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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.

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. “

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;

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 !

http://natashajsmith.wordpress.com/?like=1&_wpnonce=a982312bd5&wpl_rand=6ee9fbeb5d

It has been almost a month since I last posted something on my blog. It isn’t due to lack of interest or something to say…it’s due to over saturation of events past and present that are preventing me from expressing myself clearly. I have tried to sit down many times to continue typing up and posting my Diary entries during the 18 days of the revolution, but reliving it whilst still going through the post revolution events was getting to be too much for my mind and my emotions to handle. To add to the turmoil neighboring countries to Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Bahrain …etc are going through similar if not worse circumstances and to relive the past with the present became too much for me to cope with.

Messages from Family members, friends and readers whom have been reading the entries and following me on twitter have encouraged me to keep writing and posting. They say that my entries paint a clear picture for them from a person who is actually living in the country. So, I will try to work through the daily distractions of current events here and in the neighboring countries to get my story written and posted.

God Bless

Wednesday, 2nd of February 2011

In the early hours of this morning Mubarak addressed the nation and said that he would not run for president in September and will change the government.
The speech sounded reasonable, but something told me that things weren’t going to go down well with the protesters or the public.

Later that morning Becs and I decided to walk from his house near the Baron Palace to Korba to buy a few things and stretch our legs. I don’t know how inmates or animals in the zoo adapt or cope to being kept indoors for hours on end! I just can’t stand being in doors for 17 hours a day! It’s enough to drive you loopy!! All of this because of the curfew hours that have been set. It’s enough to cause cabin fever or claustrophobia!
I needed to be out doors, smell the cleanish air, walk around, do something different.
The feeling of being cooped up brought back memories of when my family and I took the last ferry-boat leaving Jeddah to Suez after the invasion of Kuwait in the 90s. Three days locked in the First Class floor because passengers who couldn’t get cabins were sleeping on the deck and the crew didn’t want them coming in doors. I don’t think I’ve ever been so bored in my life!

Walking in Heliopolis you would find it hard to believe that there was anything going on in the country, it’s relatively peaceful and quite. The presence of the armed army vehicles that were stationed at several important government building made it real.
Walking was refreshing, I could feel the blood circulating through my body again but as we approached the center of Korba I grew sad. People walking out of stores with boxes and bags full of provisions incase there is a food or water shortage. The traffic in Korba made things feel less out of the ordinary but seeing the store windows blacked out or empty and fast food restaurants and café’s with barricaded doors just brings everything crashing down again. Is this really happening? How long will this last? How long can we as a nation endure this? Will the government be heartless and not give in to the people’s demands? Is their intention to make people starve?
The line for the ATM machine is just as long as the queue from the local ‘Forn’ (which means oven, but it’s where you can buy (I believe) the subsidized cheep bread from)

As we walk around trying to find bottle of water to drink, Becs notices that his phone was sending him facebook notifications. He thinks his eyes are deceiving him so he asks a man waiting his turn to go in to a café if the net is back. He says yes it, the signal is weak, but it’s getting stronger. YES! The government took heed and listened to foreign delegates requesting that communication be re-instated!! What a relief, we can now communicate freely with the world again. Well, almost freely, I’m sure that twitter and facebook are being very closely monitored by Egypt’s Secret Service. I guess, I have to choose my words wisely or I’ll end up on their most wanted list.
Nal, my friend in D.C will be thrilled she won’t have to call us daily to check up on us and can communicate through social media. I call my sister to tell her to see if the net is up and running in Alexandria.

I try sending people a text message, but mobile phone services haven’t fully been reinstated yet.
To keep ourselves entertained at home we buy a couple of packets of cake mix, eggs and chocolate to make icing from scratch. Marie Antoinette’s quote of ‘Let them eat cake’ was sounding in my head for some odd reason. Well, if I can’t go to the protests I may as well make cake.
Back at home, I waste no time in yanking out my laptop, setting it up, plugging it in and getting connected with the world-wide web. HOW I HAVE MISSED YOU! I busy myself reading e-mails and messages of support and concern from family and close friends. I answer every single one of them. My sister has tagged me in  the album of newly uploaded pictures and I am horrified. The scenes of last Friday in front of the building where my parents and sister live is harrowing. The clouds of tear gas, the bus and the Muhfza (governors building) a blaze. I can’t begin to relate to the horror or the fear that must have been pulsing through them at the time.Pictures of a looted and semi destroyed Carrefour in Alexandria is also very disturbing. You hear tales about places that have been looted but when you see the photos of familiar places, it really hits home.
In the midst of replying to messages, Bec’s family switch from a movie to the news and we are horrified at the images that are being brought to us from Tahrir Square. It looks like a re-enactment of one of the war scenes from the film, Braveheart. When the Scots are fighting the British to gain independence, but this wasn’t fake, it was very real. Men and women claiming to be ‘Pro-Mubarak’ supporters in Tahrir armed and attacking the protesters, but wait what’s that men on camel and horse back as well? What the hell is going on? How did this happen? Who could condone such savage and violent behavior? Protest and speak your mind, pro Mubarak or not, but attacking people and throwing cocktail bombs is just not on!
The Irish/Sa3eedi (Saeedi is what we call people from Upper Egypt, like the Newfie in Canada) blood in me was boiling; the urge to fight back was rising. I want to be there to defend, take a stand, fight and protect those that are there trying to reform a country for the well-being of the people. The majority have been peaceful, helpful and respectful and these hooligans are just being darn right barbaric!
This escalates the urgency ! Things are going from bad to worse! I HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!!! My host family will not let me leave and my family will crucify me if I go, so the only thing left to do is what I do well and that is, write!
Let me tell the world and anyone that is will to read or listen about what is going on in Egypt through my eyes.So, I begin to type until the late hours of the night.

I’ll be damned if i don’t do anything at all! If I can’t be on the ground, I will do my part some other way!

A few nights ago, I had logged in to facebook and was half mindedly scanning through my friends’ status up dates when I came across one that really caught my attention. To read it in more detail I clicked on my friends profile page to see what had gotten her feathers ruffled. It read; “I also wear a swimsuit and whoever doesn’t like it can stuff it…balad weskha we nas weskha… (Dirty country and dirty people)”. I had no idea what she was on about until I read the explanation and comments that she had written and people had left.

Apparently some individual formed a group on facebook to try to turn people away from supporting the much favored potential Presidential Candidate, Mohamed ElBaradei. The group had uploaded images of his married daughter Laila on a beach in a one piece bathing costume and more or less implied, ’How can we even consider voting for a man who allows his daughter to wear a swimsuit in public”.  They also apparently mentioned that at his daughter’s wedding Alcohol was served and the man she married doesn’t have a Muslim name.  Another claim was that the Egyptian Nobel Peace Prize winner also has Swiss nationality. I haven’t been successful in finding the group or seeing the pictures but I did search on-line to find out how true it was. I came across this article on-line;

http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20100904/wl_africa_afp/egyptpoliticsoppositioninternet

Personally, I wouldn’t put it past anyone to play dirty when it comes to politics especially when it’s the presidency! The tactics that are being played are aimed at trying to turn the Islamic extremists against ElBaradei and anyone else who will listen. I personally think it’s a pathetic attempt and it’s very childish. If you want to launch an attack on someone then attack that person by creating elements of doubt and question in people’s minds in relation to what he/she claims to stand for. You don’t drag their children through the mud!            

I think these amateurs need to go to Washington for a crash course in how to play hard ball.  I can think of far worse things than a daughter wearing a swimsuit on a beach that would ruin a person’s chance for running for president! Like a criminal record, bribery, money laundering, high treason, being related to Bush or Sarah Palin or committed murder, just to name a few! If a presidential campaign was based on family members personal attire at the pool or beach, then I don’t think anyone world-wide would be eligible to run for president! Before you even think of using ‘Egypt is a Muslim Country’ as a point of argument, then please go back and check your history and look at what previous first ladies wore and all the movies and music videos that are aired on Egyptian television and Satellite stations!                                                         

Which makes me raise a couple of questions, does that mean that the ladies of past presidents and the current first family, have never worn or been caught wearing a swimsuit at their vacation spots here or abroad?  Have they never been at an occasion where alcohol was served? I was a wedding guest at the Grandson of a former Egyptian President and I can tell you the alcohol was flowing like the river Themes!

Please don’t insult our intelligence!

Who ever launched that despicable and childish attempt at denting the man’s integrity and chances at running in the up coming presidential elections, that was a cheep shot! The only thing that person succeeded in doing was feeding and fueling the brain drain and ignorance that this country seems to be feeding off of! How are we ever going to emerge from and shed the classification of ‘Third World Country’ if people like that keep poisoning the minds of the Egyptian youth and population!?

To learn more about Mohamed ElBaradei click the link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohamed_ElBaradei

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