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.
Sunday, July 31, 2016
There's little real in politics to talk about which hasn't already been said. It feels as though people take a long time to catch up with what is happening. Each time I start writing, it feels I've said these things before and the repeat causes the sentences to be more robotic, less passionate, seemingly more rehearsed.
I read through my old stuff and I realize I gave it my all. Maybe someone out there has read what I tried my best to honestly reveal. Maybe someone out there was inspired to do the same. I'm tired of repetition and it feels I've been on a break from saying things how they are.
I'm not sure when I'll return.
Saturday, June 25, 2016
There's a bit of a trend to try and describe some communities as living in a bubble.The idea has become so deformed that people use the term incorrectly. So if people are interacting on twitter sharing similar views, they call it a bubble, if people have facebook timelines which show only their supporting views they call it a bubble, when revolutionaries are talking about torture and police brutality while most citizens don't, they call it a bubble.
I don't think people really understand what a bubble is as opposed to a community. A bubble is mostly defined by an unawareness of those around you, not by your preferences. You can't be in a musical rock bubble if you're aware that others like hip hop or house. The fact that you have a different taste or preference doesn't place you in a bubble. When you have preferences that are not mainstream, it doesn't put you in a bubble.
Bubble here is being oblivious to the reality of the world around you rather than relates to the choices you make. One particular example that stands out is the revolutionary bubble, which is complete nonsense. Revolutionaries are perhaps some of the most aware people of the existing contradictions in the country and the different communities and 'bubbles' out there. The fact that they've chosen a set of tastes and principles doesn't put them inside a bubble, particularly that their main concerns are the bitter realities of regime brutality that others want to shield themselves from.
The fact that other communities are not so accessible to them so that they can influence them doesn't put them inside a bubble, they just don't have means.
Also worrying is how many, even from within these circles, completely discard revolutionaries or activists as citizens. There is a form of elitism shrouded in the appearance of humility there. These activists are citizens too and just because they are trying to change things beyond their local scope doesn't invalidate their citizenship or opinions and most certainly doesn't warrant describing the whole lot of them as living in a bubble. In some sense, revolutionaries are the biggest non government sponsored coalition whose cohesion is based on a set of principles rather than an an institution.
People have used the term bubble to express their escape from the madness, in that sense it's building your own defenses against the surrounding madness, but there's a difference between choosing to isolate yourself and being oblivious to what is around you.