Thursday, September 29, 2011

Letters from Egypt: What’s in a Name?

I took this photo on Jan. 25, one of the first groups I saw protesting before converging on Tahrir Sq
As suggested, I’ve researched all these so-called revolutionary Days of *place whatever Friday here* and I’m wondering, who comes up with this?

  • The first Friday that started it all with the Day of Rage (January 28).
  • February 4 rolled around dubbed the Original Day of Departure; then on February 11, the actual Day of Departure was instated (with Mubarak officially stepping down as president).
  • The Day of Celebration ensued on February 18, a brief hiatus amid euphoric jubilation, only to resume on April 1’s Day of Save the Revolution.
  • The Day of Cleaning came around on April 8, although I’m assuming that wasn’t meant to be taken literally since nothing was actually cleaned – literally and figuratively.
  • And since that didn’t seem to work, playing off of the previous success of the Day of Rage, the Day of Rage Part II was born on May 27.
  • Interestingly enough, June 3 saw the Day of Work. Can someone tell me where this took place?
  • A month later on July 1 came the Day of Retribution, followed by the Day of Revolution Firsts on July 8. What “firsts” were those exactly? Oh I get it, it was the first time people descended upon Tahrir Square in protests…sarcasm.
  • The Day of Final Warning arrived on July 15. I wonder who issued that “final warning”? The protestors or the military? Either way, the warning seemed to have gone unnoticed.
  • July 22 showcased a very Decisive Friday. I was wondering if someone could give me those decisions that were actually determined?
  • The Day of Unity (although I like to say [Dis]unity) resulted in a religious sparring in the [in]famous Tahrir (Liberation) Square.
  • And in August, everyone decided to take a brief, month-long hiatus in observance of the Prophet Mohammed and his teachings while eating enough food to feed all of Somalia and the displaced refugees.
  • However, not to be left out or forgotten, people came back on September 9 in the Day of Correcting the Path of the Revolution. Sure they could have simply dubbed it the Day of Correction, but why simplify such beautiful wording…

So I don’t think I’m alone in saying, Egypt – it’s lost its luster. KEFAYA!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Letters from Egypt: Keep Her Away from Your Children

Image: Parenting Clan
Parents take a risk when hiring a nanny, but one Maadi family found out just how dangerous it could be when hiring Egyptian Hana Hasan.

A message from the Maadi Monday baby group, Mums Today, has been circulated in order to help other parents avoid their experience. In a letter, one mother describes how her husband arrived home last week and found their nanny (Hana Hasan) holding their 7-month old down on the bed with her hands covering his eyes and mouth. The father immediately stepped in and dismissed Hasan while she yelled how the child wouldn’t stop crying.

After grabbing the child, the husband ordered Hasan to leave. The letter said, “She demanded money and threatened to kill our family.”

The baby is doing fine after undergoing a medical examination, but the family has discovered that Hasan was possibly drugging the child with a mild medication (like Benadryl) to make him sleep. The family hired this woman on during the second trimester of pregnancy in order to become more familiar, giving them a better sense of security.

She is Egyptian and speaks fluent English. If she approaches you for a job, please send me an email directly with your name and contact information and I will forward to the appropriate person. A report has been filed, but she is currently “at large.”

Most importantly, get the word out because this woman should never be around children. Another word to the wise, whenever hiring an Egyptian – particularly for such an important job like taking care of your children – ask to see their Egyptian ID card and get a copy (for other foreigners, get a copy of their passport). Also, have your driver or someone you know take the hired employee home if you ever get suspicious so you know where they live and when it comes time to file a report, you have more than enough information to wreak havoc on the culprit.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Letters from Egypt: Who's Winning the TV Ratings

This week in the Middle East, the battle was on to see just who will win the top TV spot as competition continues to get steep. While Egypt garnered top slots during prime time TV, it has, until recently, fallen behind in ratings. However, don’t count them out of the running yet.

Last week, we saw Syria climbing the charts with security forces continuing their clamp down. In order to keep viewership up, Syria will play host to Russia this week that is sure to keep some of you on the edge of your seats wondering, “Why Russia?”

Not to be outdone, Libya TV shifted gears and showcased a heartfelt story of one Ukrainian nurse’s heroic tale depicting the main star of the hit show, Qaddafi, as simply “daddy.” The story line showed writer diversification, trying to distinguish it from competitors like Syria and Yemen, with a softer side. She recounted, “Daddy gave us jobs, money and a good life.” Certainly hope you avid Libya viewers weren’t eating during this episode as I can’t imagine you kept your popcorn down or drink from spewing from your nose.

Source: AP
Meanwhile, Egypt has been falling behind, but the creators of the once-upon-a-time hit TV show amped up their efforts to gain international attention. Writer Mohamed el-Mohamed told me, “We sat down and thought, ‘alright, we’ve got to do something about this, we cannot let Libya, Syria and Yemen beat us again for the eighth or so consecutive week.’” And thus, the idea to write into the script… drumroll please… an attack on the Israeli embassy. To add an even greater element of excitement, trapping six Israeli guards in the building kept viewers on the edge of their seats.

And just what is Egypt doing to try to hold its top position in international TV ratings? This week the show will have a special guest. Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will make an appearance on the show. However, inside sources say that he will further the storyline of standing against Israel. In a rallying effort, Erdogan is said to be believed to give a speech that will push momentum which could see future episodes of more anti-Israeli acts by Egypt. With this latest script change in Egypt TV, it is sure to pull in even more ratings from places like the US and UK. Grab your popcorn and ho-ho’s now. However, something tells me this storyline will get played out and then what will Egypt do to climb back up the rating chart? Go to work? Now that would be an interesting episode.

Showing Egyptians working would offer an element of humor and surprise. el-Mohamed added: "Listen, showing Egyptians getting geared for a peaceful, semi-transparent election or even creating a plan of action toward the constitutional process would be too expected. We're out to get ratings and the best way we can do this is by flexing our pens to create a script that will entice the viewers and Israel has proven to be the best route to edge out our competitors."

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Letters from Egypt: American University in Cairo Brief

American University in Cairo Photo Source: Green Prophet
With all the ongoing problems within Egypt, it's not entirely shocking that one of the so-called top universities in the country would be wrought with corruption.

Finding nepotism at the highest level within the American University in Cairo (AUC), look at latest president and American Lisa Anderson. Anderson is married to a New York City lawyer who has been given the job to play a role in the university’s sustainability department, which will be a part of the engineering sector. Not only is her husband not an engineer, AUC employees told me that he has no background in the sector – which includes green energy (ie hydropower, solar power, biofuels, etc).

The former AUC provost that took over as president in January 2011, holds a BA from Sarah Lawrence College, an MA in law and diplomacy from Tufts University and a PhD in political science from Columbia.  She is the author of Pursuing Truth, Exercising Power: Social Science and Public Policy in the Twenty-first Century, editor of Transitions to Democracy and co-editor of The Origins of Arab Nationalism. Apparently Anderson has been in the Middle East for too long and forgot that with all of her democratic rhetoric, nepotism does not coincide with equality. She is the first female to be appointed president of the university and if this recent appointment is any indicator, I'm sure she is doing a great job...

Meanwhile, a dean of one of the engineering departments at AUC has decided that although some students have met their requirements to graduate, he isn’t ready to release them and will not allow anyone to graduate until 2012. Perhaps he is too fearful that the students are not equipped to survive in the real world or maybe, just maybe, he is trying to gain more money for the university by forcing the students to stay an unnecessary semester.

And finally, students at AUC are now on strike…shocking. Tuition fees have increased from LE 60,000 to LE 66,000 ($10,084 to $11,092) and like every other facet in this country, well, a protest is now in order.

Some students are staging a sit-in while others are walking around banging on things all the while refusing to go to class. And I asked a professor at AUC, “Well, how is this different from when they’re not protesting?” Back track a couple of months ago during final exam time when I traveled to AUC to get my computer repaired. I was sitting in my friend’s office doing work – a professor (although I cannot say which department for obvious reasons) – while students piled into the office to negotiate their grades. Their arguments were null and void, mostly idiotic, and all revolved around failure to attend lectures and complete CORE course requirements. And this is the future of Egypt. Mabruk.

*Disclaimer: There are so many more nuances to add to the AUC story and maybe later I will add more detail. For now, this is just a brief*

Monday, September 5, 2011

Letters from Egypt: The Current State of Egypt

Page 1
Egyptian liberal politician Hisham Kassem said to TIME about Tahrir Square activists, “They’re permanently in revolution mode. They’re just not organized for politics.”

Normally I try to avoid articles written about Egypt, pre- and post-revolution, as nine times out of 10, they’re biased and/or not factual. A friend of mine, while picking up my favorite publication The New Yorker, decided that he should grab a couple of similar magazines including TIME. The Summer Journey Issue (August 1-8) details 14th century explorer, Ibn Battuta, and compares his stops to modern day society and Islam.

While going through various stories from Turkey (exporting hub), Saudi Arabia (speed dating), Dubai (foreign influence on its economy), you find “The Rise of Moderate Islam” discussing the current situation and religious status in Egypt. Author Bobby Ghosh begins his observations describing his first meeting with Salafi leader Kamal Habib and the Islamists’ non-chalant attitude toward female journalist/interpreter’s sleeveless shirt and uncovered hair.
Page 2

I laugh.

I thought, “Great, just another person who believes the rhetoric spoken by a movement that wants to enforce Sharia (Islamic law) to make Egypt more like Saudi.” It’s rare these days to find a journalist that is giving both sides to the story, and I’ll admit that I stopped laughing after the first page. Ghosh was spot-on in his reporting, which is why I’m posting the article for those of you interested to definitely take a gander.

He noted that the Muslim Brotherhood will contest only half of the seats in the first post-Mubarak general elections and will not have a presidential candidate (Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fatouh was expelled from the group after announcing his candidacy). Ghosh said, “This guarantees that the [Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party] will not have anything like a majority in the new parliament, which will take on the highly sensitive task of rewriting the constitution.” Top Brotherhood leader Essam el-Erian said that it was because “…we recognize that it would create fear, and the absence of fear is good for us as much as it is good for Egypt.”
Page 3

That’s one way of looking at it. Another way is that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is playing it safe (like how it played it safe during the onset of the revolution, only participating after the movement gained momentum). Chances are that the first government post-Mubarak is going to be an epic failure or at least have enough hiccups that the MB does not want to remotely have its name attached. This will result in the MB, salafists and other hard-lined Islamists gaining more leverage over the next elections. Liberals and moderates alike, beware, this group is definitely playing the smartest game (not to mention continues to strengthen with its organizational skills via a grassroots initiative). As Ghosh noted: 

“It doesn’t help that liberal groups are in disarray. The kids who brought down dictators in Egypt and Tunisia have shown little interest in forming political parties. Wael Ghonim, the young Google executive who became the most recognized face of the Tahrir Square revolution, has dropped out of sight. Older liberal pols, who lack the revolutionary credentials of the youth and the organizational skill of the Islamists, are struggling to keep up. Mohamed El Baradei, the former UN nuclear watchdog and Nobel Peace laureate, can’t seem to make up his mind whether to run for President.”

Well said.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Letters from Egypt: The Egyptian Maid

As I discussed in my last blog, Egypt will give you several stories that could possibly have others rolling on the floor laughing and my maid experience is one of them. Many people opt for maids because the service is relatively cheap (for Egyptian maids, the standard is LE 50, around $8, per cleaning; but more for Filipina/other ethnicities).

In the three years I’ve lived here, I never had a maid. I wasn’t raised with a maid – well, let me retract that – I WAS the maid at my house. However, a couple of months ago I finally broke down and got my first maid. My thinking was this: she’s never going to clean the way I clean, but she can come once a week and then I only have to deep clean my apartment once a month. The first maid always showed up early and for the first two times, she cleaned really well. I overpaid her LE 75. She said because I was foreign, she usually takes more – which pissed me off immensely, but we agreed on LE 75 and for her work (THE FIRST TWO TIMES), it was worth it. Then I got her for my friend at LE 100 per cleaning because his apartment was a lot larger than mine.

Many times these women cleaning just for men do not feel the men will notice if they don’t do that great of a job so basically she cleaned like crap for my friend. The clincher came when he was going out of town and told her he wouldn’t need her services for one day and she said in a huff that she couldn’t come any other day because she had work. He replied, “I didn’t ask you to come another day.” She said, “Well, you still have to pay me.” And that was that. I fired her for both of us.

So my neighbor recommended his maid. As I don’t trust anyone to have a key to my apartment, I requested she arrive before 9 am. The first time she arrived at 9:15 am. This is normal and I just let it slide. Next time: 9:45 am and the last time: 10:15 am. So on the last visit by this particular maid, I open my door and begin scolding her for being so tardy. Then I look down at her feet and wait for it…wait for it…SHE’S WEARING MY SHOES!!! I begin throwing quite the temper tantrum. She tells me she will clean them, but obviously I don’t want them anymore. It isn’t that I think I’m better, it’s the point that a) those were MY SHOES and b) I don’t know where the hell her feet have been – she could have toe funk.

As I continue my rant, she turns to me and says she doesn’t like my attitude.

Not only was she over an hour late, but she took my shoes and had the audacity to show back up wearing them. As I recanted this story to my friends, they all offered to send their maids. My response: NO THANK YOU. They’re more trouble than they’re worth! And once I said that, my friends began regaling all their problems with their maids. Ummm – if I said I didn’t want the drama (ie my American Kraft Singles suddenly being depleted from my fridge while my Egyptian cheese remained), why would they ever offer me more?

In addition, did you know that apparently Windex is purchased in Egypt for a one-time use only? Since my apartment never smelled clean, I have to wonder what exactly inside my pad needs a WHOLE bottle of Windex?

It brings me to this: how the hell do you people put up with the maids here? I’m done. I only experienced it for two months but I have to say, if I can’t clean it, well, it ain’t getting done!