the doctored image seen here, above on the right. The original image, below, shows US President Barak Obama ahead of the group with Mubarak trailing at the very back, while the doctored Al-Ahram image shows the Egyptian leader in the front.

Understandably, Al-Ahram has fallen under criticism from independent papers and opposition groups within Egypt. A statement released by the 6 April Youth movement said, "This is what the corrupt regime's media has been reduced to."

Al-Ahram has replaced the image on their website with another, but the print edition cannot be taken back. They defended the move by saying the doctored picture represented Mubarak's "figurative" role.

Read more at the BBC:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

"Ramadan Cream"

This e-mail came through a list serve I'm part of today. It was the funniest thing I've heard in a long time, so I thought I'd share it here:

Sam writes:
This is the first year that I've fasted and my skin has been kind of dry, so I went to a pharmacist in Zamalek for some help. He said "Ramadan Cream" I didn't know that they made such a thing just for Ramadan, so I said sure, "Ramadan Cream please." He just stood there. I said it again and he repeated "Ramadan Cream" and I said yes! We went back and forth a few times and I got a bit frustrated so I left. Does this product really exist, if not does anyone have any suggestions for dry skin due to fasting?
The response:
This may not be a festive joke but it gave me the best laugh I've had in ages.
Ramadan kareem ya Sam.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Iraqi reality TV puts fake bombs in cars

The New York Times' 'At War' blog and the Gawker website have recently revealed a disturbing reality TV show aired in Iraq. Titled "Put Him in [Camp] Bucca," the show plants fake bombs in celebrities' cars then has them pulled over at security checkpoints, where they are taunted with such lines as, "You are a terrorist. You will be executed!" and threatened with being taken to a maximum-security prison.

Understandably, there has been outrage over the show since it began airing at the beginning of Ramadan. According to the New York Times blog,
Nearly every Iraqi newspaper carried complaints about the idea of the show, with many well-known figures asking for it to be canceled. Some said it was simply too close to Iraq’s daily reality.
The article continues with comments from the show's website, most of which are negative. One particularly poignant comment reads, “To al-Baghdadia channel, I hope that your channel does not dance on the wounds of the Iraqi people”.

A blurb at notes,
But "Camp Bucca" keeps rolling on, because who doesn't love the terrified look of a man who thinks he's going to spend a long while in an American-built maximum security prison?
Despite the show having the approval of Baghdad's security forces, it seems just plain wrong.

Monday, August 23, 2010

What's the deal, Egypt?

There must be something in the water - strange and unfortunate things are happening in Egypt, perhaps more so than usual.

To begin with, a $50 million Van Gogh painting was stolen from the Mohamed Mahmoud Khalil Museum on Saturday morning. Saturday evening, officials reported the painting had been retrieved from the possession of two Italians at Cairo airport. Since then, however, it has been revealed that the painting was not recovered and is still missing.

This isn't the first time the paining was stolen - it was previously stolen from the same museum in 1978.

Now, here's the kicker: none of the alarms in the building were functioning at the time of the heist, and only 7 out of 43 surveillance cameras were working. Anyone who has spent time in Cairo knows most security features are for show more than anything. Most metal detectors don't work, and even if they do security personnel very seldom question foreigners. But this is a bit much, even for Cairo.

To make matters worse, a statue of Cupid which stood in the courtyard of the same museum was shattered less than 24 hours after the painting was stolen. According to Bloomberg News, the statue was toppled by journalists, who tripped over it during a press conference.

Seriously, guys?

In other news, the head of Egypt's al-Wafd opposition party has acquired prominent Egyptian newspaper Al-Dostor.

One more thing. Egypt is reportedly buying back natural gas it sold to Israel. Why? Looming gas crisis. Israel bought the gas for $2 billion. How much would Egypt have to pay to get it back? $14 billion.

The last issue I want to talk about is the most disturbing. Over the weekend, a 13-year-old girl died during a female circumcision operation. The doctor who performed the operation was apprehended and now awaits trial.

Female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation (FGM) is illegal in Egypt. Even so, it is estimated that 70-97% of Egyptian women have undergone some form of FGM.

Yeah. Way to go, Egypt.

An Egyptain So7our

We made our way down a dark, dusty street as 2am neared. The car was left in a lot near Al Hussein, but we headed the opposite direction, away from the famous mosque and the landmark souq surrounding it. After a few minutes a lit courtyard opened before us, with tables and couches scattered about. Dishes of food, plumes of shisha smoke, and men and women filled the area.

We settled at our table, quite a mixed group: four young Egyptian men, an Egyptian girl home from studying music in Paris, myself, and an American girl in Egypt to spend a semester at AUC. Drinks arrived quickly - lemon and mango juices and tea. The tea was unlike what I've had in Cairo before. Along with small individual pots of tea, a large cup of fresh mint, and dish of sugar, cups of cardamom, dried sage, and cloves were delivered.

I must admit I'm not really a fan of cardamom, and the cloves didn't really seem to add much (perhaps had they been ground?), but I love sage in my tea. I first tried the concoction while in Sinai along the Red Sea, and since then a bag of sage has nearly always been found in my tea drawer.

Shortly after, the ever-present shisha arrived. Watermelon and grape tonight for my friends. Talk and shisha smoke mingled in the still, warm air. Cups of tea were drunk. Eventually menus were delivered and food ordered: fool, ta'amea, tahina, salad, and baskets of fresh baladi bread found their way to the table. Talk lulled as food was quickly inhaled, leaving plates empty, bread crumbs scattered, and bellies full.

After glances at watches, water and yogurt were ordered. As the young men greedily puffed away at last-minute cigarettes, the kitchen closed. Tables were cleared. Final gulps of water were swallowed as the call to prayer rang out. Slowly another call joined, and another, until the familiar echo came from every direction, swelling and then slowly fading again.

Good-byes were said, cars were filled, and a near-empty highway driven. Home, at last.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Contemplating Rarity & Intellect Among Egypt's Masses

I recently read a blog post written by an Egyptian friend who recently finished university and has now entered the working world. In his post, he discusses the weight of words to ordinary Egyptians, a consequence of rarity, and the implications on intellect.

I want to post a few excerpts here, but I highly recommend you read his post. It offers both an interesting - if sad - theory and a look into the mind of a young working Egyptian.

When someone is expressing an opinion which happens to deter from the norm, unfortunately your average Egyptian would consider it a proverbial slap in the face. A 'how could you?' reaction is automatically fired back. This sensitivity has given more weight to the word. Since the average Egyptian is a text book conformist, varying opinions are a rarity, which produces millions of citizens who can't converse objectively and effectively with people they may disagree with.
He goes on to discuss intellect and education in Egypt, beginning with the following observation:

I've was curious in school why the Arabic word for mathematics was a word almost exactly like the word for sports. The answer to that of course was that the brain is like any other muscle in the body that always requires exercise. Mathematics to the brain is like running to the legs.
Unfortunately, he argues, a combination of factors - including summer hit films and music mass-produced by the culture industry - have led to a declining intellect, as Egyptians no longer exercise their brains. "It is not uncommon to meet a person with esteemed academic merits and a frigid inflexible mentality," he says.

Anyway, these are his thoughts, not mine. Go read his post and think about it.

In other news, a stolen Van Gogh painting has been recovered at Cairo Airport. An Italian couple had it. The painting, worth $50 million, was stolen this morning from Cairo's Mahmoud Khalil Museum. Turns out, this is the second time it's been stolen from the museum - the first time was in 1978.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Arab Man Convicted of Rape After Consensual Sex with Jew

An article in The Guardian this morning reported that an Arab man from East Jerusalem was sentenced to 18 months in prison after having consensual sex with a Jewish woman. According to the judge, the woman would never have had sex with the man had she known he was not Jewish, and consequently the man was guilty of rape by deception.
Handing down the verdict, Tzvi Segal, one of three judges on the case, acknowledged that sex had been consensual but said that although not "a classical rape by force," the woman would not have consented if she had not believed Kashur was Jewish. The sex therefore was obtained under false pretences, the judges said.
The article also quotes Gideon Levy, a liberal Israeli commentator, and I think his statement is extremely valid:
"I would like to raise only one question with the judge. What if this guy had been a Jew who pretended to be a Muslim and had sex with a Muslim woman? Would he have been convicted of rape? The answer is: of course not."
Levy's comments are worth noting. He's right. Yet there is a more important issue at stake - precedent. Is this really an acceptable precedent to set? What's more, this really is an affront to women who have faced "classical rape by force" as Segal phrased it.

Since when does lying about one's religion constitute rape?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Debating Journalism: Humanity vs. Professionalism

Perched on a rock by the edge of a cliff-side village at sunset, I’m surrounded by a curious group of children. Ranging from about five to nine years of age, they eagerly watch over my shoulder, fascinated by the combination of foreigner, computer, and English. One notices my camera and soon there is a chorus of “Soureeni! Soureeni!” Take a picture of me.
The adults offer to shoo them away, but I don’t mind.

We’re sitting on the edge of the village as an orange and pink sunset colors the sky over the valley below us. Olive trees cover the hillsides, and one-lane roads weave into valleys and over ridges. Clouds move slowly in a heavy sky as energetic 5-year-old Assad is carried off by a smiling father. Within moments he’s back, jumping and laughing and making faces in his sandals and red sweats.

“Mish ‘arfa,” I don’t know, I tell him, and he bursts into laughter before resuming his rapid-fire speech in Arabic.

It’s a comforting way to end a difficult afternoon, with smiles and laughter all around as children and youth and their older counterparts gather to talk with their “international” visitors.

Just a few hours ago I sat down with two young men from this small community in northern Palestine to interview them for a story. As we talked about the changes the village has seen since the death of a 16-year-old member of the community, I discovered both young men are cousins of the boy. Slowly, our conversation shifted as the young men began to talk about their cousin.

Mohamed was shot by IDF soldiers in March 2010 as he ran to help another friend who had been shot. Neither boy had participated in the day’s peaceful demonstration against the neighboring Israeli settlement; neither was politically inclined. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The soldiers used live ammunition. Crowd-controlling rubber bullets were absent. The deaths were a shock to the community of 800.

As I listened to Mohamed’s cousins and our conversation drifted far from the limits of my story, the boundary between professionalism and humanity shifted, blurred – I knew the intimate testimony would remain between us. It would never be found in an article.

It is not the first time I’ve faced a situation where the line between journalism and friendship blurs. One of the challenges of being a journalist is keeping perspective and humanity at the same time, and it is not a simple challenge.

Humanity is vital. Personal connections are what make stories real – what can bring a tear to a stranger or solidarity from a reader time zones away. At the same time, one faces the dilemma of losing sight of the end goal. An article which captures pain and emotion without describing it as such is that much more powerful for doing so.

The line between journalism and friendship or between professionalism and humanity is not immovable. It shifts. At times it may not even exist. Yet while some rapport between interviewer and interviewee is vital, crossing the invisible line between them is dangerous to both.

Perhaps those with a strong sense of empathy are not meant for what can be a cut-throat profession. Empathy does not lend to cold analysis, which so often seems to be praised. Yet, is not the absence of humanity more dangerous than the alternative?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Update: Mahmoud Shoukry

Hi everyone,

I know many of you have been visiting my blog for updates about Mahmoud. I have just learned that Mahmoud will be having surgery soon, so please keep him in your prayers and pray for a safe surgery and quick recovery.

Thank you all.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Bethlehem & Hebron

Yesterday morning we found ourselves in Hebron, a city with a very tense relationship between Palestinians and Israeli settlers. We wandered the market, bought keffiyehs made at the only remaining factory in the West Bank, surveyed the city from the rooftops, and visited the Tomb of Abraham (from the Jewish section, since the Muslim section is closed to tourists on Fridays).

In the afternoon we made our way to Bethlehem. After a relaxed lunch of various mezze, we headed to the Church of the Nativity in downtown Bethlehem. After touring the old church, the new Catholic church, and the grotto beneath, I met up with some local friends and headed home for a much-needed relaxing evening.

Today I took a quick trip through the security checkpoint and headed to Jerusalem for the morning, only to discover that the Dome of the Rock is not only closed to the public on Fridays and Muslim holidays - as I had been told - but on Saturdays as well. For the second time, I wasn't able to enter the Temple Mount.

Once I had made my way back to Bethlehem, we had lunch, ran into some friends we'd met in Hebron, and visited Shepherd's Field, the location where the Star of Bethlehem reportedly appeared in the sky the night that Christ was born.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Old City of Nablus

Colorful fruits and vegetables. Pungent spices. The sticky sweetness of konafa. Shops whose wares of clothes and household goods spill into narrow alleyways. The aromas of falafel, shwarma, and occasionally donkey dung. Calls of “welcome!” This is the Old City of Nablus.

A Turkish bath awaits behind closed doors – for women only, because today is Sunday. Women lounge on cushions or chat at tables. Some sip cups of tea with mint or Turkish coffee, others puff away at flavored tobacco or shisha, the water-pipe known by a dozen names and common throughout the Middle East. Behind closed doors are hot stones under vaulted ceilings, mosaic walls, and steam rooms, the last of which is barely discernable through the clouds of water vapor billowing out of it. This is the Old City of Nablus.

Yet the doorway to the Turkish bath is not so grand as it once was. A closer look at the alleyways reveals countless posters commemorating martyrs and patches of crumbling stone. Above the smiling faces of shopkeepers and curious eyes of children, bullet holes riddle the sides of buildings which have yet to be restored. Some of the holes are decades old, others only a few years. This, also, is the Old City of Nablus.

Today is a normal day in the Palestinian city. The violent conflicts of the Second Intifada are no longer daily occurrences, but they are far from forgotten. The martyr posters commemorate the men, women, and children Nablus has lost at the hands of Israeli soldiers, whether directly or indirectly. Hundreds of citizens are still kept in Israeli prisons, and the military maintains checkpoints outside the city. Today, many of them are open and both Palestinian and Israeli vehicles pass through them easily. A few years ago the case was very different. Entry and exit into Nablus was strictly controlled, with students of An-Najah University prohibited from crossing the checkpoints into the city. Many resorted to passing by foot through olive groves in order to attend classes.

Reminders of the conflict are easy to see, and one doesn’t always have to look hard for them. In a handful of shops, ammunition belts and bullet-proof vests hang beside keffiyehs and baseball caps.

This, too, is the Old City of Nablus.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Refugees, tear gas, and culture

Here's a brief update of the last few days. More later.

Yesterday we took a tour of the Balata Refugee Camp and Yafa Cultural Center. Balata was formed by the United Nations for refugees from Yafa and the surrounding areas of Palestine in 1951. It was intended to be temporary, and was located on one square kilometer of land in the Balata neighborhood of Nablus.

Today, the camp is still there, and over 25,000 people live in its one square kilometer.

This morning we took a bus down to Ramallah for a meeting at the headquarters of the Stop the Wall campaign. After that, we went to the village of Nilin. Nilin is one of many villages of farmers who have found themselves separated from their land due to the wall being built by Israel to separate the West Bank. As we walked about a kilometer away from the wall, we were constantly stepping around empty military-grade tear gas canisters. The cacti lining the dirt road were riddled with bullet holes. In some places rubber bullets remained embedded in the plants. Rubber bullets and regular shell casings weren't hard to find on the ground.

Reaching within half a kilometer of the wall, our local guide stopped us.

"What will happen if we go closer?" asked a member of our group.

"I don't know," he replied. "Maybe they will open the gate and shoot us."

We kept our distance.

We also ran into a peacock as we walked back into the village, before we headed to the Palestinian Popular Culture Center. Go figure.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Watching the World Cup in Palestine

Millions of people around the world gathered around TV screens to watch the World Cup finals between Spain and the Netherlands last night. In the West Bank city of Nablus, around two thousand Palestinians crowded into an open-air hillside amphitheatre to watch the game projected on a massive screen. I and three other foreigners were among them, surrounded by cheering, joking, laughing Palestinians. Spanish flags waved everywhere, with the occasional red-white-blue of the Netherlands visible. Twenty or so Italians gathered on the floor of the amphitheatre, a French couple were somewhere in the crowd, and a handful of other foreigners were interspersed across the hillside.

Young boys wove their way through the crowd carrying drinks and sunflower seeds, older boys offering steaming tea and coffee. Bags of sweets moved through the crowd, and a couple found their way into our hands after being purchased by our new Palestinian friends, who were sitting in front of us. Bags of sunflower seeds were passed. "Espana? Espana?" eager voices asked us, with a few shaking their heads as my friends and I affirmed we were rooting for Spain.

As the game neared a close after 30 minues of overtime, the cheering became deafening. Everyone was on their feet, cheering as much for every goal saved as for the goal made by Spain. Masses of Palestinian youth poured onto the streets at the end of the match, Spanish flags flying out the windows of cars and horns blaring as we hailed a cab and headed back to our Nablus flat.

I have to say, watching the World Cup finals at an open-air amphitheatre in Nablus surrounded by thousands of Palestinians was definitely the experience of a lifetime - even for someone who isn't really a football fan.

Friday, July 9, 2010


Hello friends,

Just a quick note to let you all know I'm in Jerusalem! Headed to Ramallah and Nablus tomorrow. I'll keep you all updated. For now, here's a picture of some of the thousands of crosses carved into the walls of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

Tragedy in Egypt for Star Academy 7

Thursday brought a tragedy for Egypt, Lebanon, and fans of Star Academy. Lebanese participant Rami Shmali was killed when he lost control of the car he was driving and collided head-on with another vehicle on the 6 October Bridge in Cairo. An elderly man in the other car was also killed, and two passengers injured.

Egyptian Mahmoud Shoukry, also a participant in this year's Star Academy, was in the car with Rami and has been hospitalized. Friends say he'll be okay.

I know reality TV and talent competitions aren't my usual subject material, but Mahmoud is a good friend and someone I respect. He's a wonderful and loyal friend, a talented musician and dancer, and the sort of person who raises the spirits of everyone around him.

He's lost a close friend, and is still in the hospital. Please keep him and his family in your prayers, and Rami's family as well. And please, drive carefully!

Edit: has reported that there are rumors starting which say Rami was not driving the car. The rumor claims that Mahmoud said Rami was driving the car in order to avoid possible prosecution. Both of these are false: Mahmoud was unconscious after the accident and unable to speak to anyone. When Mahmoud and Rami were pulled out of the car it was clear who was driving and who was not. Using circular reasoning that Rami had just arrived in the country and consequently wouldn't have been driving is simply inaccurate. Clearly, someone is just out for media attention. Don't give it to them.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Thousands gather peacefully in Alexandria

A long day is winding to a close in Alexandria, yet Ayman Nour's waterfront apartment is still buzzing. Media, friends, al-Ghad members, and activists fill the reception. Tea, cake, and croissants are devoured by the exhausted group as Nour appears for yet another interview. There is laughter, and smiles on everyone's faces despite the exhaustion.

There were no arrests today. There was no police brutality. And oh, was there a protest.

I've heard estimates that there were 4,000 people at the Sidi Gabr Mosque in Alexandria today. I can't offer my own estimates, as I spent the first half of the demonstration smack in the middle of a sea of people. I can, however, testify that it was indeed a sea of people.

Popular opposition figure Mohamed El-Baradei made a brief appearance at the mosque. Ayman Nour, George Ishak, and Hamdeen Sabbahi were there as well, along with literally thousands of Egyptians.

Around 7:30pm this evening, I watched at least 800 people march single-file down the Mediterranean city's sea-side main road. Men, women, young, old. Entire families, complete with small children. Most of them wore black.

El-Baradei again made his typical momentary appearance, and Ayman Nour walked the sidewalks of the corniche with the silent demonstrators for more than an hour.

The death of Khaled Said has brought everyday Egyptians to the streets. The usual group of 200 activists has swollen. And in Alex, unpoliticized youth have found a new means of protest: standing silently along the corniche, wearing black, and praying for Khaled's soul.

Today has been an exhausting day, and it is time I head back to Cairo.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Brutal death of young Egyptian raises questions

Egyptian bloggers and independent and opposition media have been widely publicizing the death of 28-year-old Khaled Said over the past few days.

Last Sunday, June 6, 2010 Khaled died. According to most interpretations of the story, Khaled was brutally murdered by two plainclothes police officers who confronted him in broad daylight at an Internet cafe in Alexandria. This article in the New York Times reports that according to Khaled's family the young businessman was killed because he was in possession of a video which clearly showed the two officers who assaulted him dividing the spoils of a drug bust amongst a group of people including themselves (the video can be viewed here). The article says:
The officers slammed [Khaled's] head against a table, dragged him outside, smashed his head against a metal door and continued to beat him even after he was dead.
Ahmed Badawy, an Egyptian activist and acquaintance of mine, went to the Internet cafe on Friday and interviewed its owner. The owner revealed that Khaled had been clearly targeted by the men who assaulted him, who blocked the doors of the cafe to prevent anyone entering.

Khaled's body was dumped outside his home later that evening.

The government's position:
The official statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Interior calls the story a "malicious allegation" which may "deliberately omit all the facts and persist in promoting lies and misinformation." The statement says Khaled swallowed a bag of narcotics and consequently died of asphyxiation. It also reveals that Khaled had been charged with two misdemeanors, stealing and possession of a weapon, in addition to harassment of a woman and dodging military service (compulsory in Egypt). Egyptian activists have questioned the reality of the charges.

The Ministry's statement does not address the dumping of Khaled's body outside his home, nor does it explain the disturbing images of his mangled skull. The images, which are extremely graphic and should be viewed with discretion, have been widely circulated and can be found here.

An article in government-run Al-Gomhuria insists the injuries to Khaled's face were caused during autopsy when his throat was cut open to remove the packet of hashish he had swallowed. The article calls the images' appearance on Facebook a "big surprise." It is a difficult explanation to accept after viewing the gruesome images.

Popular outcry
"If you oppose the government in Egypt, one of three things happens: one, you disappear. Two, you end up dead. Or three, you disappear and then you end up dead," an Egyptian friend cynically commented to me in casual conversation one day. To an extent, Khaled Said's story fits the model - and consequently is no different from others.

Yet Khaled's story is also fundamentally different.

Khaled's story has been publicized. Khaled "died amidst the shock and silence of everyone," wrote Ayman Nour on Thursday. Nour, along with Egyptian paper el-Shorouq, was the first to break the story nearly four days after Khaled's death. Since then, it has flooded Egyptian activist circles, independent media, and Facebook inboxes. There is no longer silence surrounding Khaled's death.

The incident has drawn an outcry from Egyptians, including many who are normally inactive in politics. A Facebook group called My Name is Khaled Mohammed Said has drawn more than 110,000 members over the past three days - the group grew by nearly 3,000 members in the time it took me to write this post - and an event calling for a protest in front of the Ministry of Interior on Sunday, June 13 has nearly 5,000 confirmed attendees.

Scores of Egyptians have changed their profile pictures to images of Khaled, such as the one at the top of this post.

A protest yesterday in Alexandria drew around 1,000 people according to blogger and activist Mohamed Abdelfattah, who attended the protest, and well-known blogger Zeinobia says police dared not come close to the demonstrators for fear of increasing their anger.

"This could happen to anyone."
Despite a general consensus that Egyptian police were responsible for his death, Khaled's story still falls outside my friend's generalization: Khaled was not political. According to the New York Times article, Khaled was intent on publicizing the video he had come to possess, but he was not an activist. He was not opposing the government.

Khaled walked beside the wall, as an Egyptian would say, referring to one who minds his own business.

Despite "walking beside the wall," Khaled was killed by a police force imbued with the power of the Emergency Law, a cause of concern for other young Egyptians. "He didn't look for trouble, yet corruption killed him anyway," said my friend Hatem, a 22-year-old Egyptian currently studying for his Master's degree. "Maybe they've done worse things before, but this directly threatens me: this is a young guy who comes from almost the same background as me and most of my friends. He does the same things that I do. He stays out of trouble. And yet - this. You know?" he told me.

For Hatem, Khaled's death means "this could happen to anyone."

Questions which remain
Nearly a week after Khaled's death, many questions remain. How did Khaled come into possession of the video for which he was supposedly killed? The video was clearly filmed by someone trusted in the room, someone who almost certainly was not Khaled. So was he given the video, or did he somehow happen across it?

What will the government's response be? Will the officers in question be charged with corruption, if not murder? Or will they walk away unscathed? According to a post by Mohamed Abdelfattah, this was not the first act of brutality committed by one of the men who assaulted Khaled (please note, link contains graphic images).

It would seemingly be easier to let the officers take the fall for Khaled's death in the face of the current media onslaught, but there has been no indication thus far that the government intends to make such a move. Why is the regime letting Khaled's death become a rallying point, instead of meting out some form of justice which might placate activists? In some ways this is only the most recent incident hinting at growing discord within the regime.

Khaled's death is drawing attention. What will Egyptians do about it? There have been calls of "revolution" since Kefaya's first demonstration in 2005, but the said revolution has yet to materialize. Even so, 2010 has seen increasing numbers of protests and increasing numbers of protesters. This week, Egyptians already angered by Israel's assault on the aid convoy headed for Gaza quickly took up the cause of one of their own. If Alexandria's demonstration was any indication, tomorrow's protest in Cairo could bring thousands of Egyptians to the streets.

What's next, Egypt?

For more information in English, please visit:

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

14 types of salad and heated toilet seats for Argentina

While some nations have kept their World Cup hotel requests relatively simple - hot coffee and cookies for the Brazilians and table tennis tables and a dart board for the Slovakians - Argentina's list of demands tops all others.

According to this article from AP, the Argentinian team requires 6 playstations and the following food at every meal:
  • 10 hot dishes every day and 14 different salads at every meal;
  • 3 different pasta sauces with each meal and at least 3 puddings (incidentally, the Italians are of course bringing their own pasta);
  • Braai (type of meat) once in 3 days;
  • Ice cream available all day.
Apparently sinks and toilets were also replaced in two bathrooms reserved for the team's coach:
New wash basins, toilet bowls, cisterns, taps and E-Bidet toilet seats -- which calls "the world’s best toilet seat" -- have been installed. The $450 chair comes heated with a warm air blow-dryer and two-setting bidet. -
Go figure.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Stolen passport nearly leads to deportation in Rome

On Wednesday, my good friend went to the police to report that his passport and permisso di soggiorno (permit to live in Italy) had been stolen. He's Sudanese, but carries a diplomatic passport and studies with me at the the American university here. He's lived in Rome for five years.

Once he finished filing the police report, the police told him, "Ok, so since you don't have any documents, we're going to arrest you now."

My friend was baffled. He was put into a police car and driven to an immigrant detention center outside of the city.

"Can I have my phone call now?" he asked.


He was placed in a holding cell and kept there for around five hours. After a while, he started talking to some of the other detainees, to pass the time. One of them is Ukrainian. "So, what are you in here for?" my friend asks.

"Oh, I raped a girl."

That ended the conversation.

My friend tried unsuccessfully to get the guards to let him out or at least give him a phone call. "I'm not a criminal!" he told them. "I've done nothing wrong!"

They refused.

Finally, they told him he would be deported. He was told to leave the country within fifteen days and was forbidden to return to the European Union for five years and from setting foot on Italian soil for ten. They made him sign his deportation papers.

Then they let him go. But they don't tell him how to get home - they just let him out of the detention center somewhere outside the city at around 10pm.

The next morning he went to the Sudanese Embassy, which told him it could help but that this should be his last resort, and his university should deal with it. So he came back to the university and the guy in Student Life, God bless him, made one phone call and sorted the whole issue out. My friend was no longer required to leave the country, and what's more, he now had the right to sue the police.

I wish I could say this was a fluke case in Italy, but that wouldn't be true. In the northern part of the country, the Lega Nord runs (successfully, I might add) on a political platform which calls for kicking out all the immigrants. Some of its propaganda uses images of Native Americans and says the immigrants will soon force Italians onto reservations. Already, the Lega Nord has outlawed the opening of foreign food restaurants in areas where it has significant influence (the law is aimed mostly at kebab shops).

This is the reality of being a minority, particularly black and Arab, in Italy. Trying to work within the framework of the law to report stolen identity documents nearly results in one's deportation for failure to possess said documents. In reality, the relationship between the people and the state and the police is similarly dysfunctional across the Mediterranean. Take a look at what's happening now in Greece for another example: I've heard transcriptions of confrontations with police which are eerily similar to situations I've seen or heard about in Egypt.

Perhaps the advantage of being on this side of the Mediterranean, and attempting to be 'European,' is that my friend now has the right to sue the police, and can do so without fear of repercussion. He now has the law on his side.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Heartbeat of the Eternal City

A few nights ago I was walking home along Via della Conciliazione, the broad avenue leading from Castel Sant'Angelo on Rome's Tiber river to the Vatican. There's something ethereal about the Vatican at dusk. The shadows in the nearly 400-year-old duomo deepen as the shade of blue in the sky darkens. Streetlights echo the same orange glow the setting sun reflects on the clouds. The magnificent dome looms larger with each step down the nearly deserted avenue. 

The daily mob of tourists is something I gladly avoid, but there's something I love about living a stone's throw from the Vatican Wall.

There's something I love about just being in Rome. The torturous cobblestones that will catch your heel or turn an ankle in a moment reminisce of ages long past. Smoothly painted buildings with tiburtine accents, old beams and bricks strategically revealed to curious eyes. There's a lazy feel to the city. Motorinos weave around cars and pedestrians in a pattern somehow instinctive to all three.

I'm part of the pattern, too. Part of the fabric of the city. The city has claimed me, and I claim it in return. The construction sites always devoid of workers, the cafes with their espresso machines. Old women walking slowly home with their wheeled shopping bags while old men sit with cigarettes and coffee in the afternoon warmth. The ever-present group of tourists making its way through, oblivious to the pattern of the city but no less a part of it.

Strollers and bicycles, cigarette butts and beer bottles, graffiti and uneven cobblestones, ancient foundations and modern creations... all of it belongs to the city, owns the city, is the city.

Now that I as well am the city, I can leave - knowing the city will always be a part of me. Somehow, my heart will always beat with the pulse of this city. Because it does that, you know. The city works its way into your blood, into your veins, until it simply becomes part of your consciousness.

I know I can leave, because I will never truly be gone. Or something like that.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Repost: A Muslim's Passover

I came across this article today, and found it interesting enough to share:

A Muslim's Passover
Mohammad Ali Salih

WASHINGTON, DC: Except for a casual mention of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian lands and the tensions they recently caused in US-Israeli relations, my Passover Seder last week was very spiritual –another adventure for this Muslim.
After 9/11, as some Americans started to learn more about Islam, I embarked on a journey to learn about Christianity and Judaism.
When I came to America several years ago at the age of 31 years, I didn’t know any Jews. Even now, I don’t know one well. And until this Passover my attitude towards Jews was clouded by Israel’s expansionist policy in the Middle East.
A black man, with a foreign accent, a Muslim name and Arabic my native tongue, I was a little nervous when I attended Passover celebrations at Adat Reyim Synagogue near where I live in Burke, Virginia.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Temporary stopover...

Hello all,

I'm out of Egypt for a few weeks. One of those necessary stop-overs in life. But I shall be back soon enough. For a reason unbeknown to me, the universe is conspiring to keep me in Egypt for a while, so to Egypt I shall return.

I'll still be posting, though, when I have internet access.. No internet at home here. I have some reflections that I think are worth posting, whenever I can get my head wrapped around them.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Another protest...

More later, but here's a brief for now:
  • Around 1,000 protesters showed up - pretty impressive number
  • Reps of: Kefaya, al-Ghad, April 6, Karama, National Association for Change, + others
  • Multiple protesters were pulled out of the security boundaries by police and beaten
  • More of the political elite present: Ayman Nour, George Ishak, Hamdeen Sabbahi, and other MB/ Socialist/ liberal leaders
  • ElBaradei nowhere to be found, as usual
  • Ayman Nour and al-Ghad Chairman bodily pulled an unconscious protester from under the feet of police
  • Complaint of police brutality taken directly to a judge by Ayman Nour and others
Will give you a more comprehensive report later.

UPDATE (14/4): I would like to clarify a few issues from yesterday:

  • First, Ayman Nour's son was NOT harassed OR beaten by police. These rumors resulted from a misunderstanding and despite being widely promoted via Twitter and other means they are NOT true. Noor is perfectly fine and safe.
  • Bahaa Sabr, who was arrested yesterday and beaten severely by police, is currently in the hospital. Twitter story confirmed by multiple bloggers, although it has yet to be reported elsewhere.

Thursday, April 8, 2010