Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wazza Reggae Hymns

The other night I attended a concert in Rawabet Theater. I really didn't know what I was attending but some friends were going. I had initially thought it was a play but thought to myself, why not? I haven't attended a concert in so long. My friend told me that those guys rocked and people would dance to their music.

The theater was packed, and it appeared that the band had a following. What struck me the most was the type of audience which I haven't been accustomed to. There were so many veiled girls in the audience and the extra shocking surprise of a niqabi woman.

I must admit, the energy was high. People were excited. I closed my eyes and the crowd I imagined based on what I heard is not the crowd I saw when I opened my eyes. Slowly but surely the crowd began to stand up and start moving. As I listened to the songs, they sounded like hymns more common in a Christian arena in the manner that God was addressed at least. These reggae hymns moved the crowd and a long line of veiled girls started dancing to the reggae music. The niqabi woman on the other hand did not stand up but started breast feeding her child.

I must admit it was a slightly strange sight and triggered many thoughts. I wondered if we were in dire need of dancing and were just waiting for an excuse to move our bodies. I also wondered if the same people who provided the fatwa that a hijab is compulsory would approve of this type of dance. Of course it's a meaningless debate because the hijab isn't compulsory except from a social perspective, rather than from religious reasoning. I also wondered about the music ensemble which contained 4 guitars and one drum set. A friend of mine who wasn't overly conservative had pointed out to me that stringed instruments are 'haram' (not allowed) in Islam. I was never able to verify this, but that such an idea exists means that someone out there must be preaching it.

It was a little perplexing when one of the guests of the band started singing ala Boy Zone meets Tamer Hosny. I wondered where the line between reggae hymns and pop music is drawn exactly and what was going on in the minds of these young girls. Probably nothing, as they grew accustomed to. To top off the night, an Egyptian came on and rapped in French and then proceeded to speak to the crowd. He told them that whites and blacks are Africans, and that Africa is about love and then the biggest revelation of the night, that even Asians are Africans.

After the grand revelation, I had to leave to sort out all this new information in my head, about Asians, dancing, hijab and music.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Voice Over: When State Security Controls Your Life

Why do governments control people? I found that question resonating through my mind constantly as I watched “Voice Over”. The story is essentially about a man whose government and its ideology made him lose all he loved.

Set in the late 1970s, we follow a cameraman, Anton Krastev, through the trials and tribulations he faces when he is separated from his wife and child by the ‘Iron Curtain’. Krastev is falsely reported as a traitor planning to flee by a director who was expelled from making a film. He is disgruntled when Krastev continued with the replacement director, having said that he would leave too. From then on the state security takes over his life with a state security officer watching him intently and denying him any opportunity to see his wife and child who are abroad. As time goes on, his love for his wife and child diminishes and his desire to thrive in his country intensifies.

The film has an air of serenity about it, despite the events that take place. The soothing music, composed of piano and orchestral instruments, help give it a tranquil mood, together with bright and colourful cinematography. The performances of the actors are not outstanding but express the unusual normalcy by which the characters have accepted their fates.

Krastev remains cryptic despite a lot of screen time. His love for his job drives him away from his wife and towards self-actualisation. One of the more revealing scenes is when Krastev causes the death of the script-writer, who was also his friend, but oddly he is more disturbed by the fact that the film has been stopped than he is by her death.

Perhaps the closest resemblance in plot is found in the brilliant Das Leben Der Anderen (The Lives of Others), where a secret agent becomes absorbed into the lives of those he has been watching. The difference however is extreme, “Voice Over” does not come close to its depth of sentiment nor to capturing the story and characters.

That’s not to say “Voice Over” was not a good movie, it was but not satisfying enough. It is an intriguing trip through socialist Bulgaria where everyone is powerless in the face of state interference. Anton and his wife try everything possible to see one another, but the power of the state is stronger. It is a losing battle from the start as Krastev is set up, and all communications monitored. The state security officer calmly fabricates evidence and denies Krastev his freedom in a sick paternal manner. Indeed in their encounter together, the officer is kind, helpful and fully convinced that he is watching over Krastev.

The unsettling control of state security over aspects of daily life, together with the surrender of the people to such practices is discomforting. However even today it reflects the practices of many governments. Part of the answer to my initial question as to why governments need to control is because an oppressive government will not find people to oppress if they are given the freedom to leave. So what do you do when the state denies you the freedom to be with those you love?

To paraphrase Mrs Krastev, we have to believe in miracles because a person who does not believe in miracles is not a realist.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Election Day

Long before the authoritarian elections we have witnessed in 2010, the meaning of an election was determined by the Egyptian people rather than by the ruling party or the opposition. Elections were a time to stay at home in the hopes that nobody gets killed. It is a bloody race to power and those aiming to win will do anything. There is nothing to prevent theft or bribery but the good will of those trying to win and Egyptians are assured that no such will exists.

While government puts on charades of what elections are supposed to be, people are unmoved and determined in their view. Nothing changes because nothing has changed. Those in power are used bludgeoning the voters on such days. Election Day is a celebration of tyranny rather than democracy.

A wise Egyptian would stay at home to avoid harassment and possible injury. It is well known among Egyptians that going out to vote is either a source of income or a losing battle that they must fight anyway. No amount of ads nor press could convince them otherwise. I would go so far as to say that even if free elections were to ever take place in this country, no one would believe them to be so.

The rest becomes just a game between the ruling party and the opposition and the rest of the world. The Egyptian citizen is not involved in any way. There is however one aspect that does affect annoy an Egyptian citizen like myself despite complete surrender to the corruption and falsification of the elections. It’s those damn ads on television asking Egyptians to vote!!

These in my opinion are the most destructive and provoking force of all the events that take place during elections. The ads are the real expression of tyranny that we’re yet to get used to. There are several reasons that mark the advertisements as the worst thing about the elections.

The advertisements are shot in high definition, a sign of their fakeness and show Egypt in a completely false light. They ask an Egyptian to vote, which is now become code for asking him to come down there to get crushed and harassed. It’s like a special delivery for the police to exercise their usually bullying. So not only are they asking Egyptians to stay clear of trouble and harm’s way, they are asking Egyptians to go over there and either be beaten and defeated or to be utterly disappointed by the hopelessness of not being able to vote.

This is complete torture. It’s rubbing in the idea that your voice or your vote means nothing. It’s a message saying that no matter what the people say, we will do what we want. This is the extremity of injustice, to put on a farcical show of justice while serving injustice to millions.

There is also a blame game in some of the ads. It’s your fault that you’re not voting. They are going after that defense mechanism called nonchalance that Egyptians took years to perfect in order to turn a blind eye to their oppression. The ads say it’s your fault you’re leading a crappy life, get up and do something about it, only when you reach the polling stations, you find out that there’s nothing you can do about it. This is also another form of torture, when you’re blamed for the injustices inflicted upon you.

The most oppressive thing about all of this is that it invades television time. In a sort of Big Brother screen manner, you’re subjected to this form of torture every time you’re watching your favorite show. ‘We are able to oppress you at any time we please’, is the subliminal message associated with these ads. All of a sudden the beautifully filmed Egyptian flag turns uglier, and the well orchestrated national anthem becomes the anthem for subjugation.

On days like these I cannot stand the Egyptian flag nor the anthem. It’s not the same flag and it’s not the same anthem that people embraced during the African cup.

The NDP’s response to the rigged elections is that Egyptians are not used to losing. Even in their defense they got it wrong. On the contrary, Egyptians are used to nothing else but losing. They have been losing close to silently for ages. They are losing their country, not just inch by inch, but by chunks. They have been losing their voice, their vote. They have been losing their rights, their heads. They have been losing their children and their friends. No, the NDP got that one wrong too, much like they got everything else wrong except actions that serve their evil desire to dominate. Egyptians have lost one another when a group of them suppressed the other. Egyptians are used to the losing game and they are losing their humanity and much worse, losing their hope.