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Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood

June 28, 2011 3 comments

Some background information on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.  Review and share if you like it and find it informative!

http://www.foreignpolicydigest.org/2011/06/15/egypt’s-muslim-brotherhood/

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Categories: Cairo, January 25th

From Cairo, An Opportunity for a Better Understanding

February 19, 2011 2 comments

The political transformation that Egypt is undergoing today is an incredibly beautiful, exciting, and perhaps unprecedented opportunity for growth and understanding between the West and the Middle East.  The Middle East of 2011 faces a legacy of more than 200 years of colonization benefiting Europeans and Americans at the expense of the peoples who have historically lived there.  French and British flags in the region no longer fly anywhere other than above their respective embassies, yet many Middle Eastern countries remain economically and militarily reliant on Europe and America in a manner largely reminiscent of the colonial period.  In Egypt, the Mubarak Regime has been an embodiment of this reliance for 30 years.  In the past few weeks however, through public demonstrations and protests which have enthralled the international community and terrified totalitarian regimes throughout the region, the Egyptian people have freed themselves from the burden of that particular domestic oppression and simultaneously told the world that they, the people of Egypt, have taken control of their future.

From a legacy of colonization, and entirely unsupported by foreign powers, a peoples’ movement has arisen in Egypt to force their will on the government and reform the nation to fit their dream of what it should be.   The Obama Administration’s soft and often confusing stance on the issue has emphasized this lack of Western interference and highlighted that this has truly been a movement of the Egyptian people.  In fact, the Egyptians have roundly dismissed Western regime building in their country by ousting the American backed and supported Mubarak, striking a blow for a more legitimate form of Self-Determination and Self-Governance in Egypt, one which in both its basic demands and national pride echoes the ideologies of the American and French Revolutions.

Given this background, the beauty of these protests and their potential to help build relationships of understanding between the United States and the Arab world becomes more apparent.  Freedom and Democracy are things worth fighting for, as popular protester and Google Executive Wael Ghonim famously said upon his release from State Security early last week.  Those who have fought that fight, no matter their country or ethnicity, have a common ground on which to stand in relating to and understanding each other.

As Americans remember every Memorial Day, freedom and liberty come at a heavy cost and are not easily won.  However, when earned through the struggle of Self-Determination, by throwing off outside influences and internal oppression, the value of true freedom is fully appreciated.  A country that has done this successfully knows itself, and therefore knows to a much greater degree what it wants of the world around it.  This movement has been a proud declaration from the Egyptian youth and people to the Western world that they treasure the same values as the West, are willing to fight for them, and demand to be recognized on the world stage as such.

Egypt will reach its own status-quo from this struggle.  It may not happen tomorrow, but it will happen.  What form it takes and when the end result is realized depends largely on the military now, but the Egyptian military’s close relationship and history with the people, based on its compulsory composition and perceived heroic role in the 1952 revolution, indicates that the new Egyptian government will be secular, will protect the rights of the people, and will be inclusive.

The movement of the past weeks has never been Islamic, nor will it become so.  There is no political party both strong and experienced enough to take control of Egypt alone, so dialogue and cooperation, which have already begun, will inevitably be necessary for governance.  In short, should the relationship between the Egyptian military and people remain as it has for the past 60 years, the new Egyptian government will be a government by, of and for the Egyptian people; just as they have demanded, proudly and without fear, since January 25th.  All that said, it will remain important for the Egyptian people to continue to take to the streets as they did yesterday to reinforce their presence and remind the military that it is accountable to the citizenry.

In demanding their rights so fiercely the Egyptian people have opened the door to a better understanding and dialog between themselves, other Arab nations and the peoples of the West.  Unlike the revolution of 1952, Egypt’s present uprising shares a common secular ideology with the uprisings, revolutions and movements of Western independence.  Over the past few weeks there has been no antagonistic Pan-Arabism on the streets to scare the West away from relating to the passions and ideals of the movement.  Furthermore, notions that this has been an Islamic revolution are almost criminally negligent.  The Egyptian people are demanding the same rights and representations demanded by the citizens of Western governments; if Western societies can manage to recognize this, moving past allegations and fear mongering about the nonexistent rise of Islam or an aggressive Pan-Arabism in the Middle East, the potential for unprecedented exchanges and growth between these cultures is undeniable.   In the West, actions could be taken to move public perception of Arab peoples from one of distrust, which assumes an inherent dissimilarity, to one of recognition and understanding based on the common values this Revolution has championed.

Egypt has taken a giant stride in advancing the potential for cooperation and understanding between the Middle East and the West.  They’ve definitively shown their critics that Arabs are often just like Westerners; that they have many of the same values and demands and are willing to fight for the same results.  Hopefully the West can get past its own stereotypes and take advantage of this opportunity to build better relations, and the promise of a better future, with the peoples of this region.

Egyptian Protests, (Pictures) Early Morning on the 26th

January 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Categories: Cairo, Iraq, Uncategorized

Egyptian Protests, 25th January (Pictures)

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Categories: Cairo, Uncategorized

Egyptian Protests, 25th of January (Round II)

January 26, 2011 1 comment

Yesterday was both an incredible day for self-determination and human rights in Egypt, as well as a gut-wrenching reality check about the distances which need to be traveled in order to bring equal opportunity and universal human rights to this country.  The picture below captures a sense of these dual realities, but doesn’t even begin to do yesterday’s protests justice.  I spent much of the past 24 hours shadowing the protesters throughout the city and in Tahrir Square, the eventual center of the protests; this is the story of yesterday’s protests as I saw them.

Around 1:30pm, my friends and I arrived at Midaan Tahrir in Downtown Cairo to witness an overwhelming show of force on the part of the Egyptian Special Police.  For demonstrations which were allegedly planned to begin at 2:00pm, the police had set up road blocks and barricades around a number of side streets and important buildings in the area early in the morning, hoping to contain and direct any potential protesters.   Riot shields, batons, police vehicles with power hoses – the whole 9 – were in force.

At 1:45 we saw our first group of protesters, maybe 200 strong, come into Tahrir Square from one of the larger roads the leads into it.  Constant chants, posters and clapping was about as intense as it got at this point.  The police tried to block the group in, maneuvering around them in well-formed lines, but the leaders of the group managed to pick up on the police strategy and get their people past the attempt at constraint.

They exited the Square from the side opposite their entrance, along the Corniche at Asr al-Nile Bridge, and proceeded to walk along the Nile, all the way chanting, clapping and waving signs — and all the while followed by hundreds of Egyptian Special Police.  Hesitant to get stuck in a situation we didn’t entirely understand and couldn’t control, my friends and I followed from behind the police line, trying to sneak a peak of the protesters’ movements whenever a park bench or newspaper box presented the opportunity to get a better view.

In this part of the city there are a number of consecutive bridges connecting the island of Zamalek to it’s surroundings, such as Tahrir.  By the time I reached the next bridge, maybe half-a-mile from where the protesters had first started walking along the Corniche, the number of protesters had doubled.  Another, independent group of protesters had joined with them.  This may be a good point to segeway into an explanation of how these demonstrations were organized.

Simply put, there was no organization.  People used Facebook and Twitter to spread the word and encourage people to attend, but aside from the location and starting time, details were dealt with as they arose on the ground.  Groups from around the city began marching and protesting on their own accord and along their own routes without any central direction or leadership.  The one thing all the Egyptians I spoke to seemed to know, however, was t0 “get to Tahrir, get to Tahrir” eventually.  Those in parts of the city miles from Tahrir had their own large-scale demonstrations, but everyone within a reasonable distance was aiming for the Square.

As the group I was following joined with the other, it became apparent that Tahrir was probably the end goal.  The protesters turned from the Corniche, cutting a sharp right back into the heart of the city, growing in numbers as they marched and gaining enthusiasm as their numbers grew.  I watched much of this from the bridge above, trying my best to remain an aloof observer, but as the bridge ran out, my friends and I realized that in order to follow the demonstration we would have to go down to ground level.  From the ground, the excitement and enthusiasm was even more amazing; we could literally feel it heavy in the air around us.

At this point, the protesters arrived at an appellate courthouse which offered one of the most interesting experiences of the day.  There, on the front steps of the courthouse when we arrived, were a number of demonstrators chanting in opposition to the group we had been following.  Allegedly hired by government forces, these people stood around many government buildings in the city chanting their support for the current government.  It has to be said though, their numbers weren’t anything compared to those of the protesters we had been following or would see throughout the day.

An interesting thing occurred as the numbers grew around the appellate court and the contrasts between the protesters, the police, and the pro-government demonstrators became more apparent.  As the call to prayer (the 5 times a day Muslim call to worship) was heard, many of the protesters left that area.  The ones who stayed went silent and began to pray.  I’ll be posting a powerful picture of ten or so men praying with the police encircling them in just a few moments.  The picture definitely speaks more than my words can.

Having lost the crowd for the moment while focusing on those praying, we had to put some of our haphazard Arabic to use doing a little catch up work.  After a few minutes of conversation with people in the street, we came to the conclusion that the group we had been following had taken their protest back in the direction of Tahrir with obvious enthusiasm.

As we went back that way on our own, taking what we thought was a quicker route than the protesters had taken, we were struck by how normal life away from the protests seemed to be.  Shops were open, people were eating in restaurants, and children were talking and laughing with each other along the way.   If 6,000 protesters in Tahrir can create the type of shock they did yesterday, you have to wonder what would happen in Cairo if these people going about their daily lives only a few blocks away hadn’t been so afraid, or so disenfranchised, that they didn’t participate.

When we finally reached Tahrir, all “what ifs” were driven almost instantly from out minds.  We arrived to a square with nearly a thousand people in it, lining the streets and sidewalks as though in anticipation of some sort of parade, and there anticipation was warranted.  Within minutes of our arrival another independent group of protesters, this time at least 1,500-2,000 strong, came in from our right with more enthusiasm and excitement than anything we had yet seen.  To our left the riot police were blocking the side streets, 5 or 6 men deep, while directly across the square, covering the length of a 6 lane road, were more riot forces, 5 or 6 deep, backed by crowd control vehicles with high pressure hoses and officers with tear gas launchers.

This new crowd of protesters emboldened those already there and they joined together, marching directly up to the police forces baring their way.  The picture I posted last night was taken from atop a handrail alongside the street and shows exactly what I’m referring to.  It was here that we saw the first violence of the day.  As the crowd surged forward the police in the front lines used their batons to try to repel them.   Chants and cheers from the crowd, and yelled orders from officers to policemen flooded our hearing.  The protesters in the street turned to the hundreds of Egyptians on the sidewalk around us, previously only observers, imploring them to join in.  They did.  To our left and right, previously hesitant Egyptians were jumping over the rail separating the sidewalk from the street and joining their fellow citizens in protest.  It was extremely powerful to witness.

Not more than five minutes later, however, the police went to work with their first use of tear gas, firing over the crowd and onto the sidewalk about 20 feet from my friends and I.  Many of the protesters retreated, but those who remained, a significant number, only became more emotional and enraged.  As they tore down the road blocks the police had established earlier in the day, the organized chants of protest turned into individual cries of rage and frustration.  Many began to break pieces of concrete to throw at the police in front of them, but at this point they were still restrained by their fellow protesters.

This was the real beginning of the mayhem the developed in Tahrir yesterday. Following this first use of tear gas, the people retreated and regrouped time and again, each time getting closer and closer to the police, until their regrouping had led them straight into the ominous line you can see in the post below.  The police line broke and they were forced to fall back.  Then they regrouped and pushed forward again, trying to maintain the intersection.

The protesters responded in turn however, now using rocks and pieces of concrete they had pried from the sidewalk and broken into smaller pieces to drive the police back yet again.  One protester managed to take a tear gas gun from an officer, retreating back into the crowd and firing it into the police.

These back and forths lasted for the next few hours. As the first protesters drove the the riot police back nearly 3 blocks, those in the back began group chants again: “Houriyaa, Houriyaa, Houriyaa,” (“Freedom, Freedom, Freedom”) or “Al-Shab ureed iskart al-nizaam,” (“The Youth wants the regime to fall!).  With a little burst of comedy came the, “Hey Mubarak, the Saudi’s are waiting for you,” a reference to former Tunisian President Abidine ben Ali’s displacement in Saudi Arabia after being denied sanctuary by the French.

Eventually, the violence died down.  The use of a water cannon at the front of the protests and the police acquisition of movable high walls that protected them from flying objects allowed them to push back against the protesters. Without any means of either offense or defense, the protesters were forced to flee.  Hours later, the police reclaimed their original line, though by this time it was already dark.

This reassertion of control on the part of the police created an incredibly interesting number of peaceful hours in which my friends and I were able to witness the interesting dynamic between the protesters and police.  Chants and cheers remained enthusiastic, but became much less aggressive. Protesters walked directly up to the police line and began addressing the young soldiers, imploring them to join the demonstration.  I’ll post another picture in a few moments that highlights this relationship.

This particular police service, as I understand it, is compulsory in Egypt. The policemen on the front lines couldn’t have been more than 20 years old at the most, while many of them were probably closer to 16.  Largely kept in the dark by their superiors and taken from poorer and less educated parts of the country in the first place, I’m not entirely sure the average Special Police officer knew why he was there yesterday.  I also highly doubt from the actions and expressions I saw that many of them wanted to be there.

After a few hours of watching the now largely peaceful demonstrations, I returned home just before 9.  Upon hearing that the police had been given orders to forcibly evict the protesters from Tahrir Square later that night, a friend and I headed back out.  My next lengthy post will cover that much more violent part of the protest.

I will say this right now: I think the Egyptian police handled yesterday’s protests very, very well.  I was incredibly impressed with the police forces’ restraint and controlled use of force.  They were, of course, ordered to deploy. However, when they did, they did so with  control.  There was a sense of common national pride and frustration in the air last night, and when not pressured to act in a different manner the police and protesters seemed to even get along.  In Tahrir there was an interesting attitude of common respect present through it all.

Also, no matter what comes from these protests in the next few days, weeks or months, this has been a historic occurrence for Egypt.  This represents the first popular demonstration against Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 30 years and, after 30 years of silence, the Egypt people have shown that they finally have something important to say.

Categories: Cairo

Sexual Harassment – “678”

January 20, 2011 3 comments

I think most of us know that sexual harassmaent is a problem world-wide.  It comes in a variety of forms, spans a wide range of degrees, and remains oppressive, belittling, and just plain wrong no matter where you are.  Yet it is often an incredibly difficult subject to talk about, as well as understand.  I saw an Egyptian movie which offered a lot of insight into the problem here in Egypt earlier this week, and it inspired this post.  It was called “678” and was filmed and produced here in Cairo.  I’d recommend checking it out if you have a few minutes; it will definitely give you something to think about.  Here’s a link to the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q5XI_4rx134  The video itself has english subtitles.

My experiences over here in Cairo have ingrained a few things in my mind. One of them has been a heightened awareness of the fact that, as a man, I am often completely unaware of a number of concerns, inconveniences and potential fears that women around the world are forced to deal with on a daily basis.  I don’t think I even came close to understanding the extent to which these things can influence one’s day-to-day lifestyle until I came here.  Maybe that’s just because Cairo has much more harassment than other places I’ve lived, or maybe it’s simply because the harassment women face here is more frequent and completely unabashed.

From what I’ve seen, I’m starting to think that concerns about sexual harassment influence nearly every aspect of daily life – from how a girl dresses and speaks, to what she chooses to do with her free time – here in Cairo.  It seems to me that sexual harassment, be it physical or verbal, is one of the most fundamental reasons that the concerns, inconveniences and fears mentioned above exist.  This may be the case in the States, but I think it is much more prevalent here in Egypt.

For example, some of my friends have had taxi drivers try to make them watch porn on cellphones, forcing them to jump out of taxis in the middle of traffic at random points around the city just to escape the situation.  Others have been accosted in the street when walking alone during the middle of the day.  The idea that Western women are promiscuous and open to sexual advances from anyone simply because of where they are from – despite how the dress, talk and act – leads to constant and daily verbal harassment.

I’m not going to try to analyze the problem, or talk about solving it.  I’m not really sure that as a guy I can ever fully appreciate it.  Also, I hear a lot about what’s best for the “Arab world” from Westerners here who seem to think they know what’s best for the people of Egypt simply because they come from Europe or the US, as though their Western nationality gives them some sort of magical ability to solve all of the problems Egypt and the Middle East face today.  I’m not going to add my uninformed opinions to that already ignorant mix. 

  What I will say, however, is this: constant verbal harassment is as Egyptian (or at least as Caireen), as watching football on Sunday afternoon is American.  Of course, not everyone does it, but you’ll see it everyday if you live in this city, just as you’ll hear the score of the Skins game by Sunday night in Washington, even if you’re not a fan. It’s frustrating to see, and I’m sure much more difficult to live and put up with. 

 So, at the risk of sounding  a little pedantic, or like I’m trying to relate to an issue I doubt I’ll ever be able to fully grasp, from one guy thinking about his sister, mom and girlfriend alot this week: Ladies — Egyptian, American, whatever — I’m sorry this is something you have to deal with.

Categories: Cairo, Uncategorized

Egyptian Election Corruption

January 8, 2011 1 comment

Back in November, I had the opportunity to sit down with some Egyptians and talk about elections, campaigns, politicians and the rampant corruption that characterizes them all here in Egypt.  One of the people I was speaking with told me an interesting story about his own family that I’d like to share with you all.  I’m probably a bit naive when it comes to things like this, but the extent of corruption he recounted in his story blew me away.

This young man’s uncle was a candidate for Parliament  running on the National Democratic Party’s ticket.  The NDP is the party of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the party which has controlled all of Parliament, save a small token opposition, for years.  As he told it to me when the rest of our group moved on to a new topic — in a whisper and tone that revealed both his contempt and his hesitancy to tell his story —  his uncle had paid approximately 10 million Egyptian Pounds to the NDP in order to get his name put on their list for this year’s election.  That’s somewhere between 1.5 and 2 million USD.

His money not only bought him a spot on the ballot, but also guaranteed the seat in Parliament.  As recounted to me, the uncle came home to the family house two days before the election and announced that “everything had been taken care of,” by which he meant that he had just come from the polling locations, and that the ballots had already been stuffed sufficiently to guarantee his success. 

 According to his nephew, in the last Parliamentary election in 2005 this same uncle won with nearly 95% of the possible vote.  This despite the fact that Egypt’s voting turnout was something like 30% that year.  This man’s popularity with the people, he would have you believe, brought more than three times the average number of Egyptians to the polls in his district, all of whom apparently voted for him!  According to his nephew, he was also so uncertain of his success in his first campaign that he had all of his extended family vote for him not two or three times, but 10 or 12, something which is unfortunately incredibly easy to do here.

To put the nail in the coffin, the person I was speaking with insisted that his uncle might be one of the most ignorant and uneducated people he knows.  He argued that the man has so much money and has so many aides that he  simply has his people read and process everything for him while he spends the majority of his time networking, partying and using his position to tack amendments beneficial to his family and friends onto the end of legislation.

The NDP, which this man now represents, eliminated their token opposition this year by kicking the Muslim Brotherhood, their traditional opposition, entirely out of the Parliament.  Without looking at the exact numbers, the NDP now controls something like 98% of all the seats in Parliament.  I’m not lamenting the Brotherhood’s loss of official opposition status here, I’m merely commenting that there no longer exists an official opposition.  One lesson we have definitely learned from history is that taking away public recognition often only forces opposition groups further underground.

If you follow international news sources I’m sure you heard at least mention of how bad these elections were.  If you don’t, I’m not sure whether you would have heard much of it – American foreign policy leaders had their own reasons for neglecting to comment on this past year’s elections.  I’ve also been finding more and more that our media fails to cover this region as well as news sources based in other nations.

 To wrap it up, a seat in Parliament in Egypt can only go to the extremely rich. It also offers the opportunity to multiply that wealth to an insane degree.  Bribery, ballot stuffing, voter fraud, intense incompetence and corruption are the norms, not the exceptions.  Also, given the importance of this region of the world and the diversity of American interests here in the Middle East, I would argue that the United States does not give these issues the media coverage and discussion which they deserve.

I’m still blown away when I hear stories like the one I’ve just recounted.  Coming from the US, it’s incredibly hard for me to imagine elections being decided in such a flagrantly corrupt manner but, then again, as my friends and I say here, T.I.E. — This Is Egypt — and this is just how it is.

Categories: Cairo