We have our men

There was something different about Dokki police station after the revolution, or perhaps it just changes at night, when the civil servants dispensing ID cards leave the building to the police.

From the outside nothing has changed, there are still a group of men at the gate identifiable only as policemen when they ask you where you’re going. The police are in the service of the people, a sign says. There is a momentary smell of piss from an unidentifiable source in the courtyard.

Inside the villa that houses the police station the same never-ending stream of young men dressed in cheap clothes walk up and down the corridor, knock on closed doors, or just lounge, waiting. Their superiors intermittently emerge from offices, strut and stare, stare and strut, handguns pointing out of jean waistbands like a shark’s fin.

We are eventually admitted into an office containing two desks, a sofa, a television, a picture of Mecca, a screen concealing a bed and five men doing nothing. A young, well-dressed officer sitting behind a desk, after consulting our IDs and availing himself of a diary, asks us to tell us what the problem is.

**

My cousin came home from work on Monday and found that someone had drawn, in pencil, a Star of David and written next to it, ‘there is no god but God’ on the wall next to her front door. I photographed it and she immediately rubbed it off.

We don’t know who did this, or why they did it. The writing was a sort of childish scrawl, but the star was drawn at a height a young kid wouldn’t have been able to reach. While the graffiting of Islamic expressions is common in Egypt, a Star of David never accompanies them, and has only one meaning.

There is a background to this, and that is that my grandfather was Jewish and converted to Islam while in his teens. He raised his family as Muslims and I’m told was liked, that he took care of his family, friends and employees. My mother casually mentioned a month or so again that they had some trouble during the 1967 war, but other than that his religious origins don’t seem to have been an issue.

There are people in the neighbourhood who know my grandfather was Jewish, children of people who knew him. Maybe that’s relevant. Or maybe the fact that I am foreign and my house was the venue of a very celebratory and very loud party the night of Mubarak’s ousting attended by Egyptians and foreigners is relevant.

About a month ago there was a fight over parking in our street and my aunt swore she heard a man refer to our house as “that house of Jews”. Someone else though says she misheard. So the art on my cousin’s wall might be the first or second incident, we don’t know.

In any case my friend Noov sought the advice of her lawyer friend and they all advised filing a ma7dar waq3a with the police, something like opening a file and recording an event, just in case. I resisted vehemently, since the police are useless and hating the police is one of my favourite activities. She and others insisted this was the correct course of action, and that there is no alternative. So we went to the police station.

**

We told the young officer all this. He demanded to know who lives in our building and when he discovered that the ground floor is rented out by one of my aunts to people who are not family became fixated on them, insisting that they might be involved simply because they are not related to us. I had to repeatedly state that he was wrong several times.

I thought that generally I was being very polite and congratulated myself on behaving while talking to a popo. When we were waiting outside the office Noov told me that I was in fact behaving in a surly and rude manner towards him.

Next was the senior officer’s room and when I walked in I almost walked out immediately. I recognised the officer as the cop who had physically attacked a Dostor journalist during a protest last year outside the Kuwaiti Embassy. He had screamed in my face to leave during the protest, and generally been a shit.

Today though he was a model of professionalism, sitting at his big leather desk in his office with its paneled walls and high ceiling. He didn’t recognise me. The whole room smelt of an expensive aftershave, in fact several expensive aftershaves. All of the policemen looked confident, at home. One man came into the office wearing slippers. They all emitted a sort of quiet hubris.

It was decided that the young officer accompanied by three others would “inspect the scene”. I tried to explain that there was nothing to see but they insisted. I told the young officer that I don’t want the issue to escalate.

“What do you think we’re going to do? Go to everyone in your neighbourhood and tell them your grandfather was Jewish?” he said.

“We have our men – on every street, in every area. We’re just going to ask questions.”

We got in our car, they got in the officer’s Volvo Passat, and off we went.

Silently we went up the door of my cousin’s flat and looked at the blank wall. Stared at nothing, with the assistance of a mobile phone light. Then they left, and briefly questioned Mahmoud our bawwab (janitor) about what he had seen and why he doesn’t have a passport (he is a refugee from Darfur and hasn’t renewed it) and then left.

We returned to our cars while I had visions of Mahmoud being deported and wanted to die.

Back at the police station we returned to the junior officer’s room and waited while he dealt with a man who was going to get him the names of all the taxi drivers who worked at the Pyramisa Hotel. A complaint had been filed. The man was clearly an informant. The junior officer asked him if he would be able to get him this list of names and the man paused mid-sentence and his expression said say for your eyes anything. They both smiled, the man left.

Behind us Hala Sarhan was on television presenting her show “Naas Book”.

We were sent downstairs to write the ma7dar in an almost empty basement room filled with an esteefa (reception) desk and empty barred cage. There was a man with a young boy still in school uniform at midnight but noone else other than the uniformed officers.

A jolly middle-aged man began writing the ma7dar. “You have an Egyptian ID so you’re Egyptian, but where are you from?” he asked. I explained that my father is from England.

“England is Britain, isn’t it?” he asked maybe making a joke I couldn’t tell. He wrote Egyptian-British in the ma7dar.

Several dad-like jokes were made during the writing of the ma7dar, we battled on nonetheless.

I explained about my grandfather. “This is news that makes me happy, to hear that someone has converted to Islam,” he said. Noov tried to put the graffiti incident in context; there is currently suspicion of all things foreign and so this needs to be viewed in that context – foreigners are regarded as spies, as a threat.

Something clicked in his head. “Just like people think that all police are bad!” he exclaimed, and set about writing the ma7dar with a renewed sense of purpose. I felt sick, again.

**

A sad thing about this whole sorry episode is the discovery first hand that the police still don’t know how to police. There is still the same reliance on informants, the lack of imagination in the detective work, the bullying lad culture of it all.

This experience comes at a particularly low point in Egypt’s transition, one filled with confusion and violence and a sense that we’re being robbed.

I try to avoid watching scenes from January 28 – February 11. It’s like looking at a photo-wedding album with the knowledge that the bride is killed on honeymoon. Even if sensibly speaking I know that what happened was immense and historic there is still this awful sense of what if, what could have been, and that now that door has closed.

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PENSIONERS TAKE OVER TOUR BUS, CRASH IT

 

A group of septuagenarians who took over a tour bus and crashed it defended their actions last night.

“We were asked to go on this fucking tour. We didn’t invite ourselves,” Mamdouh Shaheen said as he walked away from the debris.

Shaheen was one of 20 retired army officers invited onto the tour bus by the now defunct Hosny Travels Company.

Other guests on the tour – which was scheduled to last 6 months but in fact extended well beyond this period and only ended when the bus crashed – said that while initially friendly, the pensioners soon became aggressive and shirty with other passengers.

Passenger Hamdeen Sabahy said that the tour had initially been “unpleasant” until January 2011 when the Hosny Travels Company collapsed and ownership of it was transferred in mysterious circumstances to the One Hand Group.

Sabahy said that the group of 20 pensioners appeared “just before we were told that the company had collapsed”.

For a short period the tour became “magical”, passengers say, as they were allowed to roam around Egypt freely “without some cunt in a uniform accosting them”.

When the pensioners boarded the bus they were “very friendly”, other passengers say, and pledged to offer support and protection for the tour.

“They sent us cute SMSes on our phones telling us to behave and protect the tour. We thought they were joking,” one passenger said, adding that the pensioners sometimes dressed in their military uniforms and allowed passengers to take photographs with them.

The mood soon changed.

“They made us do a vote on the route the tour bus would take. We wanted to go Cairo – Luxor – Aswan because that makes sense. They gave us this choice, or an alternative option of going Luxor – Cairo –Aswan – which is patently ridiculous and unworkable,” passenger Amr Hamzawy said.

“Somehow the unworkable option won. They then said that they would draw up a menu declaration. It took ages to arrive and when it did they had completely changed the sandwiches section”.

All of the passengers agreed that they don’t remember when and how the pensioners had taken over the tour bus but didn’t say anything because the bus appeared to be moving forward, albeit occasionally on the wrong side of the road.

In March trouble started when tour bus passengers insisted on visiting Tahrir Square, and staying there for a while.

The pensioners became violent and aggressive when they refused to leave, and insisted that they visit the Egyptian Museum, where they assaulted them.

Mohamed ElBaRaDei, a retired diplomat complained about the lack of a clear roadmap or timeline for the tour.

“Disorganised and unprofessional. Opaqueness and lack of a clear vision eroded credibility. Shame”, he said.

Things changed on the bus, too. The pensioners began monitoring films and programmes shown on the bus’ television monitors. They started posting statements on the bus windows accusing some of the passengers of being criminals.

“Sometimes one of the pensioners, General Fingary, read out the statements in a strange voice,” a passenger said.

Matters became even more sinister.

“I was locked in the luggage compartment for 6 days after I told one of pensioners that he is a moron and has ruined the tour,” a passenger who requested anonymity said.

“They made me play paper stone scissors with someone they said is a lawyer and when I lost they said that I had been found guilty and down I went”, he added.

Soon passengers were being denied the right to speak without first presenting a short summary of what they intended to say to pensioner Mohamed El-Tantawy.

The crash that ended the tour happened when the pensioners announced that the bus would be going for a short detour to Eilat because it’s lovely there and they needed to see some friends.

Passengers began chanting in protest and the pensioners responded by driving the bus backwards while spraying them with fire extinguishers.

We asked ElBaRaDei what happened next but he was unable to say because he he had been sending a short message to Twitter at the time. It is believed that Fingary, while waving his big finger about knocked the steering wheel, causing the tour bus to fall into a canal.

Shaheen insists that the pensioners did nothing wrong.

“Those bunch of bastards didn’t have a fucking clue and about running a tour it was a bloody circus. Everyone was doing what the hell he wanted to do. Complete chaos and instability, it was a fucking shit show. What they don’t understand is that order is more important than fun. Now they know,” Shaheen commented, before buggering off.

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It’s all revolution goddamit.

I don’t usually like to expound on events I haven’t witnessed first hand (I was stuck at home with flu) but can’t shut up about what happened at the Israeli Embassy last night, or more specifically the response to what happened at the Israeli Embassy last night.

What happened (according to media reports) is that after protesters dismantled the hideous wall erected by the army last week outside the Israeli Embassy a group entered the building housing the Embassy. They were able to gain access to one floor of the two-level Embassy where they threw documents out of the window. There were apparently some diplomatic staff on the building’s upper floor, and one member of staff was accosted by the group and the Military Police had to rescue him. The Israeli flag was removed, again.

The Ambassador and almost all diplomatic staff were evacuated by an Israeli military jet.

Later on riot police finished whatever it was they had been doing for the past eight hours and using their typically light-handed approach and, having lost control, used armoured vehicles to drive at protesters.

Much of the criticism (on Twitter and Facebook) centers around Egypt’s obligation to protect diplomatic missions under international law. The Vienna Convention applies to states not citizens. The criticism levelled against protesters in this regard is thus confusing; why didn’t the army and the police protect the building?

Because this is a trap set by SCAF for protesters, has largely been the response. Commenting on my Facebook friend Per Bjorklund says this:

Some people might not see this as the SCAF losing control but an example of what some elements in society will do when left to their own devices. Trying to spread confusion and fear by creating a sense of chaos and disorder isn’t exactly an unusual tactic for regimes facing popular uprisings. Riots and violence will always push a lot of people to support any force for stability, whether the military or the ikhwan, even if a majority support the cause – in this case chasing the ambassador out of the country. Even within “the movement” some people will think things have gone to far, which will create divisions. It seems like this has been the strategy of the SCAF for seven months now because it’s basically their only option – but that doesn’t mean they will succeed or that the Egyptian street won’t see through it, or that the revolutionaries should back down from future confrontations.

On the basis of what I saw on Al Jazeera Mubasher and on Twitter it does seem that the army allowed the Embassy to be breached rather than being overpowered. As we saw when protesters attempted to march to the Ministry of Defence on July 23 2011 when the army doesn’t want something to happen, it doesn’t happen.

The suggestion is that since general publics everywhere love draconian measures (as long as they don’t directly fall victim to them) SCAF engineered a situation whereby a mob of braying barbarians broke into and ransacked the Embassy, attacked the nearby Giza Security Directorate before engaging in a violent street battle with the fuzz.

The theory goes that this allows SCAF to impose draconian measures as part of a noble attempt to stop the barbarian hoards from dragging Egypt into a cycle of chaotic violence that will culminate in war with Israel, activists using amateur DIY hammers to knock down the billion dollar wall built by the US and Israel on Egypt’s border with Gaza, Khaled El-Meshal being elected President of Egypt and the closure of Carrefour and City Stars.

My only problem with this is that 1. SCAF have been imposing draconian measures for the past 8 months, seemingly oblivious to criticism 2. They don’t need to engineer situations to do what the fuck they want and 3. the draconian measures (12,000 people tried in military courts) have done nothing to discourage felons nor encourage the police to do their job of maintaining law and order.

The argument that protesters have given SCAF the perfect excuse to clamp down on them thus strikes me as odd. What exactly were SCAF doing in the past 8 months if not clamping-down on dissent? Yes of course they could escalate, but allowing the risk of a SCAF escalation to dictate protest strategy amounts to giving up.

SCAF have criminalised protests, used violence – sometimes fatal violence – against protesters and orchestrated a dangerous media campaign aimed at discrediting its opposition, all while failing to carry out the promises it has made. It has repeatedly demonstrated that it doesn’t require a reason for an escalation.

Public sentiment is different however, and matters. As mentioned above, there continue to exist security problems in parts of Egypt post-revolution. SCAF and others have exploited the general public’s legitimate fears about their safety by somehow linking the absence of security and stability to peaceful protests.

As far as I’m aware, all the protest violence Egypt has witnessed since the revolution has been between protesters and security forces and the result of heavy-handed policing tactics. The telling exception to this is the clashes between anti and pro-Mubarak protesters outside his trial. The point is that violent protests are frightening and unwelcome but they are 1. Avoidable if policed properly and, 2. Nothing to do with the general disorder caused by the security vacuum.

Alas however the army’s media machine speaks loudest and also The Army Is Always Right.

The public is more or less generally always fed up with protests, but seems particularly so when the cause is Palestine. While there is of course a strong pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli current in Egyptian society, there are also numerous others who think that Egypt has done enough for Palestine and are happy with the status quo. Some people think the timing isn’t right, because Egypt has a priority to get its domestic affairs in order before thinking about foreign policy issues.

I would argue that Egypt’s relationship with Israel is part of domestic affairs, because it is a legacy of the Mubarak era, and cleansing Egypt of traces of Mubarak is what the revolution was about. It’s one thing to make concessions as part of a peace deal with a neighbouring state, quite another to put the priorities of that neighbouring state and its patron above everything else, even to the extent that when six Egyptian officers (never mind the thousands killed in Gaza, whose border Egypt semi-controls) were killed by the Israeli army Egypt barely made a sound.

The final, and most irritating, criticism of last night’s action are the suggestions that breaking into the Embassy is somehow “uncivilized”, and tarnishes the image of the revolution.

While largely peaceful, police stations and other symbols of the state were targeted and attacked during the revolution on Friday 28 January. In February, activists entered Nasr City’s State Security Investigations building and turned it over. I don’t remember anyone condemning the protesters for that.

Protesters did not go on a rampage randomly targeting embassies. They stormed the diplomatic mission of an apartheid, occupying, murderous state. Israel protested. You’d of thought Israel would be the first to understand what drives people to trespass on, and occupy, what is not theirs.

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Scullery skullduggery part. 2

Here is part 2 of What I did in the summer holiday by Sarah Carr aged 34.

Salvation came in the form of Usta Mahmoud, who was recommended to me by my friend Karima.

My friends and I did an experiment whereby they hid me, the foreigner who doesn’t know shit, out of view while they met Usta Mahmoud, to see if perhaps this would lessen the ripping-off odds. As it turned out Usta Mahmoud charged a fair rate, but I think only because he is a decent human being and Karima had told him to be nice. We agreed on a price.

FUCK UP NUMBER 1

Shortly before this happened a friend’s wife who is an architect came round to see if she could help with the quest for an engineer/builder type. Within five minutes of walking in the kitchen and looking the plan she identified a huge mothafucking problem in the design the company had done for me.

In the design almost the entirety of the wall between the kitchen and the dining room was going to be knocked down to create an open plan living dining shagging thingie.

The problem is that there is an indent in the dining room, i.e. the kitchen back wall doesn’t just merge into the dining room back wall, it goes in a bit.

So, if you knock down the entire wall you will find yourself with nothing between your good self and the outside world but some oxygen and the sound of me cursing your existence. The youth who came to do the measurements failed to notice this. The engineer has never at any point troubled herself to stretch a leg and come to my kitchen so she wouldn’t know.

Usha and I went to the engineer and pointed out this mistake, which had bollocksed up the design. She informed us that in fact it wasn’t their mistake because I am the house owner and I should have pointed this out and the youth doing the measurements “cannot be expected to look behind walls”.

I responded that even the three engineer types had not noticed it, but it is the company’s job to do so. I silently thanked god that this woman and not decided to go into surgery if this was her view of client participation in delicate processes. She remained unconvinced that it was their fuck up, and since the kitchen had already been shipped nothing could be done.

(The people who installed the kitchen – who seemed more capable than the engineer – sort of resolved it half-satisfactorily by shuffling shit about but if I recover from the ordeal any time too I will try to insist that the company provides a better solution).

BEVERAGES

Demolition started and I began my exile in the living room.

I memorised the hotlines of several food delivery places since there are only so many sandwiches a human being can eat and I was concerned scurvy might set in. One restaurant in particular will have noted a steep hike in their profits during this period. I like to think I did my bit for the Egyptian economy, though not my arse.

Ramadan arrived and work shifted to after Eftar and I was forced to stay in every night watching OnTv and staring at Twitter, so no perceptible difference to my life. Faltas, Noov and Sharshar came round with food in a demonstration of solidarity. I made endless cups of teas upon the request of a surly youth.

FUCK UP NUMBER TWO

It was while standing knee deep in the detritus of my former kitchen that Usta Mahmoud noted the second mistake.

In the plan the engineer had deposited a tall cupboard that – amongst other things -houses the oven, directly in front of the electricity meter and switchboard thing (lo7at kahraba).

There was consensus on the fact that if this cupboard housing the oven and its heat went anywhere near the meter my kitchen would explode.

Another phone call to the engineer. Surely the youth who did the measurements noticed a giant fucking electricity meter and noted it on his plans? He did not, and the company suggested that the solution would be to cut a hole in the expensive mothafucking cupboard so that the electricity man could read the meter. They offered no solution to the risk of my house exploding.

In the end I got the meter turned around so that its face is outside in the back stairwell and its body under a coat of plaster, thereby avoiding explosions. All at our expense of course.

FUCK UP NUMBER THREE

The engineer put shelves where the (unmovable) gas heater is. I didn’t even bother to complain, because by this point I was starting to lose the will to live and it had become impossible to talk to the company who, when backed in a corner, proved to be ghastly in a cunting way.

FUCK UP NUMBER FOUR – MINE

When I signed the contract both Noov and I somehow failed to notice the small print stating that customers must pay for the kitchen in full before it will be delivered.

No one does this in Egypt. Pure cowboy behaviour. But alas I didn’t see it and I signed, effectively bending over and saying “insert here”.

FUCK UP NUMBER FIVE – PARTLY MINE

Installation finally began and then promptly stopped, when the installation bloke noticed that the gas pipe has to be moved in order to be attached to the hob thingie and to allow for the hood. Again, the youth and his tape measure had failed to notice this.

(N.B. It also stopped because we decided to do the tiling AFTER installation because we did not trust their bloody measurements. But this turned out to be impossible).

FAITH AND BEVERAGES

With one day left to spare before the Eid holidays installation began – after the gas pipe issue had been set right. It being Ramadan, there was the delicate issue of tea offerings.

I knew that at least one member of the group was called Ahmed, but there was also Beshoy and Girgis. I consulted widely on the protocol and two opinions advised against proffering beverages. In an unorthodox move, Samia who cleans my house, meandered into the kitchen and nonchalantly asked if anyone wasn’t fasting. A sea of hands went up and the caffination began.

FUCK UP NUMBER SIX

They put two cupboards up the wrong way round, so the door opens in your face. It’s exciting avoiding facial injury the first time, but soon grows tedious.

When I requested that this be changed they said it was “difficult” but when they come back to put up a shelf they forgot to bring (FUCK UP NUMBER SEVEN) I will try locking them in my house until they do it.

FUCK UP NUMBER EIGHT – THE BUILDERS’ FAULT

After demolishing a wall and doing their bit of the job the builders buggered off, but left some of their materials downstairs in our building’s garden. Not only did they leave their stuff next to the rubbish bin, they didn’t tell anyone they had done so.

Two weeks later when the kitchen was finished I asked Sameh, our local rubbish recycler/collector if he would like to take away some of the detritus littering our back stairs and the area around the rubbish bin, including junk our family had accumulated over several years.

Summary: The builders weren’t happy, Sameh was.

And so endeth my bourgeoisie tale of suffering.

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Scullery skullduggery part 1

Warning: Not only is this post about getting a bloody kitchen installed, it’s the first of a two-part series. If – unlike me – you have better things to do than reflecting on home decorating trauma, go back to your porn viewing.

After witnessing a revolution I thought that I had traversed the gamut of human feeling and emotion, but then in May I decided to get a kitchen installed. I discovered that pain and suffering lurk waiting for you everywhere.

PROLOGUE

It took me almost eight years to get a kitchen fitted.

My uncle sold to my mother the flat I live in (housed in a building owned and entirely occupied by my maternal aunts). When she took ownership it was almost empty, and had metres and metres of walls painted yellow.

Furniture was acquired gradually over the course of years, with the exception of sofas, a flock of which migrated to the flat all at once. I still don’t understand why, it’s like my mother unleashed them on me. I also had a television and a washing machine. So you could watch TV in clean clothes on a selection of canapes but that was about it. I lived like this for a couple of years until the combination of the yellow walls and my voice echoing in the barren rooms and the sofas staring at me got too much.

My mother helped fill the place up, mostly it has to be said with clothes horses, but the kitchen remained a challenge.

I acquired a second-hand cooker from my cousin, but it exploded. I bought kitchen gadgets but had nowhere to put them since there were no counters. People came into the flat and ooed and aared at its nice high ceilings and shiny floors and then saw the kitchen. A bit like noticing the fit bloke you are checking out has urine stains on his trousers. Also it’s nice to have a bit of surface to chop an onion on.

Imbued with a renewed sense of optimism following the revolution I decided that if regime is possible, I can do my kitchen. The hunt began for a company.

Kabnoury would have been alright save for the fact that we are no longer living in the 1980s. Amr Helmy meanwhile designs kitchens of such opulence that if I had purchased one from him I would have had to install a bed in there to get my money’s worth. One company whose name I forget had reasonably priced stuff but I tried opening one draw in the showroom and frankly was reminded of demonstrators resisting arrest.

WORKTOPS WORKTOPS WORKTOPS WORKTOPS

One fateful afternoon my mother and aunt Nefissa were out shopping when they came across the company that would eventually supply my kitchen. We went along and the showroom was filled with tasteful, sturdy-looking cupboards. My heart was filled with confidence anew.

The company sent a youth round to take the measurements, and then we were summoned back to the showroom to view the designs the engineer had come up with.

As Nefissa listened to her motivational CDs with her eyes shut and my well-meaning but spacey mother tuned in and out of the discussion I was left with the task of deciding the kitchen’s fate.

I noticed that the engineer pronounced ‘worktop’ as if it has three syllables and placed the emphasis on ‘top’. Mostly everything else was in Arabic save for this strange insistence on saying ‘worktop’ in English. After months of dealing with this individual I can’t now hear this word without experiencing a vague feeling of rage.

A design was eventually settled on and a large wad of cash deposited with them. They told us that their showroom got looted on January 28, and the visa card machine got nicked. They still hadn’t got one eight months later in August, when we deposited another large wad of cash with them. I started to believe there was something a bit cowboy about them.

A BLOW

My family has never got a kitchen done. When we moved into our house in Croydon my dad removed the pre-installed cupboards and put up shelves in order to ensure that our food and kitchenware got an absolutely thorough coating of cooking grease and dust.

I was under the impression that in addition to designing and fitting your kitchen the company will do whatever it necessary in your old kitchen to accommodate the new one. The engineer broke it to me that in fact, they have nothing at all to do with this process. She gave me the names of two engineers who could assist me.

MOSTLY WANKERS

I rang the first one. His name was Mark. He appeared within an hour of the call and, as became standard with virtually all the males that entered my flat during this period, immediately took the kitchen’s measurements. He was a short, quiet sort of man whose aftershave lingered long after he left.

He returned with an associate to advise on the flooring and I requested an estimation of costs. Mark and said associate huddled over a sheet of paper and suddenly the scent of dodgyness was stronger than his eau de perfume. They were even smirking.

Later the same day Noov, Usha and I went to a street filled with bathroom and tiling suppliers, armed with the kitchen plan the company had drawn up. We got talking to one owner who insisted that I work for CNN without providing any basis for this assertion other than the colour of my hair. He then launched into a discursive monologue on the vast differences between foreigners vs Egyptians re. plumbing.

We left that street empty handed. On the way back Usha rang Mark up and asked why he was quoting me LE 500 to hire a van to remove rubble. He had no answer. Mark’s problem was that he was a pissant who couldn’t talk himself out of shit. He was an amateur, and he got rumbled.

I saw three more engineers/builders/designers. The first, Ahmed, followed up with a risible quote and then had the temerity to send a follow-up email when I ignored his joke of a quotation.

The second individual was a young designer type who appeared dressed like the 1970s. He had beads on. They hid shyly in his chest hair.

He opened his laptop and showed me some of his previous work, and I played a secret game in my head of searching for the actual kitchen behind the zebra print and giant suspended unidentifiable objects. He seemed like a decent bloke and was clearly passionate about what he did. He would be my first port of call if ever I needed to recreate a Duran Duran video.

Tomorrow: more of this shit.

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Love me I’m a looter

As regular readers of this blog will know, I’m from Croydon. Someone has to be.

Croydon is a borough almost 10 miles south of central London. My family arrived in Crystal Palace, a  suburb about 15 minutes away from central Croydon, in 1988. We moved into a small housing association project for first time owners that allows them to buy half their house, and rent the rest. The estate is sandwiched between Edwardian houses on one side and a huge detached house on another that was recently converted into a gated luxury flats complex, and whose owners drive my mum mad with their barbeques.

Crystal Palace consists of a triangle of shops, pubs, restaurants and more restaurants. Remarkably, it has a Blockbusters video that battles on through the digital age. A few chichi shops started appearing shortly after I left and moved to Egypt in 2003 (when the tone of the place improved. Purely by coincidence) and now as I understand it houses there are in some demand by people who commute to central London because they have connected Crystal Palace train station to the underground, and Crystal Palace is leafy and green and has a nice park.

Commuters also seek housing in Croydon, but only because it’s cheap and there are fast trains to central London from East Croydon station. Whenever I bemoan to people the fact that I’m from Croydon their usual response is that it isn’t that bad, and then I ask them whether they’ve been there and they say yes, well, I passed through it on the train on the way to somewhere else. Nowhere looks that bad at 50 miles per hour.

Croydon’s “heart” (or perhaps heart is too generous. Its artificial lung) is the high street and Whitgift shopping centre, a pedestrianised zone of consumerism indistinguishable from any other suburban shopping centre in the UK. Boasts are often made about the Croydon “skyline”, a collection of tall office towers including the Lunar and Apollo Houses, inter-galatically named perhaps because they are owned by the Immigration and Nationality Department and their clients and half the people who work there wish they would disappear into outer space. A couple of years ago an employee threw himself off the top of one of the towers.

I worked there when I was 18 after starting and then abandoning a university course in marketing (!) because I only had one decent A Level having gone a bit off the rails after school. I worked in the post room and my job was to open parcels from people applying for residence permits, list their contents and then send them off for processing on one of the many floors above us.

Two months was enough for the realisation that life is pretty shit without qualifications of some sort to sink in, and I did A Level evening courses. The post room was a sad place. I worked with good people but nobody wants to open envelopes forever and some of the people had sent thousands of parcels upstairs but had no hope of escape themselves.

As soon as I was old enough I stopped hanging around in Croydon and went on adventures in central London which is prettier, has more interesting shops and most importantly catered to my music needs in a way Croydon never could. I would occasionally however be dragged to Croydon on shopping expeditions with my parents and still am today on visits back home.

On my last visit in March of this year I noticed that Croydon had become noticeably shabbier in the 6 months that I had been away. I went in a HMV on Friday and when I went back on Monday it had closed down. Numerous shops have met the same fate in the last 2 or 3 years and are either left boarded up or replaced with pound shops, or shops filled with a random assortment of crap. I also noticed on my last visit that the number of homeless people had increased, or at least they were more visible. I saw one huge man with a dilapidated airport trolley on which his belongings were stacked who stopped to eat out of bins in front of a Marks & Spencer. West Croydon station is opposite two pubs and a pawn shop and has become something of a meeting point for people out of their minds on drugs or alcohol.

I am constantly amazed in Egypt when people leave items in their cars or casually leave handbags on the backs of their chairs in restaurants. Being able to walk down the street alone at night in Cairo is a luxury that doesn’t exist in London, or at least my part of it. I’ve only been robbed twice in Croydon (and in one of these incidents it was my friend and not me who was punched in the face and his bike nicked) and I largely feel safe during daylight hours. But there is that constant threat of random low level violence.

Yesterday afternoon I jokingly asked people on Facebook to tell me if they hear of rioting and destruction in Croydon so that I could book a ticket to the UK asap and live out a fantasy. Five hours later I was watching the place go up in flames on TV. I hate Croydon for its mediocrity and its ugliness, its suburban gloom. Or perhaps I just hate it because I spent ten years there without a choice.

A friend tweeted to me, “things look really bad in Croydon, hope everyone’s ok” to which I replied, “oh don’t worry Croydon always looks bad” and was only half joking. If Croydon could somehow magically be razed to the ground without anyone getting hurt economically or physically or any other way I would be the first to sign up to that initiative. I harbour the same feelings towards Nasr City in Cairo.

Rioters in Croydon apparently feel the same way, but choose odd targets, ignoring police stations, government buildings and Apollo and Lunar Houses and instead selecting a furniture store, amongst other targets.

I was initially overjoyed when I heard about the march on Tottenham police station and dismissed the tut-tuting when the looting started as the usual Daily Mail moral outrage. But I’m less certain now. Part of this uncertainty is because of the media’s inexcusably poor coverage conducted almost uniquely from helicopters and behind police lines. I don’t know who the looters are and what they’re thinking because nobody is talking to them so am left with no alternative other than to read into their actions, and their actions are breaking into shops (chain stores and independent), nicking stuff, setting cars alight, bricking people’s windows, torching buildings apparently at random and robbing individuals unable to protect themselves.

Virtually all of the rioters/looters are young people in the hoods and trainers uniform favoured by London’s youth. Videos show them bopping around and facing off against the police with the youthful bravado I recognise from the encounters I have had with them (them being young people from London who wear hoods and move about in loud gangs). I’ve been trapped on buses with these kids and they are annoying little shits in the way that most teenagers are.

In short the media coverage makes them look like cunts. And perhaps many of them are. But even cunts can have legitimate grievances. Maybe they’re destroying stuff because they have no other channel to express their sense of hopelessness and rage at their situation. Or maybe they and their friends just like the thrill of a ruckus with the added bonus of free gear.

As a dual British-Egyptian citizen 2011 has been an interesting year to say the least. The inevitable comparisons are being drawn between the revolution and the riots. There has been annoying smugness from some Egyptian commentators about how civilised the Egyptian revolution was compared to the barbarians in London, and how well Egyptians responded to the security situation compared with Londoners.

Firstly, the majority of protesters who took to the streets in January were motivated by a cause and outnumbered opportunist looters. Secondly, who relies on the police in Egypt anyway? They’re a bunch of useless murderers. In London the police are more trusted despite also killing people with alarming regularity. People have little experience of defending themselves (interestingly, and perhaps supporting this theory, Turkish-Kurdish shop owners in north London fought off looters. I know very little about community-policing relations in Kurdish areas of Turkey but I suspect that the police aren’t on speed dial).

In summary I’m confused, and I wish I was in London so I could ask the kids what the fuck they’re doing and why. The media is showing us hour after hour of Outraged Upstanding Citizen all saying the same thing because Upstanding Citizens tend to hit journalists less. There is an echoing void when it comes to the other side of the story, a void that is being filled with image after horrible image and calls for looters to be flogged in public squares and theorising about the legitimate social political grievances that drove them to commit inexcusable acts. Both camps are as bad as each other.

Martin Luther King said that a riot is the language of the unheard, but Ralph Waldo Emmerson said what you do speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying. The media is not even trying to listen.

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White tracksuits have never looked so good

 

Another encounter with the Mubarakaristas on Wednesday, as their cult leader was rolled into ignominy horizontally in a white tracksuit.

When Sharshar and I arrived at the Police Academy in which Hosny and friends are being tried we caught the tail end of the first of a series of rock battles between Mubarak disciples and protesters who are not mentally unbalanced.

The Mubarakistas had clearly arrived in the middle of the night and had appropriated the area around a giant screen erected in the Academy’s car park. There they held up pictures of Hosny as well as a giant banner declaring that Mubarak was the first person to support and protect the revolution. A yafta ta3beereyya.

Sharshar quickly identified the woman who had enthusiastically ejected him from a Mubarakistas meeting in Roxy Square, Cairo, two weeks ago, and advised us to hang back near the cordon of policemen separating them from the anti-Mubarak protesters.

They were like a bunch of bitter, clucking, grieving widows, even the men. One woman next to me quite literally bawled, tears rolling down her cheeks as she looked at the screen. Next to her a man sobbed and cursed the bunch of thieving, bribe-taking scumbags from Tahrir who had so impertinently set in motion events that led to the ousting of their spiritual father.

Some were so paralysed by grief that they were unable to form words, so one middle-aged woman instead held up the middle finger and then her shoe, her face skewered with rage.

I photographed this and a frankly lunatic woman next to me who had been bothering me for some time began pushing me in that playschool way that women do when they want a fight but don’t really, and declared that I had photographed the woman with the shoe. A woman looked on and was clearly embarassed, until they found out that was press when her face morphed into the possessed wolf look many of them had and she demanded that I bugger off too.

I couldn’t help but laugh, it was all so pathetic. I was nonetheless glad that I was taken behind the cordon before the shoe woman could get me because Amr Gharbeia was on my mind and I would have loved to have taken on one of the mothafuckers with the excuse of self-defence.

A second round of stone throwing began after an Anti-Mubarak grappled a Hosny portrait out of one of the protesters’ hands and threw it in the air. The police legged it with the press and left them to it before remembering that their job description extends beyond ball scratching and random violence against citizens. They, in the summer whites, were eventually able to form a cordon around the Mubarakistas while the black-uniformed riot police cordoned off the revolutionaries in a symbolic sort of way. I overheard one man complaining that this decision was a declaration of loyalties.

The Mubarakistas were eventually driven out altogether and the Antis reclaimed the screen, which by this time had taken a few rock blows so that a small black rectangle appeared in the middle, which at certain points during the trial landed exactly on Alaa Mubarak’s eyes, making him look like a sex rapist in a tabloid.

Seeing Mubarak being wheeled into the dock was a moment of intense strangeness. There was a rush of feeling through the crowd when he first appeared, like a window bursting open with a gust of wind, but that subsided into what was almost a trance, a little sea of upturned heads silently watching a dynasty unraveling.

Interestingly, the crowd responded much more vocally to the appearance of Habib El-Adly. This might have something to do with the fact that in addition to being a murderous cunt the man is possibly the smuggest mothafucker ever to have stretched a leg on this planet. He is still smiling, despite the fact that he is currently doing bird after being convicted in a separate case and faces a long stretch if convicted of killing protesters.

He sat in the dock with his lieutenants behind him like a man waiting for an order of coffee. Occasionally he turned around and shared a laugh. After the session ended State TV showed him striding out, still grinning, and confidently shaking the hand of a military police soldier. Alaa and Gamal looked less merry but no less confident. They reminded me of New York gangstas on a Miami break, standing sentry in their tracksuits, legs spread, guarding the godfather busily picking his nose behind them.

On his way out Alaa put his palm over the camera filming him. Think: Britney Spears meets the man in your office nobody likes.

I have problems with this trial. I don’t understand why Mubarak is being tried for three offences out of 30 years of hell and why the charges were brought so quickly. Why not prepare a watertight case? I’m concerned that there prosecution hasn’t got the evidence that will prove Mubarak gave the order to kill protesters, and wonder whether under the law just the fact that the police killed people under his watch is enough to convict him. And what about the systematic torture? Will neither he nor Adly be tried for that?

This trial (if it is indeed a genuine attempt to hold Mubarak to account) is more important to Egypt’s long-term future than the current state of affairs, in that with any luck it will make potential tyrants think twice (or think “is it worth getting rich via milking the country dry and silencing dissent through violent repression at the risk of ending my days in a five star hospital?”)

Unless something really dramatic happens and Tantawy appears and has a meltdown on the stand it won’t though affect the army’s place in the state and its grip on power. It also won’t stop the gangs of plain-clothed men and their gold watches who are slowly creeping back to their posts, dispensing instructions to minions carrying walkie talkies; fittingly enough there was a group of six of them strutting around outside the Police Academy. I recognised one of them and the only thing different about him was that he was carrying prayer beads.

This trial is particularly sweet for Moftases’ generation. Moftases has been slightly obsessed with Mubarak ever since I met him (him being Moftases, not Hosny yuck) in 2007. I remember once asking him about the obsession and him gripping the steering wheel tightly and saying something along the lines of that he has been subjected to Hosny Mubarak every single day of his life for 30 years (on television, in newspapers), and that he realised from a tender age that Mubarak was responsible for all the shit that was happening.

Victories in this revolution are fragile, brief snippets of sunrise between the shadowy gloom of past disasters and the cloying heat of an uncertain future. Despite all the doubts, the appearance of Mubarak and his sons in a cage, contained, is one of these victories.

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6 months later

The wonderful kids of Doweiqa

A couple of weeks ago I covered a march in Imbaba, organised by a lagna sha3beyya (one of the defence committees created during the revolution) demonstrating for the rights of martyrs to be respected via the trial of their killers amongst other demands.

Around 30 or so protestors gathered by meat emporium El Brens. They started marching about an hour before sunset, chanting and handing out leaflets as they went. The march soon hit a crowded market street and dodged between microbuses and tuktuks. It went past women sitting on the ground selling 3rd and 4th hand mobile phones and old cassette tapes laid out before them on blankets.

If the comments I overheard were anything to by, Imbaba’s residents weren’t particularly enthusiastic about the march. One man got out of his car in order to launch into a long tirade/curse against the protestors, protests and the revolution in general. There was a quiet hiss of maledictions virtually throughout the march, with very occasional shows of support. I left the march at Agouza (it was headed to Tahrir) by which time it had grown to perhaps 70 people.

I should also relate – because it’s relevant to what I will bore you with below – that my (foreign) presence irked some of the good people of Imbaba and made one of the organisers distinctly uncomfortable, to the extent that she shouted slightly hysterically to her colleagues, “make her leave! She has to go!” I explained to her that I have Egyptian nationality and she stopped hyperventilating enough to listen to me and permitted me to stay. (And for the record this was balanced out by a lovely man who got wind of what happened and demanded that I walk with them in the heart of the march rather than skulk around ahead looking spy-ish).

Last week in Tahrir I watched “the revolutionary barber” at work. His customer was an old Upper Egyptian man getting his beard shaved and mustache trimmed. He sat rigid in a camouflage bib thing holding a cardboard sign reading “revolutionary barber” while the barber worked. A group of men stood in a semicircle watching in silence. As the barber finished a chorus of “na3eman ya 7ag” [na3eman is said after someone gets a haircut or has a bath, 7ag is a title of respect given to the elderly] rang out. The old man mumbled the standard response unsmilingly before suddenly declaring, “KOS OM EL 7AKOUMA” [fuck the government], and taking his leave.

I missed most of Saturday’s march against the Supreme Council of Aging Fools (SCAF) because I was in Doweiqa with a community made homeless when a combined force of the army and the police evicted them from the public housing (built by Suzanne Mubarak, or at least bearing her name) they were squatting. They now live in shelters constructed out of their belongings under these homes. It is mostly women and children in this community – men are either out at work or have buggered off. Many of the children are physically underdeveloped as a result of poor nutrition, but they are clean and bright and loved. A few of the women I met are an inspiration, such as Amal, an indefatigable and relentlessly cheerful grandmother, and Hind.

Hind is a young mother of three who is the group’s unofficial spokeswoman. She is confident, fluent and knows how to deal with idiots. If she had been born in a different age, or into a different class, she’d be running a company, or a country.

Amal and Hind and others took me to see a young man who owns a shop near the housing project. The shop is opposite a flat occupied by a policeman and his wife. On Friday night the wife objected to something he was doing and complained to her husband when he arrived home, drunk. The couple (the wife armed with a large stick) set about pummeling the man. His face bore testimony to the attack, one eye was entirely closed, surrounded by puffy, swollen flesh.

The women urged the man to lodge a complaint, but he said that he had already refused to do so at the police station. He seemed to be afraid. Hind castigated him, told him that they would all testify on his behalf, that they were all behind him. He remained unmoved.

Hind is a staunch advocate of the revolution and what it has achieved but as we walked away she reflected that at this very basic level nothing much has changed; the bullies are still bullying and people with money for bribes can afford to buy government flats destined for others with a greater need.

Moftases and I reached the anti-SCAF march about an hour before it finished. On the way in up the road leading to the Cathedral we met an acquaintance on the way out who warned me not to take that route or at least speak Arabic if I did. We decided to take a side street.

It was a bit like in Western films when the stranger walks into a bar and its patrons immediately lapse into a taut silence. I have never felt so many eyes watching me, and it didn’t help that some little shit shouted “how are youuu!” in English out of a window.

We walked up the street and at a crossroads encountered a huge gang of men carrying weapons of varying degrees of primitivism. We took a tentative step forward and a slightly-mad looking man instructed us to turn around. Ordinarily I might have ignored him but he was gesticulating with a huge gazelle-horn knife and one of the few life skills Croydon has equipped me with it the sense not to enter into arguments with agitated men waving around blades.

We turned around and suddenly two young men descended on us demanding ID. We asked what the problem was and he said “we’ve seen you going up and down the street”. I decided not to protest that if we were wandering around in his fucking yard it was because one of his armed neighbours just instructed us to piss off. Just as I was producing my ID a Twitter acquaintance called Dr Loai on his way to a field hospital appeared and asked if everything was OK. The Egyptian ID plus the fact of understanding Arabic seemed to reassure spycatcher and he buggered off.

I couldn’t help but comment to a bystander that spycatcher’s interpersonal skills left much to be desired to which the bystander responded with the cryptic comment, “it’s our right and your right to see your ID”. I didn’t inquire further.

Moftases had a similar run in on our way out of the demonstration with a herculean-sized prat in a sleeveless vest stationed at the footbridge leading to Demerdash metro station who saw Moftases in the company of a foreigner (me) and immediately went into the citizen cop act.

“HEY! WHERE ARE YOU FROM?” he bellowed at Moftases.

“Dokki”, Moftases replied. Prat in a vest demanded to see his ID and chests started being puffed as happens with men get into shit.

Luckily that shit meant that they forgot about me, because this is the exact spot that activist Amr Gharbeia was “arrested” by helpful civilians who accused him of being a spy and/or agitator for the 6 April movement. Amr is a lovely gentle geek who has long hair in a plait and is about as far removed from working-class Abbaseyya as you can get. Luckily he was released 5 a.m the next day by his captors, one of whom was Hassan El-Ghandour who I interviewed here.

The march ended in the predictable violence. The army stupidly blocked off protestors at the Nour Mosque, thereby avoiding the life-threatening risk of them peacefully marching to the Ministry of Defence and congregating there for a couple of hours before leaving.

While at the barricade protesters were attacked by Abbaseyya residents, some of whom hurled rocks at them from rooftops. 150 protesters were injured, some of them with serious head wounds.

I saw some of the Abbaseyya residents on TV on Sunday night and the general attitude was that the Tahrir protestors were thugs who were en route with a mission to destroy Abbaseyya, and Egypt generally. One man was complaining that protesters had completely gutted his garden nursery.

Tahrir protesters are under enormous pressure at the moment. SCAF is running a relentless, stupid and successful smear campaign against Tahrir protesters, mostly through its Facebook statements. We have had 70 statements in 6 months and many of them extol the revolution’s martyrs while simultaneously smearing the motives and background of the individuals who fought alongside these same martyrs.

SCAF’s campaign is supported by several conservative Muslim groups who , are planning a demonstration in Tahrir on Friday. Essam Abdel-Maged, the Gama3a’s spokesman said on TV that the object of the march was to prove that Tahrir Square “isn’t the property of that minority”.

What is happening is almost a carbon copy of the hysteria created in February by Mubarak’s regime, desperate for a way out. Mubarak frequently relied on manufactured threats to both keep divert attention from the universal malaise his regime created and discredit political opponents. I was watching Al Jazeera today and an expert noted that European far right extremist groups usually enjoy a resurgence at times of economic decline. Egypt currently has its own version of this, exploited by the army.

For 30 years Egypt witnessed oppression, moribund politics and a loss of hope. The country was flat-lining but that unchanging straight line meant continuity and stability for Egyptians who didn’t challenge the regime. Change is frightening, even when it is good, and the army is exploiting this for its own ends with the help of state media and some conservative Muslim groups who seem to want to outdo each other in demonstrations of loyalty.

SCAF hit on a winning ticket with the April 6 and foreign funding conspiracy theory since Mubarak’s regime had already drummed it into the general public that foreigners are either tourists or spies and the manufacture of domestic-led nefarious foreign plots against Egypt is a nice simple us versus them binary in these complicated, tumultuous times. Simply saying “the groups occupying Tahrir Square intend to eat your children alive” without the foreign hand element wouldn’t have been nearly as effective.

For us still to be hearing this shit 6 months after the revolution is devastating. Even assuming that the army doesn’t have a long-term political agenda (protecting its interests, ensuring it gets the president it wants), it has completely hijacked the transitional process through its spectacular lack of political finesse and inability to cede power to citizens.

Under SCAF’s stewardship virtually nothing has been done right since February. Nobody is asking them to transform the economy or undo 30 years of Hosny Mubarak overnight. But it is an insult that police officers accused of killing protesters have been given desk jobs rather than be suspended, that the relatives of people killed in the revolution have to camp out for justice, that the army is trying civilians in military courts, that NDP figures (including Essam Sharaf, Fayza Abol Naga and Maged George amongst many others) are still in positions of power and that state media continues to regurgitate army propaganda. It wasn’t meant to be like this.

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General Fingery

As a service to non-Arabic speaking readers, we have translated the speech made today by General Mohsen El-Fangary and his finger.

In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate.

Since the beginning of the revolution the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) has made clear that is on the side of the people, mostly by locking them up after military trials and killing them in public squares.

It has expressed its support for their demands, and I will do so now again, in the voice I use to TELL OFF MY TEENAGE SON and during PRIVATE RE-ENACTMENTS OF EL NASER SALAH EDDIN.

I will underline the fact that THE PEOPLE CHOSE THE MESS WE ARE CURRENTLY IN USING MY VOICE AND POINTING MY FINGER. Sometimes my eyes will DART TO THE RIGHT MOMENTARILY, FRIGHTENED BY MY LOUD VOICE. This takes away slightly from the gravitas (as does the fact that the sign behind me is not straight) BUT NOT AS MUCH AS THE FACT THAT THE AUTOCUE IS TOO SLOW AND I LOOK LIKE I AM STARING AT YOUR GENITALS.

I will launch into a LIST OF POINTS, but precede this with A BIG SIGH because when I signed up to the army I didn’t bet on having to REPRIMAND A LOAD OF INSUBORDINATE CITIZENS. And it is SUMMER, and making these addresses EATS INTO MY CLUB AND VILLA TIME. As indeed does your FUCKING REVOLUTION I MIGHT ADD.

1. Everyone has the right to FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION. Anyone who disagrees with this fact publicly is FREE TO BE SUMMONED AND COME AND DRINK COFFEE AT THE MILITARY PROSECUTION OFFICE.

2. We are STICKING TO THE PLAN. ELECTIONS FIRST. I will not discuss why NO PREPARATIONS HAVE BEEN MADE FOR THESE ALLEGED ELECTIONS nor mention that EVEN THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM THAT WILL BE USED REMAINS UNCLEAR.

3. We continue to support prime minister ESSAM SHARAF even though we are THE ONLY ONES WHO DO SO.

4. Something very vague about the law not in my angry parent voice. It can be ignored.

5. We continue to have dialogue with UNNAMED YOUTH GROUPS.

6. We will draw up a document of UNASSAILABLE PRINCIPLES that will be used to pick members of the committee THAT WILL PUT IN PLACE THE NEW CONSTITUTION in a MISGUIDED ATTEMPT TO SHUT YOU ALL UP.

Now more points and more pointing fingers.

1. Some bastards are intent on peacefully protesting, thereby harming CITIZENS’ INTERESTS and state infrastructure and the WHEEL OF PRODUCTION AND CAUSING EXHAUSTION TO MY FOREFINGER.

2. False news and rumours will lead to destruction of the country and this is a theory we like to test often with our WARNINGS ABOUT FOREIGN ELEMENTS ATTEMPTING TO STEAL EGYPT AND HOLD IT HOSTAGE IN TEL AVIV.

3. Some citizens are SELFISHLY PUTTING THEIR OWN INTERESTS ABOVE THOSE OF THE HOMELAND by choosing to sleep in tents in temperatures in the HIGH 30s under the constant THREAT OF ATTACK BY THUGS because they think REAL CHANGE and JUSTICE are more important than CITIZENS BEING ABLE TO PASS THROUGH TAHRIR SQUARE ON THEIR WAY CARREFOUR. Citizens are encouraged to STAND UP AGAINST THIS, and are advised to proceed to the Interior Ministry for details about payment for their services and collection of weapons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye, and if you continue misbehaving YOU CAN FORGET ABOUT GOING TO THE CLUB AT THE WEEKEND.

[Hosny Mubarak’s voice off-camera: “Chapeau”]

No permission sought for the use of any of these images.

 

 

 

 

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Mubarakistas

I went to Mostafa Mahmoud Square yesterday and practiced anger management while covering a pro-Mubarak rally for Al-Masry Al-Youm English. Below are the results. A (very) slightly different version was published here.

“I’m against the revolution”

There is a tiny part of post-revolution Cairo that will remain forever Mubarak, and that is Mostafa Mahmoud Square.

It was here that Hosny Mubarak supporters gathered on 2 February 2011, one of the bloodiest days of the revolution, when pro-Mubarak mobs on camel and horse back attacked protestors in Tahrir Square.

The square has been their spiritual home ever since, a small but pointed riposte at the masses of anti-regime demonstrators who filled Tahrir Square demanding Mubarak’s removal – and who have continued to gather there sporadically since 11 February to lobby for unfulfilled revolution demands.

Much of the language Mubarak supporters use, and the methods they employ to mobilise, are identical to those used by their pro-revolution anti-Mubarak counterparts. It all has a certain ying and yang quality to it.

Friday’s protest in Mostafa Mahmoud was advertised on Facebook as the “third revolution: the revolution of anger by Mubarak’s children”. (The “second revolution” was held in Tahrir Square earlier this month by the other side) and declared in the tagline that “ the big man (el kebeer) won’t be humiliated and because of that I’m going to the square”.

By 2 p.m. on Friday a stage had been erected in Mostafa Mahmoud and a handful of Mubarak devotees had assembled around it, adorned with A5 size photographs of the big man in various familiar poses strung around their neck; the 1981 official state portrait, resting his chin on his knuckles smiling enigmatically, tieless in 2005, kissing the Ka’aba on pilgrimage. The many moods of Hosny Mubarak.

Huge posters had been strung up behind them. “LEAVE OUR FATHER ALONE, THAT’S ENOUGH, YOU’VE MADE OUR LIVES HELL” one declared in insistent red lettering.

“We Chose Him”, Mohamed Tharwat’s ode to el kebeer rang out over the square. This was followed by audio of Mubarak taking the oath against mournful violins. The crowd occasionally broke out into chants of “the people want the president’s freedom”. A speaker instructed protestors to raise their voices “so the President can hear us in Sharm El-Sheikh”.

Young men strode purposefully around. One of them was Hassan El-Ghandour who introduced himself as a protest organizer and “former soldier in the Republican Guards”.

El-Ghandour says that he “never experienced injustice” under Mubarak – not even when he was forced to travel to Italy to find work because he couldn’t find any in Egypt.

“There wasn’t any work in the country appropriate for my ambitions, but I didn’t blame my own failure on the country or Mubarak”, El-Ghandour – who called Mubarak “el general” – said.

The conversation soon and inevitably turned to the revolution, and El-Ghandour laid out his theory about the causes of, and actors behind the uprising.

It was a geopolitical pot pourri of conspiracy theory spanning centuries.

During the revolution, “Persian-Iranian” and Israeli ammunition was used, El-Ghandour said, tying in with his theory that “Years ago the Jews and Persians agreed on the destruction of the Islamic state”.

“What happened to the Prophet Mohamed and Salah Eddin is happening to President Hosny Mubarak. Hosny Mubarak and [Field Marshall, and head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] Tantawy were the last people to humiliate the Jews. If you look at Wikileaks you will see that Hosny Mubarak and Tantawy are the last remaining obstacle to America’s division of the Middle East”.

The revolution was carried out by activist groups “the 6 April Youth Movement and Kefaya” who “were trained in Freedom House in America and also Serbia”.

El-Ghandour listed the names of individuals and entities he says have “sold” Egypt including, politician Ayman Nour, Wael Ghonim, Mohamed ElBaradei, activists Israa Abdel Fatah and Asmaa Mahfouz, and the public prosecutor.

Protestor Heba Farouq said that the revolution was “planned”.

“The MB and ElBaradei did the revolution. It was planned. There was an interview with ElBaradei in October 2011 on Al-Jazeera when he said that things will change at the beginning of next year and we wont be silent”.

Speaking on stage, protest organizers variously referred to the revolution as a “scam” or “the revolution of the drug addict”. One speaker questioned why nobody has been held to account for the deaths of police officers during the revolution.

El-Ghandour was one of several protestors who questioned the identity of the almost 1,000 people killed during the revolution. “There were 170 convicted criminals amongst the people who died in during the revolution. What were convicted criminals doing amongst intellectuals?”

Asked why they are not happy with the revolution when it is now held up internationally as a model of peaceful regime change Yasser El-Ghayesh said it is because “the world wants Egypt’s destruction”.

El-Ghawash described Mubarak as “his father, mother and brother” adding “I will eat anyone who comes near him”. He dismissed claims of corruption leveled against the ex-President.

“These people talk about corruption when it is the people themselves who spread corruption. Where did President Mubarak come from? From the people. It is the people who must change.”

Magdy Mahmoud Fouda, coordinator of The Popular Campaign for the Defence and Support of President Mubarak expressed similar sentiments saying, “There was some corruption [during Mubarak’s tenure], but only the corruption expected in any country in the world”.

Fouda added that his group is currently gathering signatures for a petition calling for all criminal charges against Mubarak to be dropped and for him to be honoured, officially. So far 200,000 people have added their names.

There was unanimous agreement that Mubarak is innocent of all the criminal charges leveled against him. A man introduced as a physics professor explained at length that alleged irregularities in gas sale transactions with Israel were in fact “efforts by Mubarak and Hussein Salem [a former intelligence officer recently arrested in Spain] to get the best price for Egypt”.

Farouq said there is “no way” that Mubarak gave the order to kill protestors during the revolution.  “There is no way that a man who fought and risked his life in the 1973 war would give an order for his people to be killed”.

Protestors made reference to Mubarak’s “many achievements” although when pressed seemed unable to list anything other than “not leading Egypt into war” and “infrastructure”.

Dalia Mahmoud mentioned “the biggest army in the Arab world” and the “biggest underground metro in the Arab world”.

“The stupid people who talk about 30 years of injustice weren’t living in Egypt for sure. Those of us who were around at the end of the 70s know what the country was like when he took over, and what Egypt is like today”, Mahmoud said.

Many yearned wistfully for the return of life under Mubarak. A woman on stage started sobbing dramatically while describing how every day she wakes up and wishes that “she was still living in Mubarak’s Egypt”. Farouq complained about the “lack of security and stability Egypt is currently experiencing”.

University lecturer Sherif Imad – who says he participated in protests on 25 January but went home when protestors “started attacking the police” – said that people want security and for the “country to go back to how it was…what have we benefited from the revolution?”

Protestors have two things in common with their pro-revolution counterparts; consternation about who will next rule Egypt and a suspicion of the press, although in these protestors’ case it borders on revulsion. Ghandour explained that “the whole media is controlled by three companies. So they sing the song they want them to sing. Yesterday the people were with Hosny Mubarak. Now the same media figures who used to support Mubarak criticise him”.

As Al-Masry Al-Youm sought shelter from the sun under an advertising hoarding one of a group of protestors doing likewise announced audibly, “the most disgusting people in Egypt are journalists and media figures”.

Protestor Mohamed Saad explained that ElBaradei will not be able to unite Egypt’s various political factions. El-Ghandour is adamant that only a military man “can control the country”.

By 5 p.m. a huge “We Are All Mubarak” poster had been erected on stage but numbers remained low – some 300. Asked why this was, Imad said that many of them were women and girls “and afraid to come” and also pointed out that it was an extremely hot day, “unlike when they did their revolution and they had the advantage of it being winter”.

A speaker reassured the tiny crowd before him. “We are millions. We are the silent majority”.

 

 

 

 

 

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