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Tahrir Bodyguards

Tahrir Bodyguards

As some of you may or may not know, some civilians have taken it upon themselves and formed a group, composed of men and women to fight off sexual harassment in Tahrir. They are known as ‘Tahrir Bodyguards’. The team of individual’s aim is to help women feel safe when going to Tahrir to protest. Before any protest they tweet out contact numbers of team members who will be in the square, they encourage people to save the numbers on their phones before they head down to march. The numbers are for people to call in and report sightings of sexual harassment and give the location of where it is happening so that they can dispatch members of the team to aid the person being wrongfully attacked.

Early last week they tweeted that they would be sponsoring a self-defence class and for those interested to sign up. I might not be a Tahrir goer, but I am one scores of women who experiences sexual harassment of one form or another on a regular if not daily basis. Frankly, I’m tired of it! I do not want to be the victim anymore, I wont to have the knowledge and skills that I need to be able to fend off an attacker and make them give up, or over power them enough to hurt them, so that I may get away. I took one on one lessons last year with a mixed Martial Arts expert and I learned a lot from him. So, why take this course? In my opinion, you can never know enough. I think the more you know the better and if I find myself in a situation a few of the techniques of the many I had learned will come to me when I most need them.

Thursday, 6th of February, almost 2 years since Lara Logan’s (CBS correspondent), assault took place in Tahrir after the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak. When Logan’s story came to light, it sent shock waves through the world and gave Egypt a BIG wake up call!
Harassment has ALWAYS been here, but since the down fall it is more rampant than before and frankly, I would rather not go out and stay home than have to put up with it. However, staying home is a form of defeat and I have as much right to be out living and my life than hiding in the sanctuary I call home. Not going out and staying home is making myself a sub-conscience victim. It also means that those individuals who go around inappropriately groping women win. Why should they have the upper hand? Why should I not be out enjoying and experiencing life?

Before entering the session I was approached by a CNN correspondent (Veronica), and asked if I would mind being interviewed. She asked me why I was taking part in this class. I can’t remember my exact words to her, but I was brutally honest. I said something along the lines of, Since the revolution, Egypt has become a lawless society and I no longer feel safe. There was a time when if I was being assaulted, people would run to my rescue, but now no one will, because people are more likely to think, that I deserved it. So, if no one is going to help defend me, then I have to learn to defend myself.
(This is MY opinion, based on situations I have been in, witnessed first hand and things that have happened to my friends. I’m sorry if it offends anyone but that’s just the way I see it)

In the class we were introduced to our trainer, Master Ramy Latchinian, former Tae Kwon Do U.S.A National Team Coach, and his student and former TEAM USA Patricia Stein. The Duo spoke to the class about the importance of being aware of what is going on around you in order to avoid putting oneself in an unnecessary situation. ‘If you feel that something isn’t right, get out of it, move away” Master Ramy advised. “If you see a group of guys ahead of you on the path and they make you uncomfortable, cross to the other side of the road, you don’t need to keep walking towards them.”

“The important thing when you are facing an attacker is to remain calm and have the upper hand by having the element of surprise. The attacker isn’t going to think that you are going to strike back. The best way to do this is to talk to the attacker and ask them to ‘Please’ leave you alone and while doing that grab their hand and pull a finger straight back or by placing your hand on the back of theirs and twisiting their arm in a way that gives you the power to control them.” Master Ramy explained and demonstrated.

As the course continued in the presence of photo journalists and news correspondents, a room of twenty or more women practiced the moves on one another. The grabbing and pulling back of a single figure can inflict a tremendous amount of pain and even break or dislocate it. The squeezing of the wind pipe with fingers and thumbs with a thrust upward is extremely painful. This particular move is not only painful but if too much pressure is applied you could sever the pipe and kill someone. Hooking your fingers and grabbing the perpetrator from behind the ears and pulling them downwards and giving them a swift kick with your knee is another swift and easy technique that anyone with little to no fighting experience can use to take back control of the situation.

As the session came to an end Master Ramy, sat us down and talked to us about the importance of chosing our battles wisely. If we are in a position where weapons are being used, the best thing to do is to give the attacker the valuables that they want, the confrontation in these circumstances are risky. If you’re attacked and told to get in a car and drive, do not go anywhere with the person, the best thing to do is throw your keys far away and sit on the ground. It is most likely that the car jacker will not want to spend the time searching for the keys. Another piece of advice is do not carry a knife or a gun if you DO NOT know how to use them, if you feel the need to have something get pepper spray or a taser. If you are unable to obtain them then use your keys, carry them between your fingers with the key poking out and you can use it as a weapon and you can use your handbag to bludgeon someone too.

Ayman Mohy El Din, NBC (former Al Jazeera English) correspondent based in Egypt, asked the women present ‘I’m sorry to ask, but how Many of you have experienced some level of Sexual harassment?” approximately 80% of the women in the room raised their hands. A sickening and staggering percentage, which just proves more now than ever that this has gone on for far too long and needs to be brought to an end.

The two-hour session was informative, enlightening and empowering. I can honestly say that I left the center having learned something new to add to my growing repertoire of self-defence moves. On another note, it was encouraging to see a room full of women of all ages and nationalities taking part. It gave me hope that if we as women can stand united in the fight to eradicate Sexual Harassment, by sending a clear message to the attackers that we will no longer cower or be silenced and that we are going to take a stand. I think the road to change maybe underway.

Patricia Stein ended the evening by adding advice of her own, “When you walk in the street don’t look down at the ground or have your shoulders hunched forward, that is a physical sign of weakness and makes you and easy target. Walk with you head held up and your shoulders back, it gives off the message that you are strong.”

A BIG Thank you to Tahrir Bodyguards for organizing the class!

If you would like to join the Self Defence course then contact @TahrirBodyguards on twitter or email them at tahrir.bodyguard@gmail.com or you can call the International TaeKwonDo Center in Maadi to find out about courses offered there 01096979766.

 

 

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. “

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;

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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This morning I came across this post on a friend’s facebook page and it PISSED ME OFF!

I want you to watch it first and then we’ll talk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFW3ZNC8sjw&feature=share

Now that you’ve watched it, let me just make something very, very clear! That “scholar” does not speak for me or all Muslims. He is a fundamentalist and radical in his thinking! It is scholars and religious clergy men like him that continue to tarnish the true meaning of what Islam is these people’s actions and words fuels the fear and hatred in to the hearts and lives of those who do not know what Islam is. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that people get so nervous around people who look like they might be Muslim or that they have such a BAD misconception that has been painted.

So, saying Merry Christmas is worse than fornication, drinking or killing someone… well if that’s the case then, pass out the Stella, Sakkara and the Durex to prevent people from wishing those who celebrate the birth of Christ, by saying Merry Christmas! Well, I guess that means I’m going to be serving a few life sentences in hell, not only do I say ‘Merry Christmas’ but I also write and send ‘Christmas Cards’ and presents!!!

I am not a deeply religious person, but I fail to see how ‘Merry Christmas’ is worse than taking a life? Surely that would be worse but what would I know? I might be a Muslim, but in his eyes, I’m probably a traitor or possessed by the devil!

If these are the people who are coming to power in Egypt and are going to govern our country, we are seriously screwed! If they are the ones teaching our youth then the cancer is deeply rooted and it would take a bush fire or a volcanic eruption to be rid of this. Our people have been brain washed to the point that I fear can not be rectified by a counter actions.

What happened to respecting others beliefs and trying to accept people for the way that they are?

On that final note, I would like to wish every Christian world-wide who celebrates this holiday a blessed and very Merry Christmas!

God Bless and may the coming year rid of us mad men like him!

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.

Former President Hosni Mubarek in the cage

History was made today in Egypt, when Mubarak, the former Egyptian president actually appeared in court in a white jump suite lying down on a hospital bed with an I.V. in his arm, (contents of IV are unknown). He appeared in court along with his two son and other accused. One of whom was the former minister of Interior and security Habeeb El Adly (who is already serving 12 years sentence for corruption and could be facing the death penalty if found guilty of having a hand in the murder of the victims of the uprising for allowing the security forces to use weapons and live ammunition).
Lawyers from both sides took turns speaking in to their microphone, declaring whom they represent and what requests they would like the judge to consider during the trial. For the prosecution there were over 130 lawyers, many of whom were not permitted to enter the courtroom. Most of who represent the people and the families of the martyrs from many different governates in Egypt.
The lawyers when speaking were reciting verses of the Holy Quraan and would harp on and use fancy words and phrases, which the judge didn’t care for and insisted that the lawyers got straight to the point. At times the circus of lawyers fighting for the right and time to speak in to the microphone looked like a classroom scene where eager students were trying to answer questions to impress their teacher. At one point in time the judge insisted all the lawyers be seated and come up to the microphone one at a time in an orderly fashion. There were a few lawyers who stood out, some demanded that Gen. Tantawi be brought testify as well as Anan former Vice President Omar Soleiman. Another brought charges against the phone networks Mobinil, Vodafone and Etisalat for cutting phone lines, one lawyer pulled out and ink pad and demanded the finger prints of the former president and his sons to open a criminal file against them. The lawyer that stood out the most was the one who wanted a DNA test because he believed that the man in the cage wasn’t Hosni Mubarak but an imposter who has been posing as him since 2004, because he believes the real Hosni Mubarak is dead.
The momentous moment for me was hearing the Prosecutor read the charges against the defendants gave me chills. To see the country’s former giants in a cage in a courtroom in jump suits hearing the charges brought against them was surreal. Never did anyone in this nation think they would see the day when a former leader and his crony’s being brought to justice. Mubarak’s sons who remained standing beside their father’s bed blocking the cameras from getting a clear shot of their father were chocked up and emotional when they heard the charges against them being read.
When the judge (Rifaat) asked for the defendants to show themselves and prove that they are present and asked them how they plea to the charges that were read and brought against them and hearing their answers of ‘not guilty’ to me was a moment to remember. I didn’t think that I would ever live to see a trial of this magnitude or significance take place in Egypt.

I am glad that the Judge has split the cases, Mubarak and sons will be tried separately from Adly and his aids. Adly and aid’s case will resume tomorrow, August 4th and the Mubarak’s case will be brought back on August 15th.
Mubarak has been ordered to be held at a hospital on the outskirts of Cairo, on the Cairo Ismalia road. I know that many people felt sorry for Mubarak and believed him to be seriously ill. I am skeptical and think it’s part of an act. I do however admire his sons standing by his side and trying to block camera’s view and showed unity, (that doesnt change what I think of them though).
We have to wait and see what will happen until then…. Never the less it’s all history in the making and possibly a significant step towards true democracy.

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