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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.

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Dear readers.

It has been the toughest 8 days I and everyone here has possibly ever experienced! We regained full access to our cell phone services and internet just hours ago. I am safe and well…but we are still not out of danger there is more to come over the next few days.

I have been keeping a diary and will be posting soon.

IrishAlexandrian

World wide, people were making plans of celebrating New Year’s Eve with friends or family, either at a party or in the comfort of their homes. Everyone was grateful that they had made it through the year  that will most probably be remembered for H1N1 (swine flu), economic hardships, life’s lessons and other personal turbulent affairs was a relief to everyone. They were ready to say good-bye to 2010 and send it off with a BANG and welcome 2011. Little did the inhabitants of Alexandria know that it would literally go out with not one bang but two fatal ones!

At midnight 2 car bombs exploded outside a church, in the Sidi Bishr area of Alexandria. Worshippers inside the church were attending a New Year’s midnight mass when the explosion took place. In the blast 21 people died and there were several casualties. The Coptic Christians were enraged by the act that they went and attacked a nearby Mosque, which caused a clash between Muslim’s and Christians.

In this past week in Alexandria, there have been protests and demonstrations over the decision taken by the Minister of Education to change 3 schools in to ‘Experimental Schools’ and now, a terrorist attack! As an Alexandrian and a human being, I can’t help but ask, ‘WHY?’ What message or reason could possibly justify the act of rash decision-making, violence and the taking of human lives? Has the world gone completely mad? Have we as a species lost or forgotten the meaning or the acts of philanthropy, compassion and coexistence?  I am not a deeply religious person, but from what I have read and what I have been taught. Religions don’t promote, encourage or condone attacks on other people! Have we become so fanatic that we no longer understand the basic fundamentals of our religion(s) and can no longer comprehend the clear lessons and words of wisdom that we are meant to follow? Is it possible that lessons like ‘thou shall not kill they neighbor’ have been misinterpreted to, KILL?

If the answer is, ‘YES’. then I am not only disgusted, appalled and enraged at the level the human race is sinking to.

This act has hit home with me for many reasons; The first reason is because this was a very close call for my family. My father had been to a church in Cleopatra twice yesterday,before the bombs had gone off. He, (a Muslim man), was there attending a funeral service and paying his condolences to his friend and his family on their families loss. It could have very easily been the church the mourners were at and where people paying their condolences were. When we first heard the news, we were told it was the church my father had been at, which made us wonder, If my father hadn’t come home when he had done, he could have been among the dead or the injured.  As an Alexandrian, this is an attack not just on Christians, but on our city and its people! This doesn’t just affect us, it affects everyone in Egypt and abroad.

I come from a mixed ethnic background where both my parents come from different parts of the world and follow different religions. Throughout my childhood, teens and adulthood never once did I feel that either were different or better than the other. If my parents could coexist for over 35 years without killing one another and raised their daughters to be respectful to everyone and not be prejudice towards others, then I don’t see why it can’t be done.

I continue not to choose sides, I stand for humanity, I stand for life, I stand for people’s right to practice their religion as long as it doesn’t harm or offend anyone else. Earth is our home and if we don’t change our ways and re-educated its people to learn to coexist the way we should, then we are going to have some trigger happy S.O.B blow the whole place up! I don’t want that to happen, do you?

Links to the news

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12101748

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/update-suicide-bomber-carried-out-alex-church-attack-says-foreign-ministry

Reflecting on what has happened to EGC

The news of the historic school EGC being turned in to an ‘Experimental’ school came as a shock to not only the families, students and staff working at the school but to Alexandrians. No one is clear why the Minister of Education came to make such a rash decision as such. The rumor going around the city is that the accountant(s) and the board of governors have swindled the money from the amalgamated trust fund that had been set up for three English schools of Alexandria.  The English Girls School, (E.G.C, which Queen Sophia attended) and the British Boys School, (E.B.S) and the famous institution Victoria College (where King Hussein and Egyptian actor Omar Sherif attended)
Since my last post, I have heard through the grape-vine that all the teachers who previously had worked there have been dismissed, which is just wonderful because now the rate of unemployment is going to go up. The new administration locked out the students who had been attending the school, to teach them a lesson. The lesson that they are meant to learn from being locked out in the street is not to go against the Minister’s decision and protesting will not be tolerated.
So, now you have teachers out of work and hundreds of kids out of school! If these students are not permitted to re-enter the school, a bidding war may ensue. Schools unaffected by the decree will probably enroll the exiled students to the parents who are willing to pay the highest registration fees. The families of which these students come from are not from the rich class, they are from working class/middle class families that can not afford the International School fees.

The rumor circulating at the moment is that the newly in placed ‘Experimental’ schools are charging a tuition fee as low as 1000LE (which is approx 175$ or 112 Sterling Pounds) which means any Tom, Dick or Harry can put their child in that school. If that is the correct sum of which the schools is asking for, can someone explain how the maintenance of the structure will be kept, how much are they paying the cleaning staff, newly appointed teachers and administration? The historical building will be in ruins in less than 5 years time. Let me not even think of what the quality of education will be. It was bad before the decision was made, but I don’t think there will be any words to describe the quality that is to follow.

As an educator, I can’t even begin to fathom the trauma and stress the teachers and the students are going through and just a month or two before they are to sit their mid year exams? How could anyone of them even contemplate opening a book to study or revise the subjects, when their school as been snatched right from under their feet.
Could the ‘Minister of Education’ not have waited till the end of the academic year, so that the student’s academics wouldn’t have been disrupted and it would have also given the parents and the students the opportunity to look and enroll in other schools for the following year? That is if they would have been given fair warning.

No matter what angle you look at the situation, it could definitely have been handled with more decorum and sensitivity towards the teachers and the students.
I was browsing the net, trying to find updates on the situation and I came across a blog written by an Alexandrian and former student. In her blog she mentioned that the minister had accused the students of the schools to be from ‘riche well to do’ families. I don’t know who his sources are but the students who are attending the government controlled school are middle class citizens. If they were from the crème de la crème of Egyptian Society they would probably be in private or International Schools.

http://egyptianchronicles.blogspot.com/2010/12/can-egyptian-people-be-like-egc-girls.html

Which leads me to a hovering question, could this possibly be an act towards eradicating what is left of Alexandria’s Middle working class families?

If, I was a minister of education, MY sole concern would be the welfare of the students. I can’t help but think, what will become of the students who are due to sit Aadadeya, Sanaweya Aamah (Government Exams students sit in Grades 5, 11 and 12) and IGCSEs? Will they have to lose and entire year before they can sit the exams? If that is the way it is meant to be, then it is in my humble opinion, that the actions taken are education sacrilege and irresponsible, as well as an insult to the art and institution of what education stands for, (but that is just me).

What can be done to save the school? Would declare the building a National Land mark or heritage site work (or is that only taken seriously in the western world?) Would raising funds to buy the school back from the government be another option? Have International Media Coverage to add pressure to the Ministry? Can you repeal a minister’s decision? Will there be more schools to fall victim to the same fate?

 Brief history of E.G.C

http://baheyeldin.com/places/egypt/e-g-c/e-g-c-english-girls-college-or-el-nasr-chatby-college.html

1- EGC – Yehia GABR presents the EGC, Alexandria – the finest school in the world
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4x4v9XCi2w

2- video clips about the protests
http://www.masry-now.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1115%3A-qq-q-qq&catid=51&Itemid=162

3- ‘we are not experimental’ (E.B.S – E.G.C) facebook group
 
http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=lf#!/pages/ahna-msh-tjrybyh-EBS-EGC/171491752889818?v=wall

The Fate of E.G.C and E.B.S. Is it of an era? (I hope not).

The eve of December 27th, my mother was aimlessly checking her facebook news feed when she noticed that many of the people on her list had statuses pertaining to the historical schools of Alexandria. She called me over to read what had been written and to our shock, the Egyptian Minister of Education had changed the schools in to ‘experimental’ schools and he had also changed both school names. Current and former students of the school were furious that such a decision had been made. To make matters even more distasteful, the governing staff of the school didn’t inform the parents ahead of time that such a change was being made. The student’s found out after they had saluted the Egyptian flag and in their morning lines were told that the school was now called ‘Madrasat El Mustakbal ElTagrubeya’, which roughly translates to ‘Future Experimental School’. To add to the students shock, they told them that they were no longer permitted to say ‘Good Morning’ in English but the equivalent greeting in Arabic.

For those of you who are not from Alexandria, you might not be able to comprehend the loss that these people are experiencing, so let me give you a little background on the schools. The English Girls College opened 76 years ago, in October 1935 by a man named Sir Henry Edward Barker. The 20 acres of land on which the school was built on was donated by the Alexandrian Governorate. The school was a girl’s school. Students from K.G to High School attended. The facilities of the school were un like any other in the region. The Headmistress had her own quarters, which was a villa attached to the school, the school also had a dorm are for borders. One of the most famous borders was the current ‘Queen Sophia of Spain.’ I have done a search on Google to find out more information about E.B.S but I wasn’t successful.

When the news of the fate of both schools spread through the city like a wild-fire, protests in front of the Alexandria Governors building and outside the school began. Students boycotted school and dressed in black refusing to go in. The Niece of Egypt’s former President, Gamal Abdel Nasser a former EGCian herself announced on her facebook status that she was going to appear on television to voice her opinion about the wrongful decision that was taken.

Others member of the alumni are trying to get in touch with former classmates and graduates to raise awareness and to raise funds, in the hopes of keeping the schools names to preserve the history and preserve what the institution stood for, as well as trying to rebuild it to the way it used to be. The question that is looming in many people’s minds at the moment is ‘WHY was such a rash decision made?” I do not know for certain, but the rumor at the moment is, is that the board of trustees or members of the board of governors we steeling funds from the school, which landed both the schools in severe debt.

“Various school Trusts were therefore set up as charities to use the income to promote and maintain the teaching of the English language and culture in the Middle East, especially in Alexandria. In 1972, the Victoria College and English Girls School Trusts amalgamated into the Alexandria Schools Trust, and were joined in 1980 by the British Boys School Trust.

http://baheyeldin.com/places/egypt/e-g-c/e-g-c-english-girls-college-or-el-nasr-chatby-college.html

As you can imagine  a combined trust fund must have held quite a substantial amount of money.

I suppose if the rumor is true, it would explain the drop in standard and maintenance of the structures, but I don’t think changing the school in to an experimental one and its name is a way to improve the situation. I would have thought changing the board of governors, getting better teachers and contacting the alumni to help raise funds would have been a more logical and acceptable solution, but that’s just my opinion.

I wasn’t an EGCian, but in the years that I have lived in Alexandria, I have met a great number of the schools former teachers and Alumni and when I hear them re tell stories of their teaching experience or youth as a student their and see what ‘ladies of society and intellect’ the school produced, as an Alexandrian I am saddened by the thought that a Minister of Education would so easily want to wash away an important piece of our cities heritage and a legacy that had been built to educate.

The final blow and update that I have read in one of the E.G.C facebook groups is that the teachers have now been replaced. The question weighing on every ones mind now is, which school will be next to receive the devastating news?

Will it be Victoria College (aka Victory College), where King Hussein of Jordan and Omar Sherif Attended or will in be St. Marc the renowned French boys school?

Links referring to EGC and the protests against the Ministers decision are below;

1- EGC – Yehia GABR presents the EGC, Alexandria – the finest school in the world

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4x4v9XCi2w

2- video clips about the protests

http://www.masry-now.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1115%3A-qq-q-qq&catid=51&Itemid=162 3- ‘we are not experimental’ (E.B.S – E.G.C) facebook group http://www.facebook.com/home.php?sk=lf#!/pages/ahna-msh-tjrybyh-EBS-EGC/171491752889818?v=wall