Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Rivo




Spoiler alert, I would rather you watch Rivo than read this text because I don't review Rivo but I discuss the details which would only make sense if you have seen it. But if you've seen Rivo, please read ahead.

In recent times the quality of Egyptian shows produced has deteriorated so drastically that it has become nearly impossible to watch a show till the end. Everything produced has to be about something meaningless and divorced from reality or at least the political reality we live in so that it can be released. Writers and directors struggle how to do something within a context that does not allow for meaning. 

A notable exception was an episode by Khairy Beshara on Netflix titled “National Day of Mourning in Mexico”. The episode is built within a fantasy land, and a very thinly veiled reference to the revolution. While beautifully shot and meaningful, that one episode lacks the emotional depth of what the revolution really means to those who made it happen, it contained some of the emotions that come with memory and trying to remember, it spoke about the resilience of memory and the determination to remember. 


I’m hesitant to write what I’m about to write next, or perhaps hesitant to make it public, because I’ve stumbled upon another open secret, a show that has recently produced and published called ‘Rivo’. I’ve always published my reviews without spoilers but this is not a review, this is me visiting the world of Rivo and basking in it with others who have. I cannot review this show in the sense of treating it like a production. I do not want to comment at length on the choices of camera work or sound editing or acting. All such commentary is useless in the face of what the show actually is. Though for what it’s worth, the show is a treasure trove of talent and attention to detail. You can really tell that it is a labor of love just by how every small detail was given attention. 

Rivo is nostalgic emotive show that transcends the technicalities of production, and I say this with bias because I am a part of Rivo. Here I don’t mean the actual production, I have nothing to do with the show, but what Rivo represents. The story of Rivo is not about a band, but about us, those of us who consider ourselves the revolution that took place in 2011 and continued through the next ten years only to fade and disappear, much like the old footage referred to that seems impossible to restore in the recent production. 


The show is set to tell a story of a band in the nineties, a fictional band that had never existed, and we look at the past through a curious lens of discovery. The mystery around the past and the emotions that present has brought is authentic, yet why are we so drawn to it?

Perhaps it’s only in the final episode that it all became clear. I was watching with my mother and she asked, “Why did Shady have to die?” At that moment without a moment’s thought, it was clear to me, he had to die in the show because he actually really did. Shady is the best of us who fought with their life for a better future in the revolution, the chance to be different, the chance to express ourselves in a way we never had before. Shady is the revolution, a spark that came out of nothing and ignited the world around us and changed it forever, and was simply killed and crushed and even their memory is something to be silenced. 


The show doesn’t delve so much into the name of the band, Rivo, presenting it as some chance name based on the local asprin pill that the protagonist Marwan was taking on the day they were performing, but in fact, the name is an ode to the circular shape that binds us together, us being the revolution, the real band members who had no start and no end, gravitating towards an idea, a dream symbolized by Shady, the best of us, who had to die in the show, because he was killed in reality. 

The aftermath of that crushing defeat, is the scattered band members who could not deal with what they lost along the way. They lost everything they had ever hoped for or dreamed of. Everything that happened, no matter how beautiful turned into bitter memories that they had to escape. We see revolutionary defeat through the eyes of Marwan played by Sedky Sakhr, a lone talented kid who thought he was completely alone, but little did he know that there were others like him. They were not exactly like him but he was part of them, no matter how different. He clawed his way out of isolation and finally learned that he belonged, that it was possible to belong. That’s why it hurt him so much when the dream had gone, because there was nothing to live for. There was no one to belong to, nothing to belong to. It was just the greatest moment that transformed him into everything that he could be, but it was taken away from him. It drove him to a death wish. After all what kind of life was possible without hope?


Sakhr travels effortlessly between the various characters he plays, the dorky introverted young man whose life is lit up when he encounters Shady, to the hopeless shattered defeated man no longer willing to live and even later to Lazarus who has been raised from the dead.

But if we look at other band members, they represent something so diverse yet each, with all of their flaws are beautiful in their own way. Maged George, a drummer, a part of the circle, a part of the dream, perhaps the most level headed character portrayed masterfully by the Cairokee drummer Tamer Hashem. His name, casually Christian in a world where such names do not come up. There was no emphasis on tolerance, or even difference, he was just there, a part of them without the usual tired attempts impose a hypocritical message of integration.  When it was all over, he went into exile and yet kept the beautiful memories. He lost something, he was injured, and yet he was able to still love his dream, his past. 


Omar, the talented guitarist who was not even a member of that middle class club they all belonged to, who took a chance using his gift to take a chance on a dream. When it was all over he had transformed almost completely into a conservative, and turned his back on his beautiful Fender guitar which he made cry and sing. Even Noaman, a pragmatist who went on with his life and at times seemed not to belong, had constantly made clear choices in favor of the dream that Shady represented. He was always so fickle because of his cynicism but deep down inside him he still wanted to be part of the dream and in the end, he wanted to revive that memory of the dream.

We see our story through the eyes of Mariam, the young woman who had no idea of her father’s involvement in that dream, in his inspiring words and actions that paved the way, it was only after his death that she even realized she needed to explore the past. The story is through the eyes of those who never lived the revolution or perhaps not even heard about it. She explores the story of strangers that she thought were remote, but the story wasn’t only about them, the story was about her too. She was also a part of Rivo without knowing it. At the time when Rivo was thriving, she could only find an old message left by her father damaged by time. He had wished she was old enough to experience how people had experienced the revolution. Her father’s work lead her to the story of her own life, a path of self-discovery. 


The show starts with a story and ends with a promise, and a reminder but I’ll get to that later. Mariam’s exploration of the past ignites hidden feelings in the band members that they thought they had lost forever. I watched the last episode and I identified with their feelings, because I too had loved Shady and wept for his loss. I too wanted Rivo’s story to be told and the legacy of Shady to be remembered with the love that I had for him as well. That love was inside each of them because Shady had left pieces of himself in them. Some of them had simply forgotten to love themselves, or that part of themselves. These feelings are just a memory of who they were, they were a circle of friends that shared a dream, no matter how different they were. 

But where do we go when the dream is gone?


The transformation of Marwan is perhaps the most telling arc of the story. From isolation to stardom and self-actualization and then into loss with a crushed dream. Yet maybe he owes it to Shady not to die just yet. Maybe they can never play again, but they can keep the memory of what they have done alive if it is told once again by Mariam. In the end he rises like a phoenix from the ashes to realize that Rivo still exists after all those years, in the friends that have gone their separate ways but have kept a piece of Shady within them throughout all their years of defeat. One day we shall meet again and stand side by side, not to play the music that we did, but to remind ourselves that we can be there for one another. 


Beneath the rubbles of old papers and a beautiful Fender guitar that had not been played, we find an old contract, an old pledge that they had long forgotten. That the members of Rivo have control over how their story is told, if they all come together, they can still tell their story in the way they want to. It was never a question about money, but about their inner demons and their own defeat. What can they hope for after the dream is gone, perhaps just the memory of what it truly was. Their choice is to come together, because Mariam needed them, and because they needed her to tell their story. They wanted to be seen through her eyes, because she was the future and she had also been there from the start. 


We’ve had to escape the memory of the revolution because of how much it has crushed us, but those of us who have survived must remember that it may be the most wonderful part of who we are today. We are the defeated, those who have lost hope, and cannot play anymore because we cannot touch the instruments that we played so masterfully, or parts of our arms have gone, or have lost the will to live, or even found success in pragmatism and killing off our passion. But one day we may live again if we are sought or discovered by those who we fought for, those who have been shielded from the story of Rivo or the story of the Rivolution. They are part of our story and it’s up to them to tell our story and theirs. But no matter how tough this will be, and it will be, we will be there for them.  We owe it to Shady and Hassan and all of those who fought with their lives for the dream we all lost. 


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

On Civil Disobedience - Tolstoy


From Leo Tolstoy:
This year, 1896, a young man by the name of Van-der-Veer was summoned in Holland to enter the National Guard.
To the summons of the commander, Van-der-Veer replied in the following letter:
THOU SHALT NOT KILL
Mr. Herman Snijders
Commander of the National Guard of the Middelburg Circuit
Dear Sir:
Last week I received a document in which I was commanded to appear in the magistracy in order to be enlisted according to the law in the National Guard. As you, no doubt, have noticed, I did not appear. The purpose of this letter is to inform you frankly, and without any ambiguities, that I have no intention of appearing before the commission. I know full well that I subject myself to a heavy responsibility, that you can punish me, and that you will not fail to make use of that right. But that does not frighten me. The reasons that compel me to manifest this passive resistance present to me a sufficiently important counterbalance to this responsibility.
I, who am not a Christian, understand the commandment that is standing at the head of this letter better than the majority of Christians. It is a commandment inherent in human nature and in reason. When I was still a child, I permitted myself to be instructed in the soldier’s trade — the art of killing — but now I refuse.
More than anything else, I do not wish to kill on command without any personal impulse or foundation. This appears to my conscience as murder. Can you name to me anything more degrading for a human being than the commission of similar murders or slaughter? I cannot kill an animal, or see it killed, and therefore I became a vegetarian. In the present case I may be commanded to shoot men who have never done me any harm. Soldiers certainly do not study the military field manual in order to shoot at leaves on the branches of trees.
But you will perhaps tell me that the National Guard must also and above everything else cooperate in the maintenance of internal order.
Mr. Commander, if there really existed any order in our society, if the social organism were indeed sound, if there did not exist such crying misuses in our social relations, if it were not permitted that one man should starve to death while another enjoys all the lusts of luxury, then you would see me in the first ranks of the defenders of this order. But I unconditionally refuse to cooperate in the maintenance of the present so-called order. What is the use, Mr. Commander, of pulling the wool over each other’s eyes? Both of us know full well what is meant by the maintenance of this order. It is the support of the rich against the poor workers who are beginning to become conscious of their right. Did you not see the part that your National Guard played during the last strike in Rotterdam?
Without any reason, this guard was compelled for hours to protect the property of the business firms that were threatened. Can you for a moment suppose that I will surrender myself to take part in the defense of men who, according to my sincere conviction, are supporting the war between capital and labor, or that I will shoot at the working men who are acting entirely within the limits of their rights?
You cannot be so blind as that! Why complicate matters? Indeed, I cannot have myself cut out into an obedient National Guardsman such as you wish to have and as you need!
On the basis of all these reasons, but especially because I despise murder on command, I refuse to serve in the capacity of a member of the National Guard, and ask you to send me neither uniform nor weapons, since I have the steadfast intention of not using them.
I greet you, Mr. Commander,
I. K. Van-der-Veer

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Hani Shukrallah - A Very Remarkable Creature

When I first heard news of Hani Shukrallah’s passing, it didn’t quite sink in. He was in and out of hospital, and in many ways I had been dreading it and trying to deal with it internally. Every time he got out of the hospital it was a sigh of relief. Maybe I had been long preparing myself for his passing so that the blow would not be so heavy. It worked. I was almost smiling in his funeral, and perhaps it’s merely because I could not help but think of Hani smiling and laughing looking down on his own funeral. With all the loved ones around and some of the hypocrites that may have come to pay tribute, I could not wipe his smile off my brain. But perhaps I was also smiling because I felt immense love emanating from some very beautiful people I saw in the ceremony of his departure. In a sense you had to be beautiful in some way to love Hani that much.


Photo by Miguel Ángel Sánchez 


Hani may not have been aware of how many people like me were silently going through their emotional rollercoaster as they heard about him, whether he had survived another visit to the hospital or finally with his departure. I was not close to Hani on a personal level and never present in his everyday life. I wish we had been closer, but we did have our deep personal moments which I capitalized on. I translated them into a special kind of closeness albeit one sided on my part. I had always felt an unshakeable closeness in spirit since we first met. It was probably just the usual for Hani, him being himself, and leaving a deep immutable imprint even with the briefest encounters with those he met.

To me his normal was special enough. I’ll take that. I feel blessed to have encountered his usual.




Hani Shukrallah was a beautiful man who mentored many and was able to live a full life. When I met Hani first in 2010, I was interviewing for a job at Ahram Online to write about film for a final sign off. I will forever be grateful to Ati Metwally for offering me the opportunity to be a part of that experience. He sat me down, looked at my blog, started reading a simple review I had written and then immediately hired me. He said I wrote well. Ever since, I've been learning more and more about what it means to think critically and what his journalism was about.

Hani stood out at a time and in a land of fallen heroes. I had gotten accustomed to those ‘big’ people letting us down. Yet there I saw a young revolutionary in an older man’s body but with the knowledge and wisdom of the years. I often wondered how he maintained that wonderful combination of seeing things as they are and yet being youthfully hopeful, resilient and persistent in pursuing his values.

I was at Ahram Online when mass protests started on January 25, 2011.  We returned to our editorial meeting after the government’s five day internet shutdown ended.  Hani Shukrallah was smiling, laughing, and quickly said, “I assume we’re all for what’s happening in Tahrir right now.” He said he understood why many decided to join the protests, but it was his opinion we had the opportunity, the role and the platform to do even more good as journalists by reporting and giving the events a much needed voice.

The words stuck with me and covering protests became part of what I did in the events that followed. It didn’t matter if I was going to protest, observe, report, blog or tweet. I witnessed protests and wrote about them. I was given space by Ahram Online to work on numerous critical pieces. Hani would later be sidelined under the Muslim Brotherhood and his newly established publication, Bel Ahmar,  censored by the regime among hundreds of censored websites.



I don’t want to make Hani out and as an infallible figure who made no mistakes. I’m sure he made many and I didn’t agree with every position he had, but he remained a passionate thinker, reader and listener, willing to change his mind or reconsider his positions and even admit mistakes. Hani wasn’t primarily a journalist, he was an activist who happened to be a journalist particularly brilliant at his job. He was a gifted writer but behind those words were vivid thoughts and moving ideas. He excelled at both the thinking and the writing.

I’m sure Hani doesn’t need my humble testimony to his brilliance, but the point is that I admired who he was and aspired to be like him. In the newsroom he was daring, he said things as they were. One day as I was stopping by the office I heard Hani shout from inside his room, “Why are you quoting this guy!! He’s nothing but a security informant!” or “Amnagy”. The combination of excellent journalism and the courage to spell things out as they are was something I had not witnessed much. Most journalists I knew were afraid to have an opinion even when things were that clear.

He made sure that professional journalism backed what was said, even if it ran against an acceptable narrative. He was a field builder and an author of narratives. I will admit that it is delusional of me to think that Hani Shukrallah reflected some of what I saw in myself, so let me just say that he reflected what I hoped I could be. Still, I was not delusional enough to think I can be as funny or as charming as he was. I still believe though, that in terms of thinking, writing and integrity, it is worth aspiring towards what he had become.

When Hani wrote, I read. When he spoke I listened. I was lucky enough to have shared some of my pieces with him before he passed away. There was one which he insisted should be translated and published in Bel-Ahmar. I’m grateful for that. A while later I persistently asked him to meet. I finally passed by his place and we had a deep long conversation over coffee. We spoke of our past and our future and his prophetic article J'Accuse which he wrote the first day of 2011 in poetic and prophetic anger that spoke about things that have passed and things to come.

I'm grateful to have spent time with him. I feel blessed to have been able to tell him how much I admire him and how much I've learned from him and how much I wanted to be like him, despite how awkward it sounded to be saying all this to him in his living room unprovoked.

Hani was revolutionary in every sense of the word. He revolutionized English journalism and he adopted daring stances. He was a revolutionary long before he found his revolution.

There are endless things to say about Hani Shukrallah, and these words hardly do him justice. I can talk about more things that happened in Ahram Online, or wonderful ideas that have helped shape mine, but it’s very difficult finding words. In fact the words I write now are ones I’ve wanted to write for over a year since I heard of his death but could not string them together. When I heard of his passing, I could not help but think of these lines from ‘The Razor’s Edge’ by Somerset Maugham which had deeply moved me:

“[He] is not famous… It may be that when his life at last comes to an end he will leave no more trace of his sojourn on earth than a stone thrown into a river leaves on the surface of the water. But it may be that the way of life that he has chosen for himself and the peculiar strength and sweetness of his character may have an ever-growing influence over his fellow men so that, long after his death perhaps, it may be realized that there lived in this age a very remarkable creature.”

In my mind, these words represented Hani, and I say this despite knowing full well that he is a giant in the field of journalism in Egypt, known well and respected, but I think that Hani’s real power is how deeply and intimately he has affected and touched those who have encountered him personally or observed “the way of life that he has chosen for himself.”

This text is long overdue, perhaps subdued for so long by the intense feelings of love and loss I’ve harbored over the years.

Goodbye beautiful man. We shall miss you immensely. I love you lots.




A note about the video. The audio recording is from The Razor’s Edge, a film based on the movie. The words stuck with me, I wanted to be that man, but I really think something about it suits Hani. I collected the images from the internet without really knowing the sources, I apologize for that, but one of them used with very special lighting was taken by Miguel Ángel Sánchez in 2015 during a project that he and Nuria Tesón were making at the time. The interview with him is still not released, but the image captures a true hero at the time of darkness, a man holding on to his revolutionary spirit at a time where many others particularly from his generation had forfeited it. This video is how Hani feels like to me, my personal tribute to him.

Monday, April 27, 2020

The Missing O Key




I write at night. Often in bed. Long before I was using a computer to write, I would read in bed and pick up my notebook and let all my thoughts flow. Back then I was just discovering the world. The world to me is not travels and people, but the inner world of thoughts and feelings, emotions and power dynamics. The world that I was discovering wasn't something they teach you in school. It was everything that was unspoken, not fully addressed. I sat most nights rediscovering what others had also rediscovered as they began thinking about the world on their own. Everything was novel. Discovering lies was novel. Investigating subcultures was novel. 

I still write at night and in bed, but now on a computer. The same passion to share what I have discovered that's new about the world diminishing. I learned it the hard way, but I found out that it doesn't matter what I discover no matter how new or profound. Sharing it won't make much of a difference. Besides it isn't something that people don't know. On the contrary, a great many people who know certain things are actively working to drown them so that they lose prominence. 

All of that doesn't matter, the whole point was that I write at night often and I take my computer to bed in order to do that. 

I lack the motivatin to shut everything f and speak t my cmputer as I often spoke to the blank piece of paper in the past. As if that's nt enugh, I'm facing a new prblem. My laptp's keybard has brken dwn. Nt all f it, just ne key. It's the O key. I have to pound it hard as I type so that it wrks. Often it just doesn't and I have t delete and then write it. It breaks the flow f my thughts. So nw I try pounding and sometimes it types and other times it doesn't. Nw this paragraph is missing a lot f Os that I wasn't able t pound hard enugh. The words look weird but I wn't correct all f them. 

It's increasingly difficult to write without that key. My usual writing all comes flowing, gushing from my mind, with my hands trying to keep up with the translation of my thoughts to words. For work I have an external USB keyboard but that doesn't work in bed. The missing O breaks the flow. I'm not as fast translating my thoughts to words. I have to go back to words I write and correct them, and then I can't remember exactly what I wanted to say next. 

But long before losing that key it was difficult to write. I think the same way, I just don't share it. I guess it's only now that I realize that long before I lost the O key on the computer, I may have lost an O key in life that has made writing difficult for me. Somewhere along the line I lost something that made me have less hope in the meaning of sharing what I write. 

I ordered a replacement keyboard that will arrive in around a week or two. If only my other missing key can be replaced. I'm tempted to say I lost that key in Egypt during the revolution, but that's not true. During the revolution, a two year lifetime, I had the passion to write and discover. I lost the key later, in Egypt and all over the world. I lost the key when I saw that striving for the truth was worth little in the face of manipulation, fear and self interest. 

The masks of western rhetoric fell ungracefully as western government, much like the petty corrupt officials I saw in Egypt, raced to kiss military brass ass in Egypt in exchange for lucrative business deals. Whether it was Germany for their Siemens and submarines, the UK, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Greece, Spain, or the US for various other reasons, it was all the same. They were cheap and regarded their own values as cheap or perhaps just up for sale. 

The diplomats, once revered in popular culture now appear to me as nothing more than mercenaries in suits. They are the front for the business henchmen behind who profit at the expense of other people's lives, not just in Egypt, but around the world. 

Power is the same everywhere. I recognize it too easily now. That's my missing key. If only I didn't recognize the nature of power, I would still be hopeful and discovering the world, but more than that, sharing in the hopes that people seeing reality would help change it. 

There's no vendor that sells the key to my writing and sharing. I think I'll just have to pick up the pieces and try and put it back together again. 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Surviving Corona



It's late at night and there's news of coronavirus all over the world. It's the starting sequence of a sci-fi movie, these are just the few seconds. What will come next is probably going to be uglier, because those who control where the world is heading are ugly. There will be no humbling experience except for the humble. This is what we've toiled for all those years. So that on this rainy day, the rich and the powerful can protect themselves and get even richer and more powerful. They control the little tax payments you make to their private interest. Now that it's time for you to collect what you're owed, you'll be thrown under the bus. This tax money was for their rainy day not yours. Money and resources will go to those who already have money and resources. You will continue to pay for their well being with your blood and sweat.

At a time when the world needs true leadership, those at the helm are anti-Science corporate bigots for the most part and those next in line are ancient relics whose only hope is to take us back 10 years ago when things were horrible but not disastrous. There is no collective hope to come out stronger as a society, but perhaps individual salvation is possible. We can recognize how fragile this world is, how meaningless businesses are in absence of life and health. We can recognize that race is a construct not respected by disease. We can recognize that we live in the disease of racism and xenophobia even though it's not biological. 

Perhaps all these things are possible, but I lost hope in human's ability to learn from what they see. The reality is that emotions are stronger than rationale, and as sad as it is to realize it, if you keep pounding a message for decades, it becomes the truth, even if debunked by simple logic. Most of what we know is 'on authority', yet it surprises me how much people fight for something that's not their own, for a view that was force fed to them. 

What happens next in our world. A worthy question. We realize we don't need to travel that much, we don't need to have that many conferences even though they are fun. We don't need to go out every day, even though that's fun. We recognize that we share a lot more than we thought. We share transport, we share the roads and we share supermarkets. Yes, that place where there is no escape from disease. The person at the cash register touches all your items, and touches your money. Anything there will be transferred.

I have thought of a way to get through this time, but I think I need a bit of science to formulate a plan. If only covid19 doesn't mutate or doesn't visit you twice, I would have had a perfect plan. For now there is nothing left to do but wait and hope, and now everything is a game of chance. Life is a game of chance. More so for the elderly than the young. 

There's a moment when I realized we can all be potential killers. If we pass this to the vulnerable we can kill. I think that's true of many things. Our decisions, our votes. It was always so remote, but now it's closer. Your carelessness can cost lives. It won't be easy living with that, being the victim and the perpetrator, all at the same time.   

But isn't that how we always are? We're gentrifiers, we're privileged. Even the privileged are victims of their own privilege and their blindness which they're born with. It's not their fault. To be born with privilege is to be born blind to injustices that should really not happen. Privilege is an exceptional normal state. It ought to be normal not to face injustice based on your skin color, it ought to be normal not to face discrimination based on your gender. It isn't though. It's only normal for the privileged. 

The privileged are born blind with the duty to see. Some don't fulfill their duty, and end up moderates in an extreme world, guilty of perpetrating the status quo. Others are worse, they seek to entrench their privilege and utilize the status quo, altering it to dig us deeper into that abyss of injustice. 

Nothing can even the odds at this point. The powerful don't need to normalize lying for everyone, they just need it for a big minority that are able to suppress the majority. They need the blind, they need the privileged, they need those who cannot see how entrenched we are in an extreme status quo. They need not be supporters, they need only be moderates, they need only be ineffective, obsessed with law and order at the expense of justice. 

The movie's opening seconds are apocalyptic. It's just a disease with a mortality rate of 2% some say. Certainly true, but there is a kindness in the nature of covid19 that we are yet to appreciate. It's a warning sign nevertheless. It targets, very clearly, the vulnerable. In some ways it is asking us to protect the vulnerable. But we will fail even this simple test. We have not had adequate training protecting the vulnerable. We have a neoliberal world order that exploits them.

Is it reasonable to think that all of a sudden a new found care for the vulnerable will be born? It will not happen. The vulnerable are expendable. That's disaster capitalism, that's what it has practiced for years, but without the same attention as the virus, because the killers had to be out of the news. Condemn the greed, but not the greedy, condemn the system, but not the actual people responsible for it. That's the way of the world.

There is a small difference now though. The capitalists don't get to choose who they kill. The virus chooses and that's why they must rush to protect themselves, even at the cost of protecting the needy. Make no mistake, protecting the needy is a huge price for the rich and powerful to pay. Ordinarily they would not pay it. But in order to protect themselves, perhaps they must pay that ultimate price. Why not appear compassionate too while they're at it. They will find ways of profiteering from the disease anyway and the from the constraints that will be placed on the masses working for them.

We're going to work to pay this debt in the future. How dare we be helped by the powerful. It doesn't matter, our taxes will mostly go to them. They will be bailed out when they fail to steal from us properly. They will be bailed out when they 'erroneously 'declare war because they 'learn' and 'grow', and their followers find that commendable. 

This is a crisis that offers an opportunity for us to grow and see the world for what it is. Just like I was exposed to the nature of power when I saw the streets of Egypt full of men with guns who wanted to enforce their rule and infiltrated all media to repeat their same old lies. I see the media around me full of these lies, they're a bit more clever, still not logical, but who cares. What really matters is that people don't care for logic and rational. They have their establishment 'intellectuals' feeding their egos, and filling their brains with status quo excuses. 

Whether it's 1984 or a brave new world, it doesn't matter. It all looks the same after a while of observation. The brave new world is far superior of course. It's more fulfilling, it provides the illusion of freedom. But a moderate in 1984 and a moderate in a brave new world are the same. Nothing but fuel to feed the machines of control. 

After the first few seconds of this movie, I don't know what happens. Maybe there will be heroes and villains that shape the world, but in these type of movies it doesn't matter. What really matters are the individuals that survive these events. What do they take with them from the old world is up to them.

To be honest, there's little to take from the old world except resistance to it. Maybe we can resist the inhumanity and injustices as we move forward. Maybe we can still fight against control and oppressive structures. That's still going to be worth something as we transition. I know that this is what I will try to take with me.

Friday, January 03, 2020

More of..

So much time spent in this world. So many experiences. Less time to explore now and more time to decide what I need more of. The irony is that I can't get what I want more of just yet. To get more of what I want, I have to do more of what I need to do.

But I know things I need more of in my life. They're clear but they're easier said than done.

I need to read more, I need to write more. I need to make more music. I need to spend less time on those what will not expand my ideas. I need more nature. I need to be at peace with myself. I need to work on myself. I need to dedicate more time to sports. I need to care less about changing the world. I need to focus more on who I want to be.

I failed last year to have a post each month. The last two months saw no writing. I've lots a lot of my anger and passion. I'm hoping to rebuild those.

New years are not reset buttons, they're just arbitrary points in time that we can use to count.

More of who I truly am this year. 

Friday, November 01, 2019

Twitter's Censorhsip



This month I was busy documenting Twitter's censorship of Arab voices. With the help of other researchers we documented a mass suspension aimed at activists who spoke about Egypt. During the course of our investigation in order to verify our findings, we stumbled upon another pattern of Twitter falsely flagging responses to tweets as hateful conduct.

This forced Twitter to apologize for the mass suspensions but not for their misapplication of the hateful conduct policy.

I wrote an article in Arabic and in English to document this and it was covered by Buzzfeed. I also dumped the images I collected in a Facebook album.


Monday, October 14, 2019

Dear Lydia

This is one of the worst periods of Egypt's history. The next generation will ask us, how could you allow this. I wrote this letter addressing Lydia, one of my fascist friend's daughters some time back, envisioning what I would tell the next generation. My simple answer is that we tried.




Dear Lydia,

It is with great sorrow that I write this letter to you knowing full well that you may not trust or comprehend it, or even believe me. You may have grown up believing a narrative that runs contrary to the truth, in which case, this letter shall not have an effect on you, and you will feel bitter and angry at this letter and at me for writing it. But there's a strong chance, that unlike your parents, you will have come to understand the true history of what happened in the time before, a time of events, both I and your parents have witnessed up close and each of us took their route.

This letter will only make sense if you've ever come across the truth of the history that took place starting from 2011 and the repulsive turn into oppression in 2013 where injustice prevailed and massacres took place. It is only with the realizing of the ugliness of this history and trying to reconcile it with what people did that would give meaning to this letter.

Your mother was one of the staunchest supporters of the Sisi regime, because your uncle was a policeman, she was a vehemently opposed to anyone who pointed to police corruption. She supported the police as they killed thousands of people, and even though many have presented her with evidence that they were unjustified, she shrugged them off. She continued her support for police brutality in the face of logic and evidence of a declining sense of justice and a declining economy. She was happy to label anyone who opposed the crimes of these irresponsible tyrants as traitors, while the real treason was committed by those she supported.

Your father and I were closer, he was also more moderate, yet he showed great weakness, never engaged in trying to call out the criminals even though he may have seen their crimes. He was looking out for your future as any father would, but the cost was the future of many other generations and the history you have inherited. So many have been killed with the blessing of apologists and your parents were those apologists.

In answer to your questions as to whether our generation was aware of these atrocities that you learn about in school, the answer is yes, there was plenty of information. It is just that many did not want to believe or want to be confronted with the sad reality that their country was run by criminals, that their children's future was going to be determined by criminals. They would rather believe that those trying to rectify the situation were spies, rather than people who loved their country and valued its future enough to oppose the oppressors.

Torture was widespread, and to get a sense of how people reacted, they didn't care, as long as their own people were not affected, yet as we've come to learn it was only a matter of time before someone close to someone got hurt in some way or another. The country descended into lawlessness on account of police brutality, yet your parents and people like them were steadfast in blaming the victims of this brutality rather than the perpetrators.

There was a strong narrative that the country was fighting terrorism, but as we've come to see, the policies put in place by the oppressive regime did nothing but create more extremists who were fighting because of a growing extremist ideology or to attain some sort of justice against a regime that offered no civil way of attaining it.

I want you to believe me when I tell you I have tried hard to speak to your parents and convince them to take a different moral route, but they shunned me and chose to continue in their ways. I asked them to stand by their integrity for your sake, so that you will not view them as weak or immoral for allowing such atrocities, but to no avail. They were determined.

I do not know if there was anything more I could have done, I want you to believe that I have tried my best that you and many like you not inherit the country and the history that you did, not to inherit the parents that you did. We had many opportunities, if only people had learned to look beyond their selfish needs, we would have all been better off.

History cannot be changed now, you have seen what has happened, and the only thing I urge you to do dear Lydia is not to follow the same path taken by your parents, of apathy and justification for tyrants. Remember that all this is transient, all that remains is how much of your integrity you have maintained.

Lovingly,

W.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Fuck Their Palaces



This is about the spaces they take from us to give themselves.

Here I am with spaces all around me. In a city in Europe whose rich history covers its streets with darkness and brightness. I’m here in this space, with everyone enjoying the music and their freedom. But back home, there are few such spaces. They are building palaces at our expense. The cost of their space is ours. They have set out to take our spaces to make them their own. The cost of their freedom to steal is the freedom from our own, the very youth that would ever build our future.

Thousands in jail, the spaces they should be inhabiting stolen from them, and for what? For luxury palaces, gardens and special interests. For spaces that may end up abandoned but guarded. Empty spaces, as empty as their dreams for a future.
The present I’m experiencing in those foreign spaces abroad is what we deserve back home. It’s what those thrown in prison deserve.

We live in a transmogrified past and the only way to reach the present is to travel. I never thought time travel was possible, but it is. You just have to leave the borders of this time warp, where its inhabitants are stuck in slavery. It’s not easy to leave. The wardens are not just our jailers but those very same foreign countries who arm the oppressors with weapons and technology to keep us locked in. The condescending view of us in their embassies as they forget about the riches they’ve stolen. That sense of entitlement for a better life even though its price is paid by our enslavement.

My friends are in jail so that some General’s wife can have her customized palaces. These palaces are not just built with the money they steal from us, but with our lives. Their fortress is not just the walls they put up, but the network of greedy interests that produce humans that stand in the way of justice to maintain the corruption that keeps them thriving.

We never asked for this, we would have been happy to dance. But what choice were we given? To dance away while trampling the rights and lives of others underfoot. To dance while trampling their dignity and ours. It’s not much of a choice. Both are a form of death. One of them closer to the literal sense of the word, our lives being destroyed if we speak, the other a literary death, the death of our conscience and humanity.

Fuck their palaces. We will dance when we can to counter their greed. We will speak when we can to counter our death.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Chocolate Cake Streets




The streets reflect everything. They are the ripple effects of closed door meetings with decisions and actions that affect our lives. Our motivations are not as individualistic as we often think. Our motivations are set by the context we live in. Both the social and political manifest themselves in us.

You're unique and special, just like everybody else. I would have liked to think my thoughts and my journey was special. After all I climbed out of the abyss of mainstream thinking, read history, questioned my reality and experienced so many things that many others may never experience in their lifetime. But that doesn't make me unique in character, there are at least about 400 other people out there that have my same characteristics. Critical, argumentative, expressive, angry, pensive and host of other qualities I don't know if I possess or not. The point is that I'm a result of what I've been given to deal with, but special in that it's me.

Our lives are like recipes, each person has their own, but many people share the recipe. What really differs is that the quality of ingredients and their compatibility differ. So let's say I'm Cocoa, I would be put in the mix with butter, sugar, flour and milk. I would react with these ingredients, be subjected to heat, cold, chemicals and other elements till I finally look like a chocolate cake. I may taste slightly different, I may think that I've gone through a lot, but I'm still a chocolate cake like many others out there. 

Perhaps my contribution is the quality of Cocoa that I am. The result is still not guaranteed, for what kind of butter, milk and flour came into contact with me? I'm not telling myself it's not worth it to try and be a better chocolate cake, but it would be simplistic to believe that I'm the only one.

I walk through the streets and look at templates of people. Certain people come with bundled characteristics that make them similar to one another. The class joker, the swindler, the kind fool, the evil prick. They all follow patterns, but they sometimes come in various flavors. 

I walk down the streets and I see cheese cake, carrot cake, red velvet, vanilla icing cake and I try and recognize their patterns. It's impossible to figure things out about people with just a glance. But what's worrying to me is that people are being shaped. I look at changes in policy and society  and they're quickly manifested in the faces of people I watch go by. Their recipe changes and sure enough, they react to the new ingredients put their way and transform or even transmogrify. 

There's not much I can do about it, the only thing I can hope for is be aware of where I stand and perhaps try and become a better ingredient.


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Moving




I woke up slowly, not rushing into any of the morning tasks that I have to do. I thought of doing a bit of work, perhaps to have an easier week later on. I put up my first poster in the new house since I moved, it's of pulp fiction. I know it’s a bit of a cliche, but it makes the place mine in some way. My friend got me plants, they change the space as they sit on the window sill. 

It’s odd how small things make a place more soulful like the fridge magnet I bought from a city I visited only for work. It's the little things that reflect who I am that make a difference in a space. I don't want to own many things here because I'll move, but at the same time I want the place to feel like it’s mine, like it reflects me.It's a tough trade off that I haven’t quite figured out yet

Days like these make me wonder what living somewhere means. We give our life meaning through the random things we encounter around  us. The movies that are out, the music that we can choose from, the restaurants that are there and people that happen to be in our neighborhood. It's like these things are forced upon us and we have to somehow create meaning by arranging them into categories. This friend is closer than that. That street is better than this.  

My own thoughts are inconclusive so far as to what to make of the new things around that I've been given to organize. But maybe I've decided that no matter what the confusion, I'll continue to share.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

The Funeral




I went to a funeral at church tonight. I met some of the old faces I abandoned several years back when I parted ways with the Orthodox church which adopted a very clear counter-revolutionary stance. They wedged themselves deeper into that moral abyss when Pope Tawadros was appointed only to unquestioningly support the re-establishment of military rule after the takeover in 2013. I left them all behind. The further I drifted the more content I became. Meanwhile, I still had connections with the actual community on social media. They read what I wrote. I responded to what they wrote. Quite expectedly, we got into huge arguments that resulted in accusations, unfriending and blocking. 

The main moral confrontation was about their support of a dictator as his regime crushed my friends and comrades. The dictator was applauded alongside Jesus who they claimed to celebrate, while those who actually adopted the values Jesus preached about were crucified. ‘Crucify them,’ they said, and with the same breath they celebrated freedom for the corrupt and murderous, like Hesham Talaat Mostafa, Habib El Adly  and numerous others like them.

I had never understood that part of the story in the gospels, that juvenile part just before the crucifixion when Jesus was presented to the masses that welcomed him a year earlier and asked whether he should be pardoned, the people responded 'Crucify him'. Never understood how people could turn against someone who had done nothing but speak truth to power in favor of better morals. Now I've seen it happen and that part of the story seems like the most realistic and authentic part. How simplistic real life can be as well.

This is the church that I got to know, that likened Sisi to Jesus and linked him to the words of prophets about a savior. This is the church that mocked those who used religion to manipulate people’s politics when the Islamists did it, and yet its leader went out and supported the regime despite every atrocity committed in violation of human decency. Its people have sided with false gods and abandoned the morality preached. It’s not that they preached against anything good, it’s that they demoted their beliefs to lip service and mindless acts of worship.

It was the funeral of an old lady whose family I knew. It wasn’t the saddest of funerals because it seems that the old woman had lived a full life till she was very old. I never knew her, just her daughter and her son in law who was also a priest that was close to my heart and I knew her granddaughters and loved them dearly. They were all lovely people who hadn’t quite followed the party line, nor excused atrocities. As soon as I entered and I saw Father Ibrahim, I was filled with love. Some of these people were a community I loved, but I was so angry at the bigger picture, at the rest of everything that I was unable to visit that church much, not even ceremonially. Despite the funeral not being very sad, I was full of sadness. I sat and looked at the faces and wondered what I was so sad about. I realized that I was mourning the death of that church for me and what it meant.
How far had the Coptic church drifted from its promises of holding on to the moral teachings of Jesus. The church had offered resilience in the face of persecution historically. Who knew that you did not need to kill them for them to die. All you had to do is co-opt their leadership and the rest would slowly decay. They would live by their fears instead of their values, they would follow the crowd instead of their conscience.

I mourned the death of the church for what it represented because I loved some of the people. It reminded me that people who have immoral stances can still be lovely warm people who love those close to them and who take care of their community. It reminded me that we can tell ourselves lies in order to think of ourselves as good people. I wasn’t filled with anger when I was there, I was filled with sadness for this lost potential. Even a cynic like me has hope and believes that something better is possible.

It doesn’t matter now how many apologies I get from those who have attacked me, it also doesn’t matter if people haven’t changed their minds and continue to support a brutal murdering dictator. Something has been lost and I have to remember that so many people I know are in jail because many of those lovely fearful people made it possible. There are many beautiful things about Jesus’ teachings that have been distorted by the Coptic community and its church leadership. But as the anger subsides for a while, I’m full of sadness and I’m also filled with love for some of the people who have stood their ground and others who haven’t stood their ground but are paradoxically kind loving people who want to do right by their community.

Anger is much easier, it removes a lot of the problems, because beneath the question of morality, there’s a more complex question of humanity.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Starts




It’s often difficult to start. Sometimes it’s easy, but other times it’s difficult. A start can come without expectations or it can be coupled with hope for a certain finish. Experience can make it easy, but it can also make it difficult. I think I’m at the worst place with starts. It’s difficult to start, it comes with expectations and my experience hinders me rather than saves me. My mind envisions all the paths to the hoped end, but they keep getting blocked. I’ve been down this road, I’ve been down that road. That’s what my mind does to my writing. The writing is blocked by cynicism and by fear. What is there to fear about writing? That’s a fair question. It differs from one person to another. I’ve heard about this fear from others but could never relate. Now I think I relate to the sentiment although I’m not certain that it is the same that others have. I fear my words will lead me down a tired path. The quest for something new is hindered by my experience. It’s not just experience. It’s exhaustion.

I would have loved to have been exhausted by writing itself. I would then just quit and find something else to do with my time. But really, I’m just exhausted with life. The futility of it all. The same old results. I had wished this tired old path led me to something fruitful, but it has not. It has lead me to a dead end and I need to figure things out before I am able to write again.

So I start again, in the hopes of evading some futility. Maybe I’m just accepting it. What did it all matter in the end? The lesson that I’ve learnt is that evil prevails. Good is just something that prevails in literature or motion pictures. I use the non-nuanced terms of good and evil because I’m too tired to make a sophisticated argument. The end result is that evil prevails. This isn’t a Paulo Cohelo thing nor its inversion. I know the world is more complex, but trauma is both simple and very complex. My intellect is able to understand and regurgitate that jargon that analyzes these sentiments, but my own emotions have been stripped down to a primal state, a state of feeling something that does not tolerate the sophistications of reality.

The whole point of expressing all this is purely therapeutic. Can I really express my state of mind? It’s all jumbled up, but this really does express it. It’s still not adequate, it is lacking. Is it abstract? Perhaps a little, but that’s how my mind works. If anything, it’s too simplified for what I’m thinking. I wonder how it sounds like to others. Is it clear or does it sound pretentious? I only ask because my thoughts have always been met with ‘But how do you really feel, concretely?’.. and this is how I’ve always thought of my feelings. Feelings are thoughts. These are my thoughts. These are my feelings.

I realize I have avoided starting anything, but then again, I’m almost finished.

It’s hard to make others understand, when you’ve questioned the accepted norms. This isn’t just some progressive crap though. I’ve questioned the conservative and the ‘progressive’. I’ve always thought something along the lines of ‘Progressives have a dogma that only conservatives have a dogma.’
I’ve used different building blocks for the structure of my thinking. It’s not that different. I too am trapped by my own context and my positionality. Still, starting from scratch is exhausting. Perhaps that’s why I’m unable to start.

Over the years I’ve come round full circle to where I was, writing about the inner thoughts. Yet the outside for me has changed so much. I’ve come to see the world through a lens tainted with blood and power. These are what shape my world. But I have never just been a simple observer. I’ve engaged. These two are countered by the power of people’s integrity. I’ve seen it up close. I shall never forget.