A world turned upside down

While I was outside a polling station waiting to bother voters while covering the referendum a man sidled over to me.

He was unusually tall, his height accentuated by the straight line of his blue galabeya, and was wearing heavy rimmed 1960s type sunglasses.

“See that man over there?” he whispered conspiratorially, pointing at a middle-aged man entering the polling station unaware that he was under scrutiny and who was in no way remarkable other than for the Afghani style hat he was wearing.

“The man in the Afghani hat,” the man said.

“Yes what about him?”

el balad bazet. Typical en el balad bazet,” [the country has been ruined. Typical [sic]…the country has been ruined] he declared before floating away without any further explanation.

I accompanied a colleague to Zagazig shortly before the first round of the referendum for a story he did on anti-Muslim Brotherhood protests in the Delta city. One MB office had been the subject of an arson attack.

We went to a different MB office in order to meet the head of the MB youth section of Sharqeyya, a cheerful man in the mandatory uniform of suit with no tie and light beard.

On our way into the building the bawwab enquired as to who we are and my colleague joked, “don’t worry we’re just going to set fire to the MB office and leave right away”.

“Do you need a lighter?” the bawwab replied deadpan without missing a beat.

The head of the Sharqeyya MB youth section laughed.

There is a bank below our newspaper’s office, and a middle-aged security guard sits outside it in a little kiosk under the stairs reading the newspapers or playing with his phone.

Morning pleasantries have inevitably descended into a discussion of the constitution and it transpires that the security guard voted yes. My merry friend on Sunday greeted him with, “kharabto el bala!d” [“you’ve destroyed the country”] an expression that in 2011 was the favourite refrain of the anti-revolution camp.

A man sitting next to the security guard riposted with, “so you’re felool!” and there then followed one of those lively and interminable discussions about the constitution overshadowed only by the fact that much of it was spent establishing that we were actually talking about the same draft and also that nobody knows what the final draft looks like.

Read the rest here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 163 Comments

Uncle Morsi

The past two weeks, since Morsi announced his Hitler powers, have been the bleakest since the revolution began.

The day after Morsi’s Constitutional Declaration, the attorney general held an emergency meeting and opponents of the decree gathered outside the high court, where they were attacked by mystery plain-clothed attackers using teargas moments after the police quietly withdrew. When I arrived some 20 minutes later the air was still pungent with the gas and riot police had returned, and were facing off against furious anti-Morsi protesters who surrounded them on both sides. It ended peacefully, for once.

I was filled with an indescribable fear when Islamists announced that they would be protesting in support of Morsi in Tahrir, where anti-Morsi protesters are currently holding a sit-in. It was a decision as terrifying as it was brazen and stupid. The crude binary (Islamist/pro-Morsi vs. “secular”/anti-Morsi) that was produced by last year’s referendum is now at its most pronounced – as is inevitable in a context of long suppressed (political and religious) identities and fear mongering about The Other.

Campaigning between the two camps has been reduced to who can mobilise the most bodies in one place. On Tuesday the seculars organised a huge show of force in their old stomping ground Tahrir Square. Islamists responded by holding an equally impressive rally outside Cairo University.

The two rallies couldn’t have been more different. Now that the opposition movement is going after Morsi it has attracted the Ahmed Shafiq/Omar Suleiman/Amr Moussa crowd, people like some members of my family who aren’t necessarily felool (pro or affiliated with the Mubarak regime) but who have a morbid terror of the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam generally. I have a pro-revolution aunt who supported Hamdeen Sabahy in the first round of the presidential elections and then switched to Shafiq in the run-offs when Sabahy lost.

Not all of this group are affluent or from chichi neighbourhoods, but the ones that are were prominent on Tuesday, furiously marching from Zamalek in their velour tracksuits and ugg boots and manicured nails, holding forth in Arabic, English and French about the outrage of it all.

Their appearance has added a new dimension to the binary, with the pro-Morsi camp accusing the opposition of being dominated by felool and atheists who engage in lewd acts in Tahrir, while some members of the anti-Morsi crowd respond with equally vile slurs, calling Islamists uneducated peasants, or sheep unable to think for themselves.

As usual El-Baradei is a convenient shorthand for Islamist criticism of their enemies, especially given his recent visibility, actually in Egypt and actually in public. He popped up in Tahrir on Friday, bustled on to a stage looking uncomfortable as usual where he gave a barely audible speech through the evening’s murk. I’m still undecided about whether he played a shrewd game by being absent, and above, all of 2011’s political yuckiness and base shenanigans. Supporters laud him for not compromising on his principles and for his consistency, but it is easy to do that from the nosebleed seats.

ElBaradei’s name was bandied around at the Islamist rally, too, protesters reminding him and Sabahy that Morsi was elected president and not them.

My friend Adam and I got talking to a man, Mahmoud, at the Morsi rally who said that the president’s political opposition are necessarily against any decision he takes, no matter how prudent, because they reject his Islamic project. Mahmoud was dressed in a neat plaid shirt and casual weekend jacket with the telltale just too short trousers, his chin adorned with a wispy candy floss-like beard. He held a sign above his head demanding the implementation of Sharia, and on the subject of Sharia said that it has never been implemented in the modern age but that the Taliban came the closest to doing so. He added that the media misrepresented the Taliban. He later gave me a polite lecture about how I must think more about God and Islam and that hopefully this will make me want to wear the veil and follow the correct path.

Interestingly, he also said that the Muslim Brotherhood had promised Salafis that they would implement “their” i.e. the Salafi version of Sharia rather than their own version (which Mahmoud described as incorrect). This promises to be an interesting, if messy, showdown in the future.

What was most confusing about the rally is that demonstrators spent much time going on about and defending Sharia when this was a rally ostensibly in support of Morsi, his decree and the draft constitution i.e. to quote Tina Turner, what’s Sharia got to do, got to do with it. Also, many of their political opponents resent the Islamists’ claiming a monopoly on Sharia and point out that they too are Muslims and have no problem with its implementation (but remember that there are different interpretations of what Sharia means).

While I was at the rally looking at placards saying things such as “Islam is light and the Quran is my constitution”, “what have you seen from God in order to hate his law?” and “the people support the president’s decisions” I again, for the 726th time this week, considered my own decision to vote for Morsi in the presidential election run-offs having wasted many bloody hours thinking about it before the actual vote.

The thought that I may have contributed to voting in this avuncular yet megalomaniac individual backed up by an army of devotees is an uncomfortable feeling to say the least, and the word “Ermächtigungsgesetz” keeps flashing before my eyes.

People like me who voted for Morsi not out of conviction but to keep out Shafiq are predictably the subjects of considerable vitriol at the moment, perhaps justifiably.

Here comes a however.

HOWEVER, for what it’s worth, I think I made the right decision as someone non-partisan who doesn’t have any qualms about aligning myself with people I vaguely disagree with against people I strongly disagree with. I voted exclusively to keep out Shafiq and remain convinced that had he been elected we would have been shafted good and proper and absolutely nothing would have changed.

Now as we have discussed above there is an enormous amount of shafting going on at the moment and lots of change what with there never being a dull moment with Dr Morsi. I am anxious about the future, but there was an inevitability about Muslim Brotherhood rule at some point in Egypt’s history and unfortunately, I am alive to experience it. The only positive thing about the Muslim Brotherhood in power is that they are spectacularly shit at it. Just like the Egyptian army and their foray into direct rule they have used up almost all their store of good credit with non-MBers in an incredibly short amount of time.

Every day that passes puts another dent in the legend of this 80-year-old group with its dazzling powers of organisation and moderate Islamic vision and familiarity with the Egyptian street. Snort. Morsi is a dull cheating husband who misbehaves and attempts to make amends by offering surprise dinner invitations after he beats his wife up, where his wife is the Egyptian people you understand. The MB itself are a glorified soup kitchen with excellent logistical skills that end at distributing food to the poor and organising large rallies. They are a charity organisation with a militia that finds itself in charge of a country and which seems to think that its decisions do not need to be backed up by reason or say, the rule or law, but can rely entirely on the Egyptian people trusting Uncle Morsi.

This was most evident in the Constitutional Assembly debacle. Virtually all members of the political opposition – and most crucially minorities (women and Christian representatives) -walked out of the Assembly. Those that remained produced a mess of a constitution, but its proponents see no problem in its having been drafted by a largely homogenous group of males. The thinking seems to be:  we have faith in God so have faith in us.

The Muslim Brotherhood are doing what the National Democratic Party did for thirty years, albeit without the God element. The NDP also depended on consolidating their own position by deliberately misrepresenting their opponents, making the law fit their decisions rather than the other way around, a fondness for thuggery* and a paternalistic form of governance that reduces the public’s role in politics to box ticking. The only difference is Morsi’s tedious penchant for moralising (e.g. Morsi suggested that Egyptians go to bed early so they can get up and pray the dawn prayer). The moralising would be tolerable except that they are failing to do anything about the million everyday problems blighting ordinary Egyptians’ lives (despite Morsi’s election grandstanding about making considerable improvements in 100 days) while they have the temerity to think that they can thrust a dictatorship on us because God is on their side and they know best.

All this is very Mubaraky. Good luck to the MB if they think it will work.

* re. the link: The NYT reports that the judges were telling fibs. I have seen one example of the thuggery however when MB supporters attacked protesters in Tahrir Square.

Posted in Uncategorized | 100 Comments

Douche roundup – an occasional series

Some people can be real ticks

1. Dr Medhat Abdel-Hady

I came across this individual, who advertises himself as a marriage counsellor, via my El-Nas channel subscription on Youtube.

El-Nas caters to conservative Muslims and anyone else who wants to watch programmes without morally corrupting elements such as music using musical instruments, and women. Its most high profile presenter is Khaled Abdallah, a shrill demagogue who looks Amish and is famous for his “ya wad ya mo2men” quip at ElBaradei. Ever the defender of the faith, he is one of the instigators of the anti-“Innocence of Muslims” film hysteria in Egypt.

The only good thing about El-Nas is Abo Ammar. Abo Ammar is the Barbara Streisand of the Salafi world. When he is not singing the theme song for Salafi party El-Nour he is constantly surprising the devout with unexpected a cappella song .

His moment of glory was when he invaded a studio wearing a silky purple galabeya while Amish Abdalla was live on air with Salafi figure Abdel-Meneim cover-the-faces-of-pharonic-statues-with-wax-for-they-are-sinful” El-Shehat.

If you have never seen a tender moment between robust bearded guys before that will change when you watch this video. Grinning Abdalla greets him with, “el wa7sh dakhal” and heroic El-Shehat has the look of a man trying to ignore a potentially violent drunk on a night bus while Abo Ammar points at him emphatically, eyes closed, and makes the controversial case that El-Shehat lost in the elections because he is a hero and not a douche, and that Alexandria’s discerning voters are the losers not him.

Back to El-Nas and Abdel-Hady. Abdel-Hady is a distinct aberration in the El-Nas presenter stable for he has nightclub written all over him, with his jaunty jumper over the shoulders and slip on shoes and let-me-love-you hair and decidedly non-Sunna chin follicle action.

In this particular episode Abdel-Hady treats the subject of child discipline. Responding to a question from one “Miro Ahmed” about how beating one’s child should differ according to the child’s gender, Abdel-Hady reaches for his white board and pen and brings on the antediluvian.

There are differences between men and women, he tells us, in the form of three principle elements: intelligence, emotion, and instinct and desire, the latter I think is El-Nas code for sexy time-wanting. When dealing with the intelligence category Abdel-Hady is quick to point out that he is NOT suggesting that women have less intelligence than men, simply that they resort to using this intelligence less than their male counterparts.

Abdel-Hady gives men three ticks while the fairer sex get one and a half before he turns to the camera and smiles, and precedes to reverse this distribution in the “emotion” category. Men and women are equal in their desire in the final category Abdel-Hady says, the desire for food and teeky-teek.

All this solid science is a prelude to Abdel-Hady’s assertion that girls should be hit less hard than boys. He urges parents to bear in mind his white board while beating the shit out of their offspring.

After this he draws a brain that looks like an arse and hosts a small child called Mohamed for approximately 20 minutes to no discernable end before hosting the child’s father in the studio and his Russian mother on the phone (obviously). The latter is forced to answer questions about her child-rearing techniques in terrible Arabic.

My main issue with Abdel-Hady and his intelligence theory is that at the beginning of his show he says “welcome to the fourth episode…We apologise but we haven’t had time to complete the titles nor the studio décor”. I became very emotional as I wondered how all these men with their big ticks haven’t got their shit sufficiently together by the fourth episode.


I had to renew my Egyptian passport last week, necessitating a visit to the local police station, a section of which is where bureaucratic matters are dealt with.

There is a system in place at my local police station whereby a solitary cop directs citizens to the correct section and dispenses application forms as relevant. It was he who, a month ago, gave me the devastating news that my ID card had expired and that I would have to renew it before I could renew my passport. Of course I did this on the day that the police station computer system was down, so went to a different police station with approximately 3,000 other citizens where I was summoned by a clerk who called me “Sarah Mary” because my middle name is Marea and since this is an alien word resort is sought to the closest word identifiable to Egyptian officialdom.

Back to the passport renewal. Once at the window a harried clerk took my application and looked through my passport where he discovered that in the notes section “nationality file” is written, indicating that I have committed the crime of acquiring Egyptian citizenship while originally possessing another nationality. He asked me whether I have my other passport on my person – I did not – so he started shouting out “nationality file” at his colleague Madame Fulana and demanded how to proceed with this pariah.

I was sent to an officer in the room at the end of the windows. His bookcase cabinet had tea and coffee and mugs in it and the officer himself, a man of around 50, was consuming a cheese sandwich while he stared indignantly at a clerk and said, “I’m VERY angry with you. VERY angry indeed”. After each full stop he paused and chewed for emphasis.

Then he turned to me and I showed him the nationality file thingie. He smiled and picked up the phone with a certain flourish and introduced himself to “Rushdy Beh”, lavishing lots of affandems on him as he rested his cheese sandwich on my passport. He read out the nationality file number, winking at me, and then as he waited for Rushdy Beh to do whatever the hell he does with that number he moved the receiver below his chin and said, “I always thought the English people were all fat,” while very decidedly looking at my chests.

I was slightly floored by this observation and also by the location of his gaze and afterwards thought of several responses such as “I always knew that police officers are always dicks” or just simply destroying his bookcase cabinet full of beverages on his head but at that moment the bloody man had the fate of my passport renewal quite literally between his hands and I stayed schtum.

After he had written copious and illegible notes in red pen on my application form I went back to the man at the window and presented the form to him and he again asked a million questions about my other nationality. He did not have a convincing answer as to why dual nationals have to be given the bureaucratic OK by Rushdy Bey and the perv eyeball by Mr cheese sandwich, but this is yet another price one must pay for being the product of an Egyptian woman with the temerity to marry another species.

Posted in Uncategorized | 125 Comments

Brute Force

Mohamad Adam and I had a look at the Central Security Forces, Egypt’s paramilitary rabble of young men who didn’t make the cut for the army and who are used mostly to suppress dissent. We were lucky enough to talk to a conscript, Hossam, who served during the revolution. Hossam was philosophical about his brutalization at the hands of his superiors, saying it is necessary to “make men” of the conscripts. He says however that on Friday 28 January 2011 his commanding officers – who had always told Hossam to “be a man” fled and left them.

What stayed me with the most about Hossam’s description of his life in the CSF was his account of the first time he left the camp, 35 days after he had been conscripted:

“I was so happy because I was out of the camp and seeing people. Yes, people made fun of us and swore at us and threw bottles of water at us … but it was still beautiful.”

Read the rest here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 159 Comments


I used to cover the long-running campaign by Ministry of Health doctors for better conditions and wages, and it was one of my favourite beats. The activist doctors (members of the Doctors Without Rights group) were tireless and inspiring and their struggle brought together all the recurring themes of Mubarak’s Egypt: state security investigations officers lurking in Syndicate corridors, an intransigent ministry, and a sclerotic syndicate run for over a decade by a double-dealing National Democratic Party corpse of a septuagenarian having an uncomfortable affair with the syndicate board of Muslim Brotherhood members who, when they were not being arrested by the regime were very happy not to rock its boat.

The syndicate head has changed (and been replaced by someone equally antique and corpse like; it seems to be some kind of rule) and now the MB find themselves running the country. But other than that everything’s the same.

Last month I went to a small press conference doctors organised at the doctors’ syndicate where mostly leftist political activists came to express solidarity with the doctors’ strike (which today entered its 41st day).

The syndicate board had clearly not been informed in advance that the press conference would be happening, and at one point the door burst open western saloon style and secretary general Abdel-Fatah Rizq strode in, hands on hips, suit jacket off a la Obama. You could almost hear his spurs chinking as, like meat in a mincing machine, he forced out pleasantries through a taut slash of a smile. The whole episode lasted less than a minute, and after he had pissed on his lamppost Rizk returned to his office.

Before the revolution doctors were fighting the government and their own syndicate. Now they have to fight the government, their own syndicate and occasionally patients themselves.

On Saturday I accompanied my friend Ghazala, who is making a video about the doctors’ strike, to Boulaq al-Dakrour General Hospital. The hospital is next to the district police station, burnt down during the revolution. The last time I had been to Boulaq was to watch a protest by Sunni Muslims demanding that Egypt’s Shia Muslims basically be hung drawn and quartered and then killed again. This area of Boulaq is a particularly grim concrete explosion of stacked bridges, fragrant rubbish and evil traffic, and the sagging hospital building watches over it all, sadly.

The hospital’s accident and emergency (A&E) department has been closed in protest since October 30, when a doctor informed relatives of a patient who needed an injection that said injection wasn’t available, and that complaints about this should be directed to the hospital manager. The relatives responded by beating him unconscious. One of his assailants turned out to be a police officer from the police station next door.

There was an eerie silence in the A&E and its dark rooms. Devoid of people, it looked even more neglected and tatty than it presumably usually does. Handwritten signs hung on broken doors and cockroaches crawled up stained walls. A friendly kitten rushed out to greet us but was ambushed by a panicked tailless adult cat who streaked out when we entered. The kitten froze in a comical gros dos.  We were shown a prehistoric X-Ray machine that doesn’t work. Luckily however there is another, modern, CAT scan machine that does work but there is rarely any film to print out results. So doctors have to come down to the machine to see patient scans or patients have to provide the film themselves.

Upstairs, patients and their relatives sat in sparse rooms, alternately dark or fluorescent lit. On the almost empty neonatal ward a tiny baby in an incubator lay all alone, his chest fluttering, his eyes seeking out something. The room next door was closed because of a fire. The damage has still not been repaired. Opposite this room was another miniscule baby on a ventilator having light therapy for jaundice, his eyes covered in a mask with jaunty sunglasses drawn on it. A doctor told us that the hospital only has one functioning ventilator, and that when it is occupied parents are forced to seek out ventilators at private hospitals, funds for which they cannot always raise.

Patients are allowed to have one family member with them outside of visiting hours, and this is mostly to assist them with the things that nurses are supposed to do. So you will see people pushing their relatives around on gurneys, taking them to the toilet, bathing them. This isn’t necessarily problematic in theory except that where a relative isn’t available it means relying solely on overstretched and under motivated nurses.

We asked the doctor who was guiding us around to let us talk to hospital cleaning staff, but he couldn’t find any. The doctor asked a woman sitting at a nurses’ station how much, approximately, a cleaner’s salary is – he had heard that they earn something bonkers like LE 2 a day. Of course not, the woman said. They earn something in the range of LE 200 to LE 300 per month. The doctor laughed. “That’s my basic salary,” he said.


There was chaos at the A&R entrance of the Qasr el-Aini Hospital when my colleague Adam and I arrived on Wednesday night.

A group of men were gathered around the door carrying planks of wood, steel pipes and other assorted makeshift weapons. They were anticipating an attack following an earlier fight sparked when visitors of the revolution’s wounded receiving treatment in Qasr el-Aini reportedly objected to paying the LE 5 entrance fee. The previous week there had been a similar confrontation resulting in a huge brawl.

(The ticket system is a way of raising revenue. Patients in Ministry of Health hospitals in any case frequently have to pay for services. Under Mubarak there was a move towards privatisation of the healthcare system and given the Brothers penchant for all things capitalist there is little reason to think that this will change.)

Hospital employees were intensely suspicious of us as journalists, saying that the media has misrepresented Qasr el-Aini hospital’s side of the story by presenting it as persecuting the revolution wounded when in fact, they said, the revolution wounded are given many concessions which they abuse by bringing visitors to the hospital until 2 in the morning and smoking drugs on wards. (It also didn’t help that Adam had elected to cover the hospital wearing shibshib and tracksuit bottoms, the uniform of thugs according to the hospital staff and he was accused of being One of Them.)

(At one point an elderly man with alarming dyed red hair pushing a buggy like he was driving a speeding tank appeared in the doorway and promptly drove the buggy into my leg. Manoeuvring round me he then pushed the buggy away from him in the direction of one of the admin employees and then turned around to leave while muttering about something. Inside the buggy a girl of around two with a puffy face and orange skin sucking on a bottle stared out oblivious to the fact that she had almost just been abandoned. I saw the man later on, still pushing the buggy aimlessly.)

The revolution wounded had a different version of events.

Sayyed is an animated, frail man who was injured in the pelvis on January 28 2011. He appeared tiny in his dreary room. A Qu’ran was propped up next to a certificate of thanks for his revolution efforts. Having learnt to walk on crutches he was sent back to a wheelchair a couple of months ago when, he says, an officer tortured him. He was interviewed by Al Jazeera and insisted that while hospital security and some of the nurses treat him and others badly the hospital admin manager who took us to interview him for example is, “7abeebo”. He said that foreign doctors materialised one day and recommended that he and others be flown abroad for treatment not available in Egypt, but that this hasn’t happened.

Downstairs we found another of the revolution wounded, Osama, in an electric wheelchair holding on for dear life as his friends attempted to repair one of the wheels. They ended up by removing it entirely and assured Osama that it wouldn’t fall over. He moved forward and it listed right dangerously. His friends propped it up they trundled off.

Qasr el-Aini is meant to be one of Egypt’s best Ministry of Health* hospitals. It is vast and in relatively good repair. But there is a sadness about the place typical of anything state-owned and for the poor.

* Moftases points out that it is actually a university teaching hospital. Still public sector, but there is a distinction in funding terms. Doctors Without Rights’ Mona Mina has argued however that while the people who work in university hospitals are paid out of a different budget (Education) the institution itself falls under the Ministry of Health and thus university hospitals should be included in the strike. They are currently excluded.

Posted in Uncategorized | 148 Comments


Egypt’s Prosecutor General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud stunned the world on Sunday when he went to work normally after being sent into space.

In a press conference held at the High Court this morning a clearly frazzled looking Mahmoud told reporters that his voyage began last week when Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi invited him to his El-Tagomoa El-Khames rented flat.

Mahmoud said that Morsi informed him that he had won a “special prize”.

“I assumed that it was a free trip to the pilgrimage to Mecca, and asked him whether this was it. He did not say otherwise”, Mahmoud said, adding that president told him to bring some warm clothes because he would be going on a “special kind of nahda”.

Mahmoud was told that the trip would start in Italy, specifically at the Vatican. While he thought this was odd, Mahmoud did not question it because as he put it, “I am still exploring the dimensions of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Mahmoud arrived at the Vatican on Thursday evening with his family and was immediately separated from them when judge Hossam el-Gheryany appeared.

El-Gheryany has said in media statements that he invited Mahmoud to knock himself out and then bundle himself unconscious into the back of a van, and that Mahmoud accepted this.

When Mahmoud woke up, he was in space. The Prosecutor General said that he heard a voice in his helmet earpiece that sounded like the president saying, “It’s all done out of love. Long live Egypt. Goodbye.” Mahmoud said he heard a crowd in the background saying “Allaho akbar we lellah el 7amd” [God is great and all gratitude to God].

Mahmoud returned to earth when he launched himself off the space station and plummeted to earth. Sources close to the Public Prosecutor have suggested that, peeved at Morsi’s subterfuge, Mahmoud decided to set a new world record for the furthest jump by a pissed off public servant.

The Guinness Book of Records is currently examining Mahmoud’s claim.

Mahmoud landed at the High Court in the middle of a homosexual disco, where he was met by an emotional Ahmed El-Zind who embraced him warmly.

Responding to Mahmoud’s allegations, a Muslim Brotherhood spokesman said that at the time of the events there were no Muslim Brotherhood members in space because they had all left by afternoon prayers.

Commenting, Khaled Abdallah said that any Muslim who goes to space must be stripped of a government position if he returns to earth. Abdallah has requested that this be spelled out in article 3 of the Constitution currently being drafted.

Posted in Uncategorized | 165 Comments

The end of a thousand myths

Originally published in Egypt Independent.

Amongst the mourners and the angry at the march commemorating the 1st anniversary of the Maspero massacre there was an earnest young man brandishing a sign that read, “Egyptian revolution supports Mitt Romney”.

It was an oddly incongruent forum for this declaration, this sudden injection of the outside, and the now, into the memory being revived at Shubra where thousands gathered just as they had a year ago. But then the memory was being challenged in every way: numbers (smaller), weather (hotter), time march started (later), messages on placards (completely different).

Images from the 2011 march – the good and the bad – are so seared into my memory that to see it “recreated” on Tuesday was strange, a film redone with new actors. At every step I remembered the old: the woman waving the cross at protesters as they prepared to set off, the two men sitting in a boot of a car who laughed and smiled for the camera, the hymns in Galaa Street, the moment the hymns stopped.

I remember the 2011 march as having more Christian iconography than Tuesday’s, which – of course – was dominated by images of the 28 men killed, especially that of Mina Daniel’s whose many friends have ensured that he has not been forgotten. There were also plenty of nooses around pictures of ex Field Commander Hussein Tantawy and his friends, and in a new twist, anti-Muslim Brotherhood proclamations.

Approaching the Ahmed Helmy tunnel where last year protesters were pelted with rocks by unknown assailants, protesters demanded that the march stop and regroup, that it take a deep breath and move forward en masse. It did, and a chant of “the people want the execution of the Field Marshall” rattled around in the tunnel.  Last year the demand had been limited to, “the people want the removal of the Field Marshall” – but that was before the unimaginable happened.

 It had been a popular fallacy amongst some that the army would act as the Coptic minority’s protector against Egypt’s Islamic currents. And then churches were destroyed and Copts driven out of their homes on Tantawy’s watch. During Tuesday’s march furious young men burnt crude effigies of Military Council members, army uniforms stuffed with paper and topped with a cardboard cutout of the unfortunate men.

The legacy and legend of the Egyptian military is just one of the myths that has been challenged by the January 2011 revolution. Egyptian citizens have discovered that Egyptian soldiers will kill Egyptian citizens, and that at times the “one hand” slogan used to describe Christian and Muslim unity conjures up a pummeling fist, such as when individuals were attacked or arrested by groups of citizens on the night of October 9 because they are called Peter or because they were wearing a cross.

The real horror of Maspero was that it exploded so many myths at once in this almost dreamlike frenzy of violence: religious harmony, army gallantry…A boil was lanced, and the pus erupted, but the wound was never given air to heal. It was covered up, and left to fester, as is generally the way.

The physical blood and the debris had been removed from the (crime) scene by the next morning.

A group of protesters and unlucky Christian passersby were arrested and punished twice. The first time was in a room on Maspero’s ground floor, with army boots and batons, and one wonders what the cleaners made of the aftermath when they arrived the next morning. The second time, the cruelty disguised itself in legal process and involved zany charges (including against Mina Daniel) and judicial sophistry that subjected these men to three months as part of an attempt to repackage events.

When Vivian Magdy grasped the hand of her dead fiancée in a morgue in Cairo, surrounded by the blood and guts of other dead men shot or crushed to death and screamed with grief it was difficult to imagine that nobody would be held to account for their killing. But a military court earlier this year found three junior soldiers guilty of “manslaughter” for their role in driving the armed personnel carriers that killed 15 people and handed them brief prison sentences.

The trial was essentially an exercise in pummeling the truth until it resembled something more palatable. The military line was that the soldiers panicked when confronted by thousands of protesters descending on them, and drove into the crowd while trying to escape.

I had never seen people be killed before Maspero. Maybe that is why I am regularly visited by the image of the APC that climbed over an island in the middle of the road and crushed the people in its path, of the way it slowly and serenely went up the October Bridge while below it another APC circled under the same bridge and returned to the protest driving in a strange zig zag fashion at high speed, competently ploughing into anything in its path. Panic free.

Maspero was a thousand myths short-circuiting. State apparatus, notably the media, managed to contain the damage but truth can be annoyingly persistent even when it is just presented in the form of cardboard cutouts of the faces of 28 dead men and a chant, fel ganna…ya Mina. In heaven, Mina.

Posted in Uncategorized | 115 Comments

The temporal world

The Sayyeda Nefissa mosque is surrounded by chaos, chaos that laps at its walls and occasionally seeps inside its doors.

The woman’s section is entered via an alleyway running along one side of its walls, an obstacle course of ever decreasing human need. From beggars, supine and supplicating, to an insistent seller of single flowers wrapped in plastic and tied with a ribbon (a gift for Nefissa), to the relative self-sufficiency of a small stall selling religious bric-a-brac.

Inside, women lie prostrate or sit or pray in the shrine’s anteroom, buffeted by the voices of three rambunctious cleaners who are as much concerned with cleaning out the pockets of the faithful as the faithful are with cleansing their souls, busily sweeping/blocking the mosque exit as they extol the beauty of the “moons” in front of them.

At the shrine itself women touch its walls as they recite Quran while on the other side of a trellis-like structure dividing them men do the same. At the end of a room an officious man in his sixties oversees proceedings, occasionally barking out orders at the squawking cleaners and even the devotional themselves.

There is a constant stream of people on this Friday early evening. A small boy wanders through the supplicants, lost in his own reverie – of crisp eating. Another woman, dressed in a black baggy tunic reclines against a wall, cheek in palm staring into the middle distance. She interrupts this to suddenly and without warning prostrate herself in prayer, almost throwing herself flat onto the ground until her thin form is submerged in her clothes so that she resembles the wicked witch of the west met her comeuppance.

There was a drama inside the mosque this Friday evening. With great bluster a woman – still wearing her shoes –  swept into the anteroom and declared that she had been robbed while at the shrine. One of the cleaners, a particularly active woman in her early 70s wearing a green khimar matched with a long necklace of prayer beads immediately launched into action and declared that she would find the thief. The doors to the shrine room were shut, to no clear end. The thief had gone. The officious man, armed with a long metal ruler began imperiously demanding that women at the shrine leave, and was mostly ignored. He focused his attention on a woman sat on the floor.

– Stop begging and get out, he said.

– Don’t push it, the woman replied.

The man declared that he would summon someone to remove her. The woman looked the other way and continued eating.

There is a donations box next to the shrine. A woman opened up her purse and moved the single note of LE 10 out of the way to get at a few coins, which she dropped in the box. Another woman gave guavas to the officious man and the cleaners and anyone else who crossed her path.

The cacophony of it all was pierced by the call to the 3isha prayer, beautiful but loud, pumped out on the mosque speakers. But even at top volume it could not drown out the sound of the fight coming from the alleyway outside. The cleaners took their brooms and immediately went to inspect it.

It was two robust matrons, eyeballing each other, screaming threats and invective. One of them worked on the stall they were standing at. A group of people watched. A young girl of around 16 sat on a stool at the stall and became increasingly agitated until suddenly a youth of around the same age or younger suddenly flung himself on her and viciously attacked her, dragging her out of her seat and along the ground. One of the matrons hit her on the back with both hands. She was punched and pulled across the narrow alley until one of the cleaners, a determined septugarian, intervened and led her into the mosque, sobbing and distraught, seeking refuge. It was impossible to tell how the fight had begun or what it was about.

The robust matron sat on a plastic chair and answered a mobile phone call as if nothing was happening, interrupting it only to entreat the young man not to follow the girl into the mosque as he took his shoes off. He went in briefly anyway.

The cleaner who had rescued the girl appeared.

– Come inside again and I’ll give you fucking hell, she promised the boy. He skulked away.

The fury lingered as the prayers began. A man had watched the violence impassively – he started reciting Quran halfway through while spectating. He left. The robust matron took up her sentry position at the stall again as the sound of the prayers floated out into the tormented night and disintegrated above a young woman who emerged from the mosque in tears and pressed her face into the wall, arms by her side, perfectly still apart from the sobs rippling her body. Opposite her, somebody had twice written in a strange curling font on the mosque wall, “I seek forgiveness from God”.

Posted in Uncategorized | 66 Comments

Video: Humiliation of the President’s member

749 Muslim Brotherhood youths and nearly 1,000 angry citizens gathered on Thursday to peacefully express their fury at the humiliation of the member and testicles of President Mohamed Morsi.

During an official visit to the United States, President Morsi met the respectable lady, Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia. The President’s member was subjected to an excessive assault when he shook hands with his member, one of the most important guests of the meeting and in conformity with international protocol. A television camera approached within three metres of the President’s member, a clear violation of international norms.

During the demonstration, held outside the wing dedicated to the President’s member of the presidential Ittihadeyya Palace, protesters chanted against the humiliation of the member and held up banners bearing slogans such as, “your member is a red line” and “we love you, oh member”.

Demonstrator Fakhry Ezz Eddin said, “we cannot be silent about what happened and we will sacrifice all our members for the President’s member”. Muslim Brotherhood lawyer Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud meanwhile said that the group has decided to raise legal action against the camera in international courts. Abdel-Maqsoud warned of probable attacks on the satellite dish in Maadi as well as Hollywood studios, and warned that every camera in the world will be destroyed. The lawyer emphasised that the Muslim Brotherhood have nothing to do with these attacks, which will happen on Friday.

MB spokesman Yasser Ali meanwhile reaffirmed that there is no link between the President’s shaking hands with his member and the presence of the honourable lady PM Julia Gillard next to him.

Doctor Safwat Hegazy accused the camera and studio employees of trying to stall the President’s success and stated that it is the right of the president to adjust his testicles at any time and in any place, whether in Egypt or abroad. Hegazy added, “it was very clear that the President was sitting on a chair made of polyester”.

Speaking in a video uploaded to his Youtube channel, preacher Wagdy Ghoneim expressed his anger at the constant war targeting Islam.

“If it was Obama who had adjusted his testicles nobody would have said anything. But when it’s Morsi – defender of the Sharia…” Hegazy said.

Ghoneim added that what Morsi did is not forbidden religiously because, “he shook hands with the member and adjusted the testicles without looking into the eyes of the profligate woman sitting next to him. I only blame Morsi for one thing,” Ghoneim said, “I say to Dr Morsi, ‘Dr Morsi, how could you accept to sit with this woman exposing her knees like Ilham Shaheen?” Ghoneim asked, a reference to the Egyptian actress.

The Salafi Advisory Council of Clerics meanwhile issued a statement broadcast by Khaled Abdallah on the El-Nas satellite channel in which they reaffirmed their rejection of such acts impinging on the President’s member and demanded an international law criminalising such acts, which diminish the standing of Morsi’s member, unacceptable since it is considered that Morsi will probably be the next Caliphate of the Muslims in the modern era.

Disgraceful video here.

Arabic news source here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1,153 Comments

A letter from Dr Ahmed Shafiq


Hello, my dears,

Dr Ahmed Shafiq here.

Well, as you know I am on the doorstep of victory. In fact, I am inside the house of victory but I mustn’t say anything about that just yet. That presumptuous upstart terrorist claims that he is in the house of victory, even before official results are out. He entered through the back door and thinks he can make all the furniture face Mecca. Are we not Muslims too??

Yesterday, in between phone calls with my campaign team I took a short break to go the club. I had woken up feeling headachy and a bit nauseous, as I often do, and also I wanted to make contact with the Egyptian people. I took my friend Madame Shoushou with me. On the way I talked to my driver, Gomaa. He could hardly drive because of the tears of happiness running down his face when I told him that I have, in fact, mostly won. Now I am President. Hussein just needs to sign off on it after Farouk and Bagato have spent some time with the numbers.

I am excited about being president; it will take me back to the old airport days. You may have gone through the new airport terminal and seen my handiwork. It is five stars. I modeled it on the gazebo in my summerhouse and a Turkish company built it for me at a very good price.

Anyway I was talking about going to the club. I took over driving because as I said, Gomaa was too emotional so he sat in the back and Madame Shoushou, a Christian lady, sat in the front because I believe in a civil state of rights for all.

Madame Shoushou told me about problems her daughter was having with their new maid. The complete economic collapse of the country caused by constant Muslim Brotherhood riots means that they can no longer afford their previous nanny, a woman from Eritrea. They have been forced to employ an Egyptian woman, a peasant from Boulaq Abol Ela who has given them no end of problems. The children now all speak in the most vulgar way and it has been agreed that she keep conversation with the kids to a minimum.

Gomaa was emotional because Egyptian people are often like this, especially when they are illiterate. As I was driving we were confronted by a horrible sight. A microbus full of the urban poor driving the wrong way down the highway!! I was forced to swerve the Mercedes into the hard shoulder at breakneck speed. As I did so, the foul microbus driver caught and maintained eye contact with me.

He gave me a look as if to say, “what you going to do about it, you cunt?!?” What could I say!? Madame Shoushou by this time had completely collapsed and was lamenting the lost days of Habib. We have been at the mercy of a tidal wave of crime and chaos for 15 months. And the Muslim Brotherhood terrorists plan to turn the Interior Ministry into a madrassa! God help Egypt.

We recovered on the side of the road with a restorative drink. We noticed that we had almost been killed in this incident due to a flat tyre and so another drink was needed. Gomaa took over the driving from thereon in, Madame Shoushou told me later.

My dears, things weren’t like this so long ago, and they can be better. Here is a secret: the revolution didn’t begin on January 25 2011, it was interrupted. It began in 2010 when Gamal started doing his revolutionary televised town hall meetings with Egypt’s youth. Young people are impetuous and impatient however. If they had waited I think we could have gone from A to Z without all the painful letters in between. Gamal never wanted to become president – Hussein would never have allowed it in any case – he was a visionary who saw that things needed changing, but gradually.

We are 7,000 years old. Egyptians are an obedient people but they have been led astray by certain characters like that yob Essam Sultan. Essam is a cheap security agent licking his wounds after he was thrown out of that terrorist organisation the Muslim Brotherhood. I will make him realise his true size within 24 hours of being declared (officially) president. Him and that dentist, Alaa, who I humiliated on television last year.

I will fix traffic within 24 hours of becoming president. Egyptians deserve better and they have nothing to fear from me unless they are being troublesome. I open my heart and also my office to members of the revolutionary youth like Hussein Ghandour and Ahmed Zbaydar, and I will build youth clubs for the Ultras.

My campaign team has been giving me very positive feedback about my television appearances on Egypt’s satellite talk shows. If I am honest, I find these appearances gruelling. It seems that I have an allergy to certain materials found in TV studios that make me sleepy and cause me to slur my words. Still, my message got through to the Egyptian public as in the first round I beat that Communist and that Islamist and also Amr, who displayed shockingly bad taste in running against me

I have faith in my campaign spokesman, Sarhan, who is under constant attack from thugs because of his relentless speaking of the truth in the face of liars and also Al Ahram election result figures. El-Ayyat’s riffraff in Tahrir Square think they are fooling us. They are in for a surprise, Hussein told me yesterday.

My dears, this is the end of my message. I was up all night last night celebrating with my followers and also worrying about Hosny, who had another of his brief turns. But I want to leave you with a piece of advice I read in one of my Sufi spiritualism books.

“If you tried to bring people over to your artificial side today, you might make some elements hate you more, just because they’re not on your side today”.

Lieutenant General and also Doctor and mostly President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Ahmed Shafiq.

PHd, The National Strategy of Outer Space.


Posted in Uncategorized | 162 Comments