Sunday, June 09, 2019
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
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.
Saturday, March 30, 2019
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Egypt on January 9, 2019 to outline President Donald Trump’s “America First” vision of an assertive US role in the Middle East for his audience at the American University in Cairo, adding that “America is a force for good in the Middle East. Period.” Pompeo’s speech made no reference to advancing human rights or democracy, nor to alleviating widespread poverty or reining in brutal police states—all issues at the heart of the Arab uprisings in 2011, and which appear even more out of reach in Egypt today than they did eight years ago. His speech indicated the US would effectively endorse crackdowns on the freedoms of citizens in the Arab world, such as that taking place in Egypt today, in order to pursue its animosity towards Iran and whatever else it perceives as in its best interests.
Friday, February 22, 2019
It's a strange feeling to be in Cairo. Things are more convenient in a way and far worse in others. My privilege gives me protection from some parts of the ruthless city. A car, a flat and you're ready to shut out all those voices of inconvenience. I should be ready to step outside the car for a while and deal with the annoyances of the parking attendants, most of whom are government informers. I also have to deal with whatever bureaucracy exists in public as well as private enterprises. Everything is forbidden without reason, or rather a hidden reason or one that does not respect you. The private business owners have mimicked the top down government approach of asking their employees to follow instructions without questions.
Yes, questions are the enemy, because they demand answers. The biggest question is 'Why?' and the answers are what most people want to avoid because the truth is inconvenient. Why do I have to wait in line? Why is everything so inefficient? Why are there more hard drugs in the market? Why don't the police arrest criminals? Why do innocent people languish in jail? So many questions and the answers are known but not spoken. The answers are so dark that people prefer to pretend they are a mystery.
Yet a house and some money can go a long way to shield you from the idiocies of society. They can't however block news of injustice and they can't block the injustices you see each day when you step outside for a while and they can't bring back dignity, only buy you some cheap knock off that disappears as soon as your money does, or as soon as your opinions become inconvenient.
The guitar keeps me company. It creates a beautiful sound from touch. I get better at it. I pick the difficult pieces because they challenge me. I need some sort of challenge that I can take on. I can no longer do the moral challenges as immorality triumphs again and again. Let me look to the physical if I can. Maybe I can do more pull ups, more push ups, more sit ups. Maybe I can play harder pieces. Maybe I can build some furniture with wood. Maybe stain my wood better, finish it better.
This is Cairo for me now. An attempt to escape its brutal reality. It is constantly coping even at times when I'm just having fun.
At times I walk down the streets and it all overwhelms me, but that's a story for a different day. Right now it's 3 am and I'm happy to think of Cairo from the comfort of my quiet space.
Saturday, January 26, 2019
It has been difficult for me writing this piece. I was asked to write something for the anniversary of the #Jan25 revolution. I struggled. What was the point of writing. What was the point of sending this out as our world seemed beyond that which words can remedy. My first draft was a political narrative. Factual, impersonal, perhaps even accurate. The night before I couldn't just send that in. Our story was not about accuracy or simply facts. Our story goes on through our struggle to escape hope and find it. I rewrote it when it dawned on me that the most important part of our struggle is personal, not public. I struggled with words, with emotions, these are eight years and our experiences are full of emotions and we're at different stages of grief, of recovery.
All the words seem lacking, but I tried to find them with the little energy I had to describe us. I'm aware they don't do us justice. Yet, with all the flaws of expressing where we're at, I'm grateful to have used some of my energy to document some of my struggles that I believe are shared by many. And on a day like yesterday, it felt that I was not alone struggling in the dark. We are all collectively struggling, everyone in their own way, a battle to remember, a battle to forget, a battle to survive.
Our memory has been resilient in the face of seemingly infinite resources trying to crush it. It's worth something to keep remembering. It's worth something to keep trying to survive. It's worth something to hold on to that one thing that was genuine in our lives, that we were blessed and cursed to witness and be a part of. I don't know what that something is, but I often feel it when we connect. We shared something real that is somehow beyond words.
I was never a romantic dreamer, and the reason I write these sentiments is because I've questioned them a thousand times over to make sure they were real and not just some naive romanticization.
The revolution continues in our struggle and our trauma, but perhaps what I never mentioned is that it continues in the integrity we hold on to.
Tuesday, January 01, 2019
A long forsaken blog. Blogging might be dead in some way. Writing is not. I have allowed the blog to die over the years as social media started to take hold of distribution. A facebook status or a twitter post were a replacement. Mostly because the point was about influencing people at a time of political fluidity. The dreams of contributing to a positive change died slowly as people in Egypt turned their back, not to blogs, or social media, but to the question of morality as a whole. What is the point of persuading people who do not want to act based on morality but opt for an notion of pragmatism that is rather impractical and only serves to camouflage their moral bankruptcy.
As time has passed, the social media companies are controlling our content, siding with oppressive governments for an easy buck. It may not be the time to influence but to archive and document once again like the pre-revolution times. This year I will try and document some of the thoughts independent of transient social media. This platform now is far from perfect, but at the very least attempts to evade the continuous data games that are carelessly played by big social media companies who aim to control the spaces they once claimed were free.
My time in Cairo is full of observations, social now, less political. As I walk through the streets my mind wanders to various things from seeing the potholes, the frail infrastructure and the economically defeated faces on the streets.
Maybe I'll write once a month, or once every two months, but I will attempt to keep this going like once before and if I don't, I'm asking me to forgive me, because I know how overwhelming it has become to try and express myself in the face of trauma, depression and the frequent visits of hopelessness. I can only remind myself that even then it may have some value to express how I feel.
I'm hoping to be able to find more personal dispatches in the future worth noting. Or maybe this is just a brief awakening that won't last. Who knows.
Thursday, November 10, 2016
Early polling showed Bernie Sanders beating Donald Trump. In those early polls Hillary Clinton lost to Trump. I don't personally believe polls are accurate in general, but many do. What that means for believers, is that they chose a risky route. They wanted Hillary to win the primaries even though the DNC would have come to power more assuredly if Bernie was it's nominee. In fact those voters were Hillary or bust. They turned down the candidate who was closer to democrats on the issues because they gambled on Hillary changing her popularity. I'm not generalizing or judging motivations, maybe they thought she was a better candidate, maybe they didn't like Bernie, I'm talking about the practical implications.
When push came to shove Bernie rallied for Hillary because he realized the Trump danger early on. The DNC on the other hand, wanted to destroy Bernie. It was not because he wasn't aligned with them on issues, but because they had special interests. Maybe they thought Hillary was a better leader, maybe they thought Bernie wasn't capable of delivering, but still, they too gambled on liberal resources rather than weighed out what's more aligned with their platform.
One thing I respect about Bernie is that he stuck to the issues. Following her triumph over Bernie, Hillary shifted her focus to one thing, how she isn't Trump. Hillary was silent on most issues, she did not want to gamble her connections with big businesses once in the white house so that her words won't be used against her. In effect, she wasn't able to win over a bigger base.
People did their part and she won the popular vote, mostly out of fear of Trump. However, the question that that needs to be asked is: what did she do to try and win over those who wanted a better economy for themselves and who know for certain that the status quo wasn't good enough? Did she promise a better economy for them like Trump's empty promises? Not so much, and it's because Hillary knows the value of words and chose hers wisely. That is something we can respect Hillary for, she tried not to lie about her positions on issues so that they do not haunt her while in office, but that came at a cost. In effect, Hillary became silent about most issues that weren't instigated by Trump, she never called him out, she just responded to his silly ludicrous claims. She missed most opportunities outside the 'glad I'm not Trump' zone, and failed to comment meaningfully on something as obvious as the Dakota pipeline.
Hillary sat on the fence and hoped that Trump's stupidity would be enough. It wasn't. Mocking Trump and avoiding the issues gave his poor supporters no alternative but to challenge the status quo. The politics of fear were employed and even though fear of Trump did not deter voters, the politics of fear won. The real fear here for the working class was the continuation of the status quo. Hillary Clinton did not alleviate any of that fear.
Those who support Hillary are probably happy with the status quo to a great extent. There is currently a president from a discriminated group. I do not deny that a woman president would be progress, but to those whose lives will not be bettered it's cosmetic. Obama bailed out banks, lead drone wars, came after whistle blowers and under his presidency big businesses thrived and continued to make colossal profits. This simply isn't good enough for most.
I'm certain there are many who chose Trump for his racism, but what about winning over those who just wanted a shift in the status quo? What has been offered to them beyond cosmetic check boxes of progress?
There is something wrong with a country that would vote for a vile character like Trump simply because they are unhappy with the status quo. While people should be accountable for their bigotry, there are many reasons why they ended up that way. Media was sensationalist, catering to their base, on both sides. The liberal media focused on Trump and his crazy supporters. It may have been better to identify what is really wrong with the country rather than what is wrong with Trump and his supporters.
Saturday, November 05, 2016
Friday, November 04, 2016
This article was published in DNE on 2 November 2016.
As calls for protests garner more attention from the media and citizens who have long ignored them, many serious questions about Egypt's trajectory arise. This is perhaps Egypt's most disheartening moment in recent history. Besides the unprecedented scale of human rights abuses, it is obvious to dwellers and onlookers that Egypt's economy is swiftly spiraling towards collapse. The leadership is struggling to keep its head above water, as the long sought after hope of political stability turns frail.
What makes the moment more tragic is not the absence of hope but its fleeting presence. Egypt's path to recovery has long been clear. Yet, the economic interests of the policy makers have stalled any political will to execute them. Economic figures aside, future prospects are primarily based on trust. As conditions worsen and the interests of the political elite become clearer to the average citizen, trust in Egypt's present leadership withers.
Egypt's economic ills are but symptoms of its political ailments, and they require urgent redress. Egypt needs direct political reforms to establish a system capable of executing long-term plans beneficial to the country's future.
At the moment, the majority of decisions are taken by non-elected officials belonging to one security apparatus or another. They have three major motivations: narrow individual interests, securing the present regime, and a revenge agenda against Islamist or secular opposition. Their decisions are not subject to oversight. The parliament's handpicked members are more a representation of security agencies than of the people.
Similarly, the entire political system lacks cheques and balances. There is no manner to challenge decision makers without paying a heavy price. Egypt's top auditor, Hesham Geneina, was removed from his post after releasing statements about his report's findings that indicated mass corruption. In theory, that ought to have triggered an investigation into the government bodies accused of financial violations, but the opposite happened and Geneina was referred to trial.
The absence of balances has also corrupted the market in Egypt. While the army's role in the economy has long been established, the army is now, more than ever, directly involved in policy. This means that generals control the army's share of contracts and the shares of non-military owned companies in the market. Hence, it is not just the army's economic empire that affects the market, but rather the complete hegemony over economic and business policies.
Many civilian companies are subcontracted by the army, but they have no means to litigate against the army if they are extorted in some way or another or their payments delayed. When the army does business, it does not pay taxes; it utilises poorly paid conscripts, and its budget is not subject to parliamentary oversight. Even if the army produces goods or delivers construction projects at a lower cost, there's no way to ensure that profits made are pumped back into the economy. Money is taken out of the monetary cycle.
Private businesses have to compete with military industries that do not have to pay labour, taxes, customs, and transportation, and have no difficulty finding foreign currency to conclude their deals with partners abroad. This arrangement certainly doesn't consider long-term, economic growth.
Egypt's hope lies in the ability to challenge political, economic, and social policies. Egypt must prioritise the country's interests rather than a few individuals who enjoy impunity or corrupt rewards.
To find hope, trust in the process and leadership must be restored. Opportunities must be afforded to clever, competent decision makers. In actionable, concrete terms, hope lies in a parliament comprised of fairly elected representatives of the people willing to challenge the government, in the immediate release of all political prisoners (estimated to be in the tens of thousands), in repealing the flawed Protest Law, in ending the targeting of civil society so that it is vibrant and able to call out abuse of power, and in abiding by the Constitution to call into account all extrajudicial decisions and actions taken by state officials.
These steps are where hope lies in the short term to instill trust, and in order to stand a chance, there's more. The army must gradually distance itself from its hegemonic role in the economy and allow for businesses to operate within a fair and healthy market. There must also be a commitment from the government to end brutal police practices and devise an organisational restructure with meaningful oversight. The judiciary must end punitive rulings that serve the regime.
Egypt's youth, its most important resource and symbol for its future, are targeted instead of embraced. Many are defamed, imprisoned, disappeared, and sidelined. Instead of engaging with youth, the regime opted for a flashy youth conference held in Sharm El-Sheikh. The conference was insulting to many as it attempts to window dress systematic abuses against Egyptian youth each day. A more realistic youth conference would have been held in jails where many politically enlightened youth are being held. At this more legitimate youth conference, we would have witnessed Egypt's forcibly disappeared youth reappear and go home with their families.
Empty rhetoric and obstinacy is the regime's alternative to meaningful change. False promises for a better future only entrench Egypt deeper into its failing trajectory. Egypt's hope lies in investing in youth and accountability; hopes that Egypt's trajectory miraculously changes without real reforms are lies.