The Big Pharaoh
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Sunday, June 12, 2005

What do you really enjoy or are proud of about Egypt?

The thing I am really proud of is Egypt’s rich history. Besides the wonders of the ancient Egyptian civilization, Egypt was central during the Greek and the Roman era. The Egyptian church played a crucial rule during the early church history and the country’s significance was also apparent during the Islamic era. I don’t think there is any country that was so significant throughout the ages.
The thing I like the most about Egyptians is their ease of making friends with anyone. All what you have to do in order to get along well with us is to smile, its amazing what an Egyptian can do for you if he knew that you like and respect him/her.

I've heard that tourism is Egypt's number one industry. With all the terrorism problems in the mid-east, has the number of tourists, especially American ones, decreased in Egypt?

Tourism in Egypt got two serious blows, the 1997 terrorist attack in Luxour and 911. However, I read that last year’s number of tourists was encouraging. Most tourists come Europe and the Arab world. Americans do visit Egypt but at lesser numbers. There is however a good American community living in Cairo. They are embassy employees, employees of American companies, and teachers at the American schools and the American University in Cairo.

Why the term ''secular'', i.e. separation of religion and politics, considered in some circles in Egypt an offensive term?

The word secular is always related to events in Turkey. The majority of Egyptians are against banning the veil in public schools and government institutions and very few will like to see a Turkish replica in Egypt. In addition, many understand that secularism means “eliminating religion” and this of course is not acceptable because of the belief that “Islam is a religion and a state”. Also, secularism is regarded as a way that leads to promiscuity and sin. Secularism bans religion, and when religion is eliminated, sin and vice prevails a la Europe and the West in general. You get the idea? Secularism might have been well received by the Egyptians of 1940 but not by the Egyptians of today.

What's the opinion of Turks in Egypt? The Ottoman Empire?

We had a very bad experience with Ottoman and Turkish rule. This period is not viewed at positively.

What do you think about the role of Egypt in the arab world?

Strategic despite the attempts of several other Arab nations to take its place. It has always been said that Saudi is significant because of its religious clout and Egypt is important as a result of its political and cultural weight. This is the reason why the eyes of the world (especially the US) is on Egypt.

What kind of tree planting and/or ecological recovery programs are going on to reduce 'Sahara-facation'?

I don’t know much about this subject.

When you first started your blog, you stated up front that you were Pro-US, but very few other Egyptians are. With elections/new Govt in Iraq, and far less violence in Palistine, has the image if the US improved at all?

No, but there is a small development I sensed and will write about it later. Events in Iraq nowadays receive very light media coverage and so the people do not care much anymore about what is going on there. Why doesn’t the media and “our intellectuals” care very much about Iraqis being killed daily in the most gruesome manners? Well, they are pathetic hypocrites, period.

Where do I find a good guide?

I love the Lonely Planet guides. Also try visiting websites like the Visit Egypt link on my blog.

You've said you don't want quick democracy in Egypt for fear that the Muslim extremist groups would win decisively. ... As I understand it, exactly this has happened in Palestine and in Lebanon. I guess it is too early to say what the result is. If it turns out that this is not so bad, would you back away and more strongly support totally free elections in Egypt?

Let us discuss the 2 countries you mentioned. Lebanon is a mosaic of different sects and political forces. It is far more open than Egypt despite the presence of the Syrian occupation. The only sect that is under the spell of the Islamists is the Shia sect. The Sunnis follow the relatively secular Hariri clan and the country has a sizable Christian population. So you can have free elections there while there is a smile on your face.

As for Palestine, the elections there were momentous and a good first step, but let us not give things more than what they deserve. Democracy is much more than a ballot box. Is there transparency in Palestine, civil society, reduction in honor killings, reduction in police covering these honor killings, reduction in the public assassination of “Israel’s collaborators” by anyone who owns a gun, etc, etc? And lets not forget that the elections caused panic in Israel and the Palestinian Authority due to the rise of Hamas in Gaza. There are talks now to postpone the coming elections.

Frankly speaking, I consider the situation in Palestine less serious than Egypt. In Palestine there are two main factions, the Islamists (Hamas and Jihad) and the relatively secular Fatah. Even if people are angry at Fatah’s corruption and dictatorship, they still esteem its history of struggle for the Palestinian cause.

Do you think the mood of the Egytian people will change as Iraq becomes more peaceful and they are allowed to enjoy their freedom?

I hope so.

Do Coptic and Muslim people in Egypt mingle easily or is there a deep devision appearing between the two groups?

Of course they mingle between each other. In America, whites, blacks, Asians, etc mingle with each other. However, the social harmony between the two groups is so bad and I believe is getting worse. I thought that wasn’t the case when I was cocooned in my university surrounded by upper class Muslim and Christian friends. When I came out to the real world, I discovered the harsh reality. Tensions and fear of the “other” exist between the two communities especially in the low middle and lower class strata. The Christians are very disenfranchised whether in government jobs or the soccer league. This is so strange for a country that had a Jewish finance minister back in the 30s. I blame 2 factors for this. One, the rise of political Islam in the 70s. When Muslims get radical, Christians get radical too and stick together in their flocks. Second, people are getting religious. Religion can fill you with love and tolerance, but it can also fill you with hate and intolerance. It depends really on who you rely upon for getting your “religious teachings”. I am not saying that civil war will start tomorrow, but I simply don’t like what I’m seeing.

I'm very curious of the political role that women will play in the coming elections. It seems unlikely women would vote for some of the more radical groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Who will the women vote for?

Actually, you cannot predict how the women vote will be because nobody votes in Egypt! The vast majority do not own a voting card and they’ve never seen a polling station. My guess is that traditional women will vote according to what their husbands will tell them. Ambitious women in the workforce might not like the MB that much.

Do you think most Muslims want to see Judaism, Christianity, and other religions destroyed, or do you think that the average Muslim feels that people of other religions can be tolerated without forcing them to pay a special tax? If this question is too broad, then just explain what you believe most Muslim Egyptians think regarding other religions.

No, Muslims do not want other religions destroyed. The special tax issue is long forgotten and nobody really thinks such a system can be applied anymore.

If you could take any possible vacation, as any possible tourist, speaking any possible language, and with unlimited time and money .... where would you go and what would you do?

California!! I would rent a car and travel all around it. I’d also go to Las Vegas in Nevada. I loved Cali when I visited it in 1999. I was staying in Anaheim right behind Disney Land. So if anyone is from Cali, please say a big “I love you” from me to Laguna Beach!

My second choice would be Paris. I adore this city. I’ve been there for 5 times and I can continue till I reach the 100.

What do you think of Ahmed Zuwail's running for presidency?And would you vote for him? What are his chances?

This issue is not confirmed yet, but I believe Nobel prize winner Ahmed Zuwail would make an excellent candidate. I am not sure if he can win or that he has the credentials of a politician, but he would definitely rock some boats here. The reason I’d love to see him run is to show that you don’t have to be a crazy military dictator or a lunatic backward Islamist radical for you to become the president of Egypt. And I might think of voting for him.

How is the standard of living for the regular guy on the street? Does he have access to the internet? Does he have the ability to vote freely? Does he have the ability to be a canidate? Does he care about democracy?

There is a different between urban and rural areas as far as standard of living is concerned. Those in urban area tend to be richer. However, the majority of Egyptians would be considered as “poor” by international standards. Those with access to the internet live in main cities and their number is small when you take the entire population into consideration.

What do the citizens think of joint military exercises held for months, like Operation Bright Star? Does the average man on the street know these are going on?

It gets reported in the government media but nobody really pays attention.

do you know anything about The Muslim Association of Britain? I think it is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. Some people here say it is a moderate group, others that it is very conservative. I just wondered if you knew anything about it?

You are right. Unfortunately, many of the “Islamic” advocacy groups in the West were initiated by MB members who immigrated to the US and Europe to escape the persecution in their own countries. I once visited the books section of an American Muslim youth organization’s website and my mouth dropped when I saw the books they listed. Books by MB founder Hassan al-Banna and MB ideologue Sayyed Qutb were there. These are books that would make me feel very worried if I had a son who started sticking his nose into them. I remember saying “wow, Sayyed Qutb on an American website, very interesting!”. In addition to all that, Saudi Wahabi money goes to thousands of mosques and religious institutions across Europe and the US.

Fortunately, a number of Muslims in the west who do not adhere to the MB and/or the Wahabi ideology started to form their own groups. But their voices are so weak when compared to the other entities that were established long time ago.


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