Monday, February 23, 2009

Letters from Egypt: Khan el-Khalili Bombing

Photo taken from AFP

Immediately text messages started coming in: Cairo explosion near Khan outside Hussein Mosque; The explosion was by the mosque, at least 4 ppl died; Hear about the bomb? Got any info?; and the list goes on. I don’t think I’m alone in what I did after receiving these messages. I quickly turned on the BBC and flipped back and forth to CNN, got on the computer as I was met with im’s from friends here and quickly searched news sites. Then a friend called with confirmation from the embassy about the bombing. I immediately sent out texts to all of my friends relaying messages.

Varying reports surfaced, and while it is the next day, I’m still finding inaccuracies among different news agencies/sources. The bombing took place yesterday afternoon in the Khan el-Khalili, a large bazaar and popular tourist destination. The last attack in the area took place in 2005, killing two French citizens and an American. Reports conclude that one French woman was killed in yesterday’s attack, in addition to about 20 others being injured (numbers aren’t conclusive).

It is said that two bombs, targeted at tourists in the nearby café, were dropped from a nearby hotel. The second bomb failed to detonate, although Egyptian authorities said they successfully defused it. One eye witness praying at Hussein Mosque said he saw three men from the third story, and authorities have reportedly detained three men suspected in the attack.

All of those injured are not per the bomb, but the stampede that ensued afterward. However, this does lead to concerns that more violence may occur as tensions over Egypt’s stance regarding the Gaza conflict continues. The Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition group in Egypt, has denounced attacks although many still speculate their genuineness. The Brotherhood has long been the model for Islamic political movements and has close ties with the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas.

I first learned about the Brotherhood shortly after my arrival to Cairo. I was told that the Brotherhood was seemingly a peaceful organization that wished to dispel the long and what some may refer to as ineffective ruling of President Mubarak. I was told this story of the Brotherhood meeting as Egyptian soldiers immediately stormed the premises and detained members. Egyptian emergency laws prohibit gatherings of more than five people and permit prosecutions on such vague grounds. I was later told by an Egyptian that this was in the best interests for most, especially westerners, as the Brotherhood would impose harsh conservative Islamic code and eventually drive foreigners out of the country. One Egyptian simply told me, "I don't like them, they have bad thoughts." Another Coptic Christian added, "They want to destroy all of us. They want us to pay in for our safety, but still destroy us like in the 6th Century."

The Brotherhood currently occupies a small percentage of seats in the Egyptian Parliament, unable to make any decisions, but making their presence known.

While that story is simply heresy and opinion based, what I will say is that the Brotherhood does believe in enforcing Sharia as the law of the land. Sharia is Islamic law and while I am not well-versed on the subject matter, I do know that it scares many westerners with the implications that basic rights – especially for women – are denied. However, you may click on the Wikipedia link and through that do your own research (as we know anyone may post on Wiki and perhaps it isn’t the best reference tool).

I also want to note that for those of you reading this, please be mindful that there are extremist in every religion and it isn’t fair or just to associate these actions with all Muslims.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Letters from Egypt: Chivalry Found

I recently had an epiphany or perhaps I’d just chosen to ignore it until now. It is no secret that there are going to be differences in cultures, particularly between American and Egyptian society. However, what may surprise some of you are the similarities that I have noticed between Southerners (in the US) and Egyptians.

First of all, women of the South do not get dubbed Southern Belle for nothing. You can travel all throughout the US and while the South may have its fair share of what some may refer to as rednecks, Southern Belles are a coveted breed. They are raised to be proper ladies and while at times I may falter with my language usage, I can tell you that they are held to a higher standard than anywhere else in the US. Egyptian females are much the same.

While times are changing and virginity comes and goes, many Egyptian females still remain virgins until marriage. Okay, while that might not apply to the majority of American society, Southern girls care a great deal about their reputation and will do a lot in order to protect it…for the most part. It is hard to gain a good reputation, easy to lose it and almost impossible to get it back.

Furthermore, while I will admit that my family is anything but perfect, Southern families are a different breed. You still have family time, you still have soccer moms and you still go to church in the same car almost every Sunday. Yes, there are exceptions, but overall, this is mostly true. Egyptian families are very close-knit and while I will say that NO FAMILY is perfect, I just see a great deal of similarities in the way the two function.

What I really felt this week was the fact that I was suppressed, but when I stepped back and thought about the situation, I realize that’s not necessarily the case as I would’ve endured much of the same in the South but maybe I’ve just been away for so long. You see, I just realized that when something happens to me here, I’m suppose to wait around for a man to take up for me and correct/solve the situation. I am a very strong, independent person and this is just unfathomable. However, when I think about it, it was the same in the South. There’s a reason that girls love Southern boys – they always say that they have a strong sense of chivalry. They hold the door open for us, they say ma’am to our mothers, they ask our father’s permission before proposing, etc. Egyptian men do much of the same.

When I started this blog, it was a rant about how I felt suppressed and restricted from being myself. While I will admit that I am capable of taking up for myself and have been on my own for quite awhile, I will also admit that I was reminded of how it felt to be in the South where gentlemen are prevalent. Sometimes it is nice to be treated like a girl. Now will I admit that I’m in love with the idea of not having as much freedom to do things – no, I’m not. However, this is my positive feeling on the situation and if you only knew the words I’d written before this, my how you would’ve been even more amazed at my newfound perspective.

Place of the Week: The Marriot in Zamalek

Many tourists are always looking for a place to go and while the Marriot is world-renown for their service, this one is no different. What is great about this place? The fact that it is within easy access to some of Cairo's greatest sites. First of all, it is located on the island of Zamalek. Looking for authentic Egyptian fare? Look at a previous post of Felfela - even Jimmy Carter was a fan! Want to really see Cairo? Visit the nearby Cairo Tower. For nightlife - you're two minutes away from the hottest club in town: Purple and just five minutes away from Cairo Jazz Club. And if you don't want to venture out too far, never fear - there's a casino, various restaurants (including Roy's Country) and also an outdoor garden that provides a great atmosphere, shisha and don't forget to try the club sandwich.

Purple, a hotspot among many living in the Cairo area.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Letters from Egypt: Got Shobra?

I still have yet to see the pyramids – even from a distance – but I can now say that I’ve been to Shobra. Shobra is an area in Cairo, and as you may click on the link to its origins via Wikipedia, it doesn’t go in depth on what Shobra means to residents. The suburb is known for a hard life (for lack of better words). Earlier, most criminals had the background of being from the area. It is a poor area although there are very nice homes in certain parts. As a friend of mine who has lived in the US described, coming from Shobra is viewed as “being from Compton.” Sometimes on Saturdays I like to take little adventures and this Saturday, I decided to travel to Shobra. The handprints ward off the Evil Eye It was my first experience on the Metro, and quite surprisingly, it ran frequently and efficiently. Andy and I looked on the platform for families so we could ride together, but I have to admit, at one point we couldn’t find the family car and well – we rode separately (only one stop). He did admit it was like playing “testicle ping-pong” while my car was virtually empty. We got off on the Missara stop via the advice from my Shobra-born coworker, Mario. The difference between Road 7 in Maadi and the area in Shobra that we went to was that no one hassled. Another friend explained that it was probably one of the first time many of the residents had seen foreigners. As we walked down a crowded street selling vegetables, women cleaning fish and people pulling rickshaws galore, we were always greeted with friendly smiles. I get a little nervous snapping photos, but no one seemed to mind. In fact, people approached and asked us where we were from. I replied, “Mexico” and they always said, “Welcome.” We walked down an alley that led to yet another alley and watched kids play. When I would take their picture and then show them, they went crazy. No one begged for money, no one hassled us to buy any items, people were just genuinely friendly. We went into a Coptic Christian Church where I found some stairs and just began walking. I thought at any moment we were going to be yelled out. However, the stairs led to the upper deck of St. Mary’s and we were able to view the sanctuary and beautiful artwork all around.
For those of you traveling to Cairo, I don’t suggest going to Shobra unless you know someone that can help you. Although my experience was a pleasant one, use your best judgment and always be safe. As a side note though, I might possibly return next weekend with my coworker so he can show me more areas.