Thursday, November 30, 2006

Mamosay Mamosama Makossa

Warning, self absorbed ramblings ahead...

About a week ago, whilst enjoying a pleasant evening at M’s, the subject of my condition came up. M and I almost always approach everything with an air of flippant tomfoolery, so when you consider that we were listening to Disco hits from the seventies at the time, you can be sure the discussion that ensued was anything but serious.

M exclaimed: “You can’t wake up every single morning and re-question the basics of your existence! It’s not sane!” She further elaborated the point with superb comedic flair by impersonating me waking up; a quizzical frizzled look on my face: “This is earth, I live in Cairo, I am human, this is my room, my name is…” get the point?! After establishing initial bearings, I would then step out of my room and begin affiliating myself with the elements that shape my life and identity. The skit was actually quite funny, and not only because M is a scathing comedian by nature, but because her words rang with a particular din of veritas.

We laughed at the idea; it seemed like a great premise for a movie. I’d of course be played by Johnny Depp. I vote Jenna Jameson for M.

My capacity (and evidently M’s) to poke fun at my torrent affair with existence has developed into a sort of self-administered substitute for clinical therapy. In the past however, different reasons forced me to seek professional help, none more imperative than the desire to “get better” and the realization that I was unable to do it alone.

My life has greatly been shaped and influenced by the ongoing dynamic of confronting, dealing, and dancing with depression, and I do believe that I am better for it. I used to question whether my depression may not in fact be a self perpetuated myth, some sort of bogey man I’ve raised and fed to add intensity and substance to my life. Back in my dark philosopher phase in college I actually believed that my depression gave me an edge, an esoteric persona. But somewhere along the way I recognized that my mood swings, my troughs and crests weren’t necessarily symptomatic of a particular possibly curable condition, but an indication of a volatile character. This was a first step towards seeing the truth behind the fiction so to speak, and I eventually learnt to acknowledge and deal with the nature of my character, its flaws and its perks.

I’ve had a successful track record with the battle against depression, but there remains much room for pontification on the frequency of its occurrence…which brings us to M’s little comedy act.

I think I do have a tendency to constantly question my identity…except, not really. True I tend to doubt myself a lot, but that’s just my inbred insecurity not a deep philosophical introspection into the essence of moi…Ultimately, it’s just about being happy. But while I’m aware of how fickle happiness can be, I’m all too aware of the very real possibility of attaining it. I’m distinguishing here between the perpetuation of fleeting moments of pleasure, and the visceral contentment that is the result of making peace with time.

If we accept that there exists the possibility of attaining happiness in life, then it should follow that the attainment of happiness must not only be a worthy goal to pursue, but that it must surely be the ultimate goal of every living individual.

One of the most important steps towards the realization of this goal is the acceptance of one’s responsibility towards oneself, and while I recognize the absolute primitiveness of this notion I find it necessary every once and again to remind myself of it. Perhaps this is what M meant in her skit, “This is earth, I live in Cairo, I am human, and I intend to be happy…!”

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"It is not necessary that whilst I live I live happily; but it
is necessary that so long as I live I should live honourably."

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) German philosopher

Monday, November 20, 2006

Land of the brave...

From Ha'aretz

The IDF canceled a planned air strike on the home of a militant in the northern Gaza Strip on Sunday after several hundred Palestinians barricaded themselves inside the building, an IDF spokesman and witnesses said. Palestinian sources said the protest against the planned IAF strike was first of its kind to have in effect prevented an air strike. An IDF spokesman said the strike had been called off so to avoid inflicting civilian casualties. Hundreds of Palestinians formed a human shield around the home of the militant in Beit Lahia late Saturday to prevent an Israel Air Force air strike on the building, residents said. "The attack plan was canceled because of the people there," the spokesman said. "We differentiate between innocent people and terrorists," he added. The spokesman vowed Israel would continue its strikes against militants, and accused gunmen of using the civilians in the camp as human shields. People flocked to the home of Mohammed al-Baroud after he received a warning from the army late Saturday giving him 30 minutes to leave the house. Barhoud is a commander in the Popular Resistance Committees in the town who is in charge of firing homemade rockets at Israel. Crowds of people stood on the rooftop and in the yard of the home. Israel routinely orders occupants out of homes ahead of air strikes on suspected weapons-storage facilities, saying it wants to avoid casualties. The incident in Beit Lahia was the first time Palestinians have tried to prevent such an airstrike.The crowd chanted anti-Israel and anti-American slogans, and people said they were prepared to give their lives to protect the home. "Yes to martyrdom. No to surrender," the crowd chanted."We came here to protect this fighter, to protect his house and to prove that we are capable of defeating this Zionist policy," said Nizar Rayan, a local Hamas leader who joined the protest...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Last Saturday The US expectedly vetoed a draft resolution for the UN Security Council to condemn the killings of 19 Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip by Israeli Defence Forces.

This is the second time this year the US vetoes a draft resolution on Israeli military operations in Gaza.

Ten of the council's 15 members voted in favor and four -Britain, Denmark, Japan and Slovakia - abstained.

Various news sources reported Rice and Bolton saying the draft was "unbalanced" and "biased against Israel and politically motivated".

The US has a long history of its own "politically-motivated" vetoes and negative votes against resolutions condemning Israeli actions in the Middle East.

The draft called for Israel to cease hostilities and withdraw from Gaza but also urged the Palestinian Authority to act to end violence - including rockets fired at southern Israel. The draft also called the Quartet – UN, US, EU and Russia– to take immediate steps to stabilize the situation, including through the possible establishment of an “international mechanism for the protection of the civilian populations.” It also urged the Secretary Genral to conduct an investigation into the recent Beit Hanoun killings which Olmert and the IDF are claiming was a technical error. A claim which independent United Nations human rights expert Miloon Kothari has rejected saying the attack indicated premeditation. He also urged Israel to stop destruction of homes and infrastructure, and called the international community to impose military sanctions against Israel.

In response to the ongoing crisis, the United Nations Human Rights Council will hold a special session this Wednesday on Israel’s recent military actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

According to Palestine Campaign's website, casualties since 25 June 2006 include:
- 342 Palestinians, mostly civilians, 64 children and 15 women, killed by Israeli Forces.
- At least 1186 Palestinian civilians, 344 children and 49 women, wounded by the Israeli Forces gunfire.

More statistics and in depth information can also be found on the Israeli human rights group, b'Tselem's, website.

On a lighter note, the Arab League announced it would lift the financial blockade on the Palestinians in defiance of the United States. What I'd like to know is what the fuck were they doing endorsing it in the first place!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Beit Hanoun Massacre

I ran with my husband into the road outside. I was hit by shrapnel on my side. There was smoke and dust everywhere. It was like a fog. It was hard to breathe. There were heads decapitated. I saw my aunt Jamila's leg flying. I tried to help her but she said, 'Run for your life'.

Haneen Athamneh, 20, one of the few members of the Athamneh family to escape the shelling with her life.

Eighteen Palestinian civilians, most of them women and children from the same family, have been killed on Nov 8 as they tried to flee a barrage of Israeli artillery shells fired on and around the house where they had been sleeping minutes earlier.

More than 50 people were wounded, 14 of them are in serious condition. All but one of the dead were members of the Athamneh family and included six children under 16. They were killed when they rushed out into the dirt road beside their four-storey building after the first shell struck, punching a hole two feet in diameter through the roof.

Large puddles in the road were still dark with blood five hours after the attack.

Extracts from The Independent



8 November 2006

Prof. John Dugard, Special Rapporteur on the situation
of human rights in the Palestinian territories
occupied since 1967, issued the following statement

On 25 June 2006 Israel embarked on a military
operation in Gaza that has resulted in over 300
deaths, including many civilians; over a thousand
injuries; large-scale devastation of public facilities
and private homes; the destruction of agricultural
lands; the disruption of hospitals, clinics and
schools; the denial of access to adequate electricity,
water and food; and the occupation and imprisonment of
the people of Gaza. This brutal collective punishment
of a people, not a government, has passed largely
unnoticed by the international community.

The Quartet, comprising the United Nations, the
European Union, the United States and the Russian
Federation, has done little to halt Israel's attacks.
Worse still, the Security Council has failed to adopt
any resolution on the subject or attempt to restore
peace to the region. The time has come for urgent
action on the part of the Security Council. Failure to
act at this time will seriously damage the reputation
of the Security Council.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Alexandrian blogger arrested...

Check Karim's blog here. I personally don't agree with a lot of his opinions but his arrest is unconscionable and expressive of the regime's persistent violations of basic rights like freedom of expression. You can find links and more information on the Free Karim campagin website.

Extracted from 3arabawy:

CAIRO, Nov 7 (Reuters) - Egyptian security forces have arrested a student blogger whose writing was critical of Islam and the government, security sources and rights activists said on Tuesday. Arabic blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman, a 22-year-old aspiring human rights lawyer, was arrested in the coastal city of Alexandria on Monday. His detention was the latest crackdown on political opposition by Egyptian authorities following arrests and beatings at street protests earlier this year, despite calls from Egypt’s U.S. ally for political reform. “The accusations directed against him are that he published opinions aimed at disturbing public order, insulted the head of state and defamed Islam,” said Sally Sami Program Officer at the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (HRInfo), which is representing him. “It is becoming more and more obvious that the government is not keen to reform or allow true democracy where differing opinions can be voiced.” Security sources did not detail exactly which comments prompted authorities to hold Suleiman, who his lawyers said was expelled this year from al-Azhar University, Egypt’s most prestigious seat of Islamic learning. Suleiman has criticised al-Azhar’s dominance in religious thought and said Muslim clerics were partly responsible for sectarian strife that followed a knife attack on Christian worshippers in Alexandria in April, according to Gamal Eid, Executive Director of HRInfo.

INTERNET FREEDOM Suleiman was the latest of several bloggers to be arrested in Egypt, where news of his detention came shortly after rights group Reporters Without Borders added Egypt to a list of worst suppressors of freedom of expression on the Internet. Egypt joins 12 other countries on the list including Cuba, Myanmar, Iran and Turkmenistan. RSF said it was also concerned at an Egyptian court ruling that an Internet site could be shut down if it posed a threat to national security. Suleiman was due to appear before prosecutors on Wednesday. His arrest was unusual in that he was arrested solely because of comments made on the Internet, activists said. Other bloggers were mostly picked up during anti-government protests earlier in the year. Several have spent weeks or months in jail.

The early bird catches the earthquake

It's 6:30...can't sleep, all of a sudden I feel dizzy and my head twirls, I think ok this is it I'm finally collapsing from weeks of insomnia...then I see the lamp-stand next to me wobble, I can't be imagining that!...yep, it's an earthquake. It was short but I reckon no lower than 5.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Monthly Rant, otherwise known as Insomniac Detention

Many recent events, twists and turns, have all led me to the writing of this post. The Downtown rabid eid attacks against women, Sheikh El Hilaly’s comments likening unveiled women to naked flesh devoured by wolves (or cats or dogs or something), posts by Forsooth, Amnesiac and Freedom for Egyptians, and my own preliminary meditations are all to be blamed for the bellow rant.

Although it is incredibly misguided of people to characterize and judge others solely based on their attire, it would be equally naïve to completely disregard it. Since the time humans began exercising choice in the design of their clothes, garments began to represent and signify things beyond their initial function of protection. Dress codes were applied to primarily distinguish class and social/ political strata. Eventually, religious notions expounding the sanctity of the body, particularly that of the females', stressed and enforced conservative attire as an exigency of righteous adherence to the faith. Colonialist exploites also strengthened the belief that nakedness resembelled backwardness, the civilized world took pride in their elaborate and exquisite garments for they distinguished them from the savages. Gratuitous display of flesh has thus been for many years, by many cultures, frowned upon; denoting some sacrilegious irreverence to the holiness of the human shrine that is the body.

Thanks to the sexual revolution, liberal movements, and Larry Flynt, these notions have been heavily attacked and in many cases torn down. Yet dress codes still persist, and women, for the most part, whether through personal choice or societal pressure, wear, cover and/ or reveal themselves, to express something of their identities. Nevertheless, regardless of how much time women, or men, spend delineating what to wear and what it may say about them, there will always be room for incongruity between the image they think they’re portraying and what others perceive. The clothing and fashion industries, TV, cinema, religious canon, tradition, upbringing, etc, all play an influential role in manipulating and determining, the parameters of what we perceive as acceptable, in social, cultural and now more than ever, religous terms. Specifically when talking about women's attire, the lines between sexy and slutty, conservative and provocative, etc, are all played on, blurred and continually explored and negotiated, to feed an age old fascination and obsession with the female body as "a thing of beauty"; something to marvel at, covet, seek, reveal, cover, etc… In conservative societies such as ours, class, liberal or religious values are to a great extent reflected in, and hence distinguished by, attire and outward appearance. To consider a woman who dresses provocatively a slut, is a gross misjudgment. To consider that she may be a little more liberal, than say a veiled woman, is a valid assumption.

However, the problem doesn’t specifically lie in the perception and subsequent assumption of a woman’s chaste or immoral nature based on her attire. We can’t hold people accountable for their perceptions and opinions, but we can and will hold them accountable for their actions. The real crisis lies in it somehow becoming acceptable and legitimate to justify violations against women using culturally biased perceptions to draw relative moral judgments on the chastity or immorality of the victim. To hint that a woman shares blame for an attack against her, of any sort, because of her attire, is as preposterous and malicious as blaming a victim of a race related attack for the color of his skin. It is truly disgusting to witness vile actions be tolerated by the assumption of some moral high-ground that under the guise of guiding women to safer living does nothing more than remove the burden of shame from the perpetrator and place it on the victim. The roots of these remarks lie deep in patriarchal misogyny and they ultimately provide further cover to sexual offenders and rapists.

Harassment is not acceptable, rape is not acceptable, any malignant action whatsoever aiming to harm another individual is NOT ACCEPTABLE. And while we’re at it is equally unacceptable to preach with feigned love or chastise with violent indignation a woman for not veiling; infringements on freedom of opinion and expression are NOT ACCEPTABLE. The door to moral equivalency has been wide open for far too long and it is time to seal it shut. Misogyny, intolerance, and the oppression of dissent should all be consciously rejected and actively fought against. We must strive for another world for it is possible.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

"He who would do good" wrote William Blake, "must do so in minute particulars. General good is the plea of the scoundrel, the hypocrite and the liar." It is also the plea of most political ideologues who do not hesitate, and often in the name of "the People", to persecute in minute particulars for the sake of the general good. The idea that heaven on earth is possible through the implementation of a political ideal is one of the most destructive ideas we have ever played with: Extract from Jeremy Taylor's Book - Ag Pleez Deddy - a South African musician

Thursday, November 02, 2006

...On the dynamics of Egyptian living

Posted on 3arabawy

EGYPT: Urban poor turn to the street to make a living
31 Oct 2006 13:19:35 GMT
Source: IRIN

CAIRO, 31 October (IRIN) - The poor in Egypt's heaving capital city, Cairo, are increasingly turning to selling cheap products in the street as a means to survive despite its limitations, say specialists.

"We have a 'street society' in Egypt. So when families need extra money to survive, street selling is one of the easiest ways to get it,"said Dr Sarah Loza, a sociologist who runs SPAAC, a social policy NGO in Cairo.

Street vendors have become a major part of Egypt's large 'informal sector' – unregistered employment without taxes or benefits – which some experts say makes up around 30 per cent of the national economy.

"If you can own your own farsha, you are better off. Maybe in 15 or 20 years you can get your own shop," said Galal Ibrahim, a 19-year-old unlicensed street vendor in Cairo's crowded Ataba district."

'Farsha' is street seller parlance for their merchandise, which can range from food to shoe-shine products. Street sellers usually lay out there wares on a wooden table on the pavement.

Ibrahim works for someone else who has the capital to buy the men's socks and underwear that are his farsha. His boss pays him 20 Egyptian pounds [about US $3.50] a day to hawk these clothes on the streets.

Ibrahim's hopes to save the 200 Egyptian pounds [$35] or so that he needs in order to buy his own farsha and start making money for himself. On top of that, he says he will need some money to cover all the bribes and fines that are a normal part of a street seller's outgoings.

Dr Alia el-Mahdi, a professor of economics at Cairo University and a specialist on the informal economy, says there are around 300,000 street vendors trying to make a living on Cairo's choked and polluted streets. "The numbers of poor street vendors are not getting smaller, at best they are staying the same," she said.

Severe limitations

However, street vending has severe limitations, according to those who have been plying their trade on the pavements for years. Education, healthcare, and even basic personal security are often out of their reach.

Ibrahim is one of many thousands of young Egyptians from the poorer southern region who left school for low-paid informal jobs. Many feel that even if they could afford to continue their education, there would be no well-paid jobs for them in the end.

"I dropped out of school in Luxor to come here. The 'work-hard-in-school-and-you'll-succeed' thing doesn't work there," Ibrahim said. "I've been here [on Cairo's streets] five years, and it is better than working for 50 Egyptian pounds [about US $8.50] a week in some factory near home, if I could even get that kind of job."

While Ibrahim has aspirations for further commercial success, others count on street trading as a job for life.

Umm Magdy, 72, has been selling her farsha on downtown Cairo's al-Bustan Street since her husband died 15 years ago. She makes ends meet by selling batteries, insoles, plumbing tape and various other accessories that passers-by might stop for on their way home.

"I rent a shack [to live in] for 100 Egyptian pounds [$17.50] a month," she said. "I have three sons to provide for; the first is mentally ill, the second is in jail, and the third is unemployed. I get 65 Egyptian pounds [$11] a month from my husband's pension. Apart from that I have no healthcare or pension, and I have to make everything else from what I can sell. It's hardly ever enough."

According to most analysts, Egypt's recent economic growth, which has averaged 5 per cent annually over the past five years, is not benefiting these informal workers.

"Economic growth doesn't mean equality or equal distribution. There is still no mechanism for transmission to these parts of society," said professor el-Mahdi.

With an unemployment rate of around 12 per cent, and significant bureaucratic obstacles to setting up a small business, when extra cash is needed many families and individuals simply step onto the street and start trading.

However, street vendors in Egypt are often arrested and harassed by police and security services. The law nominally requires vendors to pay a fee of 50-100 Egyptian pounds [$9-18]for a street trading licence. The licenses are hardly ever granted, however, for fear of inviting a new influx of vendors from the countryside.

Instead, a constant cat-and-mouse game ensues between illegal vendors and the municipal police – known as the 'baladiyya'. Vendors say they pay regular bribes to the police to ensure their continued tolerance.

"When the normal police come round, we have to give them money," Ibrahim said. "If we don't give it, they send for the baladiyya. If the baladiyya come, they take all your farsha and you have to pay a fine of 110 Egyptian pounds [$19]. You don't get the farsha back."


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Culturally specific protocols and the dynamics of Egyptian living

Egypt is a state where ultimately law and logic are either enforced, or suspended, depending on the whims of those who wield and hold the reigns of power. Centuries of oppressive governing, with its single purpose of perpetuating existing power structures, have embalmed the culture with faithlessness in the judicial system and an overwhelming sense of helplessness in the face of tyranny. Anything can happen, at anytime, anywhere, to anyone, and for the most part, there's not a damn thing you can do about it. Zowar ElLail for example, a euphemism for state security officials who raid homes in the dead of the night, is but one example of government practices that serve to instill a sense of fear, weakness and vulnerability amongst citizens. Laws are disregarded by the very arm of the law whose job it is to uphold it, by association, people have lost any trust in the justice system and have thus taken matters into their own hands. From market disputes, to civil affairs, to government/ citizen relations, power, in its diverse forms, and the will to exercise it, is what governs the land.

Ostensibly, Egyptians seem an apathetic languid bunch, a popular notion that continues to gain widespread appeal, especially amongst the bourgeoisie and the ruling elite. Egypt's woes, be they illiteracy, unemployment, pollution or its growing intolerance with its self, is frequently attributed to its apathy and ignorance. I believe there is some truth to this accusation, although I decline to slam it on a particular segment of the population alone. However true it may be, it is equally true that Egyptians have for centuries exercised wit, intuition and the accumulated heritage of thousands of years of experience to circumvent, maneuver, exploit and demolish the many obstacles and barriers implanted in their path to self determination.
Tangling with the regime and its imposed “barriers to self determination” is not simply a struggle for political freedoms but more importantly, a primordial survival instinct for sustenance, shelter and security. From this tango, Egyptians emerge as some of the craftiest most creative people on the planet.

To be continued…