Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Letters from Egypt: Did Lara Logan Really Get Harassed in Tahrir?

Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of Egypt’s revolution. That’s almost a year after US reporter Lara Logan made claims as to being sexually assaulted in Tahrir, and months after her first interview with 60 Minutes. Is it coincidental that Logan has now released a statement claiming that she suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?

Tomorrow Egypt will appear on every news station and media outlet, so I have to wonder as to Logan’s real motives behind her latest report featured in the Huffington Post. Throughout Logan’s horrific tales, all that could be found was excerpts saying that she “suffered a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating before being saved by a group of women and an estimated 20 soldiers.”

In her 60 Minutes interview, Logan recanted that she was told that the crowd began saying things like, “Let’s take her pants off.” As she detailed the horrendous attack six months later, she said her clothes were completely torn off and that people were taking pictures with their cell phone cameras. She said, “I remember looking up and seeing them taking pictures with their cell phones, the flashes of their cell phone cameras.” Egyptians do have internet access, yet to date no nude photos have been released of Logan.

The CBS reporter continued, “I didn’t even know they were beating me with flagpoles and sticks and things because I couldn’t even feel that.” For any of you in the Square that day, surely you are aware of how flimsy the actual flagpoles were. And should those poles have come into contact with a hard surface, like a human body, they would either bend or break.

She also said: “They were tearing my body in every direction at this point, tearing my muscles. And they were trying to tear off chunks of my scalp, they had my head in different directions.”

In all of this, no photos were ever released to validate Logan’s accusations. If this did occur, I understand that it would be difficult to speak about it right away; however, pictures would have been taken to show the brutality that was suffered such as bald spots/scabs from where hair had been ripped out of the head as well as a bare back to show the marks of the “flagpoles and sticks and things.” Yet none of this was ever released.

Logan spoke out at the end of April, and now she seems to have resurfaced marking the one-year anniversary of the Egyptian revolution.

While all of these stories could very well be true, I have reservations based on my own personal experience. I was in Tahrir Square the same day Logan was. I have blonde hair and blue eyes. I am not here to say that harassment doesn’t exist because quite frankly, it even got worse after the revolution; however, from January 25 to about February 18 was the ONLY time I never received any harassment whatsoever in this country.

It was shoulder to shoulder in Tahrir. Moving wasn’t an option, it was how the crowd pushed you. I was separated from my group and while I was surrounded by men, the man behind me put his hands on my shoulders and helped me guide through the crowd. A man in front of me took my hand and helped me get past another crowd. And finally when I was meeting some friends at the nearby hotel, Semiramis, another guy helped me find my way out as I couldn’t see the exits with so many people.

Katie Couric also made claims that she was harassed, but when I watched the video and listened to the Arabic, I never heard such a thing. When you don’t speak the other language and already have preconceived notions as to the behavior or Arab men, you may assume everyone is speaking about you in such a way – this, I think, was Couric’s problem.

I’m not here to contradict Logan’s story per se, but I do raise valid questions. I wonder why no one else who has interviewed Logan has asked the same. Do I necessarily believe her? Well, if it isn’t true, I hope that she one day understands that making up stories doesn’t pay off in the long run – just ask Stephen Glass.

Interestingly enough, I happened to stumble upon someone who says they witnessed the attack on Logan and refutes her claims. “I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, maybe something happened in another part of the square, but from what I saw, she was being taken by men to the soldiers, and her clothes were not torn off. There were no women. I didn’t see a single woman in the crowd around her.”

Friday, January 13, 2012

Letters from Egypt: My Mohamed is Different

Image from DivorcedWomenOnline.com
“My Mohamed is Different,” or MMD, as told to me by a friend of mine regarding foreign women dating Egyptians (alternately, I prefer MAD - My Ahmed is Different). We’ve all heard the stories, and unfortunately, you find very few successful situations regarding a union between a foreign woman and an Egyptian man. And it doesn’t matter how many times you may try to shield someone from entering into a less-than-pleasant situation, all the women turn and say: “But My Mohamed is different.”

And should you continue to believe in the MMD ideology, there are some precautionary measures that a female can take to ensure that her rights remain intact should the marriage end. First of all, you need to do your own research into laws and your rights as not only a female, but a foreign female (the same is true for foreign men).

One foreign woman, Kirsten*, married Mohamed* in 2001 and was pregnant with her first child just three months later. She said that once children became involved, her life took on a new role. She had given up on her husband and instead directed her energy toward her children. “The time when the man treats you well, buying you [special] gifts and [going out of his way] all changes once you’re married,” she said. In 2009, Kirsten found out Mohamed had cheated profusely during the entire duration of their marriage. She opted to leave him and began divorce proceedings in the beginning of 2010 (it was not finalized until November of that year).

While this scenario plays out in our own countries, being in a foreign land exposes you to a new ballgame.

Kirsten wishes that she would have known certain things prior to marriage, including having the option to live with Mohamed. “I wish I’d held off on having children until I knew my rights more.” Had she held off on having children, Kirsten believes she would have left the marriage after the first year. In the West, extended family does not play as much of a role as it does in the Arab world. Kirsten pointed out how in Egypt, the extended family plays a role to the “point of interference.” She said, “If the husband has done something wrong, it’s the wife’s fault. If the wife has done something wrong, it’s the wife’s fault. Even if [the husband’s family] know that he’s in the wrong, they will always take his side.”

She even discussed how one member in her ex-husband’s family tried to convince her to work things out despite the husband’s numerous indiscretions. Finally when Kirsten refused to budge on the matter, the female family member suggested that if the man felt the urge to cheat, he should have just married a second wife. An interesting tidbit you may not know: Egyptian men may only marry once if he’s marrying a foreigner although the Qaran states that a man may have up to four wives. Egyptian women are supposed to be informed by the Ministry of Justice prior to marriage to confirm her acceptance of being wife number two, three or four.

Marriage in Egypt 101
If you are still convinced that marrying Mohamed is your path, get an independent lawyer to consult prior to marriage. You need to understand what marriage in Egypt means and your rights. There is a specific office at the Ministry of Justice that deals with foreigners.

Men must pay a dowry, set by the female, before a legal union. In 2001 the minimum dowry payment was LE 1 (equivalent to $0.02), but that has since changed due to the large amount of Egyptians marrying foreigners to escape the financial burden of marrying a local. A study was released by the Ministry of Family and Population Center that found an increasing number of young, Egyptian men marry foreign women who are 20-30 years older.

According to the study conducted by Dr. Izat Ashmawi, over 17,000 marriages between young Egyptian men and older foreign women were registered in 2010 compared to just 195 in 2000. That is an 8700% increase over the past 10 years!

Estimated Registered Marriages**
**Registered marriages between Egyptian men and foreign women 20 to 30 years older

Economist Dr. Hamdi Abdul al-Adhim told Al Arabiya, “Many families welcome such a marriage because it does not require a ready apartment for the bride or expensive dowries; foreigners only look for emotional fulfillment especially the ones who are older.”

While that’s great, ladies – you deserve to know the truth as to what you may ask for and what to put in your marriage contract. Love is only blind for fools. In Kirsten’s case, she said that when going to the Ministry of Justice to file for her marriage license, the rules of the contract and dowry were glossed over with the official even saying, “Just put LE 1, that’s what most people do.” That is NOT what an Egyptian would do and nor should you!

Kirsten detailed three main points that a woman (local AND foreign) may put into a marriage contract:
  • A woman has the right to divorce her husband and keep the dowry and other offerings
  • A woman has the right to travel freely with any children from the marriage
  • A woman has the right to work

There are some things that you may think you want in the contract, but are actually already a part of Egyptian law:
  • If divorced, a man has to support the children which include the cost of living, school tuition and other expenses

However, there may be a problem with the Egyptian version of child support. Kirsten said that sometimes a man will get a false certificate from his job’s human resource department that lies about his income, ie claiming his monthly income is only LE 1,000 ($167) and therefore cannot afford the requested LE 2,000 ($333) in child support.

If filing for a divorce, a foreigner is required to have a qualified translator (although you would think this would also be required when filing for a marriage license). Kirsten attempted to bring her own, although the Ministry of Justice refused to accept him despite his qualifications, probably to force her into appointing one directly from the Ministry in order for the government to obtain the costs.

Also know that no matter what nationality or religion, a woman is awarded custody of the children. This is made null should the woman remarry or have relations with another man. Beware that while the only time custody may change is if the man can prove you are an unfit mother or if you remarry/have relations with another man, Kirsten said, “Never underestimate a pissed off ex-husband.”

One woman in Cairo found that out the hard way. Her ex-husband caught her with another Egyptian man and not only took away their children, had her and the Egyptian man arrested. The foreign woman spent months in jail until her place of employment finally worked out a deal with officials for her release. She is still unable to see her children.

Basic lesson is to learn your rights. Asking for a particular amount of dowry in addition to placing other pertinent details in your marriage contract does not mean you love your spouse any less (like wanting a prenuptial in the US). And don’t forget the Egyptian turnaround as I’m sure the next thing out of Your Mohamed is Different’s mouth: “I guess you don’t love me as much as I love you because if you did, you wouldn’t need all of these things.” Your response to that should be, “Well, if you don’t screw up then we won’t have to worry about it will we?”

*Names have been changed to protect anonymity

Disclaimer: I am not advocating that all women are perfect. I will write a future blog on one marriage still going strong between a foreign woman and her Egyptian husband. There are anomalies in every situation, but very few standalone success stories of foreign women marrying Egyptian men. Take this into considering next time you say MMD.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Letters from Egypt: MAADI SPECIAL on Taxi Fare from ACE

While this doesn’t pertain to all of this blog’s readers, there are many of you that might find it useful. I’ve noticed with the increasing membership of the expat club, ACE, that many are being taken for a ride via the cab drivers standing in front of the club. Please note that those cab drivers are NOT affiliated with ACE and while many may think they’re safer than walking to the medan to acquire a taxi, in some cases this is not true. 

Alternately, if you've had a bad experience with one of the drivers that block the entrance to ACE, take a photo, be sure to warn your friends, send it to the ACE committee and if you want, send it to me and I will post directly on this blog. You live here and therefore have earned the right to be treated with respect.

Suggested Prices for Taxis with minimum traffic (starting point ACE Club):

  • ·         Anywhere within Degla is no more than LE 5 (including Rd 9)
  • ·         Corniche, LE 7
  • ·         Nasser Street, LE 7
  • ·         Downtown and Zamalak, depending on complete destination, should be around LE 25-30

White Taxi meters:
There are three different types of meters, two varying meters depending on distance and one that incorporates time lapsed.

All meters begin at LE 2.50

Meter One:
Moves up to LE 2.75 when covering 0.8 km. For every 0.2 km, it moves up another LE 0.25

Meter Two:
Moves up to LE 2.75 when covering 1.0 km. For every 0.2 km, it moves up another LE 0.25

Meter Three:
Incorporates time and distance. If constantly moving, please refer to Meters One and Two. If stuck in standstill traffic, the time begins on the meter. It will increase LE 0.25 per minute.

Tips for taking taxis:
  • ·         Note that the taxis outside of ACE are not affiliated with ACE and should be treated like any other taxi hailed from a different location.
  • ·         If taxis refuse to turn on the meter, be prepared for a potential problem regarding price unless negotiated in advance (alternately, if you must force them to turn on meter, monitor the meter closely to ensure it has not been tampered)
  • ·         Females should always sit in the back
  • ·         Give money through the window after exiting the cab
  • ·         Females should exercise extreme caution if intoxicated and taking an unknown cab home

Monday, January 9, 2012

Letters from Egypt: An Exhausting Year

This year has been exhausting to say the least. The one-year anniversary of Egypt’s revolution is approaching on January 25 (the Arab Spring began with Tunisia on January 14). So while this blog has more than documented the on goings pre-, during and post-revolution, I realized that many of us are just down and out about this country.

Some may say, “If you don’t like it, leave.” True. However, you can’t pretend that if you went through a year of constant turmoil that you wouldn’t be a little downtrodden yourself. Hence why I haven’t written in awhile (that and having to yet again say my goodbyes to those closest to me). Despite how frustrated I may get with Egypt – and trust me, many times I feel that I could run up and down my street just slashing people that look at me the wrong way – there are still some things that I love.

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs things that I would miss when I leave this country, but today reminded me of more. I switched my gym membership and as I was working out this morning, the sun was coming up (the gym is full of long windows overlooking the city). Made Cairo seem that much more manageable in that peaceful, no one is awake yet honking their horns profusely. My friend and I left and went to CafĂ© Greco at CSA and again, not only is it the best coffee in Egypt, the staff is WONDERFUL. They ALWAYS remember how I like my coffee and all it takes is me walking in and they immediately start whipping it up. The only question they have is, “One or two.” Tip: If you work out early in the morning, you’re on top of your game at the office until 1-1:30 pm rolls around. Then you need a nap. Getting two iced American coffees from Greco, with one going in the fridge for later, helps combat that sluggish state.
I went home before going to the office and made my lunch: feta cheese, diced tomatoes, cilantro, kalamata olives and a drizzle of balsamic vinaigrette. And I realized just how freaking good the cheese is here. There’s this gourmet cheese shop in Degla (Maadi), but for the life of me, I don’t understand why people shop at it. The cheese that you can buy in local grocers like Metro and Seoudi market is top notch. Feta and bleu cheese in the US is dry and crumbly, but here it is creamy and melts in your mouth.

The vegetables are seasonal and right now it’s time for strawberries. Listen, I grew up in the country where my family and I went and picked up turnips and other greens from the truck on the side of the road before hitting ‘town’; we went and picked our own peaches and blueberries; bought bushels of peas; and every other vegetable/fruit you could think of. And while that is some of the best grub you’ll get in the US, I will say it doesn’t even hold a candle to the local produce available here (although I'm definitely missing collards, mustards and turnips). In fact, if you know me – you’ve surely heard my sweet corn story which might be deemed as the best thing Sweet Baby Jesus ever put in my mouth.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the things that we appreciate after going through a constant barrage of draining events. It’s even harder when you’re like me and haven’t left the country since June nor had a vacation in over a year; nonetheless, it’s pertinent to remember the good things no matter where you are – even if almost damn near impossible sometimes to find.