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: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11313738

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 gawker.com 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.