This isnt very Egypt-related, but I thought I would post it.

I was reading the Ahram Weekly when i came across this opinion piece by Jonathan Cook. He essentially tears apart this recent report by HRW. He says:

“If one thing offers a terrifying glimpse of where the experiment in human despair that is Gaza under Israeli siege is leading, it is the news that a Palestinian woman in her 60s — a grandmother — chose last week to strap on a suicide belt and explode herself next to a group of Israeli soldiers invading her refugee camp.

“Despite the “man bites dog” news value of the story, most of the Israeli media played down the incident. Not surprisingly; it is difficult to portray Fatma Al-Najar as a crazed fanatic bent on the destruction of Israel.

[…]

“Just at the moment Fatma was choosing death and resistance over powerlessness and victimhood — and at a time when Gaza is struggling through one of the most oppressive and ugly periods of Israeli occupation in nearly four decades — Human Rights Watch (HRW) published its latest statement on the conflict. It is a document that shames the organisation, complacent Western societies and Fatma’s memory.

“In its press release “Civilians must not be used to shield homes against military attacks”, which was widely reported by the international media, HRW lambastes armed Palestinian groups for calling on civilians to surround homes that have been targeted for destruction by aerial bombardment by the Israeli air force.

“Noting, almost as an afterthought, that more than 1,500 Palestinians have been made homeless by these demolitions in the past few months, and that 105 houses have been destroyed from the air, the press release denounces Palestinian attempts at non-violent and collective action to halt the Israel attacks. HRW refers in particular to three incidents.”

There’s a little more right after the jump. To be honest, I am appalled. I dont recall when last HRW was this disappointing. Read the article to get Cook’s assessment of the factors that lead to their “disgraceful” behavior.

Continue reading ‘“Rights Group Disgrace”’

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Caught this while driving around Cairo. I just had to go back round for the picture. I’m sorry the resolution is pretty bad; phone camera.

Quarter Century

If you cant make it out:

25 years

An exhibition of Mubarak’s Era

(Ma3rad 3asr Mubarak)

(A Quarter of a Centure of Achievements) (Rob3 Qarn min al Ingazat)

And the first year of Mr Presidents’s Election Program (wal 3am al awwal lil barnamig il intikhaby lil sayyed il ra2ees)

The remaining lines go on including something about nazeef in the standard much-smaller-for-mere-prime-ministers-and-assorted-other-lackeys font size.

I havent really been following the papers the last few days, and i dont watch tv so i’m not sure if this is the start or just part of what is evidently Mubarak’s most recent publicity campaign. This will probably be amusing, if it isnt too frustrating.


Kifaya’s most recent close-but-no-cookie oneupmanship campaign (see my comments at the Arabist post) reminded me of something i had written not long after May 25. Here it is, slightly amended:

We has just finished off our ta`meyya and batates sandwiches and were waiting for our shishas (we were biding time not too far from the press syndicate where at that point some thirty people had assembled long before schedule). My american journalist friend (now in Lebanon) who was covering the 25th of May protest, proclaimed his belief that history has proven the effectiveness of protests in creating regime change. I dont know what the statistics are, but the statement strikes me as probably untrue. Someone else later pointed out, and i would tend to agree, that while it may be true that a lot of regime change was catalyzed by mass protests, that says nothing for the category of protests that we’ve seen recently. Yet, another conversation yielded the highly speculative guesstimate of requiring something in the order of 50,000 participants.

I dont think street activism will solve Egypt’s problems – not least of which is a defunct regime. At least not any time soon. And people that take this path often pay a hefty price.

Anyhow, later in the afternoon, at a favourite downtown haunt, a friend related the opinion of a foreign AUC professor. They had been discussing protests and activism. The professor, as i understood, stated that if he were a disenfranchised youth in Egypt today he would emigrate. The reasoning, was that there is no hope until Mubarak dies, so you may as well leave.

Cop out? To each his own, i suppose, and that’s fair enough. That aside, i will bitch about it. First, this is what is commonly known as brain drain.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume you are interested (whatever that may mean), disenfranchised (and probably young) Egyptian. I cant understand how a history professor can make a statement that seems to demonstrate a frighteningly naive perception. Can he possibly be so deluded as to think Mubarak’s death is going to change anything? Common belief seems to acknowledge Gamal’s heir-ness (not to be confused with MJ). Perhaps; perhaps not.

Regardless, barring a miracle, there will most likely be some form of orchestrated handover be it to Jimmy or other. As one recent column pointed out, there is a strong historical tendency in this country. Personally, i think that if you leave expecting to come back when things get better, you’ll be gone for life. Besides, Mubarak is well on his way to six feet under. My guess is, if you stick around for a while, he’ll kick the bucket before the current state of emergency elapses.

And even if he dies before he’s finished paving the road, and even if there is some form of regime change, Egypt isnt ready for it. I think it’s a little silly to assume that anything will really change beyond a little reshuffling at the top as patronage ties are realigned. But even assuming that somehow a large enough hole is blown through the structure; that the entire corrupt system collapsed entirely, there is no visible, viable alternative. None that doesnt suffer from mostly the same flaws of the regime. But aside from widespread corruption and a generally autocratic, patriarchal and uni-directional discourse, the opposition remains completely immature (or aged to the point of senility) on the political, organizational and intellectual levels.

Placing the Muslim Brotherhood aside for a moment, the Egyptian opposition has for all practical purposes no connection with the general population. Despite decades of bold proclamations and vows of championship, the vast majority of the population have absolutely no idea who these people are. They are little more than ideologue remnants of an age (or several) gone by. I’m sure many may be well-intended, but that only goes so far. There is undoubtedly a severe deficit in their thought. As far as i can tell, and i’m sure i could always be wrong, there are no elaborated programs for the economy, political and social life, foreign relations or otherwise. Nor is there any real organization, no public mobilization. In sum, they are far from mature. While they bear a large portion of the blame, the last fifty-some years havent been particularly fertile times for political organization or developing theory.

Though i’m probably far from qualified to comment on the Muslim Brothers (not that that’s ever stopped me before), i will say that despite their seemingly well-leveraged position in Egyptian public life, i am skeptical of their ability to consolidate power, let alone run a country. Hizbullah they are not. But even if they could pull it off, we all know how healthy one-party systems are.

Since i seem to have rambled, I’ll come to the point: Egypt requires much more than sporadic protests, half-baked propaganda by the opposition or timely deaths.


Riding on the wave of my newly-found soft spot for conspiracy theories, I think I had uncovered a very intriguing mystery.
First, some background. I’m one of the unfortunate souls that have to drive o work and back for 3 hours everyday. I drive across Cairo (6th of October) and sometimes around (Ring road). Being a true Cairene, being stuck in traffic is a second nature, hell, it is even a skill; show me an abandoned city, and we will gladly have traffic there, and get stuck in it. It’s what we do. My point is: it comes as no surprise for me that traffic is really bad at certain bottlenecks, and better (slightly better) at others.
What is suspicious though, is that once I passed one of those “bottlenecks”, and tried to find the reason for the very slow traffic there, I couldn’t find any. Only after I really paid attention that I found that the reason for these traffic jams is invariably an old black cab. The black cab’s engine is always fuming, its drivers is always dark with whitening hair, his face is always dusty, he is always carrying a water container, and the water container is always red!
Does that sound like a coincidence?!
I think not.
Here is what I think:
I think that this is a part of a plot to decrease the productivity of Egyptians. Being the upbeat, work bees that we are, our angry, self loathing “enemies” had to resort to this lame tactic (hey, we uncovered it) in order to hold us back from being at our work places on time, where we could have produced the greatest technologies man had ever made, the weapons of tomorrow, and the equipment that will take us to the most distant galaxies in space. Instead, we produce biscuits, and ice cream.
Those @#$#@# bastards. We’re on to you!! We’re on to you!!! Bring it on!!!!!

Also on Tomanbay 


Introducing…

22Aug06

me. It’s really nice to be invited to write here like I’m a serious author or something, so in order to maintain such an image I will try to adhere to a stanard of substantive…subtantiveness. Will think of something deep soon. Stay posted.


We Have Roots

20Aug06

[This is my first post to The Egyptian (hopefully won’t be my last). I posted it in my blog, but then it seemed well fitting to the name of this blog, that I thought of sharing it here. But , I guess I’ll have to write a more appropriate first post sometime soon; something which will require more effort than repeatedly clicking ALT+C, ALT+V…Till then cheers — Tomanbay]

I linked to the story of the Eloquent Peasant in the last post. It seems that it is very telling of Egyptian nature. To an uncanny degree.

Here the peasant is trying to implore some Chief to help him get back his stolen donkeys:

Chief steward, my lord, you are greatest of the great, you are guide of all that which is not and which is. When you embark on the sea of truth, that you may go sailing upon it, then shall not the………strip away your sail, then your ship shall not remain fast, then shall no misfortune happen to your mast then shall your spars not be broken, then shall you not be stranded—if you run fast aground, the waves shall not break upon you, then you shall not taste the impurities of the river, then you shall not behold the face of fear, the shy fish shall come to you, and you shall capture the fat birds. For you are the father of the orphan, the husband of the widow, the brother of the desolate, the garment of the motherless. Let me place your name in this land higher than all good laws: you guide without avarice, you great one free from meanness, who destroys deceit, who creates truthfulness. Throw the evil to the ground. I will speak hear me. Do justice, O you praised one, whom the praised ones praise. Remove my oppression: behold, I have a heavy weight to carry; behold, I am troubled of soul; examine me, I am in sorrow.

Classic ass-kissing, huh?
Impressed by his eloquence, officials keep passing the man around (typical). On his eighth encounter with an official, the man snaps out, and gives this very impressive speech, which, in a typical Egyptian fashion, is said in desperation, rather than defiance or courage:

Chief steward, my lord, man falls on account of………… Greed is absent from a good merchant. His good commerce is……… Your heart is greedy, it does not become you. You despoil: this is not praiseworthy for you………Your daily rations are in your house; your body is well filled. The officers, who are set as a protection against injustice,—a curse to the shameless are these officers, who are set as a bulwark against lies. Fear of you has not deterred me from supplicating you; if you think so, you have not known my heart. The Silent one, who turns to report to you his difficulties, is not afraid to present them to you. Your real estate is in the country, your bread is on your estate, your food is in the storehouse. Your officials give to you and you take it. Are you, then, not a robber? They plow for you……… for you to the plots of arable land. Do the truth for the sake of the Lord of Truth.You reed of a scribe, you roll of a book, you palette, you god Thoth, you ought to keep yourself far removed from injustice. You virtuous one, you should be virtuous, you virtuous one, you should be really virtuous. Further, truth is true to eternity. She goes with those who perform her to the region of the dead. He will be laid in the coffin and committed to the earth; —his name will not perish from the earth, but men will remember him on account of his property: so runs the right interpretation of the divine word.
“Does it then happen that the scales stand aslant? Or is it thinkable that the scales incline to one side? Behold, if I come not, if another comes, then you host opportunity to speak as one who answers, as one who addresses the silent, as one who responds to him who has not spoken to you. You have not been………; You have not been sick. You have not fled, you have not departed. But you have not yet granted me any reply to this beautiful word which comes from the mouth of the sun-god himself: >Speak the truth; do the truth: for it is great, it is mighty, it is everlasting. It will obtain for you merit, and will lead you to veneration.’ For does the scale stand aslant? It is their scale-pans that bear the objects, and in just scales there is no………….. wanting

At that point, I think the Chief either felt guilty, or something in the peasant words touched him in a deep way, so he acted to get back the peasant’s goods.
To which the peasant replied:

I live because I eat of your bread and drink your beer forever.

Heheehehe, typical!


It should be noted that this was written in the first week of May and so may seem a little outdated. As an opening entry. This isnt the greatest opening entry, but here we go…

In light of the recent events, it seems people have become a lot more forthcoming with their criticism of protests. I suppose it's always easiest to hit things while they're down (and already being beaten and jailed in a battle against appalling numerical odds – look here and here for pics and videos) . Several years ago, i was drawn to them and it wasnt long before my role shifted from observer to active participant. First let me clarify, that i do very much appreciate people's concern for my well-being but regardless of how many times you tell me you think it's dangerous, you're not about to change my mind. I'm not stupid, just passionate. I know the risks i take as do most other protesters. Perhaps some feel the need to risk, sacrifice even, themselves for the greater good. Despite this, on my part, at least, i'm not really willing to sacrifice my well being, unless i think it'll get something done.

Strangely enough, though most people probably assume i turn into a raging lunatic at protests (I do have a tendency to explode in rage when significantly irked like while driving in Cairo) , i am generally very measured, calm, organized at these events. I help the traffic by and make sure people dont get run over or beaten and am extremely polite to drivers, making sure they know why we're there and that we wont hold up traffic for long, give them advice on alternate routes. Sure, i almost invariably pick an argument with officers, preferably as high-ranking as possible. But i'm polite and friendly to the soldiers – they too are hot and tired, i'm sure horribly fed and the black on black uniforms and helmets cant help. And i drink lots of water.

I digress..

I know they're useless for the most part. I know that a few hundred or even thousand (those few glorious days last September of success unprecedented in at least a generation) people marching around downtown Cairo chanting against one and all of the regime's ills will change little. And, as i'm sure all the realists would like to emphasize, sure the change was sparked from abroad. Sure, the Bush administration's drive for democracy in the middle east pressured their client, Mubarak, to release Ayman Nour and let us roam the streets, largely unfettered for the first time in decades. Perhaps. But those people on the street had to be there. And where is the international order now?

I know that the average man on the street thinks we're the rabble of Ayman Nour [wiki] (of course, the state has it that he forged documents necessary to form his party [wiki]), and is currently serving time in jail) or the Kifaya [wiki] party (which it isnt). Rabble.. One of my closest friends had the nerve to claim that we (although he did make sure to insert the mandatory, half-assed "there are exceptions") are "a bunch of life's rejects" and then took off from there with some more derogatory comments.

I know that what most people see is the traffic jams; the appointments they're about to miss; the ambulance lights flashing as sirens blare, stranded in the congestion. We try to not let that happen; try and cross intersections quickly; to leave an open lane. More often than not it's the security forces that block the roads off. They're well aware of what people will assume. And they never give up an opportunity to sour the events and people's opnions of us.

I know that the opposition in Egypt is pathetic and doesnt deserve to come to power. That, MB aside, no one has the organizational capacity to pose a significant challenge to Mubarak and Co. I know that all we have are some leftist remnants from the 70s (and their youthful heirs) who for thirty years have been claiming to represent the people with no connection in sight; and a few ailing wafdist liberals (and their breakaways); and few centrist Islamists; and sundry others, i'm sure. Of course so many of them suffer the same characteristics that plague the ruling junta. One only need look at the disgraced Noaman Gomaa (and i have my more personal experiences with the would be revolutionaries).

Then there's the youth. The youth that for all their passion and vigour; their ingenuity and resolve; for all that they could and would be are lacking in substance. And through no fault of their own. They were never taught to question; to analyze; to think critically. They grew up in a patriarchal society where the oldest male has the most authority; in a bureaucratic system that rewards time served and not merit. And yet, despite it, perhaps because of it, they found a voice. They poked their heads out of the cave but there was no one to guide them; no one to help them think. Of course not. Who could it be? The remnants of past generations who have failed miserably for so long? Their elders who have been awash in a lifestyle that forces them ever onwards, not allowing them a moments rest lest they not have enough money to pay for school and private lessons, bread and meat, metro tickets; that has fed them the same government rhetoric, the same lies, sold them the same sham hopes for over a quarter of a century? Of course they seem like they're uneducated, like dropouts. But believe it or not, these are the doctors, engineers, lawyers and writers that this country has churned out. This was their education. This is the outcome. You only see their faults more prominently because they're louder. Perhaps they did drop out. They turned around to face the system that abandoned them and are not afraid to stand up and say, I have been wronged, betrayed by my love, my country, my Baheyya, my Egypt. Cower in your cave and point.

Again, I digress…

I know all of the above. I know how pitiful the size of protests are, how negligible the connections with the man on the street, how laughable the prospect of mass riots and revolution, how abhorrent the alternatives to the current regime.

So why do i do it? Why do i risk myself out there on the street? Why do i go to illicit meetings? For that one person out of every fifty on the street that stops and wonders, that reads a handout. And for that one out of fifty that stop, that also listens, that asks questions, that takes my number down, or a website or an email. And for that one out of every fifty of those that actually gets in touch. For every person that i show, that things are not as they should or, more importantly, could be. For everyone i tell, look, there are people that are here for you. That want to make things better for themselves and for you. And for every other activist, whom i share an idea with, try an alternate solution with, extend an arm to in the in that moment of fear.

Like every other person, i dont have ready made solutions. And i dont claim to. I cant claim to know why things happen or how to change them. Maybe we should get off the street and read a little more, take a queue from our detractors. I think most of us try to but we are neither the scholars of the present nor the future. We dont have theories or models. We dont have economic formulas. Yes, we have emotional beliefs, utopian dreams, visions. And we fight for them. Maybe rather than cut us down, call us rabble, rejects or chaos-seekers; rather than deride our dreams, dismiss our drive, maybe you could lend us a hand, a book, a worldview, propose a solution. Hell, you dont even have to do anything. We'll try it for you and take the shit when it doesnt work.