Progress

There is no doubt some bloke sitting in some distant corner of Egyptian bureaucracy who genuinely believes that building a new capital city is the answer to Egypt’s problems. He’s probably the same genius who suggested building walls in downtown Cairo to make protesters go away and traffic congestion be damned. The same visionary who proposed that the best way to deal with a sit-in is to physically wipe it off the face of the earth; tents, humans beings and all.

Making intangible problems physical is an attractive proposition to dullards.

Rather than address Cairo’s dazzling array of economic and social disasters, close your eyes, pick a spot on the map and start again. Build a city in five years or less. Delight the populace with this announcement in the manner of a man surprising his girlfriend with a marriage proposal in a car gently rolling off a cliff. Don’t ruin their joy with nonsense such as prior consultation or asking them for their opinion. Build your city, because the answer to the housing shortage and the water crisis is to construct a giant gated community in the desert, just as the correct way to deal with the individuals in Rab3a Square who opposed Morsy’s removal was to physically eliminate them, to make them disappear. The alternative would have required discussion, negotiation, ideas, thought.

Reduce the problem to residents’ complaints about noise and disturbance and be home in time for dinner.

Make the focus the protest, rather than the reason for the protest, and criminalise it and those who take part in it. Make this about a 10 metre stretch of pavement and 15 minutes yesterday afternoon rather than your broken promises and the future you destroyed.

Organise a two day conference in a tourist resort and then crow about it for the next month as if the country won a war, when in fact all that happened is that someone successfully organised an event, an uncertain amount of money was pledged, and Abdel Fatah was involved in a selfie. Measure progress through promises. While grave, existential problems should be made solid and pedestrian, keep progress as intangible, as ephemeral as possible; a cure for AIDS in 6 months, a shiny new city in 5 years. Keep them busy grabbing at clouds above their heads.

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Cheesed off

I had a mildly sectarian incident caused by pasta on my flight to England.

I had requested a vegan meal while booking my ticket online and knew even as I ticked the box on the website that the chances of it appearing were 1 in 80 million but there we are.

At check-in the bloke miraculously confirmed that the Egyptair kitchen gods had received my supplication. Mealtime rolled around and I interrupted my viewing of Stephen Hawking’s hanky panky with his nurse to watch as other passengers tucked into their various animal fleshed feeding bags and the aromas filled the cabins. My tray remained forlornly empty.

An air host rolled up with his trolley and enquired what type of animal I would like to consume. I informed him that I had requested an alternative meal so he demanded my boarding pass (to establish that I am not a liar or perhaps a nutter who rides planes to deliberately meddle with their meal lists) which of course I had lost as is customary. By this time I realised that I would probably have to eat the in-flight magazine to survive, like the time on another flight they forgot my meal and I went round begging people’s bread off of them. Anyway the air host buggered off and returned with a tray of grub whose centrepiece was a tray of pasta covered in cheese. By this point my blood sugar had entered the cross me and I will be a cunt zone.

I politely called the air host over and pointed at the cheese and informed him that I had requested a vegetarian meal. I said vegetarian because nobody knows what vegan means. Of course he said but that is vegetarian yaffandam so I had to resort to spiritual intervention.

“Deeh feha gebna wana talabt wagba vegan [this has cheese in it and I asked for a vegan meal]. ya3ni seyamy ["fasting" food. the context here is that Egyptian copts are currently fasting lent] ya3ni men gheyr gebna wala – [without cheese or – ”

“3ala fekra ana esmy andro [by the way my name is andrew i.e. christian],” he retorted, to shut me up. In my low calorie, addled, state I also interpreted this to mean: we are on the same heavenly team.

“ana mesh mese7eyya ana bas b7awel ashra7lak el far2 bayn vegetarian w vegan! [I'm not christian I'm just trying to explain to you the difference between vegan and vegetarian!] I blurted out – like a dickhead – in disgust (at Egyptair, not Jesus) because Egyptair regularly balls up my meal requests and I’d had enough. (I stick with them though because they tailor their luggage allowance to Egyptian passengers’ fluid definition of a kilogram).

Andro’s face shifted ever so slightly and I of course immediately felt like a prize arsehole/Yasser el Burhamy/is there a difference. There was a noticeable cooling the next time we interacted when I requested a cup of water. I cursed Egyptair and cheeses and veganism and everything and just wanted to shout out some of my best friends are christian! And then throw myself out the plane.

In case anyone has read this far: they did eventually furnish me with a meal, some pasta sans cheese which maybe Andro scraped off and replaced with a layer of imprecations.

Note: In Egyptair’s defence my friend Linda was presented with tofu – TOFU!!!!! – on her flight to Cairo from London. I live in hope.

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He promised you a war

eagle and bum

the worst thing you will ever see in your life

At lunch yesterday with members of my family the subject inevitably briefly turned to ISIS. Some of them argued that the group is a foreign (intelligence service) creation, and one of the reasons given was that its members are too well built to be Arabs.

They were referring of course to the video of the beheading of 21 Egyptians by the sea in Libya in which some tall, broad, masked blokes appeared. I try to spend as little time as possible thinking about ISIS but it seems obvious that if you’re a murderous paramilitary group spending an arm and a leg on producing a high quality propaganda video you’re probably going to give your portly 5 ft 6 and under members the day off. Also well built arabs do exist although none of them are on Egyptian Tindr.

Unsurprisingly the beheadings really shook Egypt; there was a palpable sense of sadness and shock. The state immediately swung into action and wheeled Abdel Fatah Sisi out to televise a promise of action. The military jets emerged only hours later as did the media platitudes about our brave leader and his courageous troops. Satellite channel CBC was able to recycle its “Egypt fighting terrorism” onscreen badge while wacko Faraeen temporarily suspended its Suez canal countdown counter for a badge reading “Egypt’s war” superimposed on top of a black band of mourning.

Sisi is of course now the hero who has “embarrassed America” with his swift and decisive action, who has stood up to ISIS where others are vacillating. Sisi himself appeared in a video wearing a fashion jacket and tapered trousers surrounded by troops saying that through this action in Libya the air force is defending “our country, our security and our religion”. He even repeated this sentence twice and made the officers and pilots complete it in a pedagogical fashion. “this is a sacred mission,” he declared. The alternative is “hundreds of thousands of refugees…ruin and destruction”.

I don’t know enough about libya to forcefully contradict that statement (two more informed gentlemen do so here, sensibly suggesting that Egypt should limit involvement in libyan affairs) but it strikes me that if limiting ruin and destruction is a priority then engaging in warfare might not be the best way of avoiding it. And where does it end? Libya is a lawless mess. Will Egypt bomb armed groups into behaving themselves every time they get out of line? And if security is a major motivation behind this bombing action should not the immediate priority be shutting down the routes by which weapons are brought into north Sinai from Libya to equip the insurgency there?

However Egypt’s foreign policy motivations for this action don’t interest me as much as its domestic considerations do. Sisi’s election platform largely consisted of two bullet points:

he will save egypt from the islamist threat
we are the light of his eyes

During the period when Sisi was pretending not to be in charge while Adly Mansour was president the regime dispersed the Rabaa Square sit in killing hundreds of civilians and then launched a massive crackdown on: the Muslim Brotherhood, anyone they suspected of being Muslim Brotherhood, non-muslim Australians they accused of being Muslim Brotherhood and just about anyone who is a nuisance politically. Since Sisi’s coronation in May 2014 Egypt has continued and stepped up its battle against insurgents in North Sinai in the process evicting hundreds of civilians from their homes to create a buffer zone.

Sisi has a brand, and it is brave defender of Egypt against terrorism. Rather like Hosny Mubarak who took over cockpit controls when Sadat was gunned down by his beardy opponents, Sisi is a man who hurriedly packed for this assignment but forgot to put any politics in his suitcase with his casual sports jackets.

In the months he has been in office he hasn’t forged much of a political identity despite passing a slew of legislation, some of it authoritarian and inimical to civil liberties. TIMEP have made this useful thing listing all the presidential decrees passed since June 24 2014. The tone was set with the decree passed on that date: it grants the president the right to appoint university heads and terminate their employment. In November 2013 the protest law effectively killed off most demonstrations, and has been used to imprison hundreds of people.

It was reported today that new legislation makes the hearing of witnesses in court optional and dependent on the volition of the presiding judge. I’m hoping that these reports are wrong but deep down i know that in two years’ time court verdicts will be decided by the flip of a coin both of whose sides are tails.

In just a little under a month ago the news was dominated by the murder of a protester, Shaimaa el Sabbagh, shot dead in downtown Cairo. The conspiracy machine swung into action, as did the public prosecution office, although the two are largely inseparable these days. Zohdy el Shamy a member of the political party Shaimaa belonged to was detained and questioned on suspicion of her murder. He had been standing nearby when she was killed and some individual with altogether too much time on his hands put together a 6 minute video to prove his case that el Shamy shot Shaimaa with a gun he had in his jacket pocket.

Two weeks ago there was more needless tragedy, when some twenty football fans were variously crushed, or choked to death when the police fired teargas (and according to some reports birdshot) at them as they were trapped in the metal structure meant to organise their entrance into the stadium.

And all this happened against a backdrop of weekly protests by supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi during which people were regularly detained, sometimes injured or killed during clashes. And irritating leaks, allegedly from Sisi’s political affairs office continue to find their way to the Internet.

War dominates everything. Domestic affairs have largely been forgotten about since the Libya business started as the media rolls up its sleeves for the war effort, eager to help. It is only enemies of the state or ungrateful pissants who would take to the streets now to clamour for their petty little demands, making a nuisance of themselves and distracting security forces from their noble mission.

This is not to say that sisi is rubbing his hands together in glee. He is presumably aware that Libya is a quagmire and that its intractable problems will not be solved by a couple of military jets. He and his advisors must also be aware that bombings that lead to civilian deaths will increase animosity against Egypt and might even recruit people to the very cause Egypt is trying to extinguish (and meanwhile Egyptian migrant workers are still being kidnapped in Libya). And it is highly doubtful that the flow of illegal arms from Libya into Egypt will stop.

But domestically Sisi has already won. Here finally Sisi and his public have their real war on terrorism requiring no messy killing of civilians in public squares or uprooting of Egyptian civilians from their homes. They have in ISIS a bone fide bad guy with none of that pesky equivocating about so called democratically elected leaders and their supporters. And as Sisi himself said in the video linked to above finally he can defend the (correct version of) the faith against this band of eschatological nutjobs. He promised them a war, and now they have it

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Charlie Hebdon’t

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I don’t know which genius made this photo but to him or her I raise my hat

Since world leaders give zero shits about the deaths of their own citizens never mind those of other nations the only conclusion to be drawn about their walkabout today in the city of love is one of the following:

1. It gives a sense of urgency and imminent danger to the threat of TERRORISM (where terrorism = an act of violence committed by a non state actor with a muslim name/who identifies as muslim/is identified by the state as a MUSLAMIC. State actors cannot commit acts of terrorism unless they are called KHAMAS.)

As we know Europe has been the victim of numerous attacks by the terrorists defined above. But the majority of these attacks have targeted locations more prosaic than a satirical magazine’s headquarters (buses, the underground and so on), and took place sans the gaze of a TV camera recording the brutal details. In Paris not only were the awful events filmed but they unravelled over the course of 24 hours like some dark reality television show. And then ended with the inevitable shootout, which sadly resulted in the deaths of some of the hostages but was generally regarded as the best ending that could be expected.

There was thus a sense of drama thanks as ever to the media and a (sort of) happy-ish ending. And on top of that the decision to target the Charlie Hebdo office is a gift for our friends the statesmen and their domestic concerns.

Because while attacks on states by their non-state enemies (“TERRORISM” – I use quotation marks because I think the word muddies more than it elucidates in its case closed moral judgement) are a real threat, the various WAR ON TERRORS that exist all over this pathetic little globe have all suffered from a serious case of mission creep i.e. been misused to advance geopolitical strategic interests/to silence political opponents/as part of an election campaign. Some of that naughtiness has been exposed over the years and placed governments on the back foot morally speaking, especially recently given their dithering on Isis and Syria (and i’m not suggesting intervention is the noble choice in case that isn’t clear).

This matters because if states cannot straight up say we are meddling in a region primarily for our own interests (as they generally can’t because it’s not done) they have to find some other excuse. Generally they claim that they are acting to protect lives or grandiloquently argue that they have right on their side and present it as a simple battle of good versus evil.

Such simplistic moral binaries rarely exist even if we dearly want them to (which is why people roll their eyes so hard when liberals attempt to talk about disenfranchised youth, jobless and discriminated against, raging in Parisian banlieues as a possible factor in the Charlie Hebdo attack. And to be clear I’m not suggesting it is one).

Judging on the basis of what we know the Charlie Hebdo attack is an example of something incontestably wicked and wrong and plain bad. It’s huge on symbolism, the pen against the gun, and has been presented as such in a million cartoons of solidarity since the incident. There is a rare purity about it: the masked gunmen storming in, cartoonists cowering in their offices who did not deserve to die even if the rag they wrote for loved to offend, sometimes in the crudest ways possible. The allegations of racism and stereotyping have not sullied that purity, could not hope to, because absolutely no one deserves to be shot to death for a cartoon.

Back to our travelling statesmen: what a dream to be able to associate themselves with that purity, to wipe off the filth of extraordinary renditions and Guantanamo Bay and innocent Brazilian migrant workers shot dead in a London street and Iraqi civilians murdered and tortured.

States are generally careful in their rhetoric to distinguish TERROR from Islam. They do this by claiming that the TERRORISTS (as defined above) do not represent Islam or are not real Muslims, whatever that means (there is another entity that decides who are Muslims and who aren’t on its own terms and it is currently busily doing that bloody triage in Iraq and Syria).

The TERRORIST must be transformed into an other so that he can be dehumanised and eliminated. You can’t just go around torturing or blowing up regular blokes with grievances unless you use a drone and they are anonymous brown people on the other side of the world. Ever the maverick and still making that desert bloom, Israel generally just goes right ahead and says that all Palestinians are TERRORISTS or if not themselves TERRORISTS then supporters of TERRORISM who harbour weapons in their children’s nappies. But the majority of other states are careful to keep it PC even if the loon fringe of their respective medias does not.

A prime example of this they-are-not-one-of-us rhetoric was spouted by the Egyptian state while it was attempting to delete the Muslim Brotherhood from public life in 2013 and since then. They are not real Muslims! The media screamed. They cannot be Egyptians! we were told. They are a cancer that must be wiped out! was the shrill message. And then in August 2013 the police and army killed hundreds of people in a sit in in central Cairo in one day who they tried variously to present as an existential threat or a nuisance to neighbouring residential buildings. Internationally, the regime got some serious heat for this and has devoted significant time and energy even as it washed the blood off its hands to making its case that EGYPT IS AT WAR and needs must.

Almost immediately after the Paris attacks took place Egyptians on my social media who have supported the regime’s actions since 2013 jumped on what happened in Paris as vindication – that Egypt is not at war with violent political Islam, the world is.  Since shock and awe tactics are necessary to see off the threat, they argue, the Egyptian regime – which has killed hundreds and imprisoned thousands since Mohamed Morsi’s ouster during its confrontation with insurgency in northern sinai and bombings and protests (!) in mainland Egypt – has committed no moral outrage and adorable but naive Europe will soon stop wringing its precious little hands and catch up with the best way of dealing with the menace. And in the meantime we have the ungodly sight of Benjamin Netanyahu on a march in Paris with assorted other douches pretend-walking for freedom while secretly they salivate at this gift thrown in their laps. I wonder what they’ll do with it.

The other possibility is:

2. They had air miles to use up.

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The Tahrir Square Defeat of Foreign Agents Youth Club

It is freezing in Egypt at the moment, the kind of cold that follows you wherever you go and harasses you, inside or outside. Drivers in their jackets drive hunched up against it. country boys turned into embassy guards light fires that spit out their warmth into it. On the way home in a taxi the passenger in the front seat and the driver looked at the wind shaking the trees. They discussed whether it was tooba yet, the coptic month whose name – like another coptic month, amsheer – is now used to describe the inclement weather that without fail strikes egypt at a specific time of the year.
Each month has its associations and its rituals, fixed certainties in the middle of all the confusion, the rocks around which the driftwood floats. Scheduled meteorological blips when enraged winds coat everything in sand in february and apologise in april with the sweetest, most gentlest of breezes during sham el naseem. Religious occasions, some of them lunar based and migratory, others – such as western christmas which has taken off in the past few years – not.
And then there is the country’s political ups and downs, much loved because they can mean days off. They have also provided a readymade lexicon of names for bridges, schools, metro stations and corner shops. numbers in the form of dates are particularly popular. Presumably they appeal to Egypt’s inner bureaucratic geek, its fetish for keeping a handle on everything and everyone with numbers scrawled on endless documents.
Since 2011 a flurry of new names and new dates have been added to the lexicon, and to the rhythm of the year. some have been very markedly left out, for obvious reasons. This is state building taken literally. A citizen travels to work over the 6 October Bridge or gets out at the Sadat metro station or buys his cigarettes from a June 30 kiosk and the intangible is made physical and unchallengeable. Something amazing happened on that date and the proof of that is that lads play football in a youth club named after it and not after something else.
Consider January 25. January 25 “police day” was only declared a public holiday in 2009 and was largely ignored by everyone except the establishment. Originally it commemorated 50 police officers killed and wounded when they refused british demands to evacuate the Ismailia police station in 1952. When Mubarak declared it a public holiday in 2009 he did so in recognition of the police’s efforts to maintain security and stability in Egypt. lol.
When the April 6 (more dates) youth group chose to stage mass protests on January 25 they attempted to turn this on its head, the equivalent of flying the flag upside down: a distress signal. And now January 25 has two associations, national revolution day (in unstated parenthesis: against police brutality) alongside national police day commemorating police sacrifice for the sake of the country’s security. Nothing better represents the contortions the regime has had to go through to reconcile its natural revulsion at January 25 with the fact that the incumbent regime would not exist were it not for the January 25 uprising. It tacitly acknowledges this (through gritted teeth) in its rhetoric and thus to delete January 25 from Egyptian history (as attractive a proposition as this might seem) would leave an unsightly gap. And so January 25 commemorates both the day when the people rose up against police brutality and the day the police “made sacrifices” (mmhm hmmm) for the nation’s security and stability, which when you think about it isn’t that far removed from what actually happened, so well done, Egypt!
And then there are the events ignored altogether, the ones that aren’t inscribed on any bridges, don’t adorn metro signs, are ignored by history books, hover over no confectionary goods and cigarettes. Almost exactly four years ago on January 2nd 2011, protesters marched from Shubra attempting to reach the Maspero television building. The protest was in response to the bombing of a church in Alexandria on new year’s eve which killed 21 people. Two days later there were more clashes, this time actually in Shubra (a Christian neighbourhood). The police – presumably not taken off guard as it had been on the 2nd – responded with greater violence.
Both sets of clashes were an extremely mild version of what would happen at the end of the month and there were no arrests of protesters other than 8 activists outside a church. But they were significant in the context of a police state that quashed mass public demonstrations of dissent everywhere other than on university campuses (and even there protests were carefully monitored). What happened on the corniche and in Shubra was a riot, a public demonstration of anger by demonstrators that descended into violence when the state attempted to silence them (in Shubra the stone throwing began when police blocked a march’s access to a church, on the corniche protesters were prevented from reaching the television building).
Like the Mahalla riots of april 6 2008 (also omitted from the state memory) these were crucial events that separately and cumulatively laid the groundwork for january 25 by revealing chinks in the interior ministry’s impenetrable armour. And now they are forgotten about. The early January protests were eclipsed by subsequent events but the same reason cannot explain the expunging of April 6 2011 from the public record, nor the deliberate ignoring of the bread riots of January 1977.
At the site of the August 2013 Raba’a massacre the state built an ugly statue honouring the army and the interior ministry. The purpose of the statue was clearly to shit all over the memory of the vanquished (Muslim Brotherhood terrorist as they were presented in state rhetoric) dead. I can’t understand why the state doesn’t build more monuments to its victories over its own people. It would put to bed any and all ambiguity over historical events. “The October 9 Maspero Defeated Hidden Hands Attack on the Army Conference Centre” is arguably better than producing badly edited military propaganda films to rebut an allegation of a state massacre. It is also an investment in public facilities, and a solid fuck you fact.
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Another week of Egypt

An occasional series that will appear whenever I can be arsed to produce it. 

As has been the case for the past year, this week was mostly dominated by news of the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, counter-terrorism efforts and Abdel-Fatah.

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King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia modelling a new type of head dress that handily allows wearers to keep presidents of subservient countries within arm’s reach 

* One triple whammy news item combined all of the above, with reports that Saudi Arabia and Qatar are friends again and King Abdallah wants Egypt to do the same with that den of Brotherhood directed hostility against Egypt in the Gulf so that peace and brotherly love can once again be restored in the middle east, qualities for which it is the world’s envy.

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A recessive gene and his friend enjoy peace in the Arab region.

The news that Abdel-Fatah is “considering” the Saudi initiative sent his sycophants scrambling.

amr-mostafa A slightly transparent jumper

Musical composer Amr Mostafa (known for some really very catchy pop songs) has had a Facebook page since 2011. He has used it to warn of the dire plots against Egypt being cooked up by the 6 April Youth Group, the United States, Hamas, Palestinians, the Muslim Brotherhood, Israel, the Jews, the January 25 revolution, Mohamed ElBaradei (when he was still in fashion) and the word يريد (“yoreed”, as in el sha3b yoreed esqat el nezam, as in “the people will go out and protest against the regime and then change their mind three years later”). Amr thinks yoreed is a Hebrew word and this ties in which his theory about the January 25 revolution being a zionist plot.

When he started the page it had about 15 likes and everyone laughed at him and dismissed him as a lunatic. Now he has over a million fans and people are still laughing but most of them are in prison.

Anyway Qatar used to feature on that list of massive dangers threatening to destroy Egypt, until two days ago when this happened:

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Showing his strong commitment to his principles Amr says that he retains the crown for the “person in the world who most hates Qatar” but that “we want to build the country now”.

Various attempts were made to justify this U-turn by other members of the anti-Qatar crowd, most noticeably a cumbersome hashtag, #we_support_ourcountry_decision which arguably sums up why Egypt and every other authoritarian country in the world has ended up in the mess it is in since time began.

* While students at universities attempt to avoid being chucked out, arrested or killed for peaceful political activity some female students demanded that they be allowed to join the army in a protest held on a campus which was allowed to go ahead without anyone being shot.

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 17.23.50  The Spice Girls announce that they’re reforming

The girls are demanding that women be allowed to volunteer to serve in the army and that military colleges for women be established. One student said that she knows that Egyptian soldiers are “men” (by which she means brave and tough rather than possessors of penises) but that girls too want to defend their country. Military service for males is mandatory in Egypt and it is an honour and a privilege and something that men look forward to. A Facebook friend of mine articulated his distress upon being informed that he had been exempted from military service in a status here, translated by Bing, and over 1,000 people commiserated with him that he had been denied this honour.

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Some girls have a different sort of relationship with the army.

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Say coup de foudre not coup d’etat!

In this, the greatest video in the world, we apparently see a herd of schoolgirls giving chase to two dashing soldiers. A shrill female voice can be heard saying yaghaty yaghaty yaghaty (“phwoar phwoar phwoar”).

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A man being carried away on a tide of turbulent teenage hormones indicates how many life jackets he needs for him and a companion

* This week in the Muslim Brotherhood a man said that the reason Egypt did not qualify for the African Cup of Nations was because of the bearded ones and their antics and their destruction of the institution of Egyptian football over the past three years.

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It’s a good job Egypt didn’t qualify because by Captain Azmy Megahed’s logic Mohamed Morsi would have had to have been appointed general manager of the Egyptian national football team

This week in music a short man in an Angry Birds t-shirt who looks like a Millwall supporter addressed a woman’s pubic region while requesting that members of his audience raise their hands if they hate the Brotherhood and love god.

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…and Bolbola annoyed a man while both of them were fully dressed in a swimming pool and continued to do so after they had got out of the pool in a feminist song.

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The bridge

Just beside the Qasr el-Nil bridge tonight a man suddenly appeared, distress contorting his face as he stared alternately between a police officer and a cart filled with peanuts. He may have been crying even, it was difficult to tell.

The cart, roasted peanut smoke coming out of its chimney, was being wheeled away by young central security forces recruits. They were also looking back at the officer, unsure where to take the contraption. The man appeared to be pleading with the officer, his words inaudible through the taxi window. the officer, a walkie talkie in one hand, grabbed him by his shirt collar, roughed him up a bit, as the cart got further and further away.

Further along, on the bridge, a young man was sitting on the outside of the railing as if to jump. but he was smiling. He hopped back over and ran to catch up with a woman who playfully refused to look at him and kept marching on, feigned fury, held up her palm to his face as she looked resolutely in front of him with the faintest of smiles concealed under the mask. The young man’s smile grew broader.

Even further along, underneath the lions, a man and a woman held up signs reading, “honk if you want the muslim brotherhood to be executed”. The woman’s other hand was in a victory sign. Nobody was bothering them, the police – busy at the other end, perhaps – were nowhere to be seen. My taxi driver didn’t honk.

On sunday night I went to see a film and walked home with a friend, The Pig. a homeless family lives at the end of El-Galaa Bridge and they are permitted (?) to roll out a blanket there late at night. As we passed a woman was seated on it, surrounded by what were presumably her kids. A man holding a plastic bag in one hand was using his other to twist her arm behind her back upwards while she screamed. Then he gave a vicious kick in her side, pushed her over, and so on. At one point he stopped to gently guide a tiny girl who had wandered off and was watching the events with her fingers in her mouth back towards the woman. He used the side of the plastic bag to shepherd her in with an obvious tenderness.

There is a group of policemen permanently stationed in El-Galaa Square. The Pig informed one of them, a heavy set moustachioed character in a leather jacket with the stink of the police about him.

Yes, but they’re together, the officer replied as he considered the scene across the street.

The Pig challenged him.

It’s between them it doesn’t involve any citizens does it, the policeman said. By them he presumably meant street low lives. The Pig, growing more and more irate again asked why he did not feel compelled to intervene to stop a man beating up a woman.

If a man was hitting his son would I intervene? No I wouldn’t, said the policeman, as he regarded the pig with obvious contempt, filled with the knowledge that the interior ministry are back in the position they were prior to 2011 and then some, with the licence on violence and brutality, the prison keys back on their belt.

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Still falling off that cliff

I had a brief sojourn in Beirut recently visiting lovely friend Hadeel. I was only there for four days so didn’t really get a chance to sit down with it and ask it about its hobbies and future ambitions in any depth. I also had some mystery stomach turbulence and at the airport saw a woman and her young daughter in matching t-shirts reading “love you baby” above a picture of said baby, a hairy, non-descript man wearing sunglasses looking smug. This made the stomach turbulence worse. So all in all I was glad to board the plane back to the motherland, despite Egypt mostly being an overflowing vat of never ending heartbreak at the moment.

The plane was really badly behaved upon landing, the worst I have ever witnessed. Egyptians are in my personal experience genetically programmed to stand up while aircrafts are still in motion in order to frantically retrieve hand luggage. This was the longest taxiing ever and the harried air hostesses spent the entire time bombing up and down the aisle demanding that passengers do el ma3roof and park their fucking arses until the plane actually stops. One woman sitting right at the back actually half-heartedly attempted to fake passing out in an attempt to jump the queue and get off first! The air hostesses were wise to her game.

My heart was warmed immediately at the airport by the familiar sound of loud Egyptian invectives, and the glorious spectacle of two middle-aged men half-arsed fighting by the suitcase carousel. You know that loose limbed pawing at each other men in street altercations do while they wait for someone to intervene, like small kittens rearing up at their own reflections. All very infra dig. Eventually someone materialised and wrestled them apart very easily and one of the men stormed off with his trolley re-adjusting his combover.

Then a sour faced policeman of a not very high rank took umbrage about something a colleague of a slightly lower rank said.

BAS YABN EL METNAKA he shouted, one foot on the seat of a chair, elbow resting on knee, fingers cradling a cigarette, other finger pointed into his seated colleague’s face in a threatening and unpleasant manner. All in all it was the perfect welcome back and I mean that sincerely.

Every year we say this is the worst that Egypt has ever been or a variant on that and then the next year we are always proved liars. I remember standing on Qasr el Nil Bridge with Sharshar and other friends (two of whom subsequently migrated abroad in the early days of the revolution, ahead of the curve) in 2010 and we remarked how everything felt stale and stagnant and shit. It was around the same time of the year as now, and the air was thick with the putrid stench of the burning rice fields that floats down from the Delta and assaults Cairo, marking the start of winter, just as it is now. There was a sense of resignation to things never changing, at least within my circles, even though 2010 had been relatively tumultuous politically.

Four months later protesters waged an epic battle with the police on that very bridge. The battle when people performed the afternoon prayer while being sprayed with water canon, and were shot and teargassed and run over. So we were wrong, things did change wonderfully and briefly. And now the dust has settled again on a status quo that is grimmer than anything we could ever have imagined in 2010.

The inevitable, painful, question is whether it was worth it, whether those lives shattered and destroyed have laid the groundwork for something or are just gone. This isn’t a question we (people who lived through it and supported it) can answer – not only because we perhaps don’t (yet) know but because of the impossibility of answering objectively. Wishing for a world where it never happened would re-animate the dead, return sight to lost eyes, unbreak shattered bones. It would free thousands of political detainees. But it would mean the death of those fleeting moments of untrammelled hope and happiness, of friendships, even love, found during the battle of Mohamed Mahmoud and then lost, of the possibility of a future we are now trying to un-see, of that tomorrow that never came but of which we got a glimpse. How can we wish for that never to have happened, when it has become part of those that lived it – even if today it is a hidden scar. That time we jumped off a cliff reaching for the moon.

During the recent Eid holidays I went downtown. Throngs of young men pulsated through the streets in their Eid best clothes. The street lights in Talat Harb square were not working. Car headlamps cut through the gloom, briefly illuminating the packs of strutting youths in their multicoloured finery and preposterous haircuts. The crowds and the darkness combined with the incessant fog horning of the vuvuzelas made for something of a nightmarish scene, and the atmosphere was fleetingly reminiscent of the protests of 2011 at their most animated. In Tahrir Square families picnicked on the grass watched by bored soldiers in armed personnel carriers parked at the entrance to the square. Parents do not hold up infants to be photographed with them anymore, nobody poses in front of them. They are just more street furniture.

Overall it felt like the celebrations when Egypt wins the African Cup. That same brand of joyous, neutral, overwhelmingly masculine energy. The ghosts of January 25 are all still there, the faces painted on the walls of Mohamed Mahmoud Street staring out accusingly at all their work undone. But there are times when the events of 2011 -  2013 seem almost apocryphal. It is only the regime’s revenge-driven torment of individuals associated with it that keep its memory alive. But that will stop eventually and then the embers will die out completely and the real revolution will live only in our heads, where perhaps it always was anyway.

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Catastrophe*

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Animals are dear to my heart. I have five cats and am essentially one more cat away from being that woman who feeds 90 street cats and never talks to humans. I was thus really upset that cats living in the Gezira Sporting Club (GSC) had been poisoned to death. Other reports suggest that some had been both poisoned and beaten to death. Whatever the method used was, there were some awful pictures of dead cats on Facebook. Incidentally, this incident happened a week after someone in my own neighbourhood elected to poison street cats that live around our house.

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Poisoning street animals is not unusual. Sometimes local authorities mix it up by shooting street dogs. During the pig cull, when in their wisdom the local authorities decided to tackle Swine Flu by killing pigs owned and bred by Christians for their meat, some of the poor animals were buried alive. In summary: street animals are in many quarters viewed as rodents and animals in general are not given the respect a sentient being capable of experiencing emotion and of feeling pain should be afforded. Neither are human beings I anticipate some readers will be thinking, but we’ll get to that later.

After this latest round of poisonings something unusual happened: GSC members organised a demonstration in protest at the killings, which had made first page news. I went to the protest this evening.

For those that don’t know the GSC is an exclusive institution in one of Cairo’s most affluent suburbs, Zamalek. Its prohibitively expensive membership fees mean that its patrons are drawn from the upper crust economically speaking, as this gentleman’s sign very gently hinted at:

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It was a good turnout, some 50 – 60 protesters showed up. Their placards approached the issue from three angles primarily:

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1. Religious – demonstrators held up ahadith enjoining kindness to animals. One woman held up a picture of an adorable kitten above which was written “you will meet her on the day of judgement”.

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2. Mercy – some protesters simply urged people to have mercy on animals.

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3. Legal – demonstrators urged the government to hold the GSC administration to account for violating the law (although which law? The 2014 constitution obliges the state to “guarantee humane treatment of animals”, I don’t know of any other Egyptian laws on animals other than laws concerning farm animals, and it is something I need to research).

At one point a scowling man who bystanders said is a member of the GSC administrative board (but who in an interview with a journalist described himself only as a Club member and who I think was called Hussein) came out to address the media. He alleged that the whole incident was a fabrication and was immediately shouted down by the formidable lady members of the GSC who shouted ra7ma (mercy) to drown him out.

Hussein was challenged by a man who said that a legal complaint had been filed with the police proving that a man had been hired by the GSC administration to poison and kill the cats. Hussein responded by alleging that he had read the complaint and that it only referred to poisoning and not killing of cats (??). He said that “when the cats were put in a sack they were still alive”. A journalist asked him what interest GSC members would have in falsely accusing the Club administration of poisoning animals.

“They are doing it to terrorise us,” was the memorable reply. Hussein skulked off. “Go on you sick man,” a woman shouted behind him.

There was lots of traffic going past the protest and numerous inquiries about what exactly it was about. Upon being told that it was about dead cats there were puzzled looks but not the guffawing or snorting that I thought such a demonstration would elicit, which was a small source of hope. In a moment of supreme irony a grinning police officer, one of six assigned to police the protest told a passing motorist that the demonstration was about a “humanitarian matter”. Hearing this word pass his lips was like listening to Hannibal Lector talk about vegetarianism.

And on the subject of humanitarianism, sort of, the standard response to any appeal to stop animal cruelty and promote animal welfare is that Egypt must sort out the rights of humans before it can address those of animals, as if the two things are mutually contradictory, or as if animals are competing with humans for resources. Even to bundle animals and humans together seems inconsistent when many of the people who make this argument regard humans as a higher species and animals as their inferior slaves/food/objects.

In practical terms animal welfare in Egypt could greatly (and easily) be improved through a comprehensive TNR (trap, neuter, release) programme in cities, criminalisation of animal cruelty and government/volunteer monitoring of animal shelters and pet shops. Anything state run in Egypt is vulnerable to corruption (inspectors can be bought off, for example) but there exist a bunch of animal enthusiasts who keep a close eye on such goings on. Unfortunately however the animal activist scene in Egypt is riven with in-fighting and clashes.

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It is my dream that an inspection team of truly independent experts/vets be established with powers to order the closure of shelters or veterinary practices that abuse animals as well as e.g. confiscate neglected working horses and donkeys. The Egyptian Constitution obligates the state to guarantee the welfare of animals (amongst the other rights and obligations it lists which exist only on paper, or in politicians’ mouths). Even the fact that the constitution acknowledges this is progress, and a group of activists are currently drafting an animal rights law which they will present to parliament once it convenes.

Any approach in Egypt that relies on compassion will not work. People poison rats do they not, and nobody kicks up a fuss about that. (They also kill hundreds of humans in one day and there wasn’t much objection to that, either). Cats are viewed as disease spreading nuisances, just like rodents. The argument for the GSC situation should be that poisoning simply doesn’t work. A respectable animal protection group should be put in charge of TNR in the Club with zero interference from the administration. As someone pointed out in a FB group, members who like to feed the animals should be encouraged to do so in designated areas far away from places where people eat (the cats were apparently poisoned following complaints by members that the cats disturb them begging for food). Cats should also not be handled so that they remain frightened and suspicious of humans and do not approach them (thereby lessening chances of their being regarded as a “pest”).

In Egypt though, as the past three years have shown, the people who really care, and who really understand, are usually ignored by those in charge following the rule that shit always rises to the top. Judging from the stories going around about the administration, the GSC seems to be a microcosm of the Egyptian state in that regard. Ultimately what is needed is a long term education campaign, similar to the campaign against sexual harassment (which played a big role in the passing of a law against sexual harassment and the beginning of a change in attitudes to the problem). It doesn’t cost anything to be kind, and to refrain from exerting energy to torture an animal. Until the law makes cruelty an offence, and until some of the (often repeated) suggestions listed here become a reality, animal welfare will unfortunately be at the mercy of human conscience – of which there is very little going around these days.

* I cannot resist wordplay, and I am in no way taking away from the seriousness of this issue which I hope you have realised keeps me awake at night.

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Norman and his abominations

My friend Hellyer alerted me to the existence of the charming thing below, a post by Norman Finkelstein in which he attacks me, slurs Human Rights Watch’s Heba Morayef and suggests that we would deserve horrible things to happen to us, should they happen to us. He is also adamant – and expresses this conviction with a barely concealed tone of joy – that Heba and I will be locked up in a jail cell with the MB in a year’s time, if we are “not tweeting and blogging from the US”.

It is difficult to tell from Norman’s confusing blog when this post was written but it was posted on his Facebook page in December 2013, so that gives Heba and me 10 months to get our white tracksuits ready.

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Norman’s blog also doesn’t allow comments so I emailed him requesting that he clarify which of my “statements” provoked this vitriol.

He wrote back with this, written in a similarly cunty tone.

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Let us examine this missive one point at a time.

“The article of yours to which I referred was the one that you posted closest to this date 25 July 2013.  It should not be difficult for you to track down insofar as my references are quite specific.  You express such surprise that one might think you don’t read what you write.”

I assume he means this, in which I talk about how the regime mobilised the media as part of its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, and in which I state that I don’t think that the Brotherhood is a terrorist organisation and questioned the popular narrative that the Brotherhood were responsible for all the acts of violence attributed to them during the Rab3a and Nahda sit-ins.  I then condemn the planned violent breakup of these sit-ins (that happened just over two weeks later).

The reason I did not recognise what fucking article he was talking about is that he summarised it out of all recognition. Perhaps it is Norman who needs to actually read what he writes about before posting catty little remarks on his blog. He seems to have missed the fundamental point that in referring to the supportive mood of the general public for the crackdown I am describing, rather than endorsing, this.

He also doesn’t seem to get that this article was about tracing the gradual vilification of the Muslim Brotherhood, and to what extent they contributed to their own downfall with their stupidity and hubris and thirst for power. But god forbid nuance should come into anything. This may be news to Norman and others from that coterie of shrill myopic observers who fail to get it, but one can be opposed to the army’s removal of Mohamed Morsi in July (and I was and still am) while AT THE SAME TIME be highly critical of the Morsi administration and its various fuck ups. IS THIS SO FUCKING HARD. This article was about examining what the MB did and didn’t do and ultimately concluded that the war on terror launched against them is politically driven and dodgy. It wasn’t in my opinion necessary to specifically mention that the army has arrested hundreds of MB members in the context of a post that is criticising this war on terror. If there is any reader who read this article and concluded that a state led war on terror targeting the Brotherhood means anything other than Brotherhood members being royally fucked then I won’t wait for the 10 months to pass and will just take myself outside now and shoot myself in the head.

“Be so kind (dare I also say humble?) as not to lecture me on web protocol. In general I consider internet an abomination.  I am an old-fashioned believer in books and documents.  I also don’t post every (empty) thought that passes through my head.  I don’t have comments on my web site because I spend approximately five hours each morning answering email.”

If you are a bore who considers the Internet an abomination then eff off and don’t use it. Stick to your “books and documents”. I find it remarkable that an academic finds it acceptable to reproduce part of a letter in which he badmouths people and spouts off maledictions against them like a gossiping housewife without any context or explanation. I mean the least he could have pissing done if he can’t bring himself to insert a hyperlink to my cunting article is provide my full bastard name so that people could search for my “statements” i.e. article and judge for themselves whether I deserve to be locked up and/or tortured.

Five hours of emails every morning? He is indeed a very important public personage. However when he posted a link to this post on his Facebook page (which has 8,778 fans) he was inundated by a deluge of comments totalling three (3), one of which was mine, another of which supported his assertions and a third which repeated “Norman Finkelstein has shit fer brains” eight times. The author of this comment liked his own comment for good measure. Perhaps Norman’s blog readers are more energetic than his Facebook fans and if he threw caution to the wind and opened up comments on his blog his legions of fans and critics would subject him to a storm of comments and he would expire at his laptop answering them all and have no time to come up with new gems to post on the World Wide Abomination. And if he did have comments open I could have commented there, provided a link to his readers to add a bit of balance to his post and defend myself and then we could have all moved on.

As for his cheap little slur against Heba Morayef, I’ll let her respond to that should she choose to. The only point I want to make is that one can have crap politics and still be a good human rights monitor, just as one can have good politics and be a crap human being. A human rights monitor’s job is to monitor, as objectively and as neutrally as possible, regardless of his or her political views, and if Norman Finkelstein believe that Heba Morayef failed to do this, and if he is unaware that she is one of the few high profile Egyptians to have retained their professionalism, neutrality and humanity while the rest of the country went mad then he knows even less about Egypt and what happens here than I feared.

Speaking for myself I won’t be tweeting and blogging about Egypt from the US any time soon – I’ll leave that to Norman.

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