On Sheep and Infidels

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Here is something I wrote about the current mess.

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Before I begin, let me state some facts so that when people begin the ad hominem attacks they can try to rein them in within the following boundaries:

I voted for Mohamed Morsi in the second round of the presidential elections (to keep out Ahmed Shafiq).

I am one of the administrators of a blog called “MB in English” that features English translations of awful statements of a sectarian, conspiratorial, or bonkers nature that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) intends for domestic consumption only.

I am against army intervention in politics.

I state all this because Egyptian politics and society in general are split along identity lines in a way that they have never been in the last three years. This problem is so chronic that the merits or flaws of an argument are almost entirely determined by who is making the argument in a haze of fury and suspicion.

For the past week I have been trundling between the pro- and anti-Morsi protests. It is like travelling between two planets. The pro-camp has significantly more men than women (although there are women and children there) and it lacks the social diversity of the anti-camp. I have never seen one unveiled woman who is not a journalist there. I have never met a Christian or encountered any other journalist who has met one there. It is important to note that pro-Morsi protesters and pro-Morsi media have often claimed that there are Christians attending their sit-in. At the same time, they also allege that the church was behind the feloul-US-Zionist plot to oust Morsi.

The point is that that the pro-Morsi crowd is largely homogenous. Their opponents use this homogeneity as evidence that the MB, is at best, an organization that has failed to market itself to non-supporters and at worst a closed group unconcerned with non-members.

Full article here.

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Zeinhom

Zeinhom Morgue sums up everything that is wrong with the Egyptian state. It is a small box of a building down an alleyway covered both with the rich stench of excrement coming from the Brooke Animal Hospital next door and the graffiti of the aggrieved; the forensic authority is the last step on the production line of state oppression. It shits out its mutilated victims to their relatives, congregated in the morgue’s yard, the ground of which is covered in sand and abandoned furniture and scraps of wood.

Relatives are not being allowed inside. Some are lined up in a narrow corridor with their empty coffins, waiting. One coffin has a pillow. After a long stretch without the door opening and a body coming out, a frustrated young man begins kicking at the iron door furiously, demanding to be let in. The door remains closed and no one stirs inside. An older man storms out, pushing people out of the way and grabs a piece of wood with the intention of doing something with it, pauses, reconsiders. He grabs wildly at the electricity cables hanging carelessly over the morgue’s walls like cobwebs until he is urged to move away.

Still no movement from inside, so men hoist each other up to look through a space above the door. One man delivers an uninterrupted stream of the bluest obscenities imaginable at the doctors inside, who he accuses of refusing to work. People shift around uncomfortably as the words bounce off the walls and reverberate. Still nothing. A man walks in and shouts that people must check the forensic reports before they leave; the morgue is saying people were shot in the stomach when they were shot in the back.

There is a middle-aged man holding a plastic bag on the side, observing. He starts telling his story, a dead daughter, medical negligence and years of fighting with the forensic authority for some kind of redress. He asks for the address of a human rights group, asks for it to be written carefully because he can’t read or write and needs to show it to people for directions. He says thank you, pulls out a little book with details of the case and a picture of his daughter, 5 years old, and says, could anyone abandon this beautiful girl.

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More Morsy

On my way home today an hour before sunset there was an ethereal light. It leaked through trees and between buildings and stopped, suspended. Below it the roads were almost entirely empty except for the permanent queue at the petrol station, kept orderly now by a line of police barricades. At its head was a large group of men on motorbikes and carrying jerkins, holding forth in loud voices about an unknown subject.

Further down the almost empty road was a man walking purposefully with a small child. The man was shouting something unintelligible while holding a picture of Morsy with a big red X through his face and “leave” written above his head. He weaved through parked cars and held the poster up forcefully at shop windows.

In the supermarket three employees were huddled together discussing Morsy’s speech, “he spoke for three hours and didn’t say a single thing I wanted to hear” one said. Outside two middle-aged women in Tamarod t-shirts were hailing a cab.

Even as the violence rages in the Delta there is an unbearable tension in Cairo even though we all know what is coming. These 36 hours or so before the June 30 will be like waiting for a spring to snap. If protesters – or the army – wait that long, that is.

At a party yesterday an activist said that he wouldn’t be taken part in June 30 because it isn’t “his fight” but rather between the Muslim Brotherhood and a group of people a large proportion of which seem to be clamouring for army intervention to remove the MB. (There are of course groups who are anti-MB, anti-army and anti-old regime taking part).

I can’t understand why the MB doesn’t retreat, both politically and on the ground. Five of its members have been killed so far, according to reports. If the leadership doesn’t care enough about its members’ lives surely it realises that prolonged, violent clashes on a mass scale will prompt army intervention, and that this army intervention is part of the Tamarod plan for Morsy’s removal. If they withdraw they leave their opposition to either protest peacefully or attack MB property without the clashes, and without loss of life.

Of course if Morsy had any decency he would have made a significant concession by now. As I described at excruciating length in my last post, I have problems with a fairly elected leader being ousted by the army (even where this is on the back of protests and even where the leader is a jumped-up little buffoon from a sinister gang tearing the country apart with its obdurateness) because it means the end of Egypt’s brief experiment in democracy.

The army is already swooping as the protests grow and all we hear from the MB is the steady sound of a grave being dug. There are several possible outcomes to this mess. Even if Morsy is not sacrificed there is likely to be a major army-imposed cleaning out at lower levels. Whatever the result the MB will undergo a military-led emasculation of some sorts and the bill will be written in civilian blood. Everyone loses.

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Petrol stations, panic stations

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This man’s thumb does not reflect my own opinion.

One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t keep a diary of events during the revolution, and by that I don’t just mean the major happenings but rather stuff that was going on in my house that turned into a hotel (thanks to its functioning internet and proximity to Tahrir Square rather than my magnetic personality) and my thoughts and feelings (vomit) about everything. It would be nice to remember, but when I started this blog I wrote anonymously and chose the name Amnesiac, and for good reason.

I’m inevitably thinking about what little remains in my head of those days now because apparently on June 30 Egypt will implode (again) when protesters take to the streets in order to demand that Morsy fuck off. There is the same charged atmosphere as there was in 2011 with those who are able rushing to ATMs to withdraw large wads of cash before rushing to supermarkets to buy everything it has left on its shelves before abandoning ship and rushing to the airport to join other panicked people fighting to get onto planes. Embassies have issued the usual warnings to their citizens to avoid large gatherings, expats are shipping out, and if Egyptian social media was a human being it would be your mother, ringing you five times an hour begging you not to leave your house because she has heard that there are men with exploding beards roaming the streets and she is sick with worry.

That panic has taken a physical form on the streets. Egypt has had periodic bouts of fuel shortages in recent years but this is the worst I have witnessed in Cairo (it’s been terrible in other parts of Egypt for yonks but nobody cares, those areas don’t exist, politically, most of the time). Every petrol station you pass has a static queue of vehicles filled with stony-faced drivers who sometimes wait all day to fill up. This has worsened the pre-existing congestion in unimaginable ways, so next to the stony-faced drivers are irascible taxi drivers and other motorists literally fighting their way through the gunk of cars in a haze of heat and pollution and despair.

And then of course there are the Shia lynchings. A friend pointed out that this is 2013’s version of the El-Qedeseen Church bombings that preceded the revolution and prompted (then) rare running street battles with the riot police and a whole lot of useful tension that was funneled into January 25. These horrible murders are different though, firstly, because Egypt’s Shia population is tiny and, secondly, while people were generally horrified by the brutal nature of the killings, Shias remain somewhat of an unknown/suspicious entity to the majority of the population so there isn’t that emotional attachment that arguably exists with Copts.

What they have done is reinforce suspicions that conservative Islamist groups are sinister, heartless, nutjobs on some maniacal mission to turn everyone into versions of themselves (there are allegations that Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi sheikhs incited the mob that killed the four Shia men).

All this has come at a most unfortunate time for Morsy and friends as they attempt to fend off mounting criticism that they are shit. It is also unfortunate that earlier this month Morsy presided over a Syria rally in Cairo Stadium where a sheikh shrieked into a microphone that Shias are “angaas” (impure, sullied) and Morsy sat impassively like he was waiting for a bus. It is also unhelpful that if one delves into the Muslim Brotherhood archives one is assaulted with reams of sectarian nonsense about Shias (and Copts, and also passing references to the “cow worshippers”), and that the muted condemnation of the Shia killings was delivered through gritted teeth and, in the case of @ikhwanweb, issued over 24 hours later.

But this is understandable I suppose, because they are ever so busy deflecting criticism by condemning future outrageous acts of violence and disorder. Have a look at their English page and you will find post after post denouncing the irresponsible opposition intent on burning Egypt. In fact, the MB’s response to political crisis comes in four guises:

1. Suggest that various formations of secularists, communists, nasserists or felool are carrying out an attack on Islam (as pointed out by Basil El-Dabh).

2. Organise a rally attended by mostly male supporters and hope that the Salafis are on board to make up numbers.

3. Announce sudden press conferences at 9.30 p.m. that are scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. and which begin at midnight and in which nothing of import is said.

4. Wheel Morsy out for a speech in which he rails against parties listed in point. 1  above while making a total of zero concessions.

So incompetent is the Muslim Brotherhood’s response that it seems to be interpreted in some sectors as, “they’re up to something” rather than “they are a bunch of showers who have not got a fucking clue how to extricate themselves out of this sinking tub of shite and so are winging it through a series of opaque and kneejerk reactions confusing even to themselves”. All this contributes to the panic.

As I have quoteth previously on this blog, the MB are a glorified soup kitchen with excellent logistical skills. Alas, they have shown themselves to be remarkably uninventive in the autocratic rule department and have largely borrowed from Mubarak (violent thugs at protests, smear campaigns against detractors, invoking draconian legislation to shut critics up, drawing up draconian legislation to shut NGOs up, dismissing everything as a Zionist plot against Egypt or Islam).

So they have had a year to prove themselves worthy of leading this country and largely failed to win confidence. I have yet to meet anyone who defends the way they are running the country, but there are non-MB citizens who are perturbed by calls for his removal on the grounds that he was democratically elected in fair elections.

I have problems with the Tamarod campaign that called for the protests. I don’t like the messy way in which signatures have been collected and announced – it needlessly opened the door to attacks on their credibility. I hate the self-important tone of the Facebook page’s admin, their micromanagement of every detail of the protest and their fascist injunctions about what we can and cannot do (they even want to control what people chant), they swoon in a worrying way about the army and above all else, the non-existence of/failure to articulate clearly a plan for what happens after June 30, whether or not Morsy exits stage left, is unfathomable.

Ideologically, I am extremely torn about the protests’ demands. I would like nothing better than for Morsy and his arrogant, obstinate Brothers to be booted out of Egyptian political life (and I voted for Morsy in order to keep out Shafiq) but have three issues:

1. It would hit the Muslim Brotherhood harder if they were ejected from Egyptian public life via elections. They would not be able to cry foul, and this would hit at their precious legitimacy in a way that the protests don’t. I have long been of the opinion that the Muslim Brotherhood should be left to their own devices as long as the economy can stand it, so that they continue to fuck up, destroy their support base, and we can be rid of them forever. This is a problematic and unpopular position, I know and it assumes firstly, they hold elections and secondly, they don’t forge results.

2. I keep imagining that it was ElBaradei or Hamdeen or someone non-MB and palatable to those taking to the streets on Sunday was elected. I imagine, what if Mr Palatable did something to garner the ire of his (Islamist) opposition on a par with Morsy’s constitutional amendment, something along the lines of removing all reference to Sharia in the constitution (PEDANTS: I AM JUST IMAGINING FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS EXERCISE AND AM NOT SUGGESTING THEY WOULD).

Say that this inspired mass protests similar to those at the presidential palace in December 2012 and that Mr Palatable’s supporters used violence against the raging Islamist mobs. Now imagine that the political impasse dragged on and on until the exasperated Islamist opposition, together with ordinary Egyptians fed up at the economic situation and turmoil (I am assuming that no president could have fixed much in a year) took to the streets demanding Palatable go.

What would my position be? I would most likely stand against the Islamist mob and one of the arguments I would invoke is that Palatable was democratically elected and you, raving Islamist mob, represent nobody but yourselves.

3. If a miracle happened and Morsy did step down as a result of these protests it sets an awkward precedent. Particularly if the army is involved.

So I am in a quandary. I despise the Muslim Brotherhood and hate what they have done to the country. I like democracy, such as it is, and think that respecting clean election results is a useful and pretty essential rule in a functioning society, but then the Muslim Brotherhood themselves seem to have no respect for the rule of law. The reappearance of the Egyptian army in politics would be disastrous, and prompt a jingoistic army lovefest that my embattled nerves could not withstand. It would be ammunition for the Omar Suleiman “Egyptians are not ready for democracy” crowd, and that would be heartbreaking.

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Planet Sawiris

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Bad picture of a good sunset.

Last year I went on a holiday to Gouna, a magical make-believe gated city on the Red Sea. I wrote something about it that for one reason and another forgot to post on my blog. I’ve just returned from a week in Gouna and dug out what I wrote last year and thought that I might as well bung it online.

2012

I finally escaped Cairo, sweating in its summer fury, for Gouna, a couple of months ago. We conveyed ourselves there by Go Bus, securing the last seats to Hurghada, that coast-destroying aberration just up the Red Sea coast from Gouna.

Go Buses leave from Cairo’s central Abdel-Meneim Reyad Square, which houses both a microbus hub and numerous exits and entrances to the October Bridge and downtown Cairo.  It is a sludge of vehicles driven by people furious that other drivers exist. Go Buses pick people up outside the office. There is no formally demarcated stopping area other than a cigarette-smoking man sitting on a chair barking orders into a loudspeaker at throngs of families and their suitcases.

Our bus left at 3.10 a.m. and we raced through Cairo’s empty streets to Nasr City where more passengers embarked and a hurried young man thrust a complimentary meal at us in a cardboard box.

Once on the road the film started. It was Sarkhet Namla, (“the scream of an ant”) a mediocre film about class injustice and poverty whose central trope (the poor have no voice in this country, we are all ants) is repeated several thousand times to numbing effect.

We watched a different kind of film somewhere in the middle of nowhere. It was daytime by this time, we had watched the sun float out of the sea somewhere in Sokhna. At a police checkpoint a young policeman in plain clothes got on board and languidly surveyed the passengers. He then selected some of the male passengers and demanded to see their IDs before ordering four men off the bus. They were all in their mid-twenties and from their dress, clearly working class. They were taken into an office next to the bus and the grumbling passengers still on the bus watched as the men’s suitcases were searched. Some of us got out to stretch legs or smoke cigarettes.

We asked two policemen on what basis the men had been targeted.

“They are suspects,” one of them replied, without specifying suspected of what. The policemen/conscripts themselves were as usual, poorer, than the men their superiors had stopped, dressed in rumpled, dirty khaki uniforms, their shoelaces undone or torn, their authority as tattered as their clothes.

I remembered hearing once that Egyptian men of a certain profile are refused entry to Sinai unless they can prove that they are employed in one of the resorts. Maybe the same policy applies to all tourist areas. One of the suspect men laughingly told us that he has been working in Hurghada for eight years and this is the first time he has been challenged.

Half an hour later all the men were back on the bus and we were off again.

Since this was the bus to Hurghada we were deposited at the entrance to Gouna. It consists of a security gate and a gently trickling water feature. A passing microbus took us to our hotel.

The interior of this microbus was entirely covered in expressions of devotion to Jesus and Christian Orthodox saints, it was like a mobile church. A small television screen played a tarneema sha3beyya, the first I have ever heard. I enjoyed it. The lyrics flashed across the screen next to images of nature and small children, while the driver, who was from Qena in Upper Egypt talked to us in the waterfall that is the Sa3eedy accent with its tumbling Gs for Qs and Js for Gs.

As is typical, we arrived on one of the hottest days so far of this summer. It was like the sun had taken umbrage at something we said about its mother.

Patrons of Moods, in Gouna’s marina, bathe in water coloured by swirling patterns of boat oil, which everyone ignores. The sea is placid, disturbed only by the passing of enormous yachts and tumbling children pursued by nannies.

Gouna’s marina area is a film set of perfectly constructed buildings in tasteful colours gazed at by the enormous yachts. It is all very calm and very clean. The “downtown” area five minutes away is slightly shabbier, if it possible to use that word in connection with Gouna, and seems to be where the town’s less well-off residents live judging by the ordinariness of some of the boxy apartment blocks there. Visitors are ferried about by tuktuks for LE 5 per trip. They hurtle along the well-signed, well-maintained roads at breakneck speed.

Gouna has its own security force, a library, a hospital. You cannot hear the call to prayer, either because the azaan is quiet or the mosque is at a far remove. It is all very pleasant and – like the majority of tourist and holiday resorts here – as far away from Egypt as you can imagine. Visitors are hit over the head with reminders of where they are by the usual pharonic trinkets and a place called the Nubian Village, but otherwise there is something distinctly and disconcertedly un-Egyptian, almost alien about Gouna, like a 7ft wrestler in a knitting class.

On our first evening, in an area of the town between the Marina and Downtown, we saw the silhouettes of a crowd of people, standing perfectly still. They turned out to be almost life-sized cardboard cutouts of “ordinary” Egyptians: a plump woman in a veil, a disgruntled looking man carrying a plastic bag. It was a strange, soulless display, lost figures scattered around some scrubland, but then Gouna  – for all its wonderful qualities – seems intent on reducing Egypt to a two-dimensional spectre of itself and neatly packing it away in the basement.

At a Vietnamese restaurant called Saigon we went to, twice, because it is so good we had a chinwag with one of the waiters who told us that he is known as Bonny because his real name is “too difficult” for the Vietnamese owner and staff.

“What’s your real name?” I asked.

“Abanob”, he said.

We protested that this is not a difficult name, but he said that it is two syllables too much for his Vietnamese colleagues who he says are all extremely economically named with one-syllable appellations. Another waiter announced that everyone, even his parents, call him Maradonna because he was born on the same day as a momentous act by that diminutive Argentinian. His real name was again something distinctly Christian.

I wanted to enquire about the large number of Christians employed in Gouna but it seemed an indelicate question and was in any case based largely on my own unscientific observations. I didn’t do a survey of religions, but the majority of employees I encountered either bore obvious signs of being Christian (crosses, tattoos) or responded to unambiguously Christian names. I wondered how the recruitment process works, whether Christians radiate towards Gouna, baby of the Christian Sawiris dynasty, whether it puts off any potential Muslim employees.

2013

The bus journey was just as unpleasant as last year, and began with another passenger fighting with the harried staff about his seat, which kept falling off.

The film lineup this time was a comedy that made light of domestic violence followed by an Ahmed El-Saqqa flick about women and babies. We stopped at the same checkpoint for nearly an hour and poor young men got on the bus and singled out other poor young men for random body searches and ID checks.

Gouna is still majestically aloof and doesn’t give a toss about what is happening in the rest of Egypt. Life proceeds gently, at the slow rhythm of the waves lapping the shore where the beautiful people continue to frolic. The most dramatic thing I experienced there was a drink holder falling off my bike and a series of cryptic conversations with the woman in the Information Centre who is nice but clearly unused to being asked for information about Gouna.

The town is not entirely impervious to the outside world though: numbers are clearly down and business is suffering.

A boat driver who took us on a tour of the lagoons so we could snoop about (at a safe distance) the millionaires’ villas said that tourism has taken a nosedive ahead of June 30. He maintained that he and other workers in Gouna are prepared to put up with a couple of months suffering if it means that the Muslim Brotherhood are driven out once and for all.

An aunt who has lived in Gouna for three years issued spirited imprecations against the package tour “rubbish” from Europe that is now being admitted to the place. An observation to which I will add nothing other than I hope she wasn’t referring to half-Europeans resident in Cairo.

I encourage everyone, Egyptians, Eurotrash and non-Eurotrash alike to do their bit for the Egyptian economy and visit Gouna. I believe those in Europe can currently get mad good deals. Do it. And if you do go, go to the Zia Amelia restaurant and die and go to heaven as you feast on the most delicately prepared empty carbohydrates you will ever consume.

And nobody has paid me to write any of this, more’s the pity.

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Screw you sideways, Vice magazine

People are sharing this* on Facebook without tearing the shit out of it. This is unacceptable.

Before we begin, let’s get two points out of the way.

1. Just like practically everywhere else in the world, there does exist a jet set crowd in Egypt who like to use their wealth to hold ostentatious parties in exclusive resorts, and some of them own yachts. Also, some of them are obnoxious.

2. Vice magazine has a successful formula of paying mediocre journalists to do or write controversial things in order to conceal the fact that it doesn’t seem able to attract good writers. There have been a few exceptions to this (its video about Shisha in Greece for example) but mostly it continues to churn this shit out because it pays the bills.

Now to Ian Moore and his offering.

Moore is a foreigner passing through Egypt who clearly knows zero to nothing about the country. This isn’t necessarily a problem; millions of tourists come to Egypt every year and cast aspersions about its culture and people based on the specialist knowledge they acquire while spending two weeks windsurfing in Dahab. Then they fuck off. The difference with Moore is that someone paid him to do a What I Did on My Holidays and then inflicted this on the world by publishing it online.

Sometimes this form of journalism works and a greenhorn dumped in the middle of something new is able to reflect on the trite quotidian with fresh eyes, produce nuances that are lost in their familiarity to more experienced writers.

Alas this was not the case here because such finesse is beyond the abilities of Moore and his shock and awe approach to writing.

Moore apparently thinks that in attending a rich people party in Gouna he went deep undercover and saw a side of Egypt nobody else in the world is aware exists.

In effect, Moore thinks he is being super punk and edgy and left field by attending Egypt’s not very interesting version of a Ibiza beach party. Still it is all wondrous and new to Moore, who did some research on the plane via the in-flight newspaper and shits out the statistic that 70% of Egyptians are in favour of Sharia and then moves on. The other 30% all live in Gouna and have cocaine-fuelled group sex on the aforementioned yachts, Ian dear.

There are the usual careless inaccuracies, including my bête noire, “Arabic” food. Then there is his exchange with a security guard who refers to himself as “the middle east’s 50 Cent” and who Moore confusingly refers to as a “huge north African man” as if all the other Egyptians there are from Australia.

Usefully, north African 50 Cent reels out some scary brown man religious soundbites in which he rails against the scantily dressed writhing female bodies surrounding him before allegedly pulling out a video of himself having sex with his girlfriend, which as we know is the holy grail of Vice journalism.

This little snippet sums up the binary on which Moore’s whole piece is predicated; Egyptians are either Sharia-loving crazies/full time revolutionaries or debauched, spoilt sybarites. Note both that the identities in the first half of this binary are those provided by the international media and that while all these categories do in fact exist in Egypt, the delineation between them isn’t in the black and white terms Moore presents. And this is why his little head explodes when he finds himself amongst partygoers who speak English and also describe themselves as Muslim, and it is why he feels compelled to declare that, “religion didn’t really play much of a role in this part of the country”. Because Egypt is the only country in the world whose beach parties don’t come with prayer rooms.

Let’s not get into the fact that Christians exist in Egypt and Gouna. That would send Moore over the edge.

Leaving aside for one moment Moore’s simplistic, trite “analysis” there is also the problem that he apparently makes shit up.

He alleges that the event promoter, Sherry, describes Arabic as a “retard language”, something she denies in the strongest terms here.

And then there is a comment on the article by Mohsen AbdelMohsen (in the comments section). He has rightfully taken umbrage at Vice’s unauthorised use of his photo with his sister and fiancée, particularly since it is captioned “two is better than one”. AbdelMohsen also adds that they don’t drink and don’t own a yacht. Moore is obsessed with yachts.

The most telling part of this article is this:

“I tipsily stumbled around among the pumped-up bros in pastel polo shirts and girls wearing outfits that would make my girlfriend’s Muslim family break down in sobs of despair”.

Moore knows a Muslim. Some of his best friends are Muslims. For Vice being in a relationship with a Muslim apparently renders one a PhD holder on Muslamic affairs.

My message to Ian Moore is this: if you must use your pocket money to buy a budget ticket to a brown people country and earn the money back by writing inane and probably falsified shite about it, do it with some flair, 7abeeby. My cat shits out turds of more eloquence than your juvenile, poorly expressed crap.

Zebby el magazy 3alayk ya ahbal. Ask the Middle East’s 50 Cent what it means.

Update: article was removed. Here is a cached version: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache%3Azu7wMYC_6c4J%3Awww.vice.com%2Fen_uk%2Fread%2Fsheik-it-like-a-polaroid-picture+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&client=firefox-a

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Youm7 and its gardens of sex

Look at this unpleasant little thing by that gossiping hairdresser that calls itself a newspaper, Youm7.

Some lascivious shithead with a zoom lens – and I bet something else zooming – surreptitiously filmed a couple stealing a kiss in a public garden. The piece is entitled “Cairo’s parks turn into bedrooms” and the caption frames it as an expression of outrage at the absence of busybody security guards and honour-preserving lighting in parks, an absence that allows young people to dare to commit such acts.

The filthiest aspect of this horrible thing is that the voyeur who filmed this (or who published it) and his icky paymasters are claiming moral oneupmanship while participating in the very act they purport to condemn, holding their noses with one hand and grabbing their crotch with the other. But then this is the peculiar strangeness of Egyptian society, whose strict rules of conformity demands that sexual pleasure be a group activity (see: mob sexual harassment attacks, the video in this post) or not exist at all. And, after all, sex sells. The only difference between this shit and tabloids abroad are that sex has to be seen to be put in a cage and poked with a stick, the circus curiosity that everyone wants to look at from a safe distance, their fine upstanding selves comfortably removed from it.

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A statement from the Fortress of Evil

The Al-Masry Al-Youm Corporation is “downsizing” Egypt Independent where downsizing means shafting, and this evening it used Egypt Independent’s mailing list to send out a statement. Unfortunately unfamiliarity with this kind of thing meant that they left some things out. Here is the full version:

To our Respectful and Loyal Readers and Other Unnecessarily Capital Lettered entities who we Enjoy Patronising and of Whom we Ensured only 0.2% of subscribers Actually Received their Subscriptions due to Complete Uselessness

In a world where a vast amount of crap is put out by Al-Masry Al-Youm Arabic, where we rush horrified to our digital devices to open any other available newspaper to find out the actual, true, news, Al-Masry Al-Youm Corp. has decided to shut down it’s one good thing which was called Egypt Independent but which in this statement will be called The Egypt Independent because of our natural aversion to accuracy.

Shifting from the traditional print version, and maintaining the online news source, should have been a really fucking easy decision but as usual we fucked it up with our arrogance and incompetence. The apparent and the inevitable dominance of our uselessness has compelled us to muck this up good and proper while not giving a even a medium-sized shit about our readers’ online experience.

The slow and painful process of having anything to do with the Al-Masry Al-Youm Corporation is costly, hectic, and no longer practical or timely and that is why [the] Egypt Independent’s real journalists are buggering off to better pastures. In a world that now and right this moment, gets a Tweet or a Facebook status with a piece of news a few seconds right after it actually occurs! WONDER DEAR READERS AT THE INCREDIBLE PACE OF NEWS IN THE MODERN WORLD. MAYBE YOU GOT OVER THIS A DECADE AGO, WE HAVEN’T!!!!!!!! AND SO HERE COMES ANOTHER ANALOGY. Did you see the comic that says “In case of fire, escape before you tweet”!? This is today’s world and we’ve got to develop at the same pace, and other clichés.

With the rise of the internet (it’s our newsletter. We can choose to dispense with a capital letter where it is actually needed if we want to. Fuck u) population, the promising increase of the internet penetration (we like penetration and have been doing it intensively to the Egypt Independent staff for several months now) in Egypt, and the increasing number of international readers; the prevalence of online news has changed our reality of reception and perception of knowledge but made absolutely no difference to our ability to write something in clear and understandable English. The café late caused a direct set-back in the readership of print newspaper vis-a-vis the online news and has driven us to reshape our thinking, in this respect, therefore, viz, namely, in this regard, photoshop.

In fact, the false hopes that the print version of “The Egypt Independent” will create the desired impact on the Egyptian society, were nothing but a huge waste of financial resources labor and time; a burden that has continued to weigh us down. We in fact were the mothafuckers who demanded that “The Egypt Independent” produce this print copy. EI journalists weren’t sitting around scratching their arses and came up with the idea. Also, the only news that makes an impact on society in our opinion involves crap fed to us by state security about Hamas and Palestianians taking over Egypt. Until we have unfortunately, witnessed a substantial drop-to-loss in the revenues. Drop-to-loss is a business term meaning we mismanaged the hell out of shit and then want to shaft people who have no say in these financial decisions. It was time for us to look at the horizons with a new vision; a vision that suits the “way of the world” where the world is inhabited solely by bastards and dullards who screw people over and fits in the global landscape of khawazee2 provision

We have managed to build a credible reputation thanks to the Egypt Independent staff because we would not know what a credible reputation was if it bit us on the arse, and our currently established and convenient online presence as opposed to an inconvenient online presence whatever the hell that is, has brought about a considerable number of loyal readers who we will cling onto with our sharp little vampire nails, to whom we are committed to maintain a strong bond with and provide excellence to in the form of a shitty news translation service of Al Masry Al Youm content that revolves largely around Hamas, the wonders of the Egyptian army and the contents of Abdel-Meneim Saeed’s head.

 Al Masry Al Youm Mental Institution for the Criminally Insane, Gurden City.

 

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Not everything is marvellous but this made my stony heart happy

Last week I got a ride with Cairo’s coldest taxi driver, an ancient man who drove his car like nobody else exists and dealt with the consequent verbal assaults with a maddening composure: while the driver next to him flailed about at his steering wheel in rage, Buddha looked straight ahead, issuing gummy maledictions about Egypt, Egyptians and Egypt again.

Near my house, we were forced to stop while a motorist had the temerity to take more than 0.1 seconds to park his car. This prompted the now expected diatribe on the quality of the Egyptian character, the mangled words tumbling out of his denture-less mouth like rubbish being emptied out of a tipper truck. The difference this time was that to his left a bouncing small girl’s head appeared next to his window, effervescent with happiness. She was jumping up and down with delight at the promise of a lollipop, which her father was unwrapping for her. The taxi driver ignored this, too.

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Get with the programme

On Sunday I went out with a colleague to get reactions to the Bassem Youssef investigation. In a taxi on the way to Imbaba we asked the driver his opinion and in a serendipitous convergence, the taxi driver declared that he had worked with B. Youssef last week. It was a moment that would have made Thomas Friedman self-combust: a taxi driver who is also a primary source.

As was obvious from his appearance, this juggernaut of a man – who was called Maged – had been employed as a bodyguard during the recording of the previous week’s show downtown, “one of 150 bodyguards”, he claimed.

His bald head reflected the street lights and his immense bulk spilled out of the driving seat. In a baritone so deep it made Barry White sound like a Jimmy Summerville he described the world of bodyguards, young men and their biceps plucked out of sweat and sawdust gyms and paid LE 200 a day to look hard. This figure comes out of a long chain of deception: a senior bodyguard (“kebeer el bodyguardaat”) is asked to recruit say 200 bodyguards and is offered LE 3,000. He then asks someone else to do this for LE 2,000. This person in turn takes a cut for himself and so on and so on until Maged and his brothers come out of a night with a few notes and maybe a rumble.

If they’re working somewhere classy and aren’t required to fight then some of them forgo the payment in return for a meal and drinks.

Maged said that he had been asked to work the following Wednesday, but wouldn’t for two reasons. One, the money is shit. Two, many of the vendors selling clothes and all varieties of crap on the street near where B. Youssef films his show are from Shubra – tough kids just like Maged, except God made them skinny – and Maged objects to fighting his own.

In Imbaba there was a wedding and next to it a fight. Men and women in suits and dresses sat in cars while next to them a youth did continuous, manic wheelies on a 120cc motorbike followed by another youth on a BMX who did nothing except ride in a sedate fashion while next to them a topless youth appeared dabbing at an injury to his face and strutted in the manner of a man looking for action.

We asked people in Imbaba what they thought of the B.Youssef investigation and the answers were predictable. Here are some of them:

“During the revolution we kept within the bounds of good manners. The problem is the language Bassem uses.”

“You can criticise if you want but don’t say that religion says this or doesn’t say that…we all know what religion says.”

“He says what we’re all thinking.”

“Morsi deserves this language”.

“The problem is that he makes us look bad internationally. Imagine if your father was humiliated. The way that he makes fun of Morsi takes away from the Egyptian people”.

“Opinions should be expressed in a way acceptable to God. I shouldn’t knock people or use bad language.”

“I used to watch Bassem Youssef during the revolution and I used to love him.  But I don’t like the opposition’s style now. I’m not with Morsi but I don’t like the opposition.”

“He is constantly attacking Islamists. Before he used to attack everyone but now he is constantly attacking Islamists”.

Note that all of these people watch B.Youssef’s show regularly and enjoy it, even one man who agreed that the satirist should be taken to task for crossing the line. This apparent contradiction is important and symptomatic of a greater moral schism in Egyptian society that isn’t so much private licentiousness/public prudishness as is the case everywhere in the world as it is about safety in numbers and a dull conformism. The result is this (and it is not safe for work):

For those of you with weak hearts or in polite society the video opens to the scene of a gentlemen manhandling on the floor a lady in not very much green lycra. This spirited wrestling mercifully stops when the man’s microphone cord gets caught up in the lady’s foot. Alas there is worse to come and various acts of sexual simulation take place, one of which involves a chair.

The nadir is at 5.30 when green lycra lady drags a middle-aged man in a galabeya out of the audience and proceeds to molest him before he gets a taste for things and spends most of the time attempting to nuzzle her chests. She responds by pulling up his galabeya to reveal his “calcyon” or Dolce & Gabbana underwear before everything goes south again and she sits on him while he lies prostate on the floor.

While the show itself is unremarkable what is bonkers is the location and the audience. This is a wedding in a tent erected in a residential street in a modest neighbourhood. A brief glimpse of the bride reveals that she is veiled. The sex show audience/wedding guests are ordinary civilians; men, woman and children. The men stand around and clap while the women spectate like they were at a conference on agricultural engineering and the kids scamper across the stage. The only point at which anyone acknowledges that something crazy is happening is when galabeya man’s friends are whipped up into a frenzy of excitement while he is preyed on.

El Sheikh Adam, who considers himself an authority on fellaheen by virtue of being one (where fellah means coming from a rural area north of Cairo rather than being familiar with rice cultivation) had a look at the video and after he had picked himself off the floor his expert eye said that the people in the video look like his peoples.

What is certain is that this is a group of people who all know each other, perhaps an extended family/families or a small village, and they have given each other permission to suspend normal service for one evening only. It is similar to when a veiled woman takes off her higab on her wedding day and puts it back on again the next day.

Another parallel is traffic in Egypt where there are virtually no rules other than the law that drivers are allowed to swear at each other in the bluest language they can think of for any reason whatsoever, with the result that Cairo’s cacophony hums with a baseline of kosomaks and ebn el maras. Even cars themselves can swear via a tattoo of ebn metnaka beat out on the car horn.

Contrast this with the narrow limits of acceptable language in “polite” society, Victorian in its prudishness and propriety. While riding in women’s carriages on the metro I see strangers tap each other on the shoulder and alert them to a tiny strand of hair that has come loose from their hegab. El Sheikh Adam tells me that in his village there is zero sexual harassment because it is taboo for a man to talk to a woman he is unrelated to, but some of these same young men come to Cairo and turn into disgusting, lascivious Don Juans on Qasr el-Nil Bridge, lost in a crowd that at some point in recent history deemed sexual harassment in certain geographical locations acceptable. It’s the old story of Egypt and its boxes.

There is a point to all this and you will be glad to read that I am getting to it now. The cases against B. Youssef filed by private actors absolutely NOT affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood accusing him of insulting religion and insulting the president are unambiguously political and about silencing him, but if the Imbaba sample and other anecdotal stories I have heard are anything to go by, there is a sense that Youssef has crossed a line of respectability that has nothing to do with politics, and the idiots behind these charges are banking on that.

That for me is the most interesting part of this case and not the dreary, Mubarakist attempts at censorship. Maybe it will force Egyptian society to challenge these staid ideas of “respectability” and the inconsistencies in the strange moral code that doesn’t so much govern as strangle its behavior. Maybe it will be the first step towards its accepting that foul language deployed intelligently does not detract from a person’s moral standing and that sex continues to exist even in the presence of one’s mother or sister because we are all adults and that, as Max Rodenbeck wisely quoteth, “the words art and should don’t mix”.

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