Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

I posted this video (English subtitled version) on facebook (with a snarky comment about banning the use of requiem for a dream soundtrack music), and I think twitter. But as we close in on #Jan25, I feel the need to say a little more about it.

When I was in Cairo over Christmas break, I felt this pervasive sense of a dream gone dark . Compared to the summer, when, despite all the reasons for concern, there was still a vitality and a sense of hope, there seemed to be a pervasive exhaustion, or burn out. Sure, that was a big part of  it. The resisters-of-change were the same as they were on Jan24, Jan29, Feb3, Feb11 and ever since. They’re the common factor, and so they dont really enter my calculations. But I guess I felt that the 11-month conscious and intentional campaign by the powers that be (#SCAF, #felool) to co-opt the revolution; to undermine revolutionaries;  to re-foster identity politics; to create a culture of fear and hate; to divert our attentions; to stall and obfuscate; to hold us economically hostage; to sow confusion had taken its toll on everyone else, revolutionaries and the silent majority included. The effects seemed visible everywhere with everyone I talked to. While I think we have lost the moment, and will have to buckle down for the long-haul (5-7 year) effort, perhaps the upcoming anniversary and the @3askarKazeboon, @NoMilTrials and other initiatives can come together to create a second chance. We shall see; history is impossible to predict.

In any case, I think this video illustrates the revolutionaries’ nightmare perfectly. It captures the confusion, the indignation, the sense of betrayal, the bewilderment at the cynicism that seems to make absolutely no sense to them, that dreamy, through-the-looking-glass sense that everything is not what it should be, that logic has been suspended.  Perhaps it is indeed one of the most appropriate uses of the requiem for a dream soundtrack.

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This is midterm week for me, and since I have been woefully not on top of my academic game this semester, it was supposed to be lockdown for study week.

But then out of left field came yesterday’s events at #Maspero and downtown Cairo. At first I was viciously angry. While my rage has subsided to a simmer, I am still deeply saddened. But I cannot claim that, at any point in all this, I was shocked. Over the last 8-9 months, I have spoken to countless people in the US and Egypt about the “revolution”, which I have insisted would be more adequately labelled an uprising, since there was no real revolution. In many of these conversations I have mentioned two personal anecdotes.

The first is that, on the 9th of January, on my flight back from Cairo to the US, I typed up a few stream of conscious paragraphs. They were bleak. I wrote of how decades of misrule have corrupted Egyptian society to the core. How the corruption was deeply embedded in each and every one of us. I would quickly follow this up with grandiose proclamations of how wrong I was. Of how the activist or revolutionary should never lose hope, because you never know when that moment will arrive when all the work you (and countless others) have done will fall into place. At the second #TweetNadwa in Cairo this summer, that was the message of the activists there: that what happened in January and February 2011 was the gelling together of over 10 years of activism. This I do not doubt.

The second anecdote is that on #Jan25 (on the US east coast, which was by then the 26th in Cairo), in response to an inquiring email by an American friend who used to live in Cairo, I said that I had little hope for significant change. I said that the domestic, regional and global political economic powers were too entrenched. That despite whatever successes this uprising may have, on the medium- to long-term, these interests would not allow much significant change. Among the things i spoke of were the domestic business and power interests (what we now call felool); the regional regime that includes, inter alia, the regressive interests of KSA and Israel, as enforced by the the inordinate, and not exactly in the US’s best interests, influence of the Israel and oil lobbies in US politics; and the global financial capitalist corporate interests.

Examples of this abounded in the months since Mubarak stepped aside. The regressive methods of the military, including the silencing of dissent, extrajudicial detentions, military trials, and unwarranted use of excessive force; the kowtowing of the media; the events of June all pointed to the refusal of various elements of the supposedly ousted regime to go down without a fight. Netenyahu’s and Saudi Arabia’s public dismay at the ouster of Mubarak indicated the frantic concern regarding the implications of a democratically run and newly-empowered Egypt. The frenetic throwing of money and debt Egypt’s way by the US, EU, IMF and GCC countries showed how insistent Capital was at maintaining the status quo.

All of this may be true, but it is not sufficient to explain why we continue to fail. Why we continue to be backed into situations like #abaseyya on #Jul23 and #Maspero last night.

I have over the last few months spent some time studying system dynamics theory, with its concepts of resilience and adaptive capacity, and particularly the panarchy of embedded hierarchically organized adaptive cycles, with their differential temporal and spacial scales (I wish i had more time/space to elaborate). But, it suffices to say that in such a framework (which comes from ecology, i should note, but has since been broadened to include social and coupled social-ecological systems (SESs)), when a disturbance occurs, one of two broad outcomes are likely in the subsequent reorganization. First, and perhaps more likely, is that the reorganization will closely map the initial system, continuing to allocate resources in the same way. We see this in the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Second, there may be enough dormant features that could emerge and create re-organization that allocates resources and creates structures and processes that are new. I interpreted the myriad and multitudinous post-uprising efforts and initiatives as just this: the reorganization along new lines. In addition to all the parties and awareness campaigns, the rise of new media, i had particular hope in the labor movement as the best guarantor of a new system that did not just continue to privilege the global elite, but that pursued a more equitable, socially (and, eventually, environmentally) conscious path.

I have spoken over the last few months of discourse and the shift from the separation of the political from the social. I was thrilled to see the gradual, if much resisted and as yet incomplete, inclusion of social and economic issues into the public discourse. At first these were termed partisan (fe2awy) demands. But, by and by, they have gradually seeped into public discourse. I realize now that this may have been too abstracted and cerebral; that what I wrote on the 9th of January remains true to this day.

Over the last few decades, Egypt has been corrupted to the core. WE are corrupt to the core. I am not talking here of the institutional corruption of vested interests. I am not talking about the petty corruption of bribes or of nepotism. These are significant, sure. But what is at stake here is our very souls. Our ethics and values. And I am certainly not talking about how we dress, what we eat or drink, or any of the symbolic quasi-religious issues that are used to manipulate our hates and fears.

The problem is that we as individuals and as a society have no moral compass. Whenever anything happens, we are quick to blame someone or another. No doubt, some people bear more responsibility and, therefore, culpability than others in the way events unfold (the SCAF, as the insidious, albeit bumbling, executive and legislative authority is no doubt at the top of the list). But to allocate blame that way is not sufficient. We must realize that within ourselves are all the things that we hate in others. But until we take responsibility for ourselves, as individuals, communities and as a society, we will never get anywhere. Egyptians need to learn to be self-critical, to be able to look inside themselves and see what their faults are. More importantly, we need to begin to address those faults, of our independent initiative and volition. And then we need to have real, honest conversations with each other, with our friends and communities, about what is wrong with us; not with some constructed ‘other’.

The easiest thing in the world, when faced with difficulty is to blame the other ‘side’ for something that we would have done ourselves if we were in the same situation. We need to be self-critical, to overcome our dark sides, to realize that we dont have to live in fear and hate of the other. That if only we loved ourselves more, we could love others more as well. I know this sounds trite. But it is true, and it is backed up by countless studies. Only when you are at peace with yourself, satisfied that you have done or are doing the best you honestly can, can you begin to feel positively towards other people.

Only when this happens, will we be free from the manipulations that pit Muslim against Copt and Salafi against Sufi. Only then will we be able to control the urges to harass. Only then will we realize the difference between despising racist Zionist policies and racistly hating Jews. Only then will we realize the difference between patriotic belonging and fascist superiority. Only then will we be able to value equity over exploitation, sharing over stockpiling. Only then will be able to resist buying hearsay and jumping to conclusions. And only then will we be able to address our real challenges like building a better tomorrow for all people, not just Egypt, or managing Egypt’s (and the world’s) impending Malthusian water-, food-, and land-security and climate crises.

This is the discursive shift, the revolution in thought, that we really need. One in which the truth is not that the other is always wrong and always to blame. One in which we can move beyond hateful and fear-fueled knee-jerk reflexes and begin to really examine what it is that we need to move forward. We may not always agree, and that’s fine. But there will never be a successful revolution so long as we continue to think in regressive terms.

In short, we need a revolution against our very selves.

I would like to point to this Arabic facebook post that comes to similar conclusions.

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In 2006 I wrote a rant titled Why I Hate Ramadan. I posted it in 2007 and you can see the whole post here.  The post was concerned with the hypocrisies and inconsistencies in the way that Egyptians, and particularly Cairenes, practiced this month. The bulk of the post, not surprisingly, had to do with sexuality and sexual harassment. The article was intended to be argued within the Islamic frame of reference. Despite being written in a much different context than post-revolutionary Egypt and by a 5-years less intellectually mature me, the main points stand. I am copying the relevant portion here.

Temptations of the Flesh

I first came up against this several years ago when my much older (around 50 now) cousin was working downtown. It was Ramadan, and he complained about how, on his way home, he had to be very careful where he looked while passing by AUC because the girls there broke his fast. This immediately struck me as odd. First of all, broke his fast? Personally, I didnt exactly get a hard-on every time i saw a girl’s hair or arms. Second, how is it her fault?

Obviously, this has been a recurring theme. Every Ramadan I have to hear from my female friends about how much shit they get for walking around in what is usually as modest as you can get without wearing a tent. And every Ramadan I have to hear misogynistic Egyptian men, bitch about how unveiled girls break their fast. I think this is absolutely absurd.

It seems to stem from a widely accepted, by even the most liberal and secular of people, Egyptian belief that God created man with hormones and that he has no control over this and that is the duty of women to make sure that they don’t get men’s thoughts going (on a side note, this is, unfortunately, so institutionalized that until recently rapists could get off of charges by proposing to the girl and if a couple is caught having extramarital sex, guess who goes to jail? Yep! the woman for prostitution!). Absurd!

God created man (and woman) with a multitude of fleshly, earthly desires and urges. These include the need for food and drink, the urge for sexual satisfaction (both sexes, believe it or not), tendencies towards anger, greed, glutton, sloth and a weakness for temptations of alcohol and drugs. And on top of all this, he made it all available to man (and woman, of course) to test their mettle.

Some of this is obviously unacceptable (ie, a sin) regardless of context. Others, are a matter of regulation. God expects you to eat and drink, but not to be a glutton; to have sex, but not out of marriage, etc…

And in order for Muslims to learn to control their urges, we, thankfully, have Ramadan. A time of piety when one is expected to control all urges from food and drink to sex and anger. You’re supposed to develop self-discipline and patience. What does this have to do with sex? If you cant stop yourself from thinking sexual thoughts, it’s YOUR FAULT. No one else can take the blame for you. Seeing flesh is not what breaks your fast, it’s the unbridled lust that does.

Now, whether or not you think that women should be veiled is completely and utterly besides the point. Why? I’m not even going to bother with the argument about foreign or christian women, who aren’t bound by Islamic tradition. It’s a moot point when you consider this: Let’s say you’re standing around and Morkos (your coptic friend) is eating a sandwich or Sara (yes, she’s veiled. don’t worry) is smoking today because shhh-you-know-what. It’s so ingrained in our understanding of Ramadan that even a third grader can tell you that you will be further rewarded for your perseverance. So the next time you see a half-naked (and by that i mean that her forearms, face and hair are showing), stop thinking about jumping her. Think about god, lower your gaze and keep on moving. If you don’t stare at her long enough to cuss her out, you could just stand a chance of keeping those thoughts out of your mind.

In short, there is absolutely no excuse for sexual harassment. It is a disease. It reflects a lack of tolerance and acceptance. It is in part a symptom of decades-long entrenchment of power imbalance, the systemic institutionalization of a lack of personal dignity, and arguably culturally relative inconsistencies in the valuing of individually and community rights.

But most importantly it reflects a lack of personal responsibility. It entails the underlying fatalistic assumption that man cannot take ownership of his actions and destiny. While this may have been understandable before, there is no longer any excuse. If we want to build a new Egypt then we have to each take responsibility for ourselves and our actions. We have to also take on the responsibility of fighting the good fight in our daily lives and not just in Tahrir. People talk about partisan demands (mataleb fe2aweyya), but what they dont understand is that while we may have ridden Egypt of Mubarak, his legacy still stands in every institution and aspect of our society and we must all work within out circles of influence to rout out the pervasive corruption of our society. This is a fight on all fronts simultaneously. And what more important and worthy front than one that includes half of our society and that can be fought at every level, whether personal or societal?

Stop treating women like second-class citizens in their own land. Give them the dignity we have fought so long and hard to achieve for everyone. Take responsibility. Stand up to Sexual Harassment when you see it.

End Sexual Harassment.


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Enter Sandman ..err.. -monkey

Sandmonkey says that as all the familiar old faces emerge to start their activism at square one again, he’s back too.

I have to agree, at least partially, with the sentiment. We’re back to 2004 with all the political “actors” and activists beginning to reemerge and feel each other and the scene out. Of course, I’m sure he recognizes (and is just being facetious) that all is not exactly the same. Egypt 2009 is not the same as Egypt 2004, nor will the Parliamentary and Presidential elections be a replay of 2005; a reprise maybe.

Some things have changed (in the particular order of their occurring to me):

  • The constitution has been doctored
  • The economy is different. Egypt may still be a neoliberal poster child (growth! growth! growth!) but the poor are having a harder and harder time, and where, 5 years ago, it took hours of conversation to get them to realize/admit/vocalize it, people now know who to blame and are hardly reticent.
  • Hosny is much older while Jimmy-and-Krew much more firmly entrenched in the system
  • The global political and regional climates have changed: No more Bush Freedom agenda followed by absolute apathy; Gaza and Lebanon and the ensuing dynamics have altered/highlighted the regional power balance (financial, moral and political)
  • The regime has learned a lot battling the activism of the last 9 years or so.
  • The activists have learned some things. Though, as SM makes it clear, they still havent figured out how to be political actors, really.
  • There is a much more active labor movement than there was then
  • The MB will not be surprising the NDP this time around.
  • The media scene is vastly different. For one thing, trailblazing Dostour and Masry El Youm of then have since been oneupped by even newer publications. Web 2.0 is taking hold and try as it might to thwart, the government is the reactionary and could find itself caught off balance at any moment.
  • And much else that doesnt immediately come to mind, I am sure.

In any case, cursory list aside: Welcome back to Sandmonkey and all the familiar (and hopefully unfamiliar faces) of yester-semidecade.

Here’s to it not being a repeat.


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I figured this warranted its own post since it’s about the shift to the desert suburbs leaving the slums behind in old Cairo:

I like the sound and images, but i find the commentary to be mediocre. I think there’s much more to be said about this issue.

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Economist correspondent blogs about the difficulty of finding local art in Abu Dhabi. Ironic, given the emirate’s aspirations.

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Morality Police

Thanks to the Arabist for this link.

Self-appointed enforcers of Islamic law are becoming more common in Egypt, a Sunni Muslim nation with a population well above 70 million. Unlike the state-sanctioned morality police of conservative theocracies such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, Egypt’s enforcers are ordinary people who take it upon themselves to offer religious “advice,” often to strangers.

Unveiled women are the primary targets, but the enforcers also chastise Muslim men for dating, not observing prayer times or allowing their wives or sisters to wear revealing clothes.

Television preachers, Saudi religious literature and religious instruction in mosques all are encouraging practicing Muslims to offer such advice to others, even if unsolicited.


Egyptian officials have expressed alarm at the conservative Islamist reformation that’s spreading across the Middle East and posing a challenge to the secular, authoritarian government of President Hosni Mubarak, one of the United States’ closest Arab allies.

While Egyptian security forces regularly round up dozens of Islamist activists from organized movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, they’re all but powerless to stop the street preaching that’s now an everyday occurrence on the subway, at the airport, in the workplace and at sidewalk cafes.

The Azhar position:

Government-backed clerics fear that their relatively moderate brand of Islam is being replaced by a more militant version fueled by widespread political discontent at home and fury over what’s seen as Western meddling in the Muslim world. To add insult to injury, sheiks who’ve devoted their lives to studying Islam’s intricacies are finding themselves upstaged by religious vigilantes with no formal training.

“Preaching has its professionals who know religion and understand how to do their job,” said Sheik Omar el Deeb, a senior cleric at Al Azhar, a venerable Cairo religious institute that’s struggling to remain a touchstone for the Islamic world. “But for someone to appoint himself as a preacher, on public transportation or on the streets, and then order people to follow religion, could make people shun religion.”

More like, they fear being upstaged.

Several other Muslim countries are locked in internal struggles over the role of morality squads in public life. The difference is that enforcers in the other countries have full state support.

They mention Iran and Hamas but, not surprisingly, fail to mention the motawe3een of Saudia (officially Hay2et al Amr bel Ma3roof wan Nahye 3an al monkar or the Society for Commanding the Good and Denouncing the Abominable).

Anyway, this whole preaching does get very annoying. But it’s to be expected when a society that is all about socially restraining behavior that suddenly gets taken over by a wave of religiosity. It does(nt) help that da3wa (preaching) is highly thought of in Islam. Contrary to Azharite claims, there’s nothing wrong with lay preaching. Islam isnt the catholic church: there’s no formal centralized authority.

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