Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ayman Nour pardoned; will contest 2012 presidential race

Egypt’s military ruler has officially pardoned a prominent liberal politician, paving the way for him to contest upcoming presidential elections. The move negates a 2006 forgery conviction that would otherwise prevent Ayman Nour from his second presidential bid.

"The decision restores rights to where they belong and this is one of the results of the revolution," Nour told Reuters.

In 2005, Nour placed second in Egypt’s first multi-candidate presidential election, receiving around 10 percent of the votes. Many saw Nour’s subsequent imprisonment as punishment for daring to challenge then-president Hosni Mubarak.

"The military council issued a presidential decree giving Ayman Nour the right to elect and nominate himself (in presidential elections), practice all his political rights and drop all penalties against him," Nour posted on his Twitter account on Wednesday.

The announcement of Nour’s pardon came just 10 days before the application period for presidential nominations will close.

Nour, 48, began speaking out against Mubarak’s regime two decades ago. He has already announced his intention to contest the upcoming presidential race.

Elections are expected May 23-24, 2012.

Nour can confirm his nomination in one of three ways: with 30,000 recommendations from citizens in at least 15 different governorates, with recommendations from at least 30 members of parliament, or by registering as the candidate of a recognized political party by April 8.

Nour’s new party, al-Ghad al-Thawra, won two seats in recent parliamentary elections as part of an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party.

Last year the Cairo Court of Cassation rejected Nour’s appeal to reconsider the 2006 forgery conviction that sent him to prison for five years. In 2005, Nour was accused of forging roughly 1,000 of the signatures submitted to form al-Ghad Party in 2004. Nour has consistently maintained his innocence and insisted the charges and conviction were politically motivated.

Under the Egyptian penal code, a person convicted of forgery, considered a crime of dishonor, is forbidden from participating in political life for five years from the end of his sentence. Thus, without the pardon Nour would be forbidden from running for public office or chairing a syndicate or political party until 2016, five years after his original sentence should have ended.

When Nour’s request for an appeal was denied, his supporters and other members of the political community called on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to pardon Nour.

“It is illogical that Ayman Nour is prevented from practicing his [election] nomination right while remnants of the former regime can,” fellow presidential contender and al-Karama Party head Hamdeen Sabbahi said at the time, calling on SCAF to pardon Nour.

Some have already come out in support of Nour after this most recent development, but others worry that his candidacy could further splinter what is likely to be a divided liberal vote.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Weekend recipe: Spaghetti with zucchini in red sauce

Since I have more time on my hands than I've had in a while (I'm taking a break from daily news to teach high school English) and people seem to enjoy my cooking, I think I'll start a weekly series of recipes and general tips for cooking (and eating) healthy here in Cairo. If you try one of my recipes, send me a picture and let me know how it goes!

Unless it's a special occasion, I generally cook with whatever happens to be in the kitchen, and consequently most of my recipes are made up on the spot and can handle a significant amount of modification. Most of my dishes are very Italian-inspired, as I learned much of my cooking during the four years I spent in Rome.

I also like to listen to good music while I'm cooking, so you'll find a playlist suggestion with each recipe :)


Spaghetti with zucchini in red sauce

Approx. time: 50min (20min prep, 30min cook)
Makes two servings

Suggested playlist: Oldies! Go for Tom Jones or The Beach Boys

- Olive oil (approx. 2-3 tablespoons)
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 small zucchini, split lengthwise and sliced
- 3 medium tomatoes, diced
- Dash salt
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
- Dash vodka or red wine (optional)
- Freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional)

The keys to great pasta are simplicity and timing. This dish is simple and delicious, highlighting the flavors of the zucchini and tomato. True Italian dishes aim to highlight one or two flavors rather than throwing every posible spice into the dish (i.e. "Italian seasoning").

First, get your ingredients ready. Heat some of the olive oil in a pan over medium-low heat (for this type of sauce, I prefer to use a shallow pan rather than a sauce pan). Add onion and garlic and sauté 2-3 minutes, or until soft. Add zucchini and sauté another 2-3 minutes, then add tomatoes. At this point you can add a dash of vodka or red wine to the pan if you like (while the majority of the alcohol will cook off, some of it remains, so if you don't drink alcohol for religious reasons you probably want to leave this out; the sauce will still be great without it!).

Add just a dash of salt. You may be tempted to add more, but trust me on this one: first, most of us eat too much salt as it is. Second, once your taste buds get used to not being overwhelmed with salt, your food tastes SO much better.

Turn the heat to low and let the sauce simmer for 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing sticks to the pan.

While your sauce is simmering, put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta, adding a dash of salt to the water. If you're REALLY good, you can even use this time to clean up your prep dishes!

If you want a lighter sauce, you can end the recipe here. Tonight, however, I was in the mood for something a bit heavier, so I added about a tablespoon of tomato paste (I try to use kinds without added salt when possible) and another dash of olive oil and let my sauce continue to simmer.

Once the water boils, add your pasta. I used about 1/3 of a 500g box of spaghetti, which makes about two regular servings. Be careful not to overcook the pasta. I'll say it again: DO NOT overcook the pasta. Good pasta should not be a sloppy, soggy mass that sticks together or falls to pieces. Good pasta should be cooked al dente, an Italian phrase that literally means 'to the teeth.' (If you like your pasta soggy that's your choice, but try it my way once!)

By the time your pasta is ready, your sauce should be ready as well.

Add a bit of freshly grated parmesan on top (if you have it), and enjoy! :)

Notes: The onion can be a bit overpowering in this dish, especially as Egyptian onions seem to be particularly strong. I made a very similar sauce last night but omitted the onion and added another clove of garlic and a dash of cooking cream instead.