The Big Pharaoh: 09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005
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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Marching With Kifaya…Smoking With Marxists

Yesterday I attended a demonstration by Kifaya (Arabic for enough) that coincided with President Mubarak’s inauguration ceremony. Kifaya wanted to convey the message that Mubarak’s fifth term is null since the elections themselves were rigged.

It felt a bit awkward for me to attend such a rally since I did want Mubarak to have a fifth term and I don’t believe in the “anyone but Mubarak” mantra that the opposition believes in. However, I decided to go just for the experience and not to convey a particular message.

Upon my arrival, there were around 1000 (the number grow to around 1500-2000) protesters chanting anti-Mubarak slogans. They were carrying banners, flying yellow balloons, and brandishing flags with the word “Null” written on them. The first thing I noticed was the absence of the omnipresent black batons carrying central security anti-riots soldiers who are notorious for beating up protesters in previous demonstrations. “Today gonna be a good day” I told myself. It seemed the security police reached the conclusion that beating up protesters, especially when caught on the tapes of foreign journalists, is counterproductive. One of the yellow balloons fell right at the feet of a soldier who picked it up and started playing with it. His superior saw him. “If I saw you touching any of these things, I’m going to kick your butt” he told the mischievous soldier.

After around 40 minutes of chanting, the throng decided to march through the streets of downtown Cairo. That’s when I joined in. I walked in the parade while monitoring the reactions of bystanders who mostly just watched as the protesters passed by. A group of high ranking police officers were following right behind the marching crowd. Unlike previous demonstrations, yesterday’s march looked very civilized and free.

We were approaching a medium sized police pick up truck. 2 exhausted soldiers were crammed at the back. I went to buy some water from a nearby kiosk. "Please go home, kifaya baa (that's enough)" one of them told me as I passed by their vehicle. "What?? you're saying kifaya?? Then you're a member of the Kifaya movement!" I said. They started giggling.

Kifaya is the secular face of Egypt’s opposition movement. It is mainly composed of Nasserites (those who follow Nasser’s ideology), leftists, and liberals (or progressives). There is a sprinkle of Islamists in Kifaya, mainly those who do not belong to the Muslim Brotherhood. The MB do have a few members in Kifaya, but they prefer to solely employ their power rather than operate with the other much smaller opposition entities.

When the rally concluded, I left and joined a group of young Marxists for a shisha smoke. I had a very jolly time for 3 reasons. First, these young Marxists are liberals-in the Egyptian sense-socially. Two, they hate fundamentalists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. Third, Gamal Abdul Nasser is definitely not their cup of tea. Nasser slaughtered and imprisoned many of them back in the 50s and 60s when they were much more powerful than today. So what more do I want? I know that I can’t talk politics with a Marxist and we will never agree on a zillion things, but the above 3 reasons are enough for me to have a pleasurable shisha smoke with them.

Silence That's Killing Me

and the Arab/Islamic media/clerics/pundits/governments are silent *spit* *spit* *spit*

Update: Fouad Ajami discusses this very topic here. He terribly underestimates the influence of Iran in Iraq, but it's still a very interesting read with a lot of truth in it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Look at Cindy Sheehan's face. What an emotional picture. My heart really aches for the grief that this woman is in. Words cannot describe how.....

What's that?


Smile, you're on The Sheehan Show.

Shows from the past.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Oil and Military Bases Sniffing

Spain sentenced Tayseer Alouni, Al Jazeerah's reporter, for 7 years in jail after he was found quilty of "collaborating with a terrorist organization."

Nobody needs Alouni's case to realise that Al Jazeerah is Al Qaeda's media pundit. Plus, I expected anything from a channel whose former manager used to receive guidance from Uday Hussein, and was caught on tape doing that. (I saw the tape)

We all know that Al Jazeerah channel is financed by Qatar's government and that the media outlet is an indispensable tool in Qatar's foreign policy and its status within the Gulf area and the entire Arab world. Qatar is also one of America's most closest allies (a fact Al Jazeeah doesn't discuss much) and we know that the US has the largest base in the region right in Doha. That entails that only the US can pressure the Qatari ruler to fire the channel's radical management and replace it with a more moderate one a la what Saudi Arabia did with Al Arabiyah.

Why can't the US do that? The answer to this question is the same as the answer to the question of why the US treats Saudi Arabia (regarding things concerning terrorism) with the same caution I always have when I carry my mama's China plates. The answer is simple. The US is addicted to two weird things it receives from other countries: oil and military bases. As someone who agrees with the USA in 70% of what it does, I hope it breaks loose from those 2 addictions.

Turkish Katrina vs Kurdish Katrina

Iranian Kurdish blogger comments on what he perceives as the differece between the Turkish and Kurdish reaction to Katrina in New Orleans. This blogger always questioned the wisdom of US-Turkey relations in light of the tremendous anti-Americanism prevailing in Turkey's society.

This is so unfair. I watch May Chidiac on the LBC channel. She is a very talented and serious anchor. I can't believe how up till now no one knows who is hunting down Lebanon's most prominent anti-Syria media personalities. Do you really think Syria is killing them? I mean with all what's going on with the Hariri investigations and stuff, how can Syria go on killing more people? I guess we have to just follow the logic of Lebanese politics: don't ask who, don't ask why.

I hope May will return again to LBC's TV set even with her limbs gone. That would be a perfect defiance to the terrorists.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

My Dream Country

I’d be a very happy person if I lived in a country with the following characteristics:

-The country’s constitution based upon liberal democracy and not just democracy. Besides the ballot box, the constitution should guarantee ultimate personal freedom. No elected entity can undermine this freedom.

-Total freedom of expression, religion, movement, and assembly.

-Complete separation between religion and politics. In other words “Parliament shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” It can’t be clearer than that. No religion should rule over people.

-Religion exists only in private homes and places of worship.

-Government only recognizes civil courts marriage contracts. It’s not the government’s business if you involved whatever religion in your marriage.

-Students at school study all religions and not just their own. A course called “Religions Education” should be taught. Students should learn about Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddism, and Confucianism. This will broaden the mind of the kid and make him/her more tolerant towards the other creatures sharing this planet.

-Private schools with a religious background (Jesuits, Islamic schools, yeshivas, etc) should incorporate the full curriculum of the state. No government funding goes to those schools.

-Prostitution should be legalized but only in a restricted known area. If prostitution was banned, it will simply appear underground. Tehran has one of the largest prostitution industries in the region and its all under the nose of the Mullahs. No prostitute should appear outside the restricted area.

- No discrimination against homosexuals and lesbians. However, they should forget about getting legally married and adopting kids.

-Abortion to be a criminal offense (1 year in jail). Nobody asked the baby whether it wants to die or not. If you didn’t take the pill or wear a condom then you should bear the consequences of your negligence.

-Economy to be an open economy with minimum government intervention to sustain the poor.

-Graffiti, littering, verbally harassing a female on the street, and drunk driving to be punishable by law.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Bias Bias

Look at the headline of the above report by an Associated Press writer. By reading only the headline, you will deduce that mothers of dead soldiers will hold a Cindy Sheehan type of protest. However, if you read the entire piece you'll discover that there will be 2 protests organized by 2 groups of moms of dead soldiers. One supporting the troops and the other chanting the silly request of "troops return home now". I know for sure that both groups love the troops and support them but they have different outlooks about what should happen in the future, however, I just don't understand why couldn't the AP writer chose another title that refelects the reality of what will happen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Virgin Megastores will open up their first store in Cairo. I remember traveling across Europe and envying the people there for having such an awesome music store. I don't need to feel jealous anymore. I just hope Richard Brandson (one of my favorite business tycoons) will inaugurate the store by himself just as he did with the one in Beirut, Lebanon.

Also Levi's is making its retail debut in Egypt as well. They'll be selling original Levi's jeans. I am not sure if the jeans will be manufactured in Egypt though. I know that Nike Egypt make their cotton wears (t-shirts, etc) in Egypt but not their shoes. It seems that Egyptian workers still didn't reach the skills of their Asian counterparts as far as manufacturing shoes is concerned. All of Nike's shoes are made in Asian countries.

Now, I remember as I was buying my CDs from Virgin Megastore in Paris and London, I wished that one day we will be having Virgin in Egypt. It seems that my dreams do come true. I am now dreaming of


and this

Let us wait and see who makes it to Egypt first.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

First Vincent Then Haider

Another victim of Muqtada al Sadr in Basra. Iraqi journalist working for The New York Times, Fakher Haider, was abducted and gunned down by the radical Shia militias who form up the majority of the "police" in Basra. Most of these militias who literally control Basra right under the nose of the British forces are members of Sadr's gang. Just like their first victim, American journalist Steven Vincent, Haider also wrote reports to The Times about the infiltration of Shia militias within Basra's police.

Hariri Taped Assad

French magazine "Intelligence Online" says that Hariri taped Syrian President Bashar Assad using a recorder concealed in a pen. Here is what Assad told him.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Another insightful OP-ED from Abdul Rahman Al-Rashed. Al-Rashed is an expert in hitting the nail right on its head.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Meeting Egypt's Gays

I'm back from Alexandria. It was awesome. The whether is far cooler around September and most vacationers who flock to Alex and create a mess there have already left.

This trip gave me the opportunity to peek into one of Egypt's underground communities: the gay community. I've always believed that there are zillions of taboos in Egypt yet those same taboos exist powerfully in the secret lives of millions of Egyptians. I know that premarital sex for example is widespread in spite of the wave of religiosity that is apparent in our society. I never thought though that Egypt did have such a well established gay community that includes powerful figures as well as average citizens.

I was having a couple of beers with a friend in a bar. My friend noticed a guy whom he knew and called him over. They started talking and then my friend introduced me to him. When the guy left, he informed me that the guy was gay. My friend is a very sociable and open minded person and so I wasn't surprised that he didn't mind knowing a gay person. I don't have a problem with gay people myself, I mean it's their life and everyone is free to live it as he/she sees fit.

The guy invited us over to sit at his table. There were 4 other guys sitting. I noticed something very amazing. I always thought that all gay people tend to act "girly" in the way they dress, speak, and even walk. That's not true. I didn't notice anything unusual in all the guys around me except for one: the guy next to me was 50% male 50% female! I felt a bit apprehensive sitting there beside him but I began to relax as time went by. However, I still wished to bring a girl at the table just so that no one will suspect me or something!

Wanting to come up with a good post for my blog, I started asking them questions about the gay community in Egypt. I learned that the internet plays a huge role in their communications. It's the force the drives the community especially since it has to stay underground. They meet up in chat rooms and decide to meet in real life only when they get to know the other person well enough. The community itself is huge and encompasses people from all social levels.

All 5 didn't "come out" to their parents and that made them lead a double life, one among their gay friends and the other among their parents and colleagues at college or work. One told me that his mother, who constantly asks him about any possible girlfriends, will die of a heart attack if she knew he was gay.

Gays in Egypt have to take maximum care because sometimes the authorities here leave the corrupt businessmen and the criminals and arrest homosexuals instead. "We try to stay close to each other, we don't usually open up to those we don't know" I was told.

Amazingly, the guys were well aware of what's happening around the world. They were aware of the same sex marriage debate that's going on in the U.S and other countries, and they unanimously expressed their disapproval towards gay marriage and gay foster parents. See, that's the irony. Religion plays a huge role in the definition of the personality of any Egyptians no matter how observant he/she is. Even though those guys are gay, they know that as far as religion is concerned they are committing a sin, and so legal sex marriage is something that shouldn't be even considered.

A guy told me he wants to leave Egypt and search for a better future somewhere else. "You can go to San Francisco" I said. "No, I don't want to go to America. I wish to go to Canada. It is more open especially towards gays" he answered.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Check out The Big Pharaoh in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It was so nice meeting their correspondent, Betsy Hiel, at the Ayman Noor rally.

Also in the Guardian Blogs.

Iraqi Soldiers donate to Katrina victims

I am finally going to Alexandria for 4 or 5 days. I will try blogging from there if I managed to do so. You can't imagine how I really need this vacation especially in a city that I adore.

Friday, September 09, 2005


Official results give President Mubarak 88.5% of the vote. That's much more than what everyone expected. We all thought that the number will be in the 70s. 88.5% is such a huge number, it doesn't differ much from previous "elections".

There are 2 surprises in these elections. First, Mubarak's share of the votes. Second, the rise of Ayman Noor who came in second, beating the leader of a well established party.

Turnout was very low as well, 23%. There are 2 reasons for this. First, turnout is normally very low in our elections, nobody gives a hoot. Second, the amendment of the constitution came after the end of the registration period.

I was positive that these elections won't be the best thing in the world. I believe the one in 2001 will be more serious provided that the eyes of the world, and especially those of the US, will remain on Egypt.

As you all know, I wanted Mubarak to have another term. The coming 6 years are going to be crucial for me personally. I will watch the liberals/progressives/secularists of Egypt during this period? Will they rise up? Can they compete with the Muslim Brotherhood if we had free elections in 2011? If the answer is yes, then I might be staying in Egypt. If the answer is no, then I'm definitely leaving.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Breaking News:

Unofficial counts gives Mubarak 78-80% and Ayman Noor 12%. If proven correct, such a result is stunning. I didn't expect Ayman Noor to come in second. That's an awesome achievement for Noor. I am taking these numbers with a grain of salt though. Let us wait for the official numbers tomorrow.

The Historic Elections

It seems that I was wrong when I assumed that these elections won't end up to be special. Today, everyone was talking about the elections and several were lamenting the fact that they didn't vote even though they knew very well that the omnipresent fraud was there. I myself feel so upset that I didn't get a chance to see the polling station yesterday and I'm determined to bring my butt to the police station and get a voting card, bearing in mind that visiting a government institution is the last thing I want to do.

Fraud, forgery, and dirty political maneuvers are an integral part of Egyptian politics. Yesterday's elections were not different. I believe that even if Ayman Noor came in second, the state will still put him third. The government cannot accept a young mischievous member of parliament to be right under Mubarak in the second seat. They can accept Nomaan Gomaa, the leader of a well known party, but definitely not Ayman Noor, definitely not this "kid" so to speak. Some say that Gomaa decided to run for president only to "break" Ayman Noor who was once a member of Gomaa's party.

Yesterday was definitely a historical day in spite of all the drawbacks.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Elections Update

So far from what I've heard, the turnout of those who have a registration card is OK. Hani (see previous post) who is in a polling station in downtown told me that he heard stories of fighting over votes going on in Bab El Shaariya, Ayman Noor's district.

This morning someone told me that I can vote with my ID card. I don't want to repeat what happened to me during the referendum last May when I went to the station only to get turned back because I don't have a registration card.

Well, I can sense that these elections are indeed different. I can't wait to know the "results". My prediction is as follows:

1. Hosni Mubarak (70-75%)
2. Nomaan Gomaa (10-15%)
3. Ayman Noor (5-10%)

I am sure Nomaan Gomaa will beat Ayman Noor and come in second. Gomaa leads a very old party (Al Wafd) that has an OK base and much more money than Noor. In addition, it appears as if the Muslim Brotherhood will vote for Gomaa in these presidential elections and join the Al Wafd in the parliamentary elections next November. These 3 factors will probably give Gomaa the second seat.

"Crammed into armored Humvees heaving with weapons, Lt. Col. S. Jamie Gayton and his soldiers were greeted by a surprising sight as they rolled into one of Baghdad's poorest neighborhoods.

Men stood and waved. Women smiled. Children flashed thumbs-up signs as the convoy rumbled across the potholed streets of Sadr City (Muqtada Sadr's stronghold)."

Check out what's changing Sadr City.

The success of Sadr City should force the Pentagon to seriously consider implementing the oil-spot strategy as suggested by Andrew F. Krepinevich

My Life's First Political Rally

I never ever imagined that one day I would attend a campaign rally in Egypt. Well, I had my first experience last Saturday and it was by a mere chance. Sandmonkey, Hani (Happy Bushra's brother), and I decided to head to downtown Cairo because Hani wanted to buy some Arabic books before returning back to the states.

We all got crammed in a Fiat 128 taxi and kept the chitchat going as the car inched through Cairo's dreadful traffic jams. We arrived at Tahrir square in downtown Cairo and told the driver to drop us in front of the mogamaa, a huge government building that houses several ministries and other governmental organizations. When we got off the cab we were all stunned to see that Ayman Noor was going to hold his final campaign rally right in the middle of Tahrir square, Cairo's most famous and busiest square. Sandmonkey's jaws dropped. Hani was drooling. And my eyes popped out.

Huge posters of Ayman Nour and Al Ghad party were all over the area allocated for the rally. A giant TV screen was placed on the pavement to broadcast the event to both vehicles and pedestrians. A young man was handing out leaflets, I took one for myself.

The place was crowded especially since the area in front of the moqama isn't that huge. My rough estimate is between 2000 to 3000 attendees including the journalists (excluding the huge number of security personnel of course!!)

We squeezed ourselves through the throng trying to get as close as possible to the stage. People were waving flags, brandishing posters, and enjoying the new found freedom. Suddenly, a group of Al Ghad party members erupted into chants of "down Hosni Mubarak." I couldn't believe what I heard. People chanting "down Hosni Mubarak" right in downtown Cairo and right in front of a symbol of the government's huge back breaking bureaucracy, the mogamaa building!

We kept walking until we stood right underneath the right side of the stage. I was enjoying my ecstasy when Sandmonkey directed my attention to a young lady carrying a camera. "Look, she's Mona El Tahawy" he said. Mona is a New York based journalist and commentator who writes for America's top papers as well as Al Sharq Al Awsat, a reputed pan-Arab daily newspaper. "Mona, Mona" I hollered. Sandmoney and I approached her and he revealed our personalities to a friend whom we only knew through the internet.

I got introduced to several other journalists, most of them knew about our blogs. Among them was Brian Whitaker from the Guardian who wrote an article on the anti-terror protest we organized after the Sharm bombings and Charles and Josh from the I felt so humbled when several journalists asked to know my feedback on what was happening. They also didn't miss the ever informative Sandmonkey who was glad to speak his mind.

Exhausted from the heat, we went to get some water from across the street. There were police trucks parked at a distance and we later knew from a police officer that they had orders not to interfere with the rally. I really felt pity for all these poor soldiers crammed like sardines in those awful vehicles.

I approached the above police truck and asked the soldier if I could hold the black baton. He refused and told me the word we always hear from the police and other authorities: "mamnouaa" or forbidden. I then extended my hands and started feeling it. It was made of hard rubber. "It's very good in hitting" he told me.

We returned to the convention.

Suddenly I saw young men rushing towards a person whom I immediately figured out to be Ayman Noor. The throng around him were chanting "here is the president", "where is the media, here is is the president". Nour stood at the podium and started delivering his speech. I don't know why but I felt that Nour lacked the charisma of an opposition figure who says he wants to change everything. His tone was low and rather weak. I am not sure if that was because he was exhausted from the tens of conventions he held around the country.

Anyway, that convention or campaign rally will never get erased from my memory. It was a clear indication that something is definitely changing in Egypt. My hope is that this spring, no matter how limited it is, will continue and give birth to liberal and progressive entities throughout the coming years. The secular/liberal/progressive entities of Egypt are in deep disarray and weakness and they will never gain strength unless given the freedom to operate and reach out to the masses. I am still at my stand that Mubarak should be given a 5th term, but I definitely welcome such political boat rocking.

Despite all the good things about this convention, there was still a negative thing that made me very upset. There were no balloons like the ones I saw in the Republican and Democratic conventions in the US!!

Monday, September 05, 2005

My Current Status

That's exactly what is happening to me. I'm even working from home. Blogging will resume when this dark cloud passes.

You know why I am having a very tough week? Well, my boss' boss is squeezing him with a deadline and so that entails that I get squeezed as well. Isn't it unfair? You get hard time simply because your boss' boss is giving your boss hard time! I'm beginning to rethink this capitalist system!

You do your part. Please do not go away.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

My Life's First Political Rally

I'll post about the Ayman Noor rally I attended yesterday right in downtown Cairo. I can't do that now because I'm having a very busy working day. Stay tuned. There will be pictures and all.

Update: I apologize I won't be able to post today. I want to take next week off and so I have to finish up loads of stuff at work. I can't wait for this vacation, Alex is waiting for me.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Bring Back the Baathists

It now appears that the Sunnis of Iraq are on their way to enter the political game by mobilizing Sunni voters for future elections. This might be a huge step forward towards isolating the Sunni population and their politicians from the die hard terrorists. I believe it would be a very wise move for the US to open a channel with the Baathists and try to bring them in. Here is why I believe so.

First, with Saddam in prison and the rest of the Baath party in disarray, only the Islamist Sunnis are the ones representing the true aspirations of the Sunni population. This is very bad news. The Sunni Islamists might differ with their Shia counterparts on issues such as federalism but they have no problem imposing ancient rules on the women of Iraq. The resurrection of the secular Baath party will counterweight the influence of the Sunni Islamists so that the former won't be the only "Sunni voice" around.

Second, the Baathists will counterbalance the tremendous influence that Iran has today over Iraq. The current government in Baghdad gets dictated by Tehran, a strong future Sunni voice will limit Iran's dreams for its neighbor.

Third, the current terrorist activities are largely the result of the marriage between former Baathists and Jihadis. Luring the Baathists into the political process will negatively affect the terrorist movement in Iraq. Baathists who are financing the terrorists from Syria should be allowed to return to Iraq and participate in the political process. The US should send CIA agents to forge deals with these people and I don't believe it would be very hard to convince them to come back.

Fourth, let us face it, the Baathists are not worse that many of those who are playing politics in Iraq. Look at Muqtada, is he better than the Baathists?? Look at the militias that turned beautiful Basra into a stronghold of fanatical militias, are they better than the Baathists? I don't think so. The former ruling class of Iraq should be given the same opportunity to participate in the political process just as everybody else.

Nevertheless, while negotiating with the Baathists, they should be told that Saddamism will not be accepted. They should relinquish any dream they had of returning Saddam back to power or of returning the monopoly they once had over Iraq. They will enter the political scene and have all the freedom to operate like anyone else.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Why Didn't They Stay at Home?

My heart aches every time I think about the over 1000 Iraqi Shia pilgrims who perished during the stampede last Wednesday. This mass of humanity just vanished in a couple of minutes because of a rumor that there was a suicide bomber in the midst.

I just don't know why someone such as Ayatollah Sistani, who knows very well that terrorists target Shias, didn't ask his followers to stay at home instead of commemorating the death of Imam Kazem this year? They didn't commemorate his death or any of the other Imams during Saddam's reign anyway. This disaster could have been saved by a little statement on a piece of paper from Sistani urging his flock to stay at home.

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