The way I see it: April 2006
استقلال القضاء حق كل المصريين

Sunday, April 30, 2006

We screamed Denmark. What about Saudi Arabia?

The media, in all its forms, is (and has been for a long time) a very powerful force of change. It's television, newspapers, magazines and the internet that connect us to the outside world. It was because of the news media that the whole Prophet Mohammed-Denmark issue came to light (albeit 4 months late... Better late than never, eh?). It's also because of the News media that we have not been informed of other "Islamic" (As in, things that have to do with Islam) matters... and they've had their four months grace period.

So what is the issue? Take a look at these two news sources: Source One (Arabic - recent). Source Two (English - not so recent). Sadly, the recent English source was published in the Independent newspaper of Britain (this is according to the Arabic source and confirmed by myself) and one has to pay to get the article now that three days have passed since publishing. If it is what I think it is, the Arabic source has quoted heavily from the Independent and thus, I should be able to provide the recent story.

So the Saudi government is removing such archeological finds as the the Prophet's house, the houses and mosques of the Four Enlightened (translation?) Caliphs [The first four to come after the Prophet's death], graveyards in Mecca and Medina, not to mention the cave where the Prophet received The Message for the first time and Mecca's historic library.

Those ruins and relics that have been removed have been replaced with public toilets, hotels and housing for those that come to The Kingdom every year for Hajj.

Are you serious?! Does the Saudi government have one shred of decency?! They could show this decency by not being hypocritical idiots and demanding an apology from the Danish government whilst destroying some of the most cherished relics in Islamic Civilization.

The English Article brings up the biggest thorn and ugliest protrusion in this whole scharade; the Wahabi Clerics and religious institutions of Saudi Arabia.

Never having been interested much in Saudi Arabia (although I was conceived there), I had not bothered to research deep into its historical political and cultural roots. Thus, barring the occasional class or course I had to take in school or University, my knowledge of how their present religious and political system (beyond the founding of the state and its twentieth century history) was quite scant. I had heard though that the Al Saud Clan retained its political power on condition that religious decisions and affairs are handled by other Saudi Clans.

The Howden article brought this issue up again, so I suppose it must be true. Either way, this was post was meant to say one thing: Don't you dare go on about Denmark and how you were offended that some caricaturist and Editor-in-Chief decided to publish pictures of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist and then take out a sizeable chunk of Islamic History and Civilization in one go.

Just in case some of you claim that the two events are different, I will admit that they are... obviously. But, if you want to tell me that the relationship I drew does not exist, or that the Saudis are not Hypocrites... go elsewhere. I see obvious, huge, colorful, bright and shining (figurative) lines connecting both events.

And hold on a second. Where is the media in all this? Why does The Independent publish a story on this last May (Yup, that's May 2005) and not one single Arab newspaper (of decent circulation) rose to discuss the issue? Is it not news-worthy? Because, hell, if this isn't news-worthy, then the Danish cartoons sure aren't. Most people haven't even seen the cartoons. So the Media inflamed their passions, which of course local religious groups and leaders used to fuel the hatred towards the west, when it comes to pictures of the Prophet... but it's alright to bulldoze his house?


And that's the way I see it.

Pakistan: First the bomb, now the missile.

Look up a map of the world. Find Iran, it should be somewhere east of Africa (the big yellow bit in the middle). Found it? Great! Now move a bit more to the East, that's left. You should come across another yellow-ish area with the letters Pakistan written there.


Now, let's talk a bit about Pakistan. Apparently, they just tested a ballistic missile. For those that are unsure of what a ballistic missile is, let me explain. It's basically a big rocket, that travels long distances, which can be used to fire weapons at other places. Those ballistic missiles that exist today usually carry nuclear bombs. Pakistan's missile can do that as well.

So, not only does Pakistan have a nuclear bomb, it now has a delivary system, the ballistic missile, with which to launch it. Keep in mind that missiles are not the only possible delivery systems for nuclear weapons; there are planes, submarines, ships and even satellites that can be used to this effect.

Iran does not have a nuclear missile. Iran does not have a nuclear bomb for that matter. It just so happens though that Iran is not a good friend of the United States, unlike Pakistan, and thus they must suffer the consequences of the United States believing them capable of manufacturing weapons-grade fissile material. Basically, if the US thinks they can build a nuke, there'll be hell to pay.

I won't go through the whole issue, but suffice to say that I have the solution!

It isn't difficult or tough to implement. It requires no five-year plan. Impossible, you say? Ha Ha, I tell you. And so, without further ado, here are the steps required to solve this problem:

  1. Iran should declare that it embraces zionism as a legitimate and rightful ideology.
  2. They should then recognize Israel.
  3. Having done that, they should share their petroleum, and water, with Israel (and the US).
  4. All those who participated in the 1979 takeover of the American Embassy should be handed over to the United States. Better yet, they should be rounded up, given a one-week trial (we all know they did it. They're on tape for god's sake... and they're happy about it, all smiling and shit!) and then be executed by firing squad.
  5. They should pay the families of all Americans killed or kidnapped compensation for at least 100 years.
  6. The present government should step down, and the Shah's descendants brought back to reclaim their rightful throne.
  7. They should accept that the Persian Gulf be named the Arab Gulf. After all, there are 7 times as many Arab countries as them (with shores on that body of water).
  8. They should pay reperations to the victims of the holocaust. (You can't cover your bases enough in the real world. Five runners per base is only a beginning.)
  9. They should stop supporting all militias that they might be supporting anywhere in the world. Except the ones that attack communist or anti-zionist targets.
  10. They should join the War on Terror.
  11. American companies are to be given preferential treatment in their market. Tax holidays for life? Only the beginning...
These points should set them up for a good twenty-five years. Provided they don't get pissed off again.

Who said the world can't be changed in a day?!

And that's the way I see it.

I found this funny and heart-warming

What can I say? I've always told myself that I won't blog about jokes or personal things that have no effect on anyone but I. And yet, well...

And yet this post on My Lebanese Dream had me laughing, grinning and smiling for long minutes.

Yup. That's the way I see it.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Al-Jazeera's Egyptian Bureau Chief released

Hussein Abdel Ghani, News Channel Al-Jazeera's Egyptian Bureau Chief, has been released by the Egyptian authorities on Thursday night with a bail of 10,000 L.E. (Read more about it.)

There are a couple of points that are ridiculous about the whole issue:

First, a 10,000 L.E bail?! If you drive your car at 200km/hr and kill five people as well as injuring twenty, you could probably leave the country and never be heard of again! Without paying any bail. [Dollar-Pound exchange rate]

Second, what on earth is with the Gestapo-like tactics of arresting this man?! Keep in mind that he was "not arrested" in the beginning. Rather, he was wanted for questioning or some other ridiculous excuse.

Third, the man did say on television (and this Blogger watched the live report on television) that they had three seperate sources that verified that fact and that the Ministry of Interior denies that the event occurred. He also said that Al-Jazeera would keep its vieweres updated on the validity of these reports as soon as they recieve any more information on the matter. He clearly stipulated that they recieved three reports on the issue. There is no possible way any Arabic-speaking individual in this country could have mis-interpreted that.

But, this is Egypt for you.

And that's the way I see it.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Egyptian government clamps down on Press. Activists Detained.

NOTE: This post covers a number of issues.

Apparently, the Egyptian government needs the flimsiest of excuses to arrest members of the Press. According to BBC, Al Jazeera's Egyptian Bureau Chief (Hussein Abdel Ghany) has been arrested by Egyptian security forces.

Apparently, the man wrongfully claimed that an attack on an Egyptian police patrol had occurred in Sharkeya (an Egyptian governerate) yesterday. The thing is, I watched the man's live feed and he specifically mentioned that he had received information from three separate sources but that the Ministry of Interior is claiming that it didn't occur. Furthermore, he said that the channel will report more on the validity of the event as soon as they get more information.

Update: Apparently the government, or a representative of the National Democratic Party (NDP) ruling party, is saying that Hussein Abdel Ghany is not under arrest, and that he was merely wanted for questioning by the offices of the attorney general. Also, he says the reasons behind the "detainment" was that Al Jazeera channel displayed footage of Israeli ambulances transporting Israeli citizens, out of Taba, where bombings had occurred before, back to Israel. He also mentioned the fact that the alleged bombings in sharkeya did not occur and that Al Jazeera helped to spread panic because of these false allegations.

The funny thing is that while the NDP's man was saying that Hussein Abdel Ghany was not under arrest, merely wanted for questioning, Al Jazeera was showing footage of its Bureau Chief being transported by mini-bus to the location where he was to be questioned, surrounded by at least 5 police officers and other plain clothes security personnel. I guess this means he isn't under arrest and these officers were just helping find his way.

On another level, violence has re-ensued today in downtown Cairo near the Judge's club and Press Syndicate. This is after a series of violent confrontations that have been occurring over the past few days over an issue that has been developing for a couple of months now. Read Baheyya's posts for more information on the issue (3 separates).

There have been Egyptian citizens arrested in the early hours of Monday morning, yesterday and today during a sit-in protest at the Judge's Club. Kifaya's (arabic - English here) coverage of the matter here (arabic) and here (english) [keep in mind that the stories cover different points as they are not translations. Rather, they are written by different members/reporters].

As I write this, there are clashes between security forces and protestors in the area. For more information, visit Tomanbay's Blog [He covers news in a much more succinct and tech-wise manner].

On a more personal note, one of the protestors arrested on Monday is a personal friend of mine; Ahmed Yasser El Droubi. I can only say that the only thing that drove Ahmed to participate in the sit-in protest was his love for this country and his personal quest and contribution to the effort to bring true freedom, democracy and rule of law to this country.

Friends close to Ahmed and myself, who have kept abreast of the issue have informed me that Ahmed was transferred to Torah Prison; a place recognized by many as one where political prisoners are regularly detained and tortured. They also informed me that the security forces have renewed his detainment for a period of 15 days (one I'm told is the regular/standard detainment time in such situations).

Update(Thursday afternoon): According to another friend Ahmed is not in Torah Prison; lawyers who visited the place have not found neither him nor the other protestors detained with him. His whereabouts are, at the present time, unknown.

Update #2(Thursday Night): Apparently Ahmed and detainees of Monday night are in a station [El-Khalifa Station] (which I am not sure is a State Security one or a regular Police station) where they were first taken for interrogation and detainment.

Update #3 (Friday): In the on-going quest of finding Ahmed, the latest information is that he is being detained at Torah Prison. This is according to his mother who recieved a hand-written note, supposedly from from Ahmed. In the note he said that he is well and misses his friends and family. He also said that him and the other detainees need lawyers urgently. He also asked for a couple of cigarette cartons (kharateesh sagayer), probably for him and the other detainees.
The note recieved was written in Arabic, and in Ahmed's signature bad handwriting, which his mother recognized. Also, it seems that through contacts, a meeting with Ahmed has been arranged for saturday. This awaits to be seen.

This, of course, no way guarantees the authenticity of the note as it might have been forged. A mutual friend of Ahmed and I put to words the absurdity of the situation by saying that "
what struck [him] the most is how conflicting reports are". Apparently, phone call inquiries carried out within seconds of each other would yield completely different results. This just stresses the media and information blackout that the Egyptian government has been carrying out to-date, in all its dealings with its citizens.

Ahmed's STATUS: Detained. Whereabouts Unconfirmed.

Ahmed is diabetic and thus far has not been allowed access to medical personnel, since he is not in possession of his medicines and other things that he requires because of his illness. (Video of the arrest).

Events such as these really help to spread a sense of impotence amongst people, myself included. My friend is under arrest for completely unjust and unfounded reasons and I, amongst others, find myself unable to do or say anything that would help or contribute to his release from imprisonment.

It's times like these that force one to accept even a violent solution to the problem.

And the that's the way I see it.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Dahab and Northern Sinai - News and comments.

First, I am going to refer you to a fellow blogger's website, Tomanbay, for a better update of events on Wednesday the 26th in Sinai, Egypt.

Moving on, the main purpose of this post was to comment on posts made on another Blogger's Blog, namely Sandmonkey. Sandmonkey's post was a coverage of the Dahab bombings and that Blogger's opinion on different remarks made by Hamas and the the Israeli ambassador to Egypt.

After reading the article (linked to above), there were points of disagreements that I had with sandmonkey.

First, he quotes (source unknown to me) what Hamas's leadership had to say about the Dahab Bombing:

Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas-run Palestinian Cabinet, called
the bombings a "criminal attack which is against all human values. We
denounce the attack, which harmed the Egyptian national security." By
contrast, Hamas had refused to condemn last week's bombing that killed
nine people in an Israeli fast-food restaurant.

Then, he comments on their comment:

Didn't they call that suicidebombing a justified act of self defense? I guess it depends who the attacks kill: Jews ok, egyptians not so much.
I think the difference in what Hamas has to say is obvious, and the reasons as well. It would make sense that Hamas would say such a thing, since the world usually holds its breath after such events; waiting to see who will claim responsibility. Hamas's response, as an entity accused of being a terrorist organization by the west, was definitely much awaited.

Furthermore, and devoid of the question of International Politics and Relations, unless the bombings in Dahab were carried out by Egyptian seperatists, or persons claiming to want independence from Egypt, the situation is quite different. Palestinians say, and I will not say are because then many will scream that I am biased, that they are fighting to liberate lands that are theirs. Lands that, according to them, are occupied.

We still do not know anything about the perpetrators of the Dahab bombings. I agree with Sandmonkey when he mentions that it depends on who the attacks kill. Of course it does! If I was at war with another country for 50+ years (not counting pre-Israeli state days) and that happened to them, I would happier than if it happened to an acquaintance, or a friend. That would be a human thing.

But even more, and I agree with this point whole-heartedly, Hamas sees that attacks (whether carried out by them or with their support and/or agreement) on Israel (whether these attacks target infrastructure, civilians or military personnel) is a natural thing in a war where thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Palestinians (civilians and otherwise) have been killed. I have not experienced what the Palestinians have been through, but I have talked to them extensively. I have also lived in Sudan.

The Southern Sudanese there expressed the same sentiment about the Northern government and people as the Palestinians.

My own view is that Hamas's use of religion as the force from which they gain their guidance, principles or whatever is the main reason why so many people stand steadfastly against them. Westerners hear the words bomb and Middle East in one sentence and Islam gets blamed. The general idea on Muslims is that they are all terrorists. On the other hand, the PLO was never attacked as much as Hamas was. They carried out operations as well and are much older than Hamas as an entity.

But, they are a secular organization, and they recognize Israel. Two ingredients that transformed the way they were treated. Let's not forget their almost instantaneous recognition by the Israeli and Western governments.

Sandmonkey then moves on to say:

You then read in Al Arabiy[a] a that the egyptian secuirty forces has shut down the border with Israel in order to prevent any "possible suspects escape", which would only mean in the eyes of the regular egyptian that the people who were behind this act were…yes…wait for it… THE JOOOOOOOOOZZZZZZZ.

I disagree. It doesn't mean that "the Jews" are the ones behind this issue. What Egypt did was close a possible avenue of escape... perhaps they had information that pointed to the fact that this has been used before as an escape route, who knows? If anyone comes to the conclusion that it is the Israelis, and not "the Jews", who carried out the bombings... that's their own thing.

And then

Who else would we blame anyway?
I realize that this was a rhetorical, sarcastic question as posted by Sandmonkey but still... it seems that Sandmonkey had no compunctions about blaming "the Jihadis";

I am really mad because this brings back memories of Taba, and it shows that we haven't elarned shit from the previous attacks at all. It also shows that the security forces can not protect us at all, with or wiothout the emergency laws. And now, I found out that a friend of mine got injured in this attack, and lost an arm. He is 23 years old. and he lost his arm. And all I can think of is the blind hatred that is cursing through my body right now towards every single Jihady fuckhead in existance, and how I will not rest until every single one of them is fuckin whiped out, have their bodies doused in whiskey and pig piss and wraped in the cumsoaked sheets of a diseased jewish whore.

I HATE THEM SOOOO MUCH! Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

I hate all militant (and non-militant for that matter) Islamist groups or individuals as well, quite vehemently as a matter-of-fact, but the leap in logic that occurred in that large paragraph was strange. The fact that his friend lost an arm is an extremely sad and upsetting issue. I had friends in Dahab as well (Read an account), and they thankfully made it without injury, but how does this particular bombing and Sandmonkey's injured friend point to "the Jihadis"?!

It seems to me that the seem leap in logic he claimed that Egyptians would make was made by him. Technically speaking, this isn't much of a problem; as I understand it, he is Egyptian himself.

Moving on, there are certain parts of his post that I do agree with. For example,

I am so sick of this. So sick of all of this bullshit. So sick of the people dying, the jooz blaming, the ineptitude of the government who even though they have Sinai on lockdown for the past 3 years can't prevent a single attack, the inability of my people to see the nature of the ruthless enemy that is the Jihadis and how they are not our friends, and just the fuckin instability that Egypt has been in for the past 3 years.
The thing is, there are, in my opinion a plethora of factors that affect how well the security forces can do their job. I do agree with Sandmonkey that it seems that with or without the Emergency Law, Egyptian security forces are disgustingly useless at carrying out their job. Furthermore, if people who are loyal to the regime show up on television and say that these attacks and ones before them smack of foreign intervention, then, as Sandmonkey mentions, where on earth are our intelligence agencies?!

If "they" are using their agencies to do this to Egypt, it's about time that ours does something. That is, if they aren't already trying and failing... which puts us in dire straits.

Also, to be fair, Israel did in fact offer to send ambulances to Egypt. The ambulances were even filmed by the Israeli border. They also activated an IDF crisis rescue (we were not told the Unit name nor designation) unit and put them on alert. I am guessing the Egyptian government did not need, or did not want, assistance. Also, watching the live coverage that Al-Jazeera (English here) had going of the bombings, I have to say that the dead and wounded were transferred relatively quickly to hospitals in Dahab and then Sharm El Sheikh.

Finally, to summarize a relatively long post, the whole point behind this post is thus: coming to conclusions quickly is simple, everyone does it. Offering quick-cut, easy answers is also simple. I'm not saying that simple answers are always wrong, Okum would be quite upset indeed, just that reverting to them all the time just because others do isn't the best thing to do.

And that's the way I see it.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Leave Iran be. Or don't, it's your funeral.

The topic of this post is: Iran.

For the past two years now it seems that the International Community, in the form of the United States, has been hounding Iran about its nuclear program. Apparently, it isn't ok for Iran to have their own nuclear reactor(s). But, many of my friends and people that I know think that I'm not looking at this from the correct angle.

So I asked them: what am I missing?

Basically, the popular thought is that Iran's government is crazy. The moment they get nuclear weapons, they will use them against Israel. Hold on a second. The Iranian government aren't what they are because they're stupid. I think that Iran has a shrewd government. Let's say they do get nuclear weapons. There is no way in hell that they will use them on Israel knowing the Death shall rain down on them from the heavens AKA Lots of Minuteman and Peacekeeper ICBMs launched from Wyoming, the Dakotas, and other bases throughout the United States, will level the country into oblivion... and beyond.

I sincerely doubt that Iranians, including members of the government and people in power, are suicidal enough to do something like that. Futhermore, Iran has a right to develop its nuclear technology peacefully. The NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), of which they - and the US but not Israel - are a signatory, assures them this right. [Extra information about NPT and the additional protocol from Wikipedia here. IAEA Board of Governers Report on Iran's Nuclear Situation in September 2005.]

Admittedly, the report mentions that Iran was late declaring certain important things. But, the report also mentions that Iran has taken steps to rectify the situation and the steps were acceptable by the IAEA.

Iran, as do other nations around the world, believe that they are being targeted for the possiblity of them developing Nuclear Weapons. Israel is already in possession of Nuclear Weapons. I don't blame them for possibly believing that this is a wee bit unfair.

The obvious issue then, is that the United States (and allies) do not want an enemy state (Iran in this case) gaining such a "card" in the international game of "power" relations. Having nuclear weapons will mean that iran will pose a threat, however miniscule (though a nuclear weapon - if only one bomb - is not a small nor trivial matter at all) some might believe it would be.

With all the links that are in this post, I won't go on any more about the issue... what I will do is give you access to even more links that I came across while researching the matter in more detail:

Another Blogger', Ramblefish, view on the matter.

Some of the IRNA's (Islamic Republic News Agency), Iran's official news agency, stories:

The IAEA has an Iran file timeline on their website which might be useful to those that which to know more details about the whole issue (since 2004).

Of interest: CNN's bumbles and blunders. Pathetic, but expected.

Finally, and because this is a blog... the following are links to Iranian Blogs which may, or may not have more information on the matter. Most interesting is the Iranian Vice-President's Blog.

An Iranian news blog.

Iranian Blog (Iran-based).

Iranian Blog (Los Angeles based).

Another Iranian Blog. All in Farsi, but check out the photos.

And that's the way I see it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Egypt. Land of Civilization.

About a month-and-a-half ago, I wrote a post about certain things in Egypt that I found amusing.

Here's the picture, or one of the two pictures, that should have come with that post; I only recently bought a digital cam. though... so it came a bit late.

You probably won't be able to see the text on the blue sign. Click and maximize or download and maximize.


Egypt. Egypt. Egypt.

The following are two Op-Ed articles, published in the Egyptian Daily Star, that I found interesting:

The First is about political parties in Egypt. The writer takes to the street and asks Egyptians what they think.

The Second is about the Hijab, or veil, in Egyptian Society.

If you've managed to read this far, here are my views on the Hijab:

First of all, I am strongly opposed to the view that the Islamic Hijab is a fard, or religious tenet, for Muslim women (all the time of course - they do have to wear it when praying). None of the verses put forward from the Quran conclusively support this view, in fact, many scholars say there are no verses from the Quran that supports this view at all.

That said, my general outlook on society follows the code: To each his own. You do whatever you want to do as long as you do not cause harm to someone else. When mentioning harm here, I am most certainly not referring to the psychological and mental anguish some claim to feel when confronted with a non-veiled female.

As is obvious, anyone can wear the Hijab in my book. Still, if it so happens that a girl, or guy for that matter, mentions that all girls should wear the Hijab because it is an Islamic fard, they drop down many rungs on my ladder of respect. Usually, they fall right off. Generally speaking, most of the girls that I personally have dealt with that chose to wear the Hijab have turned out to have voluntarily surrenderred the use of their brain and mental faculties for any kind of thinking.

The aforementioned category of girls have said to me:

1. Amr Khaled said we shoud wear the Hijab.
2. It is written in the Quran. (Me: Which verse exactly? What does it say?) I'm not sure, but it's written in the Quran.
3. A pure Muslim woman has to wear the Hijab.

There were, of course, many other reasons. First though, I want to comment on the three mentioned above.

So Amr Khaled said you should, huh? And if Amr Khaled told you to go jump off the top of a building, wearing your Hijab, I suppose you would? Too sarcastic? Well, what if Amr khaled mentioned that killing all non-muslims (he hasn't) was the only way to make it to heaven? Would you stop and think about what he says then? Or maybe not. I keep getting the feeling that Amr Khaled is our prophet in disguise... It's amazing how people follow him this blindly!

As for the Quran, I have yet to be told the verses. I await that patiently.

Pure women has to wear the Hijab? So... my mother and grandmother aren't pure Muslim women? They probably went out whoring in their younger days, did they? Invited all the guys over to their homes and had regular sexual orgies, eh? What kind of pathetic argument is this? Your purity is defined by what you choose to do in life! Let me just tell you that all prostitutes in Sudan were veiled (and I've lived there).

Now, I think the main reason why women and girls wear Hijab in Egypt is because of Social pressure. Wearing the Hijab in this country has become a social custom, especially amongst the poor. This helps explain a phenomenon that many men do not understand, especially those that come from the wealtheir upper class; you know all those girls and women that you see wearing the Hijab yet still wearing pants so tight that it is difficult to imagine them being able to move? Well, that's why. The Hijab has become a social necessity, but they do not necessarily represent the religious views of the woman wearing them. Most of the time, she doesn't consider if she should wear it or not... there is no question. There is no debate on the issue.

Oh, and by the way, there are many poorer mothers who still believe that dressing their daughters in tight pants will discourage any possiblity of sexually-motivated attack as it would be difficult to get inside her clothes. (I've asked about this! Many, many times!)

Finally, I feel it needs to be said that while I believe that prejudiced generalizations made about a certain group of people because of creed, ethnicity or social class is abhorrent and wrong, one has to keep in mind that sometimes priorities are different for different people.

For example, in the school where I work, I happen to be in an office with the headmistress, her secretary and the assistant headmistress. All three of them are veiled. Sometimes it gets to be a pain... for example, I have to make sure I censor myself lest I mention something that they think is wrong. It's not that that they are annoying; to date, none of them have even asked me why I don't get up to pray, it's just that I don't want to get into that kind of discussion because I don't know how to tell people that I don't want to talk about it without sounding annoyed or rude.

And hey! What if I want to exclaim: "Oh, shit!" or "God damn it!" whenever I'm annoyed or something goes wrong? I don't. I don't because I don't want them giving me "the look" and possibly a couple of words on how I shouldn't say things like that... because when I do say things like that, those couple of words are definitely the last thing I want to hear (now that I think about it, it's probably the last thing they want to hear as well... *shrug*).

i find myself wanting to talk about how most girls in Egypt shudder and shake if a guy swears next to them, but that's another story for another post.

And that's basically the way I see it.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Hamas: not completely broke.

I came across this news item posted on the International Herald Tribune's website.

So, I guess this means that the Palestinian government now has a little bit of money with which to function. Though it is supposedly far less than the amount they need to pay the salaries and debts that they own. You might remember that most major donors chose to halt all aid to the Palestinian government as soon as the democratically elected Hamas came to power. This, of course, was disastrous.

This is a compilation of the Palestinian government's sources of aid by donor countries. My thanks to Sandmonkey for posting it.

I also came across this transcript of a PBS show, NewsHour, that discussed the issue of Hamas being voted in as the Palestinian government.

The whole discussion is interesting, but it is one statement in particular that I wish to comment upon (I have not heard it being said often);

ROBERT SATLOFF: No, I think this is a moment for clarity. A large plurality of the Palestinian people elected a terrorist organization as its leadership. This is a moment where the world needs to respond to that very clear statement. I respect their vote. They should respect the world's response to this vote.

Mr. Satloff is faultless when making this comment. The Palestinians should respect the world's response to this vote. If not respect, then at least accept. It is in my belief that they have actually done that. Barring any proclamations they might have made upon winning, most news items either carry opinions on the issue as a whole or interviews with members of the Hamas government.

Furthermore, I am proud that an Arab country (as ironic as it may seem, the only "un-recognized" Arab country) had a free and fair elections (to a large extent, anyways).

Now then, to get to the "respect the world's response to this vote" part. Lots of Arab media and thinkers would tell you: An Arab state finally has a democratically elected government and the West is still bitching about it. Nothing satisfies them. What do they want? To choose who comes to power personally? To put their men as Prime Ministers or Presidents if they don't like the ones there?

Of course, they were quite fiery when making these remarks.

The answer is, of course, Yes! Who wouldn't you fools? What government would not want to choose who has the power in places which might affect its people and its well-being, politically and economically, as a state. It's called realism.

Maybe Political Science, as a major, wasn't so stupid after all. You see, as my professor in POLS 320: International Relations informed us, there are two major schools of thought when it comes to international relations between states; the realists and the liberals. Of course, now we have the neo-realists and the neo-liberals. Now, to the realists, power is everything. You have the power, you use the power. You can get what you want with your power... go on ahead and do it. That's the way of life. The state is the largest entity when it comes to International Relations and one's level of analysis should not extended beyond that.

On the other hand, the liberals are believers in international institutions and organizations. They believe in collective decisions and that the state is not the largest entity when it comes to IR; the UN, WTO, WB, IMF and all those organizations are. These people do not believe in war, but they do acknowledge that it occurs. Even though I once adamantly followed this school, it reflects a highly idealistic and non-practical way of viewing things.

The U.S. (Current World Hegemon), as a government, follow the neo-realism school of thought. Meaning that everyone has to live with this. So live with it. I'm not saying don't bitch about it, O Arab countries. You should. You never know when a European (minus the UK) might be listening. For some weird reason, the Europeans are more sympathetic to this than the Americans are. It might be the two World Wars, all the deaths they suffered or that they want people to like them so that they can be the next International Hegemon, when it's time for the U.S. to step down.

It matters not. When they listen to you, they do things just to spite the U.S., just convince them that you're important to them or their people in some way (the subscribe to the neo-realist club too, you know) and then you're set... for a period of time at least.

What you should be doing, O foolish Arabs, is working like hell to gain power. I almost hope there's some Top Secret Plan for doing this and that everything that's happening now is a mere facade, until one day, 25 years from now, an Arab Leader or person will suddenly go on television and go: TA-DAAAA! We're rich!! We're Powerful!! Or some other weird thing.

Yeah, right.

And that's the way I see (or is it dream?) it.

Random News and Opinions

As I have a two week break from work (working at a school helped me re-discover the joy of Spring Break as a holiday) I now randomly surf the Internet in the morning checking news or whatnot. I don't know if I'm going to do this regularly, but I will share the things I found interesting:

This twenty-year old Republican's view on Bush and the Republicans.

Russian gypsies attacked.

The FBI's tips page. (I included this because I didn't know it existed).

A simple view on who will win the next House elections in the states.

Brotherhood members captured in Egypt.

[I always find this kind of news strange. The State knows who the MB's leaders are. If you're so interested in arresting people who are members, leave the stupid students alone and go get the big fish. Work your way down the hierarchy. It's almost like they want the MB to continue but they don't want them to grow or expand.]

Free Trade is not doing well. A list of the disputes filed before the WTO's Dispute Settlement Body (including the panels and Appellate body's findings and possible rejections or over-turning of decisions).

That's about it for now.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Egypt: Muslims vs. Christians. This has gone on long enough.

Friday, to use the words of FDR, was a "day that shall live in infamy".

Coptic Christians in Alexandria, Egypt were attacked during mass. There were injuries and a single death. For more prescise information on what happened, you can access Al-Jazeera's coverage of the issue in Arabic and English. You can also check out other bloggers' views on the matter. Antisocialite's post, Manal and Alaa's post (Arabic) and Sandmonkey's view on the matter. (Most of this information was collaborated by the Egyptian Arabic Daily: The Egyptian Today [El Masree El Yoam], which I believe is a credible newspaper.

You can also check out this post on a Blog subscribed to Manal and Alaa's Aggregator [Note: His opinions are his own. And, even though he mentions the reaction of the Christians at the scene and the congregation, please do not think that I chose to include this article to imply that Christians hate Muslims (as someone mentioned to me)]. Two things though, it's in Arabic and has one pretty graphic picture of the person killed during the events. The only reason I've included it is because this blog's owner was an actual eye witness to the events (or so he claims).

What do I think of the whole issue? (I'm going to swear, possibly frequently.)

I think it's fucking pathetic. Most of the other bloggers have covered what I will say, but I will say it again. And again. And again. I think it's fucking pathetic that the man was not stopped after entering the first church. I think it's fucking pathetic that the man, who apparently was screaming "There is no god but God", was allowed to enter the church in the first place. I cannot believe that the guards did not open fire and kill the stupid son of a bitch. They should have.

I think it's fucking pathetic that the government says that the man was mentally deranged. EVEN IF the stupid son of a bitch was fucking deranged, that excuse is so pathetic and offending that it should not have been used. I'm also "surprised" that they managed to find out that he's mentally deranged on such short notice, knowing that most of their "investigations" take weeks if not months if not years if ever to conclude.

You know, I'm generally one of those people who says: you shouldn't judge all Muslims by the actions of a few, but I know that I'd be one pissed off mother-fucker were I Christian. And I'd be completely in the right too.

Islamists are going to burn. Oh yeah. They need to.

7anshouf feekom yoam ya welad seteen kalb. 7anshouf feekom yoam entom we kol el kelab el zayekom.

That's the way I fucking see it.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

ACHTUNG Egyptian Drivers! I value my life.

I don't drive.

I should say that I don't drive because I don't own a driver's license at the moment. At the moment has been a period that has extended for almost seven years now... but who's counting. Because I don't drive my usual modes of transportation include (limited to, actually): friends' cars (friends included), cabs, the metro (not a lot nowadays) and walking.

Now, if you've read any of my previous posts, you might have noticed my tendency to quote cab drivers and talk about them. I don't know why I do this. Is it because there's the variable constant in my life? Possibly. Maybe the reason is their way of thinking (definitely different from my clique)? Possibly. Is it because I find them interesting and fascinating, driving around Cairo all day long (or however long their shift may be), meeting people on every street and corner? Oh yes.

*Looks up*

Ok. I rambled again.

On my way home last night, at the very late hour of 10:30 pm (I was dead tired, honest!) I had three automobile-related near death experiences. This is the average number of near-death experiences one can have on a single thirty minute car trip in Cairo, so I was not overly-concerned. Because I was sleepy (Im guessing) all cars were trailed by a long streak of light. Much like the delightful Red Arrows' planes look during an Airshow.

In fact, the cars did look like they were performing some sort of show, albeit a land one. Drivers were twisting and turning,speeding then braking, passing and stopping, taunting and swearing and finally... crashing (witnessed a minor car accident - didn't even look twice. Too tired.) The realization came to me then that upon entering any four-wheeled vehicle in Egypt, you are automatically placing you life in the hands of your deity (should you happen to have one. Metaphorical hands for muslims and Jews.)

Egyptian drivers (and yes, I'm generalizing) have an amazing tendency to ignore the fact that there are other drivers on the road. This was made obvious yesterday by two volunteers who willingly chose to prove my point.

First Volunteer: Un-identified Egyptian male in his mid to late fifties accompanied by his family.
Car: A Lada 2106 if memory serves me correctly.
Incident: Just before going up the two-lane Malek El Saleh bridge, my cab driver and I were introduced to our first volunteer.
What happened: The man came over all the way from the right lane (three lane road) and attempted to hijack our left lane (bypassing the middle lane in the process).
Why we think he did that: We came to the conclusion that he was either absent-minded or tired and forgot that he wanted to get on the bridge, opting for the right lane exit into Manyal. Suddenly aware of the fact that he did not, in fact, wish to do that, he swerved all the way to the left to get on the bridge.
Why it was really stupid: There was a small Toyota Mini-bus parked at the bottom of the bridge. Parked at the bottom of the bridge. In the right lane. Of course, it wasn't parked per se... the driver was letting out passengers and letting in new ones... but it was there, stopped, completely immobile for a period of at least fifteen seconds. The man in the Lada must have known this; it was right in his path. It was really stupid of him to attempt to squeeze himself between the bus and us in a two lane road. Fortunately, my cab driver's nerves of steel (which manifested themselves in the fact that he did not divert an inch from his track) forced our first volunteer to drastically slow down. Thanfully.

Second Volunteer: Unknown driver of a souped-up Honda Civic.
Car: Souped-up Honda Civic.
Incident: Man almost hit by speeding car and the chaos that ensued almost caused a four car pile-up.
What happened: On the Corniche, again, approaching the Sadat Academy entrance to Maadi. This is a usual station for mini-buses and, true to that, another mini-bus was parked at the side of the road. Apparently the dude (or dudete...?) in the Civic believed that you need a minimum speed of 280 km/hr before the Civic has enough speed to achieve un-aided lift-off. It's that, or the car was being clocked for some kind of urban land speed record, because he was 'tearing up the tarmac'. What happened was, as soon as the Civic came to the entrance, a man popped up from behind the Mini-bus... obviously to cross to the other side of the road. Screeching sounds occurred and panic ensued. The civic dude hit the brakes... though realistically, had the man decided not to stop, the civic would have hit him. Hard. He stopped though.
Thing is, when the Civic driver hit the brakes, 4 cars behind him hit the brakes. For a period of two seconds, me and the cab driver watched 4 car drivers momentarily lose control of their cars; it was magnificent (I'm allowe to say this in retrospect since no accident occurred). Four cars fish-tailing for two seconds. It looked perfectly coordinated.
Why we think he did that: Young. Into cars. Reckless. Nothing new.
Why it was really stupid: Ok. There are many good drivers out there. There are many good drivers who know they're good drivers. There are many good drivers who know they're good drivers and thus the usually tend to 'push the pedal to the metal', even during traffic jams. But basically, it's like my grand-father says "You're a good driver but can you vouch for every other driver near you?" Man in the Civic (i'm convinced it's a guy, from experience) probably forgot the whole thing 4.8031 seconds later. Im guessing that's about how long it took him to get from 0-100.

What we need to do: Two things really - hope we never cross paths with these idiots and pray like hell everytime we get into a four-wheeled vehicle. You never know... you might be lucky.


Speaking of road incidents, next time I write on the topic, I'll have to mention the story of the guy and girl who chose to engage in *ahem* quasi-sexual activities in the back of a two-door 4x4 with the whole of Cairo watching them. Oh yes. They were like a pace-car in a Formula One race... no one attempted to pass them.

*Nod* Yup, that's just the way I see it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Arab music channels and... theological advertising?

The strangest thing happened today.

I was browsing through various web-pages and glancing every now and then at the tv that one of my brothers had tuned to an Arab music channel, Entertainment Television (E Tv) to be exact, when the most peculiar advertisement I've seen in a long time started showing.

At first, I didn't notice it. But, the dialogue and the lines used forced my attention to the screen. Anyhow, the ad. went something like this (imagine this with me now):

[This starts from when I first saw the ad. I have no idea how many seconds, if any, I missed]

A fashionably-dressed, beautiful woman in the back seat of a luxury car with a cell-phone to her ear. She is speaking to her husband, apparently, asking him how his day was and that she'll see him soon (I think). The expression on her face was a mixture of slight melancholy and tiredness. Next scene, she's walking into her apartment/home. The place looks simple yet very expensive. Like everything in the apartment is a 10 carat diamond.

She walks across the bedroom, throws a jacket (I think) and her purse on the bed and then goes out to stand in the balcony. She then enters a short soliloquy about how there is something missing from her life. There's that one thing, without which she is incapable of being happy. She asks God why she isn't happy and asks Him to help her.

The scene then skips to her walking alongside a wall, towards the camera and a bit to the left of the frame. As she moves closer, the camera turns to the left with her until the camera has turned 90 degrees and we realize there's a mirror on the wall. When she walks past the mirror, we realize that her reflection is wearing a Hijab and a long-sleeved top (the mirror only shows her upper torso). Again, she is dressed well. The model glances towards the mirror and is obviously surprised by her reflection and audibly expresses her surprise by saying: is that me? Her reflection merely nods at her and smiles.

We then see her in the final scene walking on a sidewalk, taking large steps, smiling and looking content (wearing her Hijab and long-sleeved shirt or top). Then, in arabic font accompanied by a pleasant sounding male voice, we see/hear the phrase: Obeying god is the road to happiness. And the Ad ends.

Before I continue, I will make a few observations concerning the advertisement: The car in the beginning made it seem like the whole thing was an ad for a new BMW or Mercedes; the car was perfectly polished and reflecting what looked like tunnel lights. The interior of the car looked so new and pristine, you could smell the leathery new-car-smell. Everything looked cool, efficient and organized. When you saw the model, it seemed like the ad was a woman's fashion ad, then possibly one for skin and hair products; she looked that perfect.

The model herself looked like she was in her mid to late twenties. Her face looked young, but not naive or childishly youthful. She looked like a mature young woman.

After the model wore the Hijab there were also differences in the ad; more colors and an increased sense of cheerfulness. Before that, the ad was mostly shades of browns, greys and blacks. After the Hijab, it was all very vivid greens and blues and reds and yellows and oranges (in addition to the deep browns, blacks and whites). The change was subtle, but I noticed it.

The message of the ad was obvious: through the Hijab, you'll be a happier person. Also, as is obvious, the advertisement targeted the more financially capable segment of society; possibly to transmit the message that you do not have to be poor and conservative in order to wear the Hijab. The model could have been any of the young women that I personally meet and know everyday.

There were a couple of things that surprised me (other than the advertisement as a whole, of course). First of all, the channel is a lebanese one. Second, it's that same channel that shows the exact same music videos (along with most of the other arabic music channels) that kept the arab world in a constant state of uproar (some say "and the arab world still is", but there are other matters that have distracted the critics) because of the way female singers sing, dress, dance and behave. What an irony.

What I really want to know is this: who was behind the advertisement? Who paid for something like this? How on earth did E tv management allow such an ad to be aired on their channel?

Having written all this, I feel that this is the part where I critically analyze the whole situation and give my view on the matter. Yet, I find myself incapable of doing so. On the one hand, I am totally and fanatically against the idea that the Hijab is a Fard; i.e. a tennant of the muslim faith that needs to be upheld on par with praying, doing good and observing shariaa laws because the verses from the Quran that are used to support this argument are shady and quite open to interpretation - at best.

On the other hand, since I believe that any person is allowed to do what they wish and express themselves in whatever way they deem fit as long as they do not harm others, I see no problem with the advertisement. Either way, this ad. heralds (to me, at least) a new step taken by Islamic groups or individuals. They might be moderates, almost definitely are considering their choice of media and the way they put forward their advertisement.

Hell, it might even be Hizbullah. I don't know. But whomever they are, they've done it the right way.

And that's the way I see it.

Blogs... should they? Shouldn't they?

A few minutes ago, I came across an interesting Post in Manal and Alaa's Blog. Apparently, an article written in the Egyptian Daily, The Daily Star, on the 1st of this month ,criticized Manal and Alaa's Blog as being "self-important, self-indulgent and incoherent", in addition to other points. I found the link for the article (which I included here) and promptly clicked on it and read the article in full.

Apparently, the article was an attempt, by its author, to offer an opinion on blogs in Egypt, albeit a short one. Having read the article, which was entitled "
Local bloggers offer the constructive, the amusing and the pointless" and written by a Mr. Tarek Shahin, there are a few points that I would like to put forward.

First of all, it appears to me that Mr. Shahin (whom I personally know and would consider a friend) should have research the issue a tad bit more before commenting as he did. He makes it a point to mention that...

While freedom of expression is sacred, one takes exception to a few local blogs, not because they have gone too far in terms of boldness (there is no such thing), but in terms of silliness and futility. They are simply ramblings that are best kept in a notebook under a bed, not shared with the world.

I realize there are no rules to which bloggers should adhere and I make no foolish attempt to impose any, but in my humble opinion as a reader, a good blog is one which masterfully expresses a whole set of thoughts and emotions within an independently set theme.

I will not claim to know the inner thoughts and ideas of Mr. Shahin, nor will I stoop to a level of pretentiousness to strike down his ideas as being absolutely incorrect or mistaken, but through his phrasing of his opinions in such a manner as to make them appear as facts, he seemingly unilateraly decides on which blogs are deemed 'worthy' and which are not.

I think that people have to keep in mind that when the concept of "web logs" was first used, they were used as personal diaries where people's thoughts and ideas were transmitted electronically across the globe. To say that everyone's thoughts and way of thinking in general are organized and follow "an independently set theme" would be be naive. I do not mean to insinuate that Mr. Shahin is naive, merely that blogs offer a "purer" representation of people's mind processes than, let's say, BBC Online.

This takes me to my second point; that Mr. Shahin, and according to what I infered from his opinion piece, expects Blogs to be much like an academic paper, a Master's thesis, an investigative reporting article or even a published opinion piece like his own; clear, organized and coherent with a set theme and obvious points being made. I think that's being too harsh.

To me, Blogs are the best of both the worlds of personal webpages and online forums; they allow the owner/contributor to post/publish their thoughts on whichever issues they wish to put forward and, at the same time, recieve feedback which can be discussed and criticized. Even more, Blogs have come to be accepted as a means through which one can express their opinion on certain issues and not hold to accepted standards of journalism and not have to endure the cuts of the keen editing sword; they are one's personal opinion after all.

I personally found it ironic that two out of the seven blogs that Mr. Shahin mentioned are linked to from my own Blog; Manal and Alaa's Bit Bucket and Baheyya. Obviously, and if you let your eyes stray to the sidebar on the left, I enjoy the content of these blogs and believe them to be of value to me (and have faith that they could be of value to others). In all fairness, their methods of presenting information are different both content and design-wise. The irony I mentioned lies in the fact that Mr. Shahin has Baheyya's site as an example of a "beautifully written blog" while his description of Manal and Alaa's I've already mentioned before.

Now, and in all fairness, I understand that Mr. Shahin was discussing his own particular views, he doesn't need to say them word for word in order for me to understand that. It is my belief that he should have researched beyond the regular known blogs in student circles. Blogs in Egypt, as with most things internet in developing countries, are known and visited because of word-of-mouth advertising or information passed on. This is, of course, they have been mentioned in the mainstream media which automatically gets them more attention and exponential hits.

If you wish to find more Egyptian Blogs, I'll start you out with a few sites you could visit:

The Egyptian Blogger Ring


Manal and Alaa's Aggregator

Al Bab's List of Blogs (Egyptian & Arab)


That was to get you started. There are definitely many more Blogs that originate from Egypt that will not be found in Blog directories simply because their owners haven't listed them.

And that's the way I see it.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Battle of the Wafd II

I've been meaning to write something about this..

Basically, i just thought to point out that the stories that have emerged from the battle field have been completely contradictory. It seems, people cant even seem to agree on whether the gomaa partisans started on the inside or outside of the compound. (Some relations claim that gomaa arrived extremely early in the morning and welded the doors shut, while others say he stormed the building. Still others claim that he did both: stormed it in the wee hours of the morning and then waited in ambush). From there, narrations diverge. Was it only gomaa who hired thugs (a very NDP method)? Who started the violence? Who set fire; gomaa and crew or the "reformers" trying to get in with molotovs? Incidentally, who had the molotovs? As you can see there, are already a few dozen possible combinations.

The other aspect of this, is of course, the government's role. I'm not so sure gomaa is a government lackey, although i'm sure it;s possible. Maybe, it's just that being of that same generation who wont leave politics alone, his way of doing things is very akin to that of the npd. As for the security forces notable lack of interference, I would say that this was the result of an order and not the lack of it. I dont think they were confused or incompetent (well, maybe they're incompetent). They were either told not to interfere, or they had prior orders making it out of their jurisdiction to interfere in such (political) issues. I would not be surprised if this was the case with parties and unions in general.

Regardless of whose side the government is on, there's no doubt they're sitting buy watching gleefully as yet another party falls apart. I'm not claiming that there was much there to fall apart, it's just that what little there was, is crumbling. How dare they claim to represent an alternative liberal platform?

Monday, April 03, 2006

Battle of the Wafd

Former head of the Egyptian Wafd Party (Officially the Neo-Wafd, after its reformation in the 1970s) Noman Gomaa, and 14 others) has been placed under arrest and will be imprisoned for a period of four days while the investigation into the events of Saturday the 1st of April. Gomaa, and the 14 others (including Wafd MP Ahmed Naser and his two sons), were formally charged with attempted murder, possession of firearms and munitions without license, arson, thuggery, disturbing the peace, possession of arms, disturbing the peace and the injury and wounding of 27 people.

Noman Gomaa. Former Head of the Neo-Wafd Party.

Apparently, Gomaa thought to return to his former position of party leader.

How ridiculous!

The Egyptian press had pictures of people carrying Molotov grenades, different bullet-casings of spent bullets used in the attack. There were also pictures of the party headquarters after the attack:

I'm reminded of pictures of Palestinian homes after the Israelis have been through town, or the old pictures from my history book which have french houses after the Germans have bombed them to hell.

Gomaa (71) had been removed from leadership of the Wafd party by the party's general assembly but apparently refused to accept the decision. Rumour has it that party opposition claim that Gomaa is merely a government agent and accomplice; ensuring that the semblance of Democracy is upheld while ensuring that the party is ineffectual (I think it will be ineffectual either way, but that's just me).

What's interesting about the whole thing is that its not (and I really have no problem with this) of enough importance to warrant a place on the Home Page of the news websites that I visited to get the pictures you see above.

One last thing: there were rumours that Gomaa's move was carried out with government blessings but that the carnage and destruction that resulted were just too much for the Egyptian authorities not to act. It is a fact though that there were security personnel (Central Security forces - the equivalent of riot police) present during the "attack". Im guessing because of the extreme centralization of the Egyptian bureaucracy, especially when it comes to such situations, they didn't life a finger until other police forces arrived on the scene and Gomaa was arrested and taken from the scene, under police protection, in (get this) an armoured car. Apparently Gomaa forces broke through the Wafd lines but were surrounded, and could not escape without police support.

And that's the way I see it.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Some Hepatitis C and TB, please. Thank You.

While heading over to meet my extremely significant other tonight, via taxi, an interesting thought came to me; most of my blog posts seem to have been inspired, in some way or another, by conversations with cab drivers. At first, that started an alarm bell buzzing at the back of my mind. You see, there wa this university professor of mine that got all her information from taxi cabs. She said so herself. Naturally, we all thought it was ridiculous (we, as in her students).

Either way, I started a conversation with the driver. It had been raining, the streets leading out of Maadi were relatively crowded; a phenomenon that does not occur without the presence of an accident, a broken-down car or other possible major traffic obstacles. But it was merely the rain. Not the same rain of Last Tuesday, this was actually sporadic rain that never-the-less flooded Maadi more than the previous bout of water.

The conversation with the driver jumped from topic to topic and issue to issue. First was the rain, then the traffic, then the quality of driving, then the quality of the streets, then the government followed by the Prime Minister, the previous Prime Minister and finally... Corruption. Yes, indeed, corruption. The Modern Scourage of Civilizations. Corruption, the root of all evils, especially in a country like this.

The Taxi driver began recounting personal experiences to do with the bureaucracy and how it took him one months to get the new computerized birth certificate from the office of civil records. Every time he'd go to the office, he'd stand in line only to have the power go out, the computer crash or go bust in some way or the employee simply disappearing. I nodded. Such was Egypt, we all knew.

Then it was my turn, so I complained about having to go to the Main Office of Civil Records over in Abbasiyya. Since I was born outside of Egypt, and until the system was computerized (I dare not say fully, I think that is quite improbable - not to mention impossible - in this country), I needed to go there whenever I needed new papers, or official copies of old ones. This Office consisted of many, many floors in a high building. It wasn't easy, as almost anyone who had to go through the endeavour would tell you.

I would have thought that the conversation would end at this point, I would take out a cigarette, smoke it and stay quiet, waiting for the cab driver to intiate a new topic of conversation. Or he might stay quiet himself. Instead, the driver then mentioned the idea of the office boy at the telephone company. Usually an old man, he would go around to people standing in line to pay their bills, take ten pounds to all those that wish to "speed up" the paying of their bill. The money would then be shared with the clerk who would, indeed, help with the completion of the aforementioned transaction. The idea of the office boy followed my description of how smooth these matters occurred when I lived in the U.A.E. We discussed the fact that Abu Dhabi has a much smaller population, that the country as a whole was much richer. We discussed the fact that these clerks and office boys barely get enough money to sustain themselves... not to mention buy food, feed a family, pay rent, food for clothes, books for the children, school fees etc.

We understood all that, me and the cabbie, and agreed that it's a vicious cycle that is quite difficult to break out from. What irked me though were all the things that had nothing to do with the money, or the technology or the population. The things that had to do with the people. I let him know my thoughts. He summarily pointed out that everything has to do with money. To that, I immediately agreed... there was no way I could argue against that.

The man then proceeded to tell me an interesting tale:

"You know how all these Gulf Countries ask for medical tests and Blood Analysis results to grant work permits?" he asked. I didn't, but I nodded my head never-the-less. The Cabbie figured out that I didn't - there was a slight smile and a look with obvious meaning - but he continued with his story, seemingly unaware of this.

"Well, everyday, everyday! in front of the Ministry of Health and their laboratories, at six or seven in the morning, you will find lots people, young men and old, sitting all over the sidewalk."

I commented that this was not an unnatural phenomenon in Egypt. We all know about how people have to line up in front of government buildings, often with the break of light, to be able to put through an application or request or whatever. The man smiled and shook his head slightly. Unexpectedly calm, even though most other Cab drivers' voices would have been raised at this point - becoming one with their story and living the experience through their story-telling - and their arms (or at least one arm - they are driving) would have been flailing, the driver continued his story;

"No, no. You misunderstand. They are brokers." (He actually used the arabic word samasra.)

I raised an eyebrow quizzically and then quickly put to words my thoughts, lest he think the gesture was one of disbelief, rather than surprise (which was what I was feeling). He smiled.

"You see, they wait for those helpless workers who come in the morning, hoping to get their tests done. The test results come out in two months, two months. These people take a bit of money, and the results miraculously come out in two days. What a difference!" The last sentence was said with a short sardonic laugh and a cynical smile followed. He paused for a bit, shook his head, then continued;

"You know what they do? They switch the vials." My eyebrows knotted.
" You know, they take the vials that have tested negative for any disease or virus, and switch them with these vials. They switch the labels, the lab technicians. This way they cannot be blamed. Sample for sample. Vial for vial." I was surprised. Even though one learns to expect the unexpected in Egypt, I was surprised. But, I nodded my head and made the usual derogatory remarks aimed at the government and the so-called brokers. I also asked the guy if that means they speed up that person's test while other tests are left behind.

"No. They just switch them. The Lord knows who has what virus or what disease. They just switch them, ya basha. If you have Hepatitis C, or TB, or Bird Flu or anything else, and you pay those brokers, you'll get a paper saying that you're the perfect man. Someone else gets your disease."

I askecd him how much you pay for the blood analysis thing. He mentioned a number that I don't remember... but it was not some small amount. Keep in mind that the people who visit the Ministry's Labs are usually poor workers that cannot afford to private clinics or centers which would carry out the same tests.

That just about cinched it for me. Egypt. In all its glory.

The ride didnt end there, we discussed how his License-reneweal medical check-up costs 10 L.E. to perform, but 80 to get it in three days; a huge disparity if you think about how much that amount of money means to a Cab driver.

We discussed how the President cannot choose someone who understands all these below-the-table dealings and attempts to reform them without offering some sort of substitute (they'd be assassinated, was our conclusion). Finally, we discussed how the Prime Minister is always the political scape goat. Someone who greatly represents the element of magnesium (isn't this the one that ignites when it comes into contact with air? - I got a C in Chemistry; shines for a bit but burns out real quick.

I paid the man 15 pounds for a 12 pound trip (or 10 pounds if you're my brother).

He helped me with the way I see it.

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