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After a fun afternoon at a friend’s daughter’s birthday party, I agreed to join a couple of other friends to a late viewing of the recently released movie Argo, staring Ben Affleck, John Goodman and many other famous Hollywood names. The film is about the revolution in Iran and the American Embassy hostages that were held captive for over 400 days! The film mainly focuses on the 6 American Embassy employees who were able to escape the building by the skin of their teeth and sought refuge at the Canadian Ambassador’s residence until help came.

The opening scene with the protestors outside the American Embassy in Tehran not only sent chills down my spine but it shared an eerie resemblance to what is taking place presently in Egypt. The chanting of the angry mob and their determination reminded me of how easily influenced people can be and how quickly things can escalate and get out of control as it has done here in Egypt a few times over the past two years.

The movie struck a deep nerve with me. Egypt is literally teetering on the edge of heading in that direction. We are in a very tough and extremely delicate situation. Believe it or not, I saw it coming a mile away and when I spoke of it years ago. People laughed at me and said; ‘Egypt will never end up like Iran, because Mubarak will always be in power and won’t allow the Muslim Brotherhood to take over, he has them suppressed, so, don’t worry about it.” I was just a young teenager back then, studying business, what did I know of politics and the world?

Famous last words? Mubarak is gone and the Muslim Brotherhood IS in power. After seeing the movie it helped me understand an incident that happened to a friend of mine before the presidential elections took place. He was abroad and he met an Iranian, when the man found out that he was Egyptian, he dropped to his knees and begged him to tell his Egyptian country men and women not to make the same mistake Iran made, because once the extremists get into office they are very hard to get out.

Here we are, in that very position…

We are up against a strong, well-organized group of people, who have been planning for this very moment for decades. To have them step down or remove them from their positions is going to take a very well planned and thought out strategy, because they will not go without a fight. They had been suppressed and oppressed for so long that they will do everything in their power to not be put back into their box.

So my question is….. Do we have a plan?

Let us not repeat our own history! We forced Mubarak to step down but we didn’t have a plan to put in place once he did and because we weren’t ready and the MB knew it, they snuck in very easily and hijacked the movement and got into office. The vicious cycle will keep repeating itself unless there is a P.L.A.N of action!

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to end up like Iran or Afghanistan …

So let’s get it right this time.

 

On A side note, I highly recommend that you go and watch the movie, especially if you are Egyptian living in Egypt. On a second note, I really hope Argo wins the Oscar this year.

 

Two weeks ago on a Saturday morning, I awoke to the tragic news of a terrible , (yet preventable) accident that took place in Assiut, in upper Egypt. A school bus was crossing train tracks to take a group of students to a school located 20+Km  away from where they lived to their school, because there isn’t a school nearer to them. The crossing guard was fast asleep at his post with the television on and supposedly with a sheesha in hand too. He didn’t pull the lever that could have saved many lives. The crossing guard, a government employee failed to do his job, which resulted in the death of fifty young lives, whose blood stained the front of the train. Those at the scene couldn’t find words to describe it, they said it was unlike anything they had ever seen in reality or in any horror movie.

This is not the first accident of its kind in Egypt and it will not be the last either. Why? Simply because, our government is and has always been negligent and does not put money back into the system to help maintain machinery, buildings, roads, trains …etc. (God forbid that people should ever feel safe when they have the opportunity to line the inside of their pockets). I am not surprised that it happened again but I am deeply saddened at the suffering and loss that so many families have to endure due to greed. Two of the many families have lost ALL their children in the accident and to add insult to injury, the government initially offered them 5000 Egyptian Pounds blood money per child, which is approximately 817  U.S Dollars. That is less than the price of an IPhone!!

An Egyptian T.V. Talk Show host, Amr Adeeb, totally lost his temper on his show and was infuriated not only because the accident had happened but because the amount of money was a despicable amount to pay for a life of a child. He called all Egyptians, President and the country a failure and said we should be embarrassed. (I would have to agree, we are great at talking the talk but do very little to improve our situation. we would rather sit back, ezzaz (nibble) on lib (sunflower/pumpkins seeds), watch T.V, smoke sheesha and have someone else do it). Adeeb’s ranting and raving did have an impact though… The blood money was bumped up to 50,000 Egyptian Pounds. It’s still not worth the life of a child and it will never take the pain or loss away. I still think they could dig deeper into their pockets and pay a few hundred thousand pounds more per child especially if they are able to spend millions on finding ways to block porn sites.

With bated breath last Thursday I hopped on a train to Alex to see my parents for the Thanksgiving weekend, after the train accident in Assiut,  I couldn’t help but wonder if I would reach my destination intact. Not long after I arrived and was sitting with my mother updating her on what’s been going on in my life the past couple of weeks, I logged into face book and twitter  and saw my news feed full of colorful descriptions of Egypt’s President elect. (eyes rolled in their sockets and ‘What has he done now’ said the voice in my head)

As a storm brewed over head I wasn’t able to watch ‘THE’ mother of all speeches on satellite so I turned to BlackBerry messenger and Facebook Chat and what I was being told by friends was equally worrying and humorous. Our ‘Democratically’ elected President Morsy had declared himself above and beyond the law. He’s so far above the law that any cases against him from the time he had taken office will be dropped. No one but ‘He’ has the right to dissolve the Shuraa part of the Parliament. He has new evidence against the Mubarak family and their constituents, so they will be retried, (just to name a few) . In less than a year he has given himself more power than any president this country has ever had. He declared himself Caesar/Pharaoh! (yeah, Ceasar/Ramsis II has been reincarnated and is alive and well in Morsy). People sat on their couches with their mouths gaping wide open, with eyes buldging out of their sockets in disbelief! He just pulled the Coup D’Etat card on us!

Naturally people went ballistic!!!

This very man gave his acceptance speech just months ago swearing that he would do right by his country, his people, those who lost their lives, preserve the revolution and will do everything legitimately…. IF he’s forgotten, we can play it back for him, it’s been recorded and there were thousands up thousands of people watching him here in Egypt and throughout the world! If I was to pull the Coup D’Etat card on my country men (not that, I would but if that was my plan) I wouldn’t have done it now… I would have done it after I had won the hearts and minds of the people. NOT NOW when you’re still going through the public’s probation period!

Did he honestly think that people would take it lightly? We got rid of a 30 year dictatorship, we didn’t sign up for it to be replaced with another one with MORE POWERS than the previous one. This is like  something out of Greek Mythology, Slayers behead the beast and the people hail their bravery and victory of slaying the beast, only to find out later that the beast wasn’t dead, it had grown another head !

So, now what?

Do we all run out and buy Aabayas (burkaas) and galaabeyas? Do bars, cinemas and night clubs go extinct or underground? Does the age for marriage drop below puberty? Do women find themselves back behind the kitchen counters mastering grandmother’s old recipes and popping out kids every 9 months?

No!!! We make our voices heard and let him and his bearded buddies know that not everyone supports his decree and that he needs to take it back! The following day, Friday November 23, people across Egypt who opposed Morsy’s decree took to the streets in protest! Several Egyptian governorates made their voices heard! They did not and would not accept his ‘temporary’ power at the helm of Egypt! He infuriated people so much that they stormed the Freedom of Justice Party offices in several cities, looted them and in Alexandria they found a bra, which the stormers held out onto the balcony to show the watching public! Then they torched the place.

Last Tuesday another protest was scheduled and the friction between the pro and anti Morsy fractions could be felt on the streets. Many schools decided to not open that day for fear that there might be violence and that students and teachers might not get home in time before the show down.  The MB in Cairo were scheduled to march that day too, but decided to post-pone it to a later date for fear of violent clashes. In Alexandria there was a stand-off between the two parties but I didn’t hear of any major incidents. Mansoura demonstrated their disapproval of the president’s decree and also stormed the FJP headquarters there. Mahalla got the brunt of it, Morsy supporters were out in full force and fired live ammo on the protestors, resulting in many casulaties.

Today is Friday, November 30th and another protest is scheduled to take place today… tensions are running very high especially with the threat of MB and Morsy supporters threatening to lash out on those who do not support Morsy.

Presently Egypt is divided into two unequal fractions. Those who support the president and his decree and those who don’t. If we are going to be honest, we are out numbered by the supporters, which automatically reminds me of Lord of The Rings and the battle for middle earth. I hope that things end as well as they did in the book for Egypt and her people’s sake!

I was recently invited to make a guest appearance in a High School Social Studies & Politics class in Vermont by the teacher who follows my twitter feed and reads my blog. I was deeply humbled by the invite and by the fact that the teacher had gone beyond the call of duty to ask someone from the Middle East to answer student’s questions.

I liked the idea a lot from an educator’s perspective. What better way to build bridges and to shatter false images and misconceptions painted by the media than by exposing students to someone who is Egyptian and actually lives there?

A trip to Vermont would have been ideal but out of the question at the beginning of the academic year, so thanks to modern technology, I could be in two places at once with the help of Skype. After  a couple of test runs and agreeing on a day and time that suited both time zones, the questions which the students wanted to ask were sent to me in advance so that I could mull over how I would answer them and what I would say. As well as checking information and sources to make sure the information that I was discussing was indeed factual.

As the day approached my nerves were on edge as well as boiling over with excitement. I was nervous because I was stepping out of my comfort zone and talking to a group of young strangers thousands of miles away and I felt a bit like a diplomat representing my country. I posted the event in my group on facebook so that my readers would know. I was quite flattered by all the words of encouragement from friends and acquaintences who sent me words of encouragment and told me how proud they were of me for doing this.

The day of the interview I was invited to my sister’s in-laws for brunch. I was terrified that I would not make it home in time for 3pm, so I took my laptop and all my research with me just in case, (and it was a good thing I did too). I have to thank my brother-in-law and his family for allowing me to take up a corner of their sitting room while they session took place. I am very grateful.

Friday 28th of September at 3P.M Cairo local time the Skype video call began …                                                                                                                                          (I can’t remember all of my answers verbatim, but I will do my best to recall my responses as best I can)

The teacher that I had been communicating with was present along with another Social Studies teacher, the Principle of the school and the students        (talk about nerve-racking!!).  For 45 minutes I was asked questions and discussed Egypt and the region.

The first question I was asked was ‘Why did you agree to Skype with us?’

My answer was simple, Why not? How else are we going to build bridges and destroy misconceptions if we don’t learn from one another?

The second question was ‘Would there be any repercussions for speaking with us?”

No, not in my case, I’m not a political blogger and I don’t write anything negative about the government, the president or religion so I have not been red flagged.

What is the current political situation in Egypt?

Well, we finally have a president! Part of the parliament has been dissolved, the president tried to overrule the decision and allow them to be reinstated but he was over ruled again by the Supreme Court, so we don’t really know what’s going to happen with them.  Then there’s the writing of the new constitution.

Can women run for public office in Egypt?

Yes, they can. We had a woman named Bothaina who was in the presidential elections but, she didn’t get enough votes to carry her through. We also have other women in parliament.

 

What was it like for you during the Arab Spring?

(Never a simple answer and I couldn’t help but let out a big sigh)

Having lived in Saudi Arabia and remembering the signs of what happened during the Gulf War, I knew something was going to happen. I started to read and follow many of the revolutionaries on twitter. I prepared myself for the worst, made sure I had provisions in the house and on the 28th of January I asked a Canadian friend and colleague of mine to come and stay with me because she didn’t know what was happening and didn’t speak the language. There isn’t a word in the dictionary to describe what we experience. We had no clue what was going to happen from one minute to the other. There were riot police and then the police were dissolved. Saturday 13000 prisoners were released from prison taking the ammunition that was in the stations and that’s when chaos broke loose. Boys your age and younger were out in the streets armed with whatever they could find, planks of wood, kitchen knives, candle stick holders, Molotov cocktail bombs to defend their neighborhood and their homes from petit thieves and dangerous criminals who were heavily armed. It was a terrifying experience. Things have calmed down a lot since then, but even months afterwards you always looked over your shoulder.

How do Egyptian people view the United States? Is there a difference between how they view the government and the American People?

Egyptian’s don’t hate Americans. They don’t dislike foreigners. We need foreigners to come to Egypt for our tourism. Tourism is our source of money (I had meant to say income, but the word escaped me). We just don’t like your foreign policy.

(I am sure many will disagree with me on this point, but that is how I perceive things to be)

There were many questions that followed these but I cannot remember their chronological order or how I answered them.

While answering the questions I didn’t notice how fast the time had passed and when the bell rang I couldn’t believe a class period had flown by. I wasn’t sure what the student’s impression of the video call was. It was hard for me to see their faces and to know if they found it engaging or not. Once the student left the class I spoke with both teachers for a little while longer. I won’t know the verdict on the experience until next week, but I did get an email from the class teacher the following day. It read;
“Hi Irish!

A number of students have come to me and said they enjoyed speaking with you and wondering if they would be able to do it again. That’s a good sign. Our principal who left three quarters of the way through was very impressed with you and happy that you too took the time to speak with our students. He actually said he got chills up his spine a couple of times when you were speaking. Again that is a good sign. Thanks so much for taking the time to do what you did. It’s a great learning experience for myself and my students. Hopefully we can find some other ways we can break down some of the misconceptions of both Egyptians and Americans with our students. If there is anything you can think of or anyway we can bring students together through this source of media please let me know. “

An even further update on how the skype talk went;

” You have received many positive comments and none negative. Greg who you talked with after the class felt that you had a great persona on camera. I agree with him on that and its not easy to do on skype.

I spoke to one student’s mother who said her son came home and talked  about the class’s conversation with you. He said he really liked it.  This is from a student who usually doesn’t appear to interested in  class.
The students commented on your English and how good it was.. They wondered if it would be hard to understand you. They all said they would like to do it again.

I hope you would be willing. As I told you I think if they get more comfortable with you and you them it would be interesting to see where the conversation leads just in regards to daily life in Egypt and the United States. Perhaps the average person’s goals, dreams, hopes for the future etc, so that they see people are not really that different regardless of what country they live in.

I asked them if they felt you had answered their questions and they felt you had done a good job of that. I heard them laugh a number of times during your talk due to the expression on your face in regards to a question or answer. This indicates that they picked up on your facial expressions and body language. I believe they felt that you were much like them instead of this perception they may of you. “

Students and teachers alike look forward to the longest holiday of the year, ‘summer’.

In the past summers for me meant packing my bags with all that I would need and move down to Agami, a summer resort just outside of Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea, where my parents had a beach house. There I would spend my days in shorts, t-shirt, swimsuit and flip-flops with my beach bag ready for the beach. Two to three months of swimming, tanning, reading, playing volleyball, running a summer camp for children and catching up with old friends whom I hadn’t seen since the previous summer.

Summer home in Agami- Villa Casa Blanca

Times have changed and friends have moved on. I have not been back to Bianki since 2007. I miss the times, I had there during my teenage years. It is there where I made some of my most memorable memories and met some very interesting people and dear friends.  To date, my summers are split between Alexandria and going abroad to various destinations to get away from the stress that the post revolution has left and the political roller coaster of electorial disappointments we have had to take part in, witness and accept the results of.

The beginning portion of my summer for the past two years has been spent in Alexandria with my parents. My mother and I have been motivating one another to get back in shape and eat healthy. (This as some of you may know has been an ongoing process for me. After  1.5 years of battling the bulge, I am 13Kg away from my target weight!) I would spend an hour working out at home, doing various crunches and sit-ups as well as using an elliptical bike and 3 hours of the day would be spent swimming laps and using various apparatus to help strengthen and tone my arms and legs. For a few weeks, I or we would go abroad.

To go abroad for me is a chance to recharge, re-evaluate, relax and look at things from a different perspective (the change in scenery and climate is also an added bonus). This year my mother and I ventured to London to visit briefly with my sister and to Ireland to attend a family wedding and strengthen family connection with our cousins, whom we had lost contact with over the past few years.

I am fascinated with our family genealogy, especially on the Irish side. I have found that not only do I look Irish, I have a lot of the Irish family traits in me and from listening to stories, I find I learn more and more about myself and why some of the members of our family are the way that they are.

As a young girl London never appealed to me, I had formed an image of it being a dark, grey and gloomy place, much like the Industrial time in England. My opinion changed quickly when I first visited 3 years ago. I look forward to my visits there now, not solely due to it’s undeniable allure but because I actually feel normal there. I don’t worry about what I’m wearing and if I’ll be harassed as I walk down the street or how long it will take me to get to my destination. When I am there the stress of constantly having to be aware of the people around me and looking for signs of possible sexual harassers trying to invade my personal space drops from 100 to 1.

Time spent with my sister, her husband and other members of our family are precious and they always take priority. I try to spend as much time with them as I can, to keep our family bond strong and because I simply love being in their company. There is never a dull moment when we congregate! On extended visits I like to walk around and take in the sights, museums, shows, take pictures and of course shop! (One has to make a contribution to the economy of the country one happens to visit, no?)

It was also exciting to have been there pre-Olympic ceremony. To see the city decorated with flags of the different nations taking part in the games. The excitment and pride of the nationals to host the games. My mum and I missed the ceremony but watched many of the highlights and events once we had made it back to our hotel room and back to Egypt after our trip. The athletes are phenominal in their dedication and inspring!

Family time or giving new meaning to the term, ‘swimming with the fishes’

I have always been very proud and patriotic of my Irish heritage. When I visit I can’t help but be in awe of her beauty. Her beauty, in my opinion becomes more enhanced by her people, who have such a cheerful, friendly, helpful and funny disposition about them. I can’t help but find so many similarities in them and the ‘old’ Egyptian culture that I grew up knowing, ( it saddens me to think that what remains of the ‘old’ Egypt, might soon be lost, if things are not sorted out soon).

During this trip to Ireland, I made sure that I would not be rushing through like a forest fire, but I would actually have time to walk the streets, visit historical landmarks, eat in pubs, shop and talk with the locals, as well as visit with family.

I can not tell you how much I enjoyed touring the capital, learning about how Ireland earned its Independence, driving through the grounds of Phoenix Park, visiting Trinity College and sitting in its grand library of ancient manuscripts and books that were written and read by some of the greatest minds on earth and where some members of my family attended. Although my connection to the country itself isn’t strong, I think this journey has definitely strengthened it.

                                                       
                        The scene from the brige where my cousin wed his bride. Tintern Abbey-Rosslare

My cousin whom I had only reconnected with over the last three years and hadn’t seen in twenty, invited my family and I to attend his wedding. The place in which the nuptials took place and the ceremony itself was unlike any wedding that I have ever been to or seen before. It was a Humanist Wedding/Ceremony, filled with spirituality, tradition and love. It was held on a bridge on a beautiful summer’s day with beautiful landscape encompassing the couple and their families and friends. Nothing could have made it more magical, meaningful or beautiful in my opinion.  The two-day event was packed with entertainment, food and great times. Most importantly it was shared with people who truly cared for the couple and genuinely wished them nothing but happiness in their future life together. It was at this event, where I made new connections and bonds with members of our family whom I had lost contact with and those I had never met before. (Now, I know where I get my energy, drive, motivation to succeed, love of learning, sense of humor and love of partying from, The McSorley Clan)

The third part of our trip was spent visiting the area of where my grandmother and generations before her had come from. In some strange way, Wexford, a small county by the sea reminded me of Alexandria. It is here where my mother attended boarding school as a young girl and where she spent many summers with her aunt, uncle and cousins at a nearby resort called Rosslare. As I walked the quay and breathed in the fresh Irish sea air and took in the scenic views, I couldn’t help but be grateful for the opportunity to have traveled to the land of my ancestors, to see where half of me is from and to be able to pass down the stories that have been told to me by my aunt, mother and cousins, so, that our history isn’t lost or forgotten.

In Wexford we strengthened existing ties with family we are in touch with. It was also a second opportunity for my mother to spend time her aged aunt of 97 years and to thank her for all the wonderful summers she had spent with them as a child and all the other things she and her late husband did for her growing up. (Moments like that should be seised, because they may never come again).

There is so much more for me to see and learn of Ireland but I have an itching desire to learn as much as I can about my family as I can. I hope to be able to go back there again soon in the near future.

Upon returning to Egypt I couldn’t help but feel depressed. Ireland might be in dire straits economically but the people have the drive to rebuild the country to get it back on its feet again. Egypt, a nation of great potential and historical as well as cultural wealth seems to be sinking before our eyes and very few seem willing to get their hands dirty. I have said it before and I will say it again. I fear for Egypt’s future and her children. I pray that I am wrong and that she will not suffer in the hands of men like Rasputin. Perhaps the Egyptian Olympians who preformed so well at the London 2012 games, might inspire their country men and women that hard work does pay off and that they can not only achieve great things but be recognised for them in the long run, if they pull together and move forward in rebuilding the country rather than pointing the finger of blame.

Isn’t she embarrassed walking down the street with her head uncovered? How immoral!

Since the fall of the former President of Egypt, Sexual Harassment has been rampant like a forest fire throughout the country. Horror story upon horror story of attacks and incidents on women have been surfacing and making headlines. It’s getting worse and worse with each day that passes. Since Egypt’s first Democratically Elected President had been announced another serving of worry has been served up on to our plate.

The President as many are all well aware is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a lot of the élite, liberals and women quaking in their boots worried about Egypt’s future on many fronts and their place in the new Democratic Egypt. There is a vast majority on the other hand who find that our President previous association gives them the carte blanche to do as they please, when it comes to educating the public on what is right or wrong in the name of Islam. Sometimes I feel like things are looking more and more like a Mad Max movie.

Self-appointed groups and individuals feel they now have the right to tell people what to do, how to dress and how to behave. A couple of weeks ago there were two incidents in different places in Egypt that sent a ripple of fear and dread through the country. The phrase we are turning into the next Saudi Arabia or Iran was on the tip of everyone’s lips.

(If things don’t change and social order isn’t put in place, then I will have to agree)

In Suez an engineering student was badgered by 3 bearded men, who demanded to know his relationship with the woman he was walking with. When he told them to mind their own business they stabbed him. The stab wound was fatal. The woman was his fiancée.

Story has it that the men were caught and will be given the death penalty.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/46784/Egypt/Politics-/Suez-knifing-stirs-fears-of-moral-policing-in-Egyp.aspx

Another story was that a young man was playing his guitar during the call for prayer in the governorate of Ismaleya and others found this to be a sign of disrespect and took it upon themselves to teach him a lesson.  The lesson rumor has it resulted in a severe beating which lead to his death. It was also reported that a group of bearded men went into a café in Cairo’s, Madinat Nasr area and told the customers that they should go and pray. Unfortunately I cannot confirm these stories to be 100% accurate, but having lived in Egypt so long, when there is a story there is always some element of truth to it.

I can confirm two others stories from women that I know personally and experienced some very disturbing events that worry me and honestly have me concerned for the future wellbeing of Egyptian women.

The first story is of a woman who works at a hair and beauty salon in Alexandria. She is a single Mom of a 4-year-old girl. She said she was walking in a district of Alexandria holding her daughter when a car drove by. One of the passengers in the car sprayed her with an acid like substance that ate through her clothes. It made huge holes in her dress which caused her undergarments to show. Embarrassed, scared and shaken she got into a taxi to go home. The reason for the passenger spraying her was because part of her leg was showing in the dress that she was wearing.

The second woman I work with and this is the straw that broke the camel’s back and pushed me to write this post. Yesterday she posted a warning to all her contacts on her Facebook page, so that we would all be made aware of what may happen if women decide to take a public mode of transportation. My colleague along with her brother, sister and future brother-in-law were boarding the car at Sadat Metro Station (El Tahrir) and just as the doors were closing a guy pulled her by her hair. She said she didn’t hear the full sentence of what he said but it had something to do with her not being veiled. This is NOT the first time she has experienced something like this.

Over the past 20 years since I moved here with my family, I have seen the country grow more and more conservative. It wasn’t very noticeable at first. It was rare to see veiled women, now you are most likely to see veils and niqabs than a woman with her head uncovered in Alexandria. I have no qualms with people becoming devoted in their beliefs and dressing in the way that they think is modest or more appropriate. What I DO have and issue with is other people, particularly strangers who don’t know me and demand or try to dictate to me how I should be more respectful and how I should dress.

I know that one of Morsi’s spokes people came out and condemned the actions of these individuals but I’m sorry that isn’t good enough for me. If the President himself doesn’t come out and say that he will not tolerate and accept these actions of harassment on people’s personal liberties and that people will be held accountable and punished for them, then he might as well have a pom pom in each hand cheering them on. His silence is a sign of condoning of what has happened and what will continue to happen. (That’s how I am interpreting it)

If President Morsi meant what he said in his speeches that we are free to live our lives as we have in the past, then I think he needs to not only say it repeatedly until it gets through people’s heads but to show that he sincerely means what he says. Otherwise these self-appointed groups and individuals will continue to badger, harass and attack innocent people who are minding their business and just going about their day-to-day lives and it isn’t right!

I lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 years, where the Mutawaa’s (religious police) would patrol the streets and make sure that people were abiding by the country’s code of conduct. IF this IS the direction that our new Elected President is going to guide Egypt towards then, I fear all hope is lost for Egypt. If Egypt sccumbs to becoming a country with blinkers on and where people are no longer permitted to be themselves and live freely, then we will be pushed back decades behind the rest of the world and that in all honesty would be DREADFUL. Egypt for centuries has always been a land that made history and has been (and continues to be), studied with fascination, awe and respect. I would hate to see a country with such a rich past and HIGH potential for a bright future be shut away and put down in such a manner.

How do we counter act this? How do we push back the threat of this wave that is hovering over us? I honestly do not know. I think WE are ALL open to suggestions, if anyone has any.

Otherwise the cartoon below might be what lies ahead for Egypt and for us;

President MorsiIf you haven’t been following the news lately and haven’t heard that Egypt has its first elected civilian president, then you need to get with the times!

The past couple of days the population anxiously awaited the election results of the country’s first Democratic elections. The days leading up to the announcement the air was heavy, the conspiracy theories were flying around like moths to a flame. The majority of the nation predicted that Shafik would win since he had rubbed elbows with many of the big guns in the army. The thought of former President Mubarak’s Prime Minister as head of state infuriated so many that it drove hundreds if not thousands of people back to Tahrir square. The idea of having a member of the former regime  as head of state would mean that the Revolution and the death of those who gave their lives to end dictatorship was for nothing.

As Sultan read the reams of papers pertaining to the election process, number of votes from abroad and all the governorates, people were guessing who the next president would be right up until the last second. When he announced Morsi had won by the skin of his teeth the celebratory cheers of jubilation were heard throughout the nation, fireworks were set a light and gunfire rang out too.

I am not one who likes to jump to conclusions or assume I know someone or can guess their plans, so I would prefer to wait and see what our new President will do before I pass judgment on him. I can however pass judgment on some of those who chose him for what I believe to be the WRONG reasons.

Sunday, the day following the announcement a woman on twitter tweeted posted the following; “الوندر ولية المصرية@BerbelNinja

Random stranger to me while I’m walking to work: “aho morsy galkom w haylemik enty w el sharameet el zayik. Ya kafra”. Awesome start.”

( Translation: here, Morsi has come to you and he will teach you and the other whores like you, you none believer)

5 young girls between the ages of 10 and 12 were in Montaza, Alexandria yesterday. They had left the beach dressed in shorts and a t-shirt to go to get some food from McDonald’s, when a group of manaqabeen (fully covered women) said; Tomorrow Morsi will teach you how to dress.

A journalist friend of mine, posted this as her status on facebook;  “Yesterday, while waiting for my friend at the airport, I heard this Egyptian guy, who had just arrived from God knows where, “boasting,” to his family that he said “Fuck you Bitch,” to a tourist who was crying and saying she doesn’t want to visit Egypt again, after she realized that her luggage was lost at the arrivals. Nice! That’s how you treat the tourists! Idiot.”

I concur if we are not going to bring the tourists back to boost our economy and keep the history of our ancestors alive. Does this mean that we will be solely dependent on the investment from Gulf countries.

If this ‘IS’ what THE PEOPLE of Egypt are expecting and want for our country, then I am greatly perturbed and worry for the rights of women and their future in the coming years. I have been in the field of education for 11 years now and I have been fighting against ignorance tooth and nail. I am not one to throw in the towel or declare defeat, but if this is what the country is coming to, I will NOT go down with the ship.  It pains me to say so, but I don’t want to be hidden under a long cloth and be silenced. It isn’t me or how I was raised.

I AM independent, I AM intelligent, I do have a purpose other than being a child barer and slave in the kitchen and I fully intend on staying that way too.

(picture in the post was copied from; http://www.albawaba.com/news/morsi-working-formation-new-government-431356)

As a woman living in Egypt for the past 20+ years I have seen the deterioration of men’s respect for women first hand. I remember when I first moved to Egypt at the age of 12 and going for walks in Alexandria with my mother. You would get the occasional cat calls and you would get one guy who would try an invade your space and try to touch you. For everyone guy who did try to sexually harass a woman you would have 10 others who would come to your defence demonstrating chivalry. Now, it’s the complete opposite!

The greater percent of the men of this nation would stand by and watch a woman being harassed rather than come to her aid. I recently came across a post on facebook about a foreign journalist who has had one of the most harrowing and traumatic experiences that I have ever read or come across here in Egypt. It saddens me that some of the men and women who saw what was happening didn’t try to come to her aid.

This has got to stop before it gets out of control, because if it doesn’t any woman who looks remotely foreign, has her hair showing or isn’t covered from head to toe!

 

PLEASE READ and Pass it on !

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Sit or stand and rise to the occasion

Sit or stand and rise to the occasion

We are all faced with situations at some time or other. There are times when we choose not to rise to the occasion and to let things slide or sort themselves out. I believe in my heart of hearts that 2011 has been a wake-up call to many of us. Especially those who have always chosen to be bystanders. This year I believe many of us have not only risen and stood up for our beliefs and rights as a nation but we have done so on an individual level too.

We have had to deal with situations and circumstances that we never thought or dreamed of occurring. The bombing of the Church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve, was a trigger of a series of events. The explosion blew off the blinds that had been pulled over eyes to the growing conflict of Muslims and Christians in the country. Many people prior to the explosion lived in the past, where at one time religion was regarded as a private and personal topic that should not be discussed or questioned. As a woman who has parents of two different faiths, I still believe that a person’s faith is their business and no-one else’s, but as the ‘Wahhabi’ traditions continue to migrate westward to northern Africa, particularly Egypt, our culture is evolving before our very eyes and is continuing to influence people’s ideas, thoughts and practices. Which I believe is infecting the minds of many especially those who are not as well-educated or are below poverty level.

A couple of weeks after the Egyptian people erupted like a volcano that had lain dormant for decades. After the uprising in Tunisia, they smelt the winds of change and decided that they too should be shed of the shackles that had held them down and the muzzles that had been keeping them silent. The 18 days that followed were very scary and dark days, but the people stood up and showed that even in the face of danger they could rise to the occasion and face what was to come and what was meant to be. The world watched and held its breath as the reign of one of the longest-serving presidents in the region came to an end and then there was Libya, Bahrain, Yemen…and now America

I think the countries that stood out the most in my mind were Japan after the Tsunami and Earthquake hit the country in early March of this year. After a devastating force ripped through the nation and left devastated nation behind, I do not know if I could have found the will to pick myself up and try to rebuild the country after witnessing something of that magnitude. They are to be commended and held in the highest regard. I have never been a fan of ‘Libya’ and I think that my lack of interest in the country and its people was caused by its former leader, but hearing and following the harrowing accounts that came from the people on twitter and their determination to break free from the iron fisted tyrant who ruled its people through fear was not only brave but inspiring.

2011 seems to have been a year of not only a rude awakening but a year of reckoning for some.  In addition to that, I also believe it has been the year where voices have been granted to those who felt they had no voice and a restoration to those who had been muffled or silenced for their ideas and opinions.

In the post Mubarak era a new chapter in Egypt’s long history is beginning. This past November a parliamentary election was held and many of those who ran had probably never thought of a life in politics before. I was not only a witness to the event but a participant too. For the first time in the 20 years I lived here, I stood among my country men and women and cast my vote and voiced my opinion as to whom I would like to represent me. I was amazed at the people’s resilience to stand for hours in the rain awaiting their turn. Old men and women who could barely stand or walk, would be helped in to the poll stations on the arms of strangers or carried in on chairs, just so that they could have a say. It was beyond moving!

Now we are faced with another challenge, which direction will the country go in? Will the adrenaline that the nation was injected with almost a year ago ware off and allow the nation to be run by conservative and closed-minded thinkers? Or will the liberals take a leap of faith and venture beyond the borders of their comfort zone and tear a page out of the Muslim Brotherhoods book, become more organized, proactive and get their hands dirty by going in to the more rural neighborhoods and making themselves known to try to counter act the decades of seeds that were planted years ago in the people’s minds? Will the liberals rise?

I hope they will…

On a personal level, I never thought that I could be pushed or be challenged the way I have been this year. I had the choice to go back to Alexandria and be with my family just hours before the chaos of January 28th began, but I chose to stay in Cairo for a couple of reasons. One was, I had a very close and dear friend of mine who would have been in Heliopolis on her own and I didn’t want to leave her during such a dangerous and unpredictable time in a country that was not hers and where she didn’t speak the language. A small part of me also wanted to believe that things wouldn’t escalate. Thirdly, if I am going to be honest, I subconsciously wanted to know how much I could endure before I would seek the shelter and comfort of my parents’ home, while, a BIG part of me longed to be with them, in their warm embrace where I felt safe. I simply needed to know and discover what I was made of. My father whom I love dearly, has cast a very thick protective cloak over my sister and I and I needed to know my true inner strength.

I rose to the occasion and I did face danger head on but it did take a toll on my mind and my physical wellbeing. I lost days’ worth of rest and sleep worrying, thinking, and recording the events. My main concern was getting my friend home to her family safely and then home to mine. During the days of duress, I learned a great deal about myself and what I am capable of. I am a lot tougher than I look and by God could I stand my ground if I needed to.

Once the uprising had passed and the President stepped down, I had to find a way to push the memories and events behind me to complete my Masters. The mind is an incredible thing; it is our best shield and weapon I believe. It can tune out and tune in on command. I was able to tune out long enough to finish my Masters and graduate.

After graduation, the events of the past few months and my true state of being came over me like a tidal wave… I had a lot of baggage that needed to be sorted through and a lot of releasing and making peace to do to. I am in a much better place than I was in May, but I still have a lot of ‘cleaning house’ to do.

I took a leap of faith and decided to accept a more challenging job in the field of education as well as in a more international environment. I had my doubts about my capabilities and how I would fit in, there are times when I still have my doubts and question whether the move was a worthwhile one or not, but I believe that I have risen to the challenge. It hasn’t been easy sailing, it has taken a great deal of adjusting, patience and learning and there has been a great deal of struggling. A month after starting my new job, my mother had hip replacement surgery and my poor father was left to care for her himself, I couldn’t leave my father to deal with it on his own, so I would travel back and forth every weekend so that he could get 2 nights of uninterrupted sleep, while I took over for the time I was there. It was very draining and tiring but I would not and could not, not be there for my family. In the beginning  I felt as though I was drowning and doubted that I would make it through the three-month probation period for new hires, it’s now December and I am still there and still standing. I think that I have proven to myself once more that I am capable of much more than I like to give myself credit for.

After four years of being a wall flower and maintaining my ‘single status’, I got back in to the dating game. I felt like a fish out of water, but the person whom I was seeing put me at ease and made it seem very natural. Unfortunately the relationship was not destined to last long; it ended before it had really begun. Breakups of any kind are never easy and it can sting especially when the person you were with moves on and has found happiness with someone else and you are left waiting for your turn to come again. Usually I would crawl back in to my hollow and hibernate for months on end until I am numb and can no longer feel the painful disappointment, but I have decided to be more outgoing and social. Why should I choose to mope and wallow in misery and self-pity when I could be out living, being proactive and being positive ?!

We have risen; I have risen, have you? Will you?

women waiting in a long line to cast their vote at a poll station for Nov 28th parliament elections in Egypt

As the day for elections loomed nearer and my decision to go vote fluctuated between to vote or not vote due to the instability and safety of Cairo and Alexandria during the second wave of the revolution. I finally made up my mind and bought my train ticket and made my way up to Alexandria Sunday evening.

You could sense the excitement and anxiousness in the air in both cities. There was a state of confusion and worry among the citizens of this country. Numerous questions echoed everywhere you went; will it be safe to go and vote? Will thugs have been hired to attack polling stations? Will it be rigged like last time? Who do we vote for; we don’t know half the names that will appear on the ballots? There are over 60 -100 names to choose from on the ballot, how am I to know which person I want to represent me? These were just some of the questions that had been asked over the course of the past couple of weeks and on the train ride to Alexandria.

Once I got home a very heated debate and discussion ensued. The house was divided as to what to expect at the polling station and who to vote for in the Attareen area. None of us were familiar with any of the names of the political candidates, their parties or what their beliefs are. In the end I had to call up on a friend who was in the same boat as I was. We are both Alexandrian, from the same area and although we have very similar views of how the country should be run, we both come from different religious backgrounds, but at the end of the day we wanted the same thing, liberal civilian government. We talked about our options, he gave me a summary of the different parties’ beliefs and then when it came to the candidates, we were both stumped… There were far too many to choose from. He said that a friend of his was voting for 2 of 3 guys and that is what he was going to go with too. When I relayed the information I had just learned to my family, it was decided that we would go with the party that Naguib Sawiris backs, ‘El Kotla El Masreya’, whom are (supposedly and hopefully) liberal, they have both revolutionaries, young and old people. As for the candidates, I still know very little about them and found it hard to find any information on them so, I just followed the heard as they say. I had decided that I was going to give my vote for one labor and one professional and luck would have it, both belong to the same political party that I had decided to choose.

My Dad, God bless him had figured out where my Mom, Aunt and I had to go vote, got our registration numbers and which poll booth we belonged to. (A Great Time SAVER!)

Monday morning, when I woke up for a brief moment I had forgotten what day it was. Waking up in my room in Alexandria caused a brief moment of disorientation and confusion, being there usually meant that it was a weekend or a holiday of some kind. Memories of the night before came flooding back and I leapt out of bed and got myself ready for to go vote.

The weather wasn’t the best it could have been, it was over cast with dark gloomy rain clouds, the wind had a cold chilly bite to it but it didn’t dampen people’s spirits or deter them from coming out to vote. I was lucky, I didn’t stand for as long as other people did to cast my vote, other people stood in line for hours in the rain and cold. Their sheer determination to make their voices heard is uplifting as well as inspiring.

The poll station wasn’t too far away from where we lived but we did find it quite odd that we weren’t closer to our house, when there were other polling stations nearby. The school that we went to was the marooseya school, near the Raml area. It is down a very narrow and hard to find passage way, if my dad and I hadn’t done our research ahead of time I doubt we would have found the place. It was literally wedged between a cluster of buildings and a church. If you walked by you wouldn’t know there was a school there. (Thank you Google Maps!)

We got to our designated area fairly early and there was a cue of women waiting patiently in line. There were two lines set up, one for the elderly and those in need of assistance and a line for the younger and more able voters. There was a very noticeable and heavy security presence. Police officers and men in blue uniform, I believe either a sect from the navy or military police, I am not certain.

The poll station didn’t open on time due to the tardy arrivals of those who were in charge of the station or were meant to be working there. As we all waited patiently in line a man shouted out instructions but I couldn’t hear him well to be able to understand or pass on the information, which lead to people getting more and more confused.

Once the officials who were working at the poll station arrived things were slow going. My mother, who is still recovering from hip replacement surgery and is on crutches along with a few other elderly women were the first of a handful of people to enter the premises to begin the voting process that morning. My aunt and I had to wait in line for another hour while we waited for our turn.

I have great admiration for military in general and other security forces, but it is with great regret that I cannot say that my admiration extends to Egypt’s. They have shown their true colors over the past year and it is one that disturbs me greatly, having said that they showed a very polite and softer side of themselves on Monday. They were very helpful and respectful when addressing people when asking them not to take pictures or to stand in line. They were being too nice… which made me very skeptical. (It also made me ponder… if every poll station across the nation had this amount of security, where were they in January when civilians had to defend their neighborhoods and businesses?)

Things got a bit tense twice when I stood in line, a woman from the back of the line walked up to one of the high-ranking officers and yelled at him for not opening the station on time and inadvertently accused him of foul play, by this time it was 8:30. They apologized and tried to explain that it wasn’t them who were holding up the process. The second time was when screeching of tires was heard and guards ran to the main street to see what the cause was. thankfully a False Alarm!

As I stood in line tweeting away my eyewitness accounts of what was going on, people in line were talking and communicating with strangers about what they think about the revolution, who they are voting for and why and what the results of this election might mean for the future of Egypt. As I stood listening and tweeting I heard a women confess that she didn’t vote during the referendum last spring and she had now wished she had. She said that this time she was determined to have a say and to vote for what she believed in. At this polling station there were women of all ages and social classes standing in very close proximity of one another and it was in that brief moment that everyone looked equal. There was no division of class, rank or education; we were all just women, who had finally been given a voice.

Although many have mixed feelings of those who are standing their ground in Tahrir Square and in other areas around the country, one thing is for certain, that our presence at voting stations today would not have been possible if they hadn’t stood up to corruption, poverty, injustice and demanded their given right to have their voices heard. Many lost their lives so that we would have that chance today, others bare the wounds of the battle that may heal and then there are those who will have the wounds that serve as a crippling reminder every day of their lives a price they were willing to pay for us to have a chance to make a change and a difference. As I stood in line listening to the women around me conversing, I recalled a conversation I had, had with a former president’s nephew years back. I told him that the day will come when another revolution will happen and the people will rise up either because the poor are getting poorer or the mentality of the people will change and Egypt will become a religious state like Iran. He laughed at me and said he doubted it would happen… I wonder if he’s laughing now?

As I gazed around at the hodge podge of women, it became apparent that there was quite a strong Muslim Brotherhood following at the station I had been assigned to. One I find worrying, but not as worrying as Salafi supporters. I have to give them credit though; they have been the most organized party and have been promoting themselves well, so if they get voted in, they would have earned their places. After all they have been working towards this moment for decades. I do not endorse nor support them in any way, if they do get voted in, then I fear for Egypt’s long term future. If the country turns in to another Saudi Arabia, Iran or Afghanistan, that I will have to abandon Egypt with a very heavy heart and move elsewhere. I lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 years, I do not want to have to watch women’s rights wash away and be forced to cover up again.

After an hour of waiting a desk was brought out and a man sat at it with booklets of photocopied papers, with people’s names and ID numbers, he was trying to speed up the process and tell people which room they should go to, to cast their vote and to ensure they were waiting in line at the right place.

The were two  highlights to my day, the first was seeing my mum emerge from inside the school with a victorious look of satisfaction on her face. Although she is not of Egyptian blood, she got the nationality from being married to my Dad for (well) over a decade and she made it a point to go and vote! The other was the feeling of self accomplishment after having voted.

When, I was finally allowed to make my way in to the school, which was a lot further in than any of us had thought, we had to walk through the school playground (square patch of sand) and up almost 2 flights of stairs. 3 classrooms were designated for voting rooms; luckily mine was empty, so I spent less than 10 minutes waiting, while other people had to wait longer because they would only allow two people in at a time, which slowed down the process. The officials in the room wore vests that indicated that they were overseers of the voting station and checked our IDs, had us sign and gave us our ballots. There was a small cubical for you to go and cast your vote. The ballot boxes were made from glass and had wooden frames encompassing the glass and a big padlock on each one. Things seemed to be in order.

The ballots were 2 different colors and 2 sizes. The ballot to vote for the political party was a light salmon pink and was slightly smaller than A4. The ballot of individual’s names was an A3 paper, with numbers, symbols and names of the political candidates. I checked the back of both my papers to ensure that they had the official stamp on the back to make sure that my vote would be counted, otherwise it would have been void and I would have had to insist that the judge of the polling station sign it.

Knowing who I was going to vote for and what party made things really easy, otherwise, you would have had to read through the entire list of names and that is what took people a long time! By the time I left with my Aunt the line where we had been standing hand quadrupled in numbers and went around the block in 2 directions.

When I got home I continued to follow the elections on twitter across the country and to tweet my accounts. Some of the accounts that were coming in were very hopeful and others were not. A lot of people had to blow the whistle on many polling stations, politicians and parties for not following procedures. There were reports of poll stations not opening on time, ballots not being stamped, judges refusing to sign the ballots to make them valid, polling stations being closed without an explanation, party members trying to buy voters votes are just some of the things that were made. There are still mixed feelings about the elections in general. Some people believe that this is a step towards democracy and change. Others see it as a scam and that it won’t matter what people vote, the decision by security forces has already been made. In all honesty, I am not convinced that this will work, but I had nothing to lose by voting today. If I am wrong and this is legit, then my vote counted for something. If it is all just a smoke screen for what is to come, I didn’t lose anything by trying. I know one thing for sure though, if I hadn’t come to Alexandria, to be here today, I know I would have regretted it for a very long time.

Now all we can do is wait and hope…

London Riots 2011 (http://jafarianews.com/en/?attachment_id=10725)

On Sunday I vaguely remember hearing something on the news about riots in London, but I didn’t pay much attention until the following day. On Monday there were more reports on the vandalism that took place the previous night and that a building had been set ablaze. The scenes struck an all too familiar nerve and brought back the raw memories of the looting that took place after the 13,000 or so convicts had escaped from prisons across Egypt. I stayed up Monday night watching the news, with my blackberry in hand following the instant tweets that were appearing on my mini-feed. What made the horror of what was happening in London frustrating for me is that my sister, who is newly married just moved there to be with her husband and they live a stone’s throw away from Clapham Junction.  For a moment I thought history was going to repeat itself, when my parents and sister were in Alexandria and the governor’s office building across the street from my parents house, was looted and then torched. While I was in Cairo and could only contact them via  the land line phone. I felt helpless as I heard their coughs and dismay on the receiving end. I prayed that she would not have to witness the same fate twice. The un-necessary destruction that those hooligans have been causing, isn’t helping their situation, their families or the economy in any way. It’s making it much worse. If the reason for their acts is because they are angry at the government for taking away University (in the sense they now have to pay for it) and that there are no jobs, how does destroying your own neighbourhood and local shops prove your point or help the circumstances? How does setting a store on fire, where residence live above it make it O.K?

If they are going to say that they are discriminated against because of their ethnicity, then they are fueling people’s views. If they are going to say it’s because they live in poverty, then they need a reality check. If they want to see REAL poverty, they need to be brought to Egypt, to the City of the Dead, where people live in tombs and cemeteries, where there is no electricity or running water because the government doesn’t subsidise or provide them with housing! (http://www.todayszaman.com/news-200122-living-people-in-cairos-city-of-the-dead.html) Perhaps ‘Hayat Zabaleen, where people live in a sea of Cairo’s garbage?!  If not Egypt, then perhaps to drought and famine stricken Somalia where thousands, upon thousands of children would give their left eye for the benefits that they have, instead of wasting away and dying. If they compare their standard of living to those who really live in poverty, they will find they have a lot to be grateful for and by comparison live like kings!

Egypt's city of the dead- National Georgraphic photo

 

Many are comparing the riots to the revolution in Egypt. These are two very different incidence, Egypt had been oppressed for decades and the people were denied the right to voice their opinions, basic human needs/rights and the poor were getting poorer. The teenage punks terrorising London don’t have a political agenda, their agenda os selfish. The public service men and women are not standing by letting things get out of control they are trying to fight crime, but they are out numbered. The rioters are not armed dangerous convicts who escaped from prison who are walking around with swords, spears, machetes, hand guns, rifles or automatic weapons, these are kids. The only thing these two incidents have in common are the crimes that have been caused, violence against other civilians and terrorising people and making them fear for their safety.

Cryodon London-Donna Newberry

looting looks the same no matter where you are

I do hope that the Police and Scotland Yard can get matters under control, if they are unable to then I hope the army is brought it to round them up. If the army isn’t dispatched then, there are only two other alternatives in my opinion; 1- The people of London, do as the Egyptians did and take to the streets to defend and protect their businesses, property and homes. I’m 75% sure that the little terrors will be too chicken to face a mass confrontation of neighbourhood watch people armed with frying pans and rolling pins! (I’m not poking fun, I’m serious). The Turks, Kurds and Asian immigrants took to the streets to defend their businesses last night. If more people do that, there is a chance this will be resolved sooner, rather than later. 2- If confrontation isn’t something you think you can do, then make sure you’re well stocked for the long haul and that you have enough provisions to keep you for a few days, have your homes securely locked and pray that no one gets hurt.

I sympathies and understand the overflow of emotions that the Londoners and other  districts of England are feeling and experiencing. I hope all of those from the UK who happen to be reading this remain un-harmed and stay safe. I pray that the madness ends soon.

When it does end I hope those responsible are held accountable and have the book thrown at them and receive just punishment for the crimes they have committed.

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