CAIRO: A military general salutes the martyrs on Feb. 11. The same general wags a threatening finger at protesters in July in a scene that best describes the radical transformation in the discourse of the ruling military leaders throughout a pivotal year fraught with fatal tension between the people and the army.
The answer to the question on whether the change in hand gestures was spontaneous or part of a conniving plan, lies in a bundle of contradictory statements that have characterized the media appearances of the army generals ruling the country.
The pattern of discourse glorifying the revolution in a strictly abstract form, while vilifying all actions associated with it, was in stark contrast with the major shifts in transition roadmaps. Orwellian-style public brainwashing attempted to convince Egyptians that the army council’s decisions have been consistent all along.
CAIRO: There are two calls for commemorating Jan. 25 in Egypt: one to celebrate and another to continue protesting.
It’s been a year since Egypt’s uprising, which took Tahrir Square as an iconic home and kick-started a revolution that’s yet to see its goals. The military council that took over after the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak in February is calling for celebrations. The protesters that took to the streets en masse a year earlier see a lot of unfinished business. The call to celebrate, protesters say, is nothing but another attempt by the military council to further suppress a continuing revolution. The celebration would mean it’s finished, while in fact it’s far from over.
CAIRO: It wasn’t long ago when Western diplomats would tell me they support then-president Hosni Mubarak for stability. The rise of the Islamists and a repeat of the Hamas electoral win in the Palestinian territories was a backhanded excuse, coupled with the regional benefits Mubarak provided to the West’s foreign policy. The rhetoric changed this year, with European and American leaders pledging their support to democracy, regardless of the results – with a nod to political Islam.
Looking at the statements made by an army general to a group of nine American and British journalists last Wednesday, Mubarak’s scarecrow is still very much alive. At least the ruling military council thinks it can resurrect it.
Rhetoric: Logic aside (Blottr.com) -Nov. 22
CAIRO: Those who made the revolution are themselves the counter revolution, not the military council. That was a comment posted on a Facebook page. It’s part of a cyber war between supporters of the Jan.25 uprising on one side and on the other a group united under a vague, elusive manifesto, combining Mubarak-supporters-turned-military-supporters with a bunch that wants to prove the uprising was Egypt’s worst news. Theoretically in between, but in reality leaning towards group 2, are voices that just want everyone else to shut up so stability would reign supreme.
The resulting war of words, therefore, tends to stray into the surreal.
BRUSSELS: It is too late for Egypt to invite European observers to monitor the parliamentary elections slated for September, a European Union official said.
The head of the Division of Democracy Support and Elections (DSE) at the European External Action Service (EEAS), Malgorzata Wasilewska, said an exploratory mission would need to be deployed four months in advance. Based on this mission’s report, the observation mission would be deployed about two months before election day.
“If elections were confirmed for September, it would be a challenge for us,” she said.
CAIRO: It’s easy to find a person to blame for everything that goes wrong. In the Imbaba clashes, this person is Abeer Fakhry, the woman whose rumored holdup in a church for converting to Islam, sparked sectarian clashes that escalated beyond control.
When 12 people are killed, a church is burnt and properties worth millions of pounds are damaged, the details of Fakhry’s story become irrelevant. What led to all that isn’t simply an interfaith romance, but a problem of deep rooted and long ignored sectarianism, troubling lack of security, and the still unsolved issue of illegal gun ownership. Add to that chauvinistic vigilantism and you’ve got an explosive situation, to which a trigger like Fakhry’s story is just side note.
SUEZ: In the streets surrounding El-Erbien Street, the site of fierce battles between police and protesters during the early days of the revolution, Suez residents lined up outside public schools on March 19 to vote on the referendum.
Residents took pride in referring to Suez as the birthplace of the revolution that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak. The first Egyptian to die in the protests was from Suez, Mostafa Ragab Mohamed, shot dead on the night of Jan. 25. The remains of the burnt El-Erbein police station were a constant reminder of the ferocity of the violence and the antagonism in a city that had always been at the frontline of Egypt’s wars.
CAIRO: In a highly anticipated speech that left many disappointed, President Hosni Mubarak said that he will delegate presidential authority to Egypt’s Vice President Omar Suleiman but within the constraints of the constitution, which does not give him the authority to dissolve parliament and cabinet.
The speech, in which many expected the President to step down, included a passing apology over the deaths reported during protests last week.
CAIRO: To identify and write about a problem and for 40 years, watch as it deteriorates while the warning messages are ignored is a frustration economist Galal Amin is all too familiar with. He calls his 40-year-long writings on Egypt’s identity crisis as the nation grappled with a growing ‘foreign complex’ a Greek tragedy — he has even seen himself accused of being a culprit. But at the same time he recognizes the inevitability in it.
Waving a sizable Egyptian flag, Samuel L. Jackson greeted journalists at the Sofitel Hotel, who had been waiting for him for almost an hour. But the grand entrance wasn’t the only unique feature of the Friday event. The press conference organized for the Cairo International Film Festival honoree was unlike that of his fellow Hollywood stars. Instead of the run of the mill ‘do you feel safe in Egypt?’ and ‘how do you feel about Obama’s victory?’, Jackson was answering questions about his career, his work with Quentin Tarantino and his relationship with mentor Morgan Freeman and director Spike Lee.
With his bestselling debut novel “Taxi, Khaled Alkhamissi emerged as a compelling storyteller in command of the world of colloquial Arabic, while his newspaper articles left readers in awe of his poetic language and eloquent analogies. The anticipation for his sophomore book was charged with high expectations.
The wit that characterized Alkhamissi’s compilation of conversations with taxi drivers in “Taxi would shine even more with his masterful use of standard Arabic.or so I thought. Unfortunately, “Safinet Nooh (Noah’s Ark), which currently tops El-Shorouk’s bestsellers list, turned out to be rife with false expectations.
CAIRO: We live in a world with so many gods and sometimes with no god at all. Even those who pride themselves on worshiping the same god do so each in their own way. The many faiths and sets of beliefs render any discussion of what’s religiously right or wrong irrelevant.
Sense of defeat -Jan. 15
CAIRO: In Tahani Rashed’s award-winning “El Banat Dol (Those Girls), a documentary about street children, a teenage girl describes how she doesn’t fight back when men gang up and rape her, one after the other. By giving in to their assault, she explains, she avoids being locked up in a room to be raped repeatedly for weeks or even months and also avoids ‘getting marked’ with a mutilating scar on her face.
On the street, it’s all about ‘survival of the fittest’. The girl’s attitude helped get her through numerous rapes unmarked, and may seem to be the most reasonable decision she could have taken. She chose the lesser of two evils.
But this “reason is, in itself, an admission of her weakness, and an admission of her assailants’ rightful superiority over her. Such girls’ continuous sense of defeat has inadvertently strengthened their rapists, giving their beastly and criminal assault a sort of de facto legitimacy.
Yet another boycott -Aug. 9
Council officials say their job is not to defend detained female protestors or support particular candidates
CAIRO: After three female protestors were detained for about a month following their participation in pro-democracy and solidarity demonstrations, the role of women’s rights organizations and their effectiveness are being tested, with the state-run National Council for Women (NCW) receiving much criticism for not using its authority to support the women.
CAIRO: After a decades-long struggle for career equality, women have managed to increase their percentile in the workforce. Statistics show that more women enter the global workforce each year. They have even managed to push forward legal changes aimed at workplace equality. But while reassessment of goals, gains and losses is now inevitable, one key issue forces itself on the table: stereotypes, especially those embraced by women themselves.
Choosing to speak out -May 31
CAIRO: Talk can be cheap, but for the participants of the Bussy Project performance, talking means having the courage to speak up. In a performance exclusively for the American University in Cairo (AUC) community, about a dozen women and a couple of men acted out real stories submitted to the Bussy Project (the word is Arabic, meaning telling a woman to look). The stories ranged from accounts of abuse and harassment to personal commentary on life, motherhood and self-discovery. Some comic sketches addressed cross-cultural interaction and common misconceptions and hypocrisies.
DNA law on the move -May 8
CAIRO: A draft law that would make DNA testing mandatory and applicable in court cases for proving parenthood is now under final revision before parliament members cast their votes on it.
The place I call home -April 13
CAIRO: Tamer Ezzat suddenly realized that most of his family and friends have immigrated or are thinking about leaving the country. An uncle in New Zealand; a cousin in the United States and another in Canada are but a few examples.
Stepping out and looking at the bigger picture, he realized his case is not unique but rather a prevalent phenomenon among friends and acquaintances. Later research further confirmed his belief.
Two nights in one day -April 1
SALUM: Fascinated by the fact that it would turn dark at noon, driving more than 700 kilometers to Salum and back in one day gradually began to seem doable, or at least not as crazy as it had sounded when the idea was first suggested. Initial traveling plans that fell apart two days before the total solar eclipse (fully visible in Salum at the Egyptian-Libyan border) were restored less than 24 hours before the astronomical event: we would drive about 740 kilometers to Salum, watch the eclipse and head back to Cairo all in one day.
Intolerance runs high -March 28
CAIRO: Religious scholars are clear in their views on conversion and in fact, Egyptian laws don t penalize the process. Instead, administrative regulations are usually what stand in the way of conversion, mainly those who choose to leave Islam.
In a predominantly Muslim community, the idea of converting to Islam doesn’t sound repulsive to the majority. Yet, the process of conversion is never an easy one. Dar Al-Iftaa, the official authority on deciding permissibility of all issues of concern, states that the penalty for those who leave Islam is death.
Orchestrating a brilliant performance -March 23
CAIRO: When Gilbert Kaplan first heard Gustav Mahler’s second symphony “Resurrection” he fell in love with the music. “It wrapped its arms around me,” he says. This captivation turned into “a love affair”, to which he remains faithful to this day. “I thought the best way to try and understand [the feeling of connection to this music] would be to learn it the way a conductor would learn it. To take it apart and put it back together,” says Kaplan.
Demonstrations on the rise -March 22
CAIRO: Holding banners high, chanting slogans protesting local or regional matters and getting attacked on the street is a lifestyle that many Egyptians now gladly adopt.
Throughout the past six years, demonstrations have made their way back onto the Egyptian streets. Gradually, it has become customary to organize a march, a sit-in or a demonstration to protest just about anything from canceling a concert to an increase in prices to presidential elections. The goals vary from rallying public opinion to exerting pressure on the government.
For the sake of the child (Part 2) -March 21
CAIRO: For the children involved, winning a case proving parenthood means the difference between having a birth certificate or going without one. Without a man’s name to fill the blank space under “father” on a child’s birth certificate, the certificate cannot be issued.
Thus the 14,000 parenthood proving cases waiting for the court’s decision aren’t just a way to formalize an intimate relationship (usually unrecognized by law and frowned upon by society), but rather a necessary procedure to legalize the existence of a baby.
Identifying the fathers (Part 1) -March 20
CAIRO: In 2005, Egyptian courts witnessed 14,000 parenthood proving cases. The women who filed these lawsuits were trying to prove their marriage (whether orfi, unregistered, or otherwise) to the men they claim are the fathers of their children.
The only way to register the baby under the name of the man in question is by proving the child’s parentage. If the marriage is not proven, whether through legal papers or witnesses, the baby is left without a birth certificate. The legal system only recognizes the child’s existence when the woman’s father or uncle or other male relative agrees to register the baby under his name.
DNA tests, although recognized worldwide in forensic science, are not admissible in Egyptian courts; parenthood proving cases can’t rely on DNA tests. Even if the man officially refuses to take the test, it is not considered evidence against him.
Hala Gorani Interview -March 6
CAIRO: In one of her news reports, CNN’s Hala Gorani learned to stuff pigeons. As it took 14 takes to get the right shot, Gorani eventually got “pretty good at it”. Another time, she learned all about Aleppoan food, the best culinary offerings of her hometown.
It’s not just cooking though; “Inside the Middle East”, the monthly program Gorani hosts at CNN, covers a variety of cultural experiences that represent the region – Gorani was in Cairo last week working on a report about the jazz scene in the country. While many would demand a venue to voice their political views, Gorani explains that giving a human-interest overview of the residents of this controversial part of the world makes viewers relate to the subjects of her stories.
Beyond the alphabet -Feb. 28
CAIRO: New in the country? Troubled by the fact that you still can’t put together an Arabic sentence? Don’t be too frustrated; most Egyptians can’t do it either.
“There is no more than one percent of Egyptians who can put together a correct Arabic sentence, says Mohamed El Sawy, founder of the Zamalek-based El Sawy Culture Wheel.
Newly observed patriotism -Feb. 16
CAIRO: Everyone is talking about the thousands at Cairo International Stadium that cheered on the national team during the African Cup of Nations: they were organized and enthusiastic even though many had no idea what off-side actually means.
Analysts and government officials have translated the phenomenon as a new wave of patriotism. Those audiences, analysts say, came for one reason: Egypt. Many of them were not even football fans.
The faces of freedom -Dec. 20
CAIRO: How far can you push the limit, testing authorities’ tolerance to the freedom of expression you are demonstrating? No one can answer this question better than Amr Adib; because for the past six years he has been testing the limits on air.”Freedom is hard-pressed. Meaning, it is acquired, it is not bestowed, says Adib, the charismatic TV host of Orbit’s most popular daily talk show, El Qahira El Youm (Cairo Today). “It’s like when you go swimming in a pool. You keep walking, feeling the ground with your feet to see how deep it is. Until you find no ground at all and you realize that you have to start swimming and exert a bit of effort.
Untold stories -Dec. 13
CAIRO: The intense tension felt in advance of a meeting with Morgan Freeman, one of Hollywood’s most prominent personalities, turned out to be for naught. The academy award-winning actor is anything but intimidating. Freeman is easy to talk to; he is funny and his familiar deep voice, mixed with his side jokes, gives off a feeling of comfort. Noting his general attitude, it is difficult to imagine that he is 68-yearsold, and his youngest child is 34.When asked about his experience in the limelight, he answered, in a Broadway musical fashion,”The limelight is what I sought all my life. Look at me.Watch me. See what I can do. Look at this.
Against the grain -Dec. 2
CAIRO: In the Arab world, where the man-against-the-machine musician is an unfamiliar concept, a number of 20 something hip-hop artists are working their way through Egypt’s underground music scene, armed with piercing lyrics and original music. With the teenage rebel trapped inside, these rappers are rolling up their sleeves to change the world. Not only do they have messages they want to shout out, they want to reshape the face of Arab music. They mix hip-hop beats and electronica with old-school oriental melodies.