Saturday, April 30, 2005
A character in a very famous Egyptian comedy was a man who thinks that he has the first and the final say in his house. The truth was that his wife was the master of the house and not him. So a common conversation between the husband (who was named Hanafi) and his wife in the movie went as follows:
Hanafi: I decided to do this.
Wife (disagreeing): Hanafi!
Hanafi: No Hanafi, I am the man and my word will not fall on the ground (or get annulled) at all.
Wife shouts: HANAFI!!!
Hanafi: OK, my word will fall this time, but next time, it will never fall on the ground!
Now Condi Rice in the above cartoon is shouting "HANAFI!" and the guy who we cannot see is saying "OK, my word will fall this time, but next time, it will never fall on the ground!"
The caption under the cartoon reads: Amending Article 76 of the constitution after a lot of denials of any constitutional amendments and considering this as void.
Pop Quiz: changing article 76 of the Egyptian constitution will allow multiple candidates to run in the coming presidential elections, so who is playing the character of Hanafi in the above cartoon??
Thursday, April 28, 2005
Before giving you my feedback, I would like to state what I mean when I mention the words "liberal" and "Islamic or Islamist".
By liberal, I mean someone who believes in total freedom of speech, of expression, of movement, of becoming religious, of becoming a sinner, of changing his/her religion, etc. I simply don't know what other word to use when describing this person who believes in the above principles. In Egypt, we use the word "librally" and this is why I am using the word "liberal". I suspect you will agree with me that all decent countries (the US, Sweden, Norway, South Korea, New Zealand, Japan, etc, etc) around the world reached the conclusion that the above principles constitute the best values that a country should adopt. Countries that do not adopt those values are clearly "behind" those that do.
Now we turn to the word "Islamist". When I say "Islamist", I do not mean someone who is merely religious, but someone who thinks that his version of Islam (i.e religion) is the best way of life not just for himself and his family but for his neighbor as well. He is like the church in the past that forced its interpretation of Christianity on the people and ruled the people using this interpretation. To me, an Islamist is not compatible with the principles I listed above.
Now let us turn to your comment. You said:
Great Blog GM,I happen to disagree with much (not most) of what you say. One
being that you'd accept a democracy in egypt only if liberals are in power. More
like "my way or the highway". I also don't like you're support for Mubarak. I
surely didn't expect this from a liberal GM. It follows the age long rhetoric in
egypt "That whome you know is better than whome you don't know".The people we
know keep getting worse and worse. Mubarak is not a pharoh and he it's about
time he should go. Personally I think the egyptian people should be given a
chance to pick the form of government they see fit. Be it Islamic, Liberal or
whatever. This democracy thing is trial and error, no one gets it 100% right the
first time.If whatever government they picked doesn't (and it most possibly
wouldn't) work out the way it should, they'll have to take it down again and
start at square one. This is how democracies are built GM.
"One being that you'd accept a democracy in egypt only if liberals are in power. More like "my way or the highway".
You are treating "liberalism" as if it is a dogma, an ideology, or a creed. The principles above are the essence of life and the building blocks of any functioning state. You can believe in communism as the best economic way of life and still believe in the principles above and you can be a Muslim cleric and still believe in those principles. However, Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood do not believe in the above principles even if they are pretending to believe in them today. Once they become powerful, they will ban my writings after calling it "unislamic", they will bother me in the park because I am holding my girlfriend's hand, they might close my favorite pub because they consider alcohol consumption as "unislamic", they might arrest me if they didn't like how I behaved, anyway, the sky is the limit to what they might do.
"I also don't like you're support for Mubarak. I surely didn't expect this from a liberal GM."
Read my previous posts and you will find one common thought. I am against Mubarak's dictatorship and the corruption we are suffering from; however, I believe that Egypt today is not ready to rush towards a fair ballot box. All what I am hoping for is this: Mubarak gets his fifth term then he lifts his hands off liberals so that they appear on Egypt' political scene. We will then hold free fair elections once they appear and become strong enough to compete with the Islamists. If the Egyptian people (who are becoming alarmingly religious) chose a mixture of Islamists and liberals, then I could tolerate it. However, if the Islamist turned out to be invincible, then I will respect the people's choice and find myself another country to live in. I will only return when the Egyptian people discover that the Islamists do not follow the above principles and vote them out of office (provided that the Islamists would give them a chance to vote them out!!!!!!!!!) Currently, I unfortunately believe that, given the current state of the political arena of Egypt, only Mubarak is fit to rule Egypt. Democracy is like a medicine, you take it gradually. If you took it all at once, you die.
"Personally I think the egyptian people should be given a chance to pick the form of government they see fit. Be it Islamic, Liberal or whatever. This democracy thing is trial and error, no one gets it 100% right the first time."
You are putting the word "liberal" beside and word "islamist" as if they are too competing thoughts or ideologies. Again I say, you can be a Muslim cleric and still believe in the principles of liberalism. Two of my favorite liberal muslim clerics are Sheikh Iyad Jamal Al Deen of Iraq and Sheikh Hussein Khomenei (Ayatollah Khomenei's son!) of Iran. My favorite Egyptian Islamic think is the Jamal al Banna (the Muslim Brotherhood founder's brother!!) who faces immense persecution from the religious establishment here.
What you are saying above is what the "book" says. The "book" says "people should choose", period. I do not object to that, I long for the day when Egyptians get the chance to choose their own future; however, we need to look at realities on the ground. Egypt's dictatorship literally wiped all liberals out of the political scene; it would lead to an utter disaster if we simply kicked Mubarak out and allowed a free ballot box in such an unfair political arena.
"If whatever government they picked doesn't (and it most possibly wouldn't) work out the way it should, they'll have to take it down again and start at square one. This is how democracies are built GM."
What you are saying indicates that there will be a second chance. Can you guarantee that there will be this second chance? Was there a second chance in Iran? What if, and I mean if, the Egyptian population liked the system in which the Islamists are powerful (something I doubt really), will you succumb to the will of the people and live in this system? I will succumb and declare my respect for the people's choice, but I personally cannot continue living in the country. Something tells me that you too will accompany me abroad.
UPDATE: ragtag_the_3rd provides his feedback to what I wrote in his blog. I am really enjoying this discourse. I believe this is the type of civilized discourse we should be having here. Tomorrow I'll give my own feedback to what he had to say.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
I am not sure if you heard about President Mubarak 3 parts interview that started to air last Sunday. In a Barbara walters type of interview, Mubarak shared his personal story from the day he met President Nasser until he became president. The show was unusually very informal and casual. The aim was to paint Mubarak as the “warrior” who fought for Egypt and the president who is “close to the people”. I felt that the tremendous emphasis on his military career as compared to his record in the presidency was meant to send a single message: Egypt needs a military guy to keep the country intact. Unfortunately, I tend to believe that this is very true!
72 million Egyptians were glued to their TV screens waiting to hear the “Mubarak surprise” in part 3 of the interview. Speculations were flying everywhere yesterday morning. Will Mubarak declare his intent to seek a fifth term in office? Will he appoint a vice president (an indication of who will succeed Mubarak)? Who will this vice president be? Will it be Omar Solieman (chief of intelligence agency)? Will Mubarak end the emergency laws that were installed 25 years ago right after Sadat’s assassination? All those questions raced through our minds as we waiting for the interview at night. The government owned newspaper, Al Ahram, only fueled to our game of speculations by printing this headline on the front page: President Mubarak will reveal today whether he will run for presidency or not.
So, like millions of Egyptians, I stayed glued in front of the TV. I didn’t watch part 1 and part 2 because I knew that all the “juicy lucy” stuff will be in part 3. The interviewer kept asking questions about the economy, political parties, blah blah. Then the final question came and the guy asked Mubarak about whether he decided to seek another term or not. Mubarak answered with a single word that threw an ice bucket on the faces of millions (not to mention the millions of cuss words that were uttered by the people when the show ended). The word was “lessa”! It literally means “still”. Or “I didn’t decide yet”. The show ended after that.
Ummmm, nice try Mr. President. I loved the way he played it. It showed that up till now, only Mubarak and Mubarak alone can rule Egypt.
Here is my 5 cents to what might happen: Mubarak will run for a fifth term but this time he will appoint a vice president prior or after winning the elections. Mubarak will stay for a year or two in office and then step down from power and then his vice will become the new president.
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Saudi had its first municipal elections. Wow that’s awesome, that’s great news! Well, hold on a little, Islamists won every seat available! Those guys are more radical than the royal family itself. What, the royals are not radical? Nah, those guys are hardcore, they were endorsed by Saudi’s Wahabi clerics and won by a landslide.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think these elections were a step forward but the results should force us to pause and ponder a little.
What made those radicals win? Are Saudi’s radical in nature? I simply don’t know. There are no independent and fair opinion polls in Saudi to gauge how Saudi voters think. However, the results may shed light on three factors.
One, no woman was allowed to vote in these elections. Who knows, may be if women voted, the results wouldn’t have turned out to be that radical.
Second, just as the case in Egypt, the Islamists in Saudi are very organized as compared to their progressive counterparts. They have the backing of the country’s hardcore clerics and they simply dominate Saudi’s civil society (or the shreds of civil society that Saudi has). Progressives and other liberals were shut up by the royals (does Ayman Noor ring a bell?) and they simply have no experience in mobilizing the grassroots.
Third, the elections had a very low turnout. Many Saudis thought that such elections were useless and pointless given the fact that the royal family appointed half of the council members. In addition, others were simply not interested and didn’t want to bother themselves with standing in long queues and getting squashed between a group of angry campaigners. May be if the turnout was high, a number of liberals or progressives could have got elected
The last 2 factors have serious implication on the Egyptian scenario. The Islamists here are very organized and they appeal to a huge segment of the Egyptian conservative population (again no accurate figures here). In addition, I presume that the coming elections will witness a very low turnout due to the huge antipathy that the average Egyptian feels towards politicians as a whole. If you couple those factors together and you rush towards a fair ballot box in Egypt, you will end up with a disaster that could surpass what happened in Iran in 1979.
So the way forward is this: Mubarak should have another term in office but this time he has to allow liberals and progressives to start mobilizing and reaching out to people. Once liberals appear on Egypt’s political scene and the average Egyptian starts to believe in political participation, we will just have to hope and pray that the Egyptian people will elect enough progressives to counter the influence of Islamists and other radicals. If the Egyptian people let me down, you will find me running towards foreign embassies screaming “ASYLUM”. I hope that won’t be the case.
Saturday, April 23, 2005
Mariam George, Miss Egypt 2005
She will be representing Egypt in the coming Miss Universe competition
Friday, April 22, 2005
Violence is escalating one more time and I am afraid we are heading towards a disaster or a positive breakthrough. This is how I see the current situation.
Let us be realistic. Nobody can lead such a well planned terror network without the support of at least a segment of the Iraqi population, and I am sure we all know them by now. They are the ones who lost the privileges when Saddam was in power and they mostly belong to the Sunni sect of Iraq. I am not sure about the percentage of support that the terrorists enjoy within the Sunni population, but it seems that they have the backing of powerful Sunni tribes who don't like what is happening in the new Iraq.
We all hoped that Former Prime Minister Allawi would try to woo Saddamists into the political process. He wanted to create a rift between the Baathists who lost their privileges when Saddam regime crumbled and the Salafi/Wahabists whom nobody can negotiate with. It seems that he failed to do so for one reason or another.
The future looks a little bit scary. The prominent Shia figures who are now ruling Iraq believe that Allawi's plan of wooing Saddamists backfired by allowing bad apples to infiltrate into the defenses and interior ministry. They are determined now to "clean" those ministries and install their own guys there.
The US is against such plan. Donald Rumsfeld flew to Baghdad and warned PM Jaffari against total de-Baathification that might literally destroy what the coalition has been building over the last year as well as fuel the insurgency with more recruits.
I really have no idea about what should happen in the future. Will Jaffari's new plan work? Will it backfire? How much de-baathification will he do?
I wrote before that Iraq has a Sunni problem. And it seems that this Sunni problem was not solved because the disgruntled Sunnis just want to return to their previous status or because the Shias are simply greedy.
I still believe the glass is half full. Our score in Iraq is 5/10, 5 good and 5 bad. I am sure that all this will end someday. World War 2 ended and the brutal Algerian terrorist campaign subsided tremendously, however, I am wondering about how many families will have to suffer until we see peace in Iraq.
Good news from Lebanon: A new Shia National Meeting was organized. It is very obvious that they are against the stand that Hezbollah and the other Shia group Amal took. I think they want to break the monopoly that Hezbollah and Amal have over the Shia population of Lebanon.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Why I might leave this country if democracy came knocking at my door.
Please read it all.
Malaysia is a beautiful country. It’s political and economic situation is better than many Arab and Muslim countries. Malaysia still didn’t reach the freedom or the economic advancement of its South Korean neighbor, but we in Egypt tend to look up to it. Many Egyptian commentators praised its former prime minister when he willfully stepped down from power. Several opposition figures wish that President Mubarak would imitate him.
Nevertheless, something awful happened in Malaysia last January. The country’s government-sanctioned moral police, commonly known as “jawi”, raided a nightclub in Kuala Lumpur at midnight and ordered the clientele to separate into groups of Muslims and non-Muslims (Malaysia has a sizable non-Muslim minority). Aiming to “protect” their fellow Muslims and punish them for their “un-Islamic” behavior, the jawi arrested the Muslims and humiliated the females.
This incident sent shock waves throughout Malaysia’s political spectrum. Many denounced the raid and the prime minister said that the power of the jawi must curbed, not by banning it but by forcing it to seek permission from the police before launching raids to catch Muslims alleged to be committing immoral acts!! Liberal* Malaysians, both Muslim and non-Muslim, expressed their concern that their country would be threatened by Taliban-like mobs that have government authorization to correct people’s behavior.
It is not only liberal Malaysians who are shocked, it is me as well! I am shocked and damn scared for two reasons. One, Malaysia DOES actually have a “moral police” that can storm any pub, arrest any writer, and ruin the love scene of any young couple cuddling in a park. Two, from what I've read so far, many Malays if not the majority DO support the existence of this “religious police” department in the government even if they are against it adopting the harsh tactics of the Taliban (I hope that is the case!)
If Malaysia, a country that is more democratic and economically better than Egypt, can have a moral police then imagine what can happen in Egypt if full democracy and freedom were unleashed in my country. If many Malays were becoming more religious and do not oppose the existence of the government-sanctioned moral police, imagine what would happen if the majority of Egyptians got a free hand in determining their future and how “religious” they want Egypt to become. Again I repeat, I do not expect the majority of Egyptians to transform Egypt into another Iran, but I cannot rule out the fact that radicals would definitely be empowered as a result of the “Arab spring” that everyone wants Egypt to bask into. Just look what happened last month, the world was talking about the demonstrations in Cairo and how awesome they were, and me and my liberal friends were talking about how suddenly the Muslim Brotherhood found their voice and how threatened we are feeling right now.
I fully understand why the US wants Egypt to bask in the current “Arab spring”. I fully understand why Washington cannot maintain the status quo in Egypt and treat Mubarak according to pre-911 rules. However, I just have a word for Miss Rice: You continue pressuring Mubarak to open up and allow democracy, you continue your rhetoric that you are not afraid if Islamists ruled Egypt or at least got empowered, but please Miss, open up your state department because you will find me running towards you screaming “ASYLUM”. It is not a cool feeling when you get arrested from a nightclub, believe me Miss., it is not a cool feeling at all.
* By liberal I don’t mean Ted Kennedy or Hillary Clinton, but someone who believes in freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of expression, freedom to become a saint, freedom to sin, etc, etc. In other words, someone who believes in the stuff that all liberals and conservatives in America take for granted.
Monday, April 18, 2005
Nadz is telling us 10 reasons why Saudi women cannot vote. If laughting is bad for you then don't go there.
Sunday, April 17, 2005
Hundreds of Egyptian Christians demonstrated in a monastery demanding the return of a young lady whom they say was kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. While not claiming that forced or coercive conversions of Christians girls did not happen in the past, I still believed that the girl’s story would be similar to other stories we heard before about Christian girls who converted to Islam for one reason or another.
Upon checking Arabic news websites, I discovered that the young lady was married and had a child. She ran away from home with a Muslim guy she fell in love with and then converted to Islam in order to marry him. She presented her conversion papers to court which ordered that she be divorced from her Christian husband. According to Egyptian civil law that is based on elements derived from Islamic law, a Muslim woman cannot marry or stay married to a Christian man and hence the young lady got a divorce by a court order.
This incident has 2 important angles: a Christian angle and another angle that has to do with Egyptian law or simply the Islamic law that our courts follow in civil affairs. Before presenting the 2 angles, it is worth mentioning that in Egypt the religious establishment has a huge legal say in civil affairs such as marriages.
First the Christian angle. Here the majority of Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox church that bans divorce. The only cases that can result in divorce are when a partner commits adultery or changes his/her denomination or converts to another religion. For example, I know several orthodox Christians who had to become protestants in order to be granted a divorce. The ban on divorce has caused tremendous problems and heartaches for many people, especially women.
I believe Pope Shenouda, the leader of the Egyptian orthodox church, can do his people a huge favor by allowing divorce. Many anguished women who discovered that they can’t live with their husbands any longer will be saved from depression or running away with Muslim men and causing huge sectarian problems! The orthodox church insists that divorce in banned in Christianity. This is pure nonsense because such an issue is open for debate and the Biblical verses on marriages are open for various interpretations and re-interpretations. After all, the protestant church allows divorce and they are the ones who take the Bible so literally.
The second angle has to do with the unjustness of the Egyptian civil law or Islamic law towards the Christians. Here in Egypt, a Christian who converts to Islam is welcomed by police protection but a Muslim who converts to Christianity is welcomed by police brutality. Therefore, a Muslim man can “snatch” a Christian woman from the Christian herd but a Christian man cannot “snatch” a Muslim woman from the Muslim herd. Why aren’t the rules of the game equal, many Christians ask.
Pope Shenouda’s divorce law is not the Bible and Islamic law is not the Quran, both are open for debate even if both parties claim that their laws are based upon the two sacred books. We can’t depend upon laws that were instituted thousands of years ago and apply them today while others in NASA are thinking about invading Mars.
Saturday, April 16, 2005
I just saw a telephone interview that Al Fayhaa, an Iraqi popular satellite channel, had with Saddam Hussein from his prison cell! My jaws dropped when I saw that. He was so humble while answering the questions. I am wondering why this was not in the news. Here is a brief transcript of the part I managed to hear.
Al Fayhaa: What do you think of the court that will judge you?
Saddam: Bush should be the one judged.
Al Fayhaa: What did Bush do to be judged?
Saddam: He occupied Iraq.
Al Fayhaa: We are not talking about occupation here but about the crimes that were committed by you against the Iraqi people. The mass graves, the killings.
Saddam: These are all fabrications. There isn't a single evidence to prove that I killed anyone or pulled the trigger on anyone. These are all lies.
Al Fayhaa: There are tones of papers with your signature on them. They all prove that arrests and murders were committed after your command.
Saddam: Anyone can forge signatures. I never touched an Iraqi citizen with harm.
Al Fayhaa: What about the news of the deal that might prevent your execution. Do you want such a deal?
Saddam: The Iraqi people are kind. I can give an apology and allow me to go anywhere, Qatar, anywhere. (emphasis added:I am wondering why he mentioned Qatar in particular)
Al Fayhaa: Are you afraid of being executed if you faced the court?
Saddam: I heard that you stopped executions but they were renewed.
That was a brief transcript of what I managed to hear. I wish an Iraqi blogger would post a more accurate and full transcript.
That interview was so unprecedented. A channel interviews the previous dictator from his prison cell! I noticed how the anchor addressed Saddam with the informal word "Inta", literally meaning "You".
The channel then received calls from Iraqis from all around Iraq and the world. Almost all agreed that Saddam should be judged and refused any deal that might lessen his sentence.
I apologize the interview was with someone who simulated Saddam Hussein's voice! I just didn't watch the whole thing from the beginning and so I didn't know it was just an imagined interview.
I got an email from Omar from Iraq the Model, he said:
I just heard that the interview was NOT with Saddam himself.a friend who watched
the show said that the channel was simulating an interview with Saddam and
expecting how it would look like. the person on the other side of the phone was
someone mocking Saddam's voice.
I find it interesting though that the channel chose Qatar to be the country that "Saddam" would love to go TO after offering his apology to the Iraqi people. I was not surprised given the fact that we all know that Al Jazeera had a very intimate relationship with Saddam's son. The Qatari ruler fired his channel's managing director only after this relationship came out of the closet when Saddam regime crumbled down.
Friday, April 15, 2005
Right before the parliamentary elections in Iran, the hardcore radical clerics who are the de facto rulers of Iran banned numerous reformist candidates from running for a parliament seat. The result was that the vast majority of Iranians stayed home on elections and eventually handed the mullahs a landslide victory for their candidates.
The very low turnout was an indication of how the Iranian people lost hope in any political participation that might cause drastic changes in the theocracy. The reality is crude: even if Thomas Jefferson himself became the president of Iran, he will still be powerless because all the country's resources are in the hands of the radical mullahs.
Now Iran will have its presidential elections this June 17. There are calls from prominent internal and external opposition figures to boycott these elections as well. However, there is a very important new development this time. The opposition wants to change the election day into an opportunity to ask for a referendum on whether Iranians want the Islamic Republic or not. Encouraged by colorful revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Lebanon, it appears that this idea got support from different factions of the opposition and most notably from the student movement.
Now, don't expect the Iranian regime to tell its people "OK folks, bring in the international observers and let us have a referendum". No, they will unleash their demons to crack down on any protest and they will definitely use live ammunition if things slipped from their grip.
I just hope that the call for referendum will shift to a call for the ruling clerics to step down from power. I also hope that the Iranian people will break the barrier of fear of the Mollahs and of staring "yet another revolution" and heed to this call for a referendum. It would be very interesting to follow the event in Iran these coming days. Who knows, may be June 17 will be revolution day!
* I encourage you to bookmark this blog and visit it daily. It has excellent daily briefing on Iran related stuff.
Thursday, April 14, 2005
Today is the first anniversary of this blog. I just do not know what to say except that blogging has been a very exciting experience for me and I simply do not know where this blog is leading me. All what I wanted on April 14 last year was to share my opinions and views with the whole world and I got just that.
I want to thank you all for the support, the encouragement, and the criticisms that made this blog a success. I am not a computer geek and this web page definitely looks amateur, however it is one of my most precious possessions, it is part of who I am.
I wasn’t looking for fame or stardom when I started this blog. All what I wanted was to share what was inside of me with the rest of the world, to share my 5 cents so to speak. And I got just that.
Last but not least, I want to thank you so much for giving me 2 or 3 minutes from your life to read a new post on Big Pharaoh. I am sooooooo grateful.
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Preparing to “enter”
One of the office boys who work in the company I am employed in is eating a lot of meat and shrimps these days. He is getting married tomorrow and he wants to garner as much energy as possible in order to perform spectacularly when he and his wife are behind a closed door for the very first time!!
Here in Egypt, traditions put so much emphasis on the sexual intercourse that usually happens on the first night of their marriage. A guy’s pride rests upon how well he performed sexually. The girl also takes pride in the fact that her husband deflowered a untouched virgin without any blemish. In the past, a relative used to visit the couple in the morning and see the blood stained sheets or garment. This custom subsided greatly but I believe it is still practiced in Egypt’s rural areas.
Due to the taboo that premarital sex is in conservative Egypt, this day is preceded with a lot of anticipation and anxiety from both the would be bride and bridegroom. Days before the wedding, the guy usually gets advice from his married buddies about how to assist his wife in getting rid of her anxiety and shyness as well as the different secrets that they discovered in the female body. The girl also gets her education lessons, usually from her mother or a close relative.
This special day is called “lelet el dokhla”. The literal translation is “the night of the enter”. I always wondered about why we use the word “enter” in particular. Does it mean entering a new phase in life? Entering life together? Or entering something else? Well, I’ll leave that to your imagination because I seriously don’t know the answer! LOL
Anyway, I love teasing the office boy by telling him stuff like “hey, don’t let us all down. We are counting on you. We expect a splendid performance!”. “Don’t worry, you will find me a lion running across the apartment!” he answers back. “Well, if you need help, just give me a call!!” I say. LOL
Personally, I don’t know what will happen with me. I am not married yet (that’s not an invitation for singles out there!) I guess I have to wait for my own “lelet el dokhla” and see what will happen. I’ll probably blog about it, provided that I don’t tell my wife about my blogging habit of course!
Tuesday, April 12, 2005
There is a sense of joy and optimism in the Western world, especially in the US, about the “Arab spring” of democracy we are currently witnessing. There is a feeling that outside pressure, when coupled with pressure from inside, can force Arab rulers to change the status quo and do things that they never thought about doing in the past. There is a lot of truth in this and the current changes across the Arab world should be welcomed and cheered. Nevertheless, we should be careful and not allow “cheering” and “joy” to completely overtake us and prevent us from seeing all the reality on the ground. Let me explain.
Remember Iran in 1978. Millions of Iranians flooded the country’s street to protest against the Shah’s corrupt and dictatorial rule. The hero of the protests was an old cleric called Ayatollah Khomenei who suddenly became a champion of the Western left who were mesmerized by his rhetoric on his religious based human rights, freedom, and democracy. Many considered Khomenei to be the Middle East’s Ghandi or Mandela, a champion of the people who was fighting oppression, imperialism, and dictatorship.
Now I don’t need to tell you how Iran turned out to be after Khoemenei became its ruler because I am sure you already know about that. I would just like to point out how Khomenei and his ilk deceived the world by his democracy and freedom speeches and turned out to be a devil as soon as he consolidated his power.
I am afraid to say that we currently don’t have a Mandela or a Ghandi in the Arab world. As Thomas Friedman once said, the Berlin wall might be falling in the Arab world, but Lech Walesa is not on the other side. Because of the dictatorial nature of our regimes, liberal democratic leaders are virtually nonexistent in the Arab world and especially in Egypt.
In my country Egypt, we have a Khomenei who is talking today about democracy and human rights but we don’t have a Lech Walesa who can counter our Khomenei once Mubarak’s regime is removed one way or another. Unfortunately my President makes the situation worse by arresting both our Khomeneis and any Lech Walesas that might try to appear on the scene.
“Are you a fool? Don’t you trust your fellow Egyptians? Of course they won’t like a Khomenei!” someone might tell me. Well, did you trust the Iranians back in 1978?! Put me some Lech Walesas in Egypt and I will feel comfortable hugging full democracy in Egypt. When I feel that our Lech Walesas are massing popular support than I can stop feeling apprehensive from what might happen in the future. I hope and pray that what we are witnessing today in Egypt will not lead to Mubarak’s removal but to the birth of Egyptian Lech Walesas.
I’ll end with this joke, a true joke. Aboud El Zomoor expressed his desire to run for a parliament seat even though he is in jail now. He even has a political agenda. His agenda does not differ much from the UN declaration on human rights. The only difference is that the freedom, human rights, and political liberties he is asking for are based upon religion ( a la Khomenei in 1978). Who is Aboud El Zomoor? The guy who planned Anwar Sadat’s assassination.
Sunday, April 10, 2005
It might be a little bit later but I really want to share this. Right before the Iraqi elections a colleague at work told me that he is sure that "Allawi will be reinstalled by the Americans after the elections end and that these elections are a complete shame". "No, Sistani's list will win big time and Allawi will lose his job" I told him.
"Allawi is America's puppet, they will never accept someone with a religious background to become PM. You will see, after these shame and fraudulent elections, Allawi will still be enthroned by his American masters" he reiterated.
"I don't think so. Iraq will have a change of power after the elections period,
something we are not used to in the Arab world. You wanna bet that Allawi will
lose his job? 50 pounds OK?" I shot back.
"OK. 50 pounds" he answered.
Well, last Thursday Ibrahim Jaffari was sworn in and I got my 50 pounds ($8.6).
happened. The bombing in Cairo is most likely the works of a suicide bomber. Even though the investigations found that that it was an isolated incident (at least this is what the government is telling us), I am still very very concerned because it appears that what I prophesied last February is coming to pass. Oh God please save us.
Saturday, April 09, 2005
Should we revisit Haifa Street?
"A CBS stringer has been arrested as a suspected insurgent, U.S. military officials said Friday.
U.S. military officials said the man's camera held footage of a number of roadside bomb attacks against American troops, and they believe he was tipped off to those attacks.
In a written statement, the network said the man was referred to the network by a "fixer" in Tikrit "who has had a trusted relationship with CBS News for two years.
One official said at least four videos in the man's camera show roadside bomb attacks on U.S. troops.
All had been shot in a manner that suggested the cameraman had prior knowledge of the attacks and had scouted a shooting location in sight of the target."
I am sure that Iraqi and foreign media employ numerous Iraqis and the vast majority of them have no sympathy towards the terrorists. However, just as a number of rotten apples managed to sneak through the ranks of the Iraqi police and army, they could have done the same thing with the foreign media.
This brings us to what happened on Haifa street days before the elections. An AP photographer managed to stand in the middle of Baghdad's most dangerous road back then and shoot a picture after another of terrorists killing 2 Iraqi election workers. AP provided no convincing information as to how its photographer managed to take such pictures that eventually won a Pulitzer price!
Did we have 2 rotten apples, one at CBS and the other at AP? I hope the answer is no because I hate it when terrorists get maximum publicity over the corpses of Iraqi police/army members, Iraqi election workers, Iraqi civilians, and coalition forces. It would be a disaster if they got this publicity using American media equipments!
Friday, April 08, 2005
A horrible terrorist attack occurred in Cairo's historic area. Four people were killed among them French and an American tourist. 10 Egyptians were injured. The attack happened in an area that is over 1000 years old and a must see for any tourist visiting Cairo. The area is known for its historical beautiful mosques and bazaars.
It appears that a bomb on a motorbike exploded . The police arrested several suspects.
I am so depressed from what happened. I just hope that it is an isolated group that is not organized. My biggest fear will materialize if it turned out that the perpetrators were Al Qaeda or a newly formed homegrown terrorist organization. Egypt's own terrorist organizations that were active in the 90s announced that they turned their back to violence; I hope that we are not witnessing the birth of a new group that decided to continue with the terror.
UPDATE: The government said in today's papers that the attack was an isolated incident and the perpetrator was killed as well. They found pieces of his flesh and they are trying to identify him.
Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Ayman Noor said that the ruling National Democratic Party is trying to tarnish his image by calling him an "American agent"*. He added that members of the NDP burned the American flag in front of his party's office so that they cunningly convey their refusal to accept someone "who America supports".
Ayman Noor responded to such accusations in the past by saying something so funny. He said "I don't know Miss Condolezza Rice, I never met Miss Rice, and I am not the one who goes on an annual pilgrimage to the White House".
I think President Mubarak should take immediate actions to stop such behavior. I believe he is bigger than that.
I am afraid the government's efforts to paint Ayman Noor with the American brush got them some results. Several of my colleagues at work told me that they believe Noor is "America's favorite to lead Egypt after Mubarak!"
It is a dilemma. If America called for the release of any dissident in Egypt, the government sanctioned media will immediately seize this opportunity and tarnish the image of this dissident by cooking up charges such as "he is backed by the White House" or "he gets funding from the US". However, if the US and Europe did not call for the release of this dissident, he/she will probably be left to rot in jail.
It was President Bush's move of cutting extra aid from Egypt that played a huge role in getting Egyptian-American human rights advocate Saad Idden Ibrahim out of jail. And consequently, it was Condolezza's red eye, the EU, and the immense international media attention that Noor got that helped in his release on bail.
I hate to see the government put itself into such awkward positions. And I hate to see that up until today they cannot grasp the fact that this country is dying for voices who truly believe in liberal democracy.
* Source: Radio Sawa (Arabic)
First read this and then this.
UPDATE: Sandmonkey has an excellent update on the Muslim/Christian saga in Egypt. Read it ALL.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Sunday, April 03, 2005
Which country receives more positive coverage nowadays in the Egyptian government owned media, Israel or the US? The answer is Israel, the archenemy of all Arabs and Muslims! Egyptian-Israeli relations today cannot get any better. The government signed an unprecedented trade agreement with Israel, President Mubarak is constantly on the phone with Prime Minister Sharon, and Egypt is cooperating wholeheartedly with all Israeli officials on the Gaza pullout issue. President Mubarak made a surprise trip to Syria in order to get the Syrians pressure their Palestinian militant guests to accept a ceasefire with Israel. In addition, the level of anti-Israel sentiment in the government media is surprisingly very low (Sharon was even interviewed by Al Ahram!).
On the other hand, relations between Cairo and Washington are at their lowest. They are not deteriorating, they already got deteriorated. Anti-Americanism in the official media reached the level of the period preceding the Iraq war. President Mubarak summoned the US ambassador David Welch (who replaced William Burns) and commented on the recent anti-Mubarak campaign in the US media. I was not surprised to hear that the president trip to the White House this month got postponed.
President Mubarak has reasons to be concerned. The New York Times and the Washington Post put aside all America's problems and concerns and reserved a series of their opening editorials to an obscure 40-something years old Egyptian member of parliament who heads a party that was newly established this year. I believe the deterioration of relations started to happen long before the Ayman Noor saga. Mubarak was definitely on his way to consolidate a fifth term using the usual shame referendums and he and his party officials brushed aside any possibility for amending the constitution to allow multiple candidates to run against him. In other words, the government wanted to maintain the status quo and didn’t realize back then that the US and Europe stopped playing using pre-911 rules.
Now, what is the way forward? I think enough pressure was leveled on the regime. I believe the boat was rocked hard enough to trigger some change here and I do hope that this change will not be huge enough to remove Mubarak from power because this is something I hate to see during this stage. I also hate it when some Western commentators treat Mubarak as if he is Saddam Hussein or Muammar Qaddafi. He might be disliked by many disgruntled Egyptians but he is definitely not despised. I still consider him to be a man of peace who has managed to establish friendly relations with the 4 corners of the earth.
I believe the US should move ahead in improving its relationship with Mubarak while in the same time telling him that he must allow liberal democratic voices to grow. Enough internal and external pressure was put on the system here. Egypt is an ancient old country, with too much pressure, it will break apart and we’ll all go down.