Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Virginity tests on Egyptian protesters

This is just sickening. There is no other way to describe such atrocities. Source

Cairo (CNN) -- A senior Egyptian general admits that "virginity checks" were performed on women arrested at a demonstration this spring, the first such admission after previous denials by military authorities.
The allegations arose in an Amnesty International report, published weeks after the March 9 protest. It claimed female demonstrators were beaten, given electric shocks, strip-searched, threatened with prostitution charges and forced to submit to virginity checks.
At that time, Maj. Amr Imam said 17 women had been arrested but denied allegations of torture or "virginity tests."
But now a senior general who asked not to be identified said the virginity tests were conducted and defended the practice.
"The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine," the general said. "These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and (drugs)."
Egypt under fire for 'virginity tests' Mubarak attorney discusses accusations Military 'Justice' in the new Egypt
Hosni Mubarak
The general said the virginity checks were done so that the women wouldn't later claim they had been raped by Egyptian authorities.
"We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place," the general said. "None of them were (virgins)."
This demonstration occurred nearly a month after Egypt's longtime President Hosni Mubarak stepped down amid a wave of popular and mostly peaceful unrest aimed at his ouster and the institution of democratic reforms.
Afterward, Egypt's military -- which had largely stayed on the sidelines of the revolution -- officially took control of the nation's political apparatus as well, until an agreed-upon constitution and elections.
Mubarak denies ordering shootings
The March 9 protest occurred in Tahrir Square, which became famous over 18 historic and sometimes bloody days and nights of protests that led to Mubarak's resignation.
But unlike in those previous demonstrations, the Egyptian military targeted the protesters. Soldiers dragged dozens of demonstrators from the square and through the gates of the landmark Egyptian Museum.
Salwa Hosseini, a 20-year-old hairdresser and one of the women named in the Amnesty report, described to CNN how uniformed soldiers tied her up on the museum's grounds, forced her to the ground and slapped her, then shocked her with a stun gun while calling her a prostitute.
"They wanted to teach us a lesson," Hosseini said soon after the Amnesty report came out. "They wanted to make us feel that we do not have dignity."
The treatment got worse, Hosseini said, when she and the 16 other female prisoners were taken to a military detention center in Heikstep.
There, she said, she and several of other female detainees were subjected to a "virginity test."
"We did not agree for a male doctor to perform the test," she said. But Hosseini said her captors forced her to comply by threatening her with more stun-gun shocks.
"I was going through a nervous breakdown at that moment," she recalled. "There was no one standing during the test, except for a woman and the male doctor. But several soldiers were standing behind us watching the backside of the bed. I think they had them standing there as witnesses."
The senior Egyptian general said the 149 people detained after the March 9 protest were subsequently tried in military courts, and most have been sentenced to a year in prison.
Authorities later revoked those sentences "when we discovered that some of the detainees had university degrees, so we decided to give them a second chance," he said.
The senior general reaffirmed that the military council was determined to make Egypt's democratic transition a success.
"The date for handover to a civil government can't come soon enough for the ruling military council," he said. "The army can't wait to return to its barracks and do what it does best -- protect the nation's borders. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

2nd Friday of Rage

What has now become a familiar scene for many in Cairo, protesters again took to the streets and have flooded Tahrir, with an entirely new set of demands to be met.

Tens of thousands have thronged into the square, with protests also breaking out in Alexandria and the Suez (which is presently witnessing the largest protest in the area since the violent protests demanding the removal of former president Mubarak).

While I'm sat in Cairo, there are a few things that cross my mind. Firstly, the raging sandstorm outside must make conditions in Tahrir miserable; combined with the heat I am surprised people are still out in the numbers that they are. Second, one of the primary demands that protesters are urging is for a new presidential council to be enacted, to take over from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) until the parliamentary elections in September.

Doesn't that sound lovely, remove the power from the Army, and give it to the people. It's what democracies are built upon, right?

Well, technically, yes. Were it not for the fact that the Egyptian people have already voted on the option for a presidential council, and the majority voted AGAINST implementing a presidential council. Egypt, you wanted democracy. You got it, now deal with the consequences. It's what democratic countries have been doing for years; you don't like the result of the popular vote, so what do you do? Take to the streets to protest to try and overturn a democratic majority vote? No. You deal with it, and focus on your next goals. Some people will just never be happy. 

Then there are those demanding that Mubarak's trial be held faster. He's been caught, detained, and is going on trial. It takes time to present a legal case, any lawyer will tell you that. But in Cairo now, those who are continuing protesting expect instant gratification; they are entirely unwilling to patiently wait for progress to take its path. It is this inability to ignore instant gratification that continues to weaken the society and economy in Egypt. But what do I know; I'm merely a "foreigner" in a "foreign land," what right do I have to comment on the intricacies of Egyptian politics.

For those who are unfamiliar with the demands of this "Second Friday of Rage," below is an article that summarizes the basic ideologies behind groups who called for these demonstrations today.

Everything seems possible in the Second Day of Rage. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

50 ways to change your life

I found this online today, and it is just so powerful and true that I had to repost.

  1. Memorize something everyday.Not only will this leave your brain sharp and your memory functioning, you will also have a huge library of quotes to bust out at any moment. Poetry, sayings and philosophies are your best options.
  2. Constantly try to reduce your attachment to possessions.Those who are heavy set with material desires will have a lot of trouble when their things are taken away from them or lost. Possessions do end up owning you, not the other way around. Become a person of minimal needs and you will be much more content.
  3. Develop an endless curiosity about this world.Become an explorer and view the world as your jungle. Stop and observe all of the little things as completely unique events. Try new things. Get out of your comfort zone and try to experience as many different environments and sensations as possible. This world has so much to offer, so why not take advantage of it?
  4. Remember people’s namesso that they feel appreciated and for your own future benefit when you want something from that person. To do this, say their name back to them when they introduce themselves. Then repeat the name in your head a number of times until you are sure you have it. Continue to use their name in conversation as much as possible to remove any chance of forgetting it. If you’re still having trouble, make up a rhyme about their name: “Dan the Man” or “Natalie flatters me.”
  5. Get fit!It’s ridiculous to think that we have one body, one sole means of functioning, and people are too lazy to take care of themselves. Fit bodies lead to better health, confidence and more success with romantic endeavors. I’d say those are 3 very good reasons to get in shape.
  6. Learn to focus only on the present.The past is unchangeable so it is futile to reflect on it unless you are making sure you do not repeat past mistakes. The future is but a result of your actions today. So learn from the past to do better in the present so that you can succeed in the future.
  7. Even more specifically, live in THIS moment.Even 10 minutes ago is the past. If you live purely in this moment you will always be happy because there is nothing wrong in this split-second.
  8. Smile more often.Whenever you get a grin on your face, your brain is releasing serotonin, the happy hormone. Smiling is the natural way to force yourself to be happy. Many people even smile for five minutes straight in the morning to get themselves in a great mood for the day. It is a very powerful tool that is utilized less and less as we grow older and need happiness more than ever. Just remember that while happiness leads to smiles, smiles also lead to happiness.
  9. Drink water.Hydration is tremendously important for overall health. Soda has absolutely ZERO nutritional content; it’s like pouring a punch of sugar and syrup into your cup. Instead, fill it with life-replenishing water. It may taste plain at first if you’re coming off of a heavy soda-drinking streak, but you’ll soon find yourself addicted to it. 10 glasses per day is optimal, how many have you been getting lately?
  10. Don’t take life so seriously!Learn to laugh at the little things and this whole “existence” thing will be a whole lot easier. Be amused by your mistakes and failures and be thankful that you learned your lesson and won’t mess up like that again. And most importantly do things that you enjoy! Life is not strictly business, it can be mixed with pleasure.
  11. Think positive thoughts.When you find yourself thinking a negative thought, stop it immediately by any means necessary. Slap yourself in the face, yell something positive at the top of your lungs or jump up and down. Do whatever it takes to get back to a positive mindset as such is essential for continual happiness and success.
  12. Read books.No explanation needed.
  13. Get in the sun.Superman was completely re-energized when he flew out to space and soaked in some rays and you can do the same right outside your front door (if you live in a constantly dreary place, my apologies). The sun feels amazing: your entire body will be coursing with warmth and life.
  14. Help others.I’ll just give you a plethora of reasons why this is a MUST
    • Helping people has a ripple effect. If you help someone they will feel more obliged to help someone else, and so on. Pay it forward
    • You grow by giving and helping others. It can change you in ways you never expected
    • Your relationship with that person will become stronger
    • It’s the most fulfilling thing you can do on this planet. It not only feels amazing physically, you also feel like a good person
    • You might be able to call in a favor later when you need some help
    • Karma (if you believe in it)
    • Because there are more people in this world than just you
  15. Set aside a specific time to worry each day.Ponder all of your problems and anxieties during that time so that they will not distract you during work or moments of pleasure. This way you can be extremely efficient with your time and avoid focusing on negative things as much as possible. If you get all of your worry out of the way and have the mental fortitude to keep from reverting back to them, you will be much happier on the daily.
  16. Be honest at all times.Lies lead to nothing but trouble. Being known as trustworthy is an excellent trait to maintain and essential to having integrity.
  17. Sleep less.Fully adjusting to a new sleep cycle can take up to 21 days so don’t give up if you feel tired after switching to 5-hour nights. The “required” 8 hour/night is for normal people. If you’re reading THIS article on THIS site, you are not normal. So figure out how much sleep YOU really need and adjust accordingly. As enjoyable as sleep is, waking existence is much more fulfilling and efficient. IF this really sparks your interest, check out alternate sleep cycles with which you can be fine off of 2 hours of sleep per day.
  18. Read “Bringers of Light” and “Conversations with God” by Neale Donald Walsch.These books will help you decide what you want to do in this life and how to get to that point. They will also profoundly change the way you look at the purpose of existence. Read them!
  19. Figure out what your goals and dreams are.So many people wander aimlessly through life simply go for whatever small thing they want moment by moment. Instead, decide what your perfect life consists of and begin to put the steps in motion to reach that place. The most satisfying thing in the world (yes, better than sex, much better) is overcoming a challenge and reaching a goal. We are the happiest when we are growing and working towards something better.
  20. Start your day off right.Wake up and set aside an hour for personal development activities (meditation, self-introspection, observing nature, etc.) Do the things that make you feel blissful, optimistic and empowered so that you can set a positive tone for your day. I guarantee that once you start doing this, your days will be more enjoyable and fulfilling. Today is going to be the best day of your life. Duh.
  21. Utilize ‘The Burning Method.’Whenever a fear or worry or complaint comes to mind, close your eyes and imagine writing down the thought on a piece of paper. Then proceed to light the paper and fire and watch it disintegrate. Even better, actually write it down and burn it. You won’t have any problem ridding your mind of the thought after doing this.
  22. Travel. Frequent Flyer MasterAnyone who has ever gone anywhere will tell you that traveling is one of the most exciting and life-changing activities that you can do. Observing a different culture will expand your mind while making you further appreciate the life you already live. This goes back to becoming an explorer: this world is your jungle so go explore! Who knows, maybe you’ll find a place you love so much that you decide to move. Imagine the positive repercussions a new environment could have on your life.
  23. The Rubber Band MethodThis is the third and final way to rid yourself of negative thoughts (hopefully by now you have figured out that this is very important!). Place a rubber band around your wrist and snap it against your skin anytime a negative thought finds its way into your head. This classical conditioning technique associates a slight pain with negative thoughts like Pavlov associated food/salivation with the sound of a bell. Sounds a bit cruel at first but it only stings for a second, I promise. Plus the outcome, having only positive thoughts, far outweighs a little slap on the wrist here and there.
  24. Learn to be unaffected by the words of others.Most people get very upset when they are called negative names by others, but there is a simple trick to overcoming this. Here it is: If I went up to you and called you a fire hydrant, would you be upset? Of course not. Obviously you are not a fire hydrant, you are a human being. The same concept applies to when someone calls you something that you know you are not. They are foolish for saying such things, so why would you react with such anger? The only exception is when someone calls you something that is true! In this case, you should thank them for alerting you to a weakness, one that you can now work on changing.
  25. Read “Zen and the Art of Happiness” by Chris Prentiss.This book will give you the knowledge and instruction to be happy at all times regardless of the circumstances. Yes, this sounds like an oversimplification of happiness, but I assure you that this book will change you in an amazing way.
  26. Develop the ability to forgive.Forgiveness is something that most people fail miserably at even thought it’s so simple. Grudges only bring more misery to those who hold them and prevent good relations with the target. YOU makes mistakes all of the time so why not have mercy when other do? Remaining angry feels horrible while forgiving someone brings a refreshing sensation to the mind and healing to the relationship.
  27. Be the person that makes others feel special.Be known for your kindness and sympathy.
  28. Learn to lucid dream, or to realize when you are dreaming so that you can control your dreams. Sleep feels good, but its rather boring and unproductive. With lucid dreaming under your belt, night time can be even more exciting than when you are awake. You can do anything: fly, travel to other planets, party with a celebrity, get intimate with your dream boy/girl, etc. Many lucid dreams have also reported being able to speak directly with the subconscious during dreams by demanding to be taken to it after becoming lucid. For those that know a thing or two about your subconscious, that is a BIG deal.
  29. Visualize daily.It has been said and proven time and time again that what you focus on is what you get. If you complain all of the time, you will run into more of the things you complain about. The same goes for good things like health, wealth and happiness. So spend some time in the morning imagining yourself achieving whatever it is that you currently desire. Focus is key in this exercise, so choose a quiet environment where you won’t be disturbed. If you’re having trouble focusing and continually find that your mind has wandered to something else, read about meditation in the following life tip. There is a lot more to this concept, so check out the full article on visualization and the law of attractionhere.
  30. Meditate everyday for at least 20 minutes.In this modern world where everyone is so connected to everything else via cell phones, TV and internet, most people rarely enjoy the beauty of silence. The ability to quiet your mind and relax your body is an art and skill that everyone should develop. Simply sit somewhere, preferably in nature, and focus on your breathing or try to think about nothing. This is going to be extremely hard at first! You might find it boring or just plain impossible to think of nothing, but you will get better and you will learn to love it. Post-meditation, you will feel extremely clear headed and.. well, just plain wonderful. The only way to really understand this sensation is to try it.
  31. Learn to control your mind.What kind of skilled human are you if you cannot even control your own thoughts? While the human mind is described as being a stream of consciousness, that does not mean you can’t decide where your stream flows. Techniques like meditation and the 3 ways to flush out negative thoughts will aid you immensely in learning to control your mind.
  32. Learn to control your emotions.The only person that can make you unhappy is you! You are the one that decides to be affected by the words and actions of others. Realize this so that the next time you experience a negative emotion, you can find the strength within yourself to overcome it.
  33. Take a class in speed reading.Books are full of information that can enhance your knowledge-base, vocabulary and yourself as a person. Speed reading is an easy way to get at this info faster so that you can have more time for other endeavors.
  34. Relax!This one is for you work-o-holics out there (myself included). Yes, work is very important and productive but you need to take some time to chill out everyday or you are going to burn out faster than a candle with no oxygen. Additionally, you need to reward yourself for a job well done. What’s the use of doing all of that work if you can’t have a little fun from time to time anyways?
  35. Work on making good first impressions.Practice a strong, firm handshake and the small talk that generally goes along with meeting someone for the first time. People won’t know what to think of you if you have nothing more to say beyond “My name is _______, nice to meet you.” Also make sure you remember names, as mentioned previously. Who knows, you may be going into business with or marrying this person you’re meeting for the first time if you make a good impression. Be sure and make an excellent one.
  36. Learn to use your eyes to their full potential:
    • Make constant eye contact when in conversation. Looking away (especially down) is a sign of inferiority and unsureness. Instead, look at your conversation partner dead in the eyes and keep them locked on
    • Master the piercing stare. You know when someone looks at you and it feels like they can see into your soul? Well that’s not a hereditary characteristic, it just takes practice. Work on sharpening your gaze in the mirror. You’ll know you have it when it’s intimidating to continue looking at yourself
    • Master the one-eyebrow raise. This one isn’t necessary by any means, but hey, why not? Pick a brow to learn with and go look in a mirror. Raise both of your eyebrows but use your hand to hold down the brow that you want to stay down. This will probably feel very stupid at first but if you keep trying, you will eventually pin down the muscle you need to flex to get that one brow up
  37. Be mysterious.Don’t let off everything about you and definitely leave out some major details. There is something both alluring and mesmerizing about someone that no one knows fully about. I’m not saying to confide in no one or to alienate yourself. Just think James Bond.
  38. Come up with a life mantra.You know, like “Carpe Diem” or “Live life to the fullest,” but not as cliché. Make it something that really hits home with you so that you will actually stick to it. Make sure it’ not so specific that it rarely applies but also not so general that it’s not personal.
  39. Get good at something.Call it a hobby or a passion, whatever it is, just get damn good at it. Your occupation does not count! Make it something that you can practice often enough to excel at. Examples: Magic tricks, surfing, ping pong, creating short films, and unicycling. It can be anything but I would recommend choosing something that: 1) You are passionate about 2) You can bust out at any moment to display your skills for any discerning crowd. My mind goes immediately to aerobatics and break dancing, but that’s just me.
  40. Work out those abs.Above any other muscle group in the entire body, the abs are the most important. They constitute your core, the center point of your body. Your ability to balance comes almost completely from the strength of your abdominal muscles and balance is vital to performance in any physical activity. Summary: they’re very important. For more info on how to work out your abs, check out this video.
  41. Keep your brain sharp.The majority of people are stuck in ruts. They go to the same job everyday, hang out with the same friends and eat at the same places. While that may feel safe, it’s not the most stimulating lifestyle for your brain. Those synapses have been built up enough, so try something that you do NOT know how to do! Buy a model car kit, master the art of sudoku or crosswords, or go pick up another major at your nearest college. The point is you need to be learning new things to keep your brain honest. Form new synapses by forcing your mind to work in ways it has not worked before. Just like physical workouts, doing too much of the same exercise will eventually give no results. Switch it up!
  42. Read something inspirational right before bed and after waking.This will set get you in a great mood for sleep and for the day. Read anything from a famous speech to your favorite self-improvement book. Try to read something that get’s you really excited in the morning especially so that you’ll leave your house beaming with energy and wonder.
  43. Do what you love.Working for Yourself GuideThere is a huge difference between making a life and making a living; which one are you making right now? So many spend their entire lives trying to make as much money as possible so that they can afford to do what they really want later. It makes no sense to settle in life until you’re 65 so that you can retire and do what you want when you’re already WAY past your prime. We only live life once so why wouldn’t you want to spend it pursuing your bliss? To do anything else would be a tragic waste of the freedom you are allowed if you are reading this right now. Follow your bliss and you will be a thousand times more happy than your retirement date and 40+ years younger.
  44. Choose your friends wisely.You are affected far more than you think by the people you spend your time with. Do your friends share your values? Do they encourage you when you speak of your goals and dreams or do they scoff? Make sure the people around you are conducive to the lifestyle you want to lead or you will find yourself being dragged again and again into behavior that distances you from your desires. Friends with a habit of producing negative thoughts will especially hinder you. This can be a hard task to follow through with if you realize you good friend is one of these saboteurs, but you must be firm! Don’t let anyone get in the way of you being all that you can be.
  45. Don’t burn bridges.By that I mean maintain your relationships with people even if you think you are never going to see them again. For example, if you are quitting your job, don’t chew out your boss before leaving! You might run into him/her again later and life and wish you had never severed ties so harshly. You never know when you might need the help of someone you knew in the past. Plus there is already too much hatred in this world, why add more towards the people you interact with?
  46. Keep a journal/diary.It sounds like a very monotonous habit at first, but when you get into it, that little book will become a great way to organize your thoughts and track your growth over the years. Most of us already stay awake in bed at night pondering the events of the day anyways so why not document those thoughts in an organized fashion? That will allow you to look back and observe how your way of thinking has changed over time.
  47. Read “New Pyscho-Cybernetics” by Dr. Maxwell Maltz.This book will explain why the content of your thoughts has such a profound effect on your life through religious, philosophical and scientific arguments. A must read for completely understand who this life thing works.
  48. Learn to use and trust your subconscious/intuition.When you spend time in silence everyday, listen not for words but for a feeling that tells you to do something. Do not mistake your own reasoning and thoughts for those of your subconscious. If you can track where the thought came from, (this thought led to that thought which led to this thought, etc.) then it was not from your subconscious. Learning to accurately discern between the two will allow you to tap into knowledge that you don’t consciously have.
  49. Develop a charismatic personality.You know, the kind of personality that is surrounded by people constantly and is the life of the party. Start visualizing yourself as THAT person. Maybe take a short course on dynamic speaking and learn some jokes. Take the time to learn some party tricks and sleight of hand. Most importantly, believe that you already are charismatic even if you fail at beign the center point of the next party. Lie to yourself constantly and tell yourself that you are more warm and gregarious than Ronald Regan. Belief is the first step! Reality will come soon after.
  50. Love is all there is.If you truly want to be a master of life, let love be in your every action. Love your friends, family and enemies alike. This is the most difficult thing to do out of this entire list, which is why it is listed at #50. But if you accomplish this, you will be seen as a leader among everyone that allows hate, envy, disgust and all other negative emotions into their lives. Think Gandhi. Love is so rare in this world when compared to the massive presence of hate that by exuding love, you will immediately see yourself and the people around you change. Love. Love. Love.
    Written by: 

    Jordan Lejuwaan

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Book swap in Hurghada

Any avid reader will probably agree with me; we have all been there having finished a book with nothing new to pick up. Living in Hurghada this becomes a particularly difficult problem as there is such a lack in any decent bookstores or bookshops in the area.

Compounded to this problem for me is the fact that I had a number of books I had finished reading and knew I would never pick up again. In contrast to my evidently well-read books, with creased spines and dog-earred pages, these books stood as new in my collection. I hate to throw books away; something I have grown up with that my mum drilled into me from a young age. Although I may not enjoy reading them, someone else surely will enjoy them.

I found here in Hurghada a perfect alternative, and have been able to replenish my diminishing book supply. Out with the old, in with the new! Not exactly a Hurghada bookstore, but the next best thing.

Nature's Gifts, an organic food and miscellaneous store close to Sheraton Rd. has launched a "book swap." The owner of Nature's Gifts was the one who explained his idea to me, basically reiterating my own frustrations in the lack of decent bookstores around here. In fact, most residents are further agitated by the fact that stores with signs proclaiming to be "bookstores" are in fact little more than stationary stores.

The idea is simple. Have books lying around your house you know you won't read again? Want to trade that book for a new one?

Head down to Nature's Gifts. For every two books you give them, you walk out with one. I traded in 14 books the other day, and happily walked out with 5 new ones. Although their collection is as of yet small, in time that will grow as more readers throughout Hurghada learn of this nifty new book swap.

Next up on my list: The Life of Pi. I have heard fantastic things about this book, can't wait to sink my teeth into it.

Happy reading :) 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Repost: Land of the missing tourists

Despise fanny packs? Hate brokers? Come on over to Egypt, the land of the missing tourists. USA Today reported that Egypt had seen a dramatic decrease in tourism from 75% to 90% based upon events during and after the so-called revolution and rightfully so.

On Friday, I went with a group of friends to the Sakkara pyramids – a first for me despite my nearly three years in Cairo. I want to clarify that the Pyramids in Giza (the Great Pyramids) are different from this set of pyramids, but on my visit to Sakkara, I was amazed at how desolate it was. While it was great for my friends and me as we got to venture into various chambers without fuss, long lines and very little money, I have to wonder how these guides who thrive off of the tourism industry (among many others) feel about the revolution now.

From a chamber at Sakkara usually filled with tourists
Even as my friends and I went for a cold one and some grub overlooking the Great Pyramids at Barry’s Oriental Restaurant, the usual vibrant tourists were almost nonexistent with various brokers for touring operations literally jumping on our car, in front of the car hindering us from moving, reaching through the windows (like that’s going to persuade us more) were nearly the only bunch out and about.

And as recently as yesterday, clashes erupted between the army and protestors outside the Israeli embassy (located in Maadi) resulted in over 350 injured and 150 arrested, according to the Daily NewsEgypt. State-run news agency MENA said the protesters managed to push aside barricades placed around the embassy building and attempted to storm the embassy itself to tear down the Israeli flag, which prompted the police action although several protestors denied this.

If my personal observation is any indicator, the protestors – while I’m sure not all of them – did attempt to storm the embassy and destroy property, Antiquities Museum anyone?

The Daily News Egypt also reported that Rana Sharabasy, a 21-year-old political science student at the American University in Cairo (AUC), said army officers were seen to be carrying cans of tear gas throughout the day and so there was always the possibility that they would be used. “There should have been more warning. … They [riot police] just started shooting. They just started the tear gas right away. I didn’t hear them say anything about the whole thing.”

Can someone please send the memo to AUC students and faculty that many of us have already received? It’s the same one from the military saying that protests will no longer be tolerated. Didn’t you get that? I believe it was sent out over a MONTH AGO. No offense Ms. Sharabasy, but I believe that was your warning.

Later in the article, a 19-year old student at Ain Shams University Islam Amin Ali was shocked over the use of force by Egyptian police. Apparently that “no protest tolerated” failed to reach Ali’s university either. “We are not declaring war on Israel; only the Ministry of Defense can declare war. … I don’t have a gun and I don’t want to shoot someone. We just want to cut the diplomatic relations between Egypt and Israel. … Israel is our enemy,” he said.

And thus that statement alone leads me to question the education that Ali is receiving. Excuse me Mr. Ali, it’s good that you don’t wish to declare war on Israel as a) the old school Soviet machinery that your country is currently using will not withstand a fight against the highly trained, specialized forces in Israel and b) it would require the Egyptian military to perhaps up their game and actually participate in the training exercises given by foreign forces (ie US company Raytheon and foreign military forces). Bravo.

Nevermind that, forget the foreign aid that you so enjoy from the US as that will be dropped immediately or substantially decreased after straining relations with Israel.

And finally, protestor Mohamed Effat said military officers told the detainees that the Israeli flag shall never be removed, cursed the youth of the revolution while saying “enjoy military prison.”

And this is shocking?

The beginning of the revolution was started by affluent Egyptians who knew what they wanted. Unfortunately, opportunists have come on board taking away from the very thing people like blogger Wael Abbas fought for. Instead as I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the economy is suffering and the only thing that is changing is the instability as it continues to dwindle even more. Simply put: think before you speak and GET BACK TO WORK AND/OR SCHOOL PEOPLE!

A police officer told me, “Egyptians changed Egypt and Egyptians will destroy Egypt.”

For a more comprehensive view on the economic pitfalls of the revolution, please see this well-rounded article from Reuters: Post-Revolution, EgyptianTourism Remains in Disarray.

Article taken from LeAnne Graves

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Unity Rally in Tahrir

I've been trying to post this for two days now, but blogger's issues have prevented me. Watch for more updates later. (Let me also say, that this protest ended up less of a "unity" rally, more of a pro-Palestinian intifadah rally)

Egypt military warns of sectarianism as unity rally planned

An Egyptian soldier sits guard outside the front of the Virgin Mary church in the popular area of Imbaba in Cairo on May 10. Egypt's military warned it will strike down sectarianism, as Muslims and Christians prepared to hold a unity rally denouncing attacks on Cairo churches.(AFP/Khaled Desouki)

CAIRO (AFP) - Egypt's military warned on Thursday it will strike down sectarianism, as Muslims and Christians prepared to hold a unity rally denouncing attacks on Cairo churches.

The military, in power since president Hosni Mubarak's overthrow in February, struggled to contain the violent clashes on Saturday that left 15 people dead, according to the official human rights council.

The mob attacks, which left a church in flames, drove the country's precarious religious tensions to the brink and led to several days of protests by Coptic Christians.

"The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces warned of the dangers facing Egypt through sectarian discord, affirming that this is a red line," the official MENA news agency quoted a military spokesman as saying.

"Anyone who toys with this area will be struck down with an iron hand," he was quoted as saying.

Activists are calling on the country's Christians and Muslims to come out on Friday to denounce sectarian divisions.

Calls for protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square -- the symbolic heart of the rallies against Mubarak -- and across the country are circulating on social networking websites, including Facebook and Twitter.

The caretaker government has said it will ban protests and gatherings outside places of worship and prepare a law to ease restrictions on building churches within a month.

Copts, who make up about 10 percent of the country's 80-million people, complain of state sanctioned religious discrimination, such as a law that requires them to obtain presidential permission before constructing churches.

Saturday's clashes in the poor district of Imbaba began after Muslims attacked a church to free a Christian woman they alleged was being held against her will because she wanted to convert to Islam.

The clashes took place amid a security vacuum present since protesters torched most of the country's police stations during the revolt, leading to a sense of general insecurity.

A state-owned newspaper on Thursday cited Tourism Minister Munir Fakhry Abdel Nur as saying hotel reservations in most tourist areas fell by 15 percent following the attacks on the churches.

In all, Egypt lost 13.5 billion pounds (2.27 billion dollars) in tourism revenues in the three months since Mubarak was forced to resign on February 11, he said.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Attack on Church in Cairo

Over 10 people were killed and more than 200 injured in an attack on the St. Mina Church in Imbābah, Giza, which took place overnight on May 7, 2011. The following information is taken directly from the testimony of two Christians of the church, one named Rimon, the other wishing to remain anonymous.

Approximately 4pm following afternoon prayers, Imām Muhammad Zughbī led between 150-200 armed Muslims a distance of one kilometer to the St. Mina Church. There he inquired about a Coptic woman who, he believed, had converted to Islam who, he believed, was being held in the church. Both sources believe this rumor was completely unfounded, and this was only a ruse by these Muslims to instigate conflict.
Shortly after their arrival church officials called the police. The police were invited to enter and search the premises, but found nothing. They carried this report back to the crowd, and then withdrew.

Having originally arrived with weapons of all varieties – clubs, swords, and automatic guns – the Muslim group began to use them. Christians rallied to defend the church, largely weaponless, but with a few simple pistols. One source said local Muslims participated in the defense of the church; the other denied this, saying they joined in the attack. It is possible both reports are true. Sources say that community relations between Muslims and Christians had been good.

Around 5:30pm Muslims from other nearby areas – Warāq, Haram, Faysal, 'Umrānīyah – heard the news and joined the attack, increasing the number to over 400. Eventually their total was estimated at 3,000. The dead and injured were carried into the church, and fighting continued at the local homes as Christian residents hurled stones from their balconies. In all, three homes near the church were burned, and over 50 shops were vandalized in the area.

The army did not arrive until 10pm, at which point it launched tear gas at the church. Sources stated this was aimed at them, even landing inside the walls, rather than at the Muslim attackers. The Muslims also began attacking the army, launching Molotov cocktails. The army responded by firing into the air, and sources stated they did not actively intervene to end the rampage. Instead, they arrested those in the immediate vicinity as they were able, including many Christians.

The presence of the army did disperse the assailants, who then scattered and attacked other area churches. The nearby Church of the Holy Virgin was set ablaze and completely destroyed around 2am. Three other local churches also suffered damage.

Gunshots continued throughout the night. The next day the army placed the area in complete lockdown mode, arresting anyone coming out of their home. Sources say the area around the church also had water and electricity cut. The minister of the interior and governor were set to visit the area, which was under a 24 hour curfew.

Both sources identified the attackers as Salafī Muslims, due to their appearance with beards and white robes, typical of their traditional dress. They cried ‘Allahu Akbar’ during the attacks. Salafī Muslims are adherents of a conservative interpretation of Islam that desires strict application of the Sharī'ah in imitation of the era of Muhammad and his companions. Following the revolution they have been vocal in calling for an Islamic state and have been accused of multiple sectarian attacks on both Christians and other Muslims. Though admitting to their particular religious interpretation, Salafī leaders have either denied their involvement or condemned such violent incidents.

Regardless of the original intention of the attack organizers, accusations of the illegal imprisonment of Coptic converts to Islam in churches or monasteries have been rampant both pre- and post-revolution. A woman named Kāmīliyā Shihātah, to be mentioned below, is the cause célèbre in this effort. Following the attack on a church in Baghdad in October of 2010, the Qā'idah declared Coptic Christians to be fair game for attack for this alleged crime. Yet rumors are also rampant that sectarian conflict in Egypt was stoked by the former security forces under the Mubārak regime, which have allegedly continued this policy since his resignation.
The above testimony was provided by two sources directly involved in the evening’s altercation. Independent verification of their testimony is not possible at this time.

Since the attacks public response has been both swift and polarized. Prime Minister Sharaf cancelled a scheduled visit to the Gulf region and called an emergency cabinet meeting. The army has arrested 190 individuals and will try them in military courts. Furthermore, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), currently governing the nation, has threatened the death penalty for anyone found inciting fitnah tā'ifīyah.

Salafī leaders and popular preachers, for their part, labeled attackers ‘thugs, not Muslims’, and fully condemned the action. Similarly, many Imbābah Muslims harshly condemned the action as un-Islamic, and said the thugs were tied to the old regime.

Meanwhile, Copts took to the street to protest. A small group went to the US Embassy to demand a meeting with the US ambassador and ask international protection. A much larger and more representative group began assembling at Maspero, site of the Egyptian Radio and Television headquarters. Here, only a few weeks earlier, thousands of Copts protested over several days to demand official inquiry into an attack on a church in 'Ātfīh, an area to the south of Cairo. Instinctively, following this conflict, they return again.
Along the way they were met with derision and minor attacks from Muslim youths and other ‘thugs’. Once there, a few suffered injuries as stones were thrown upon them from the balconies above. Yet they were joined by significant numbers of Muslims, including fully covered women, declaring that Muslims and Christians in Egypt were ‘one hand’. Eventually, the opposition settled down and the protest is ongoing.
The rumor about the convert to Islam being protected has received more investigation since the initial altercation. Apparently, a woman named 'Abīr from Upper Egypt married a Muslim and adopted his faith. Though not required by Islam it is the near cultural necessity, especially in traditional areas, as both religious groups ostracize members who either convert to another faith or marry outside their faith community. Apparently, 'Abīr later on ran away from her husband, who later received a phone call that she was in hiding near the St. Mina Church in Imbābah. The official version related by the government is that her husband contacted Salafī groups in the area, and asked for their intervention.

Other sources relate that the incident/rumor circulated widely on Facebook and Twitter, identifying the location of the woman by the very street name of the church. The campaign picked up speed, and resulted in large numbers of protestors demanding 'Abīr’s release. Yet to date, no woman fitting this story has been identified at all.

Of consequence is that the social media campaign began a mere hours after Kāmīliyā Shihātah appeared on a foreign Christian satellite program, denying she had ever converted to Islam. Previously, Salafī groups had organized seventeen separate demonstrations to demand her release from the monastery where she was allegedly being held. Pictures appeared of her wearing a hijāb, but may have been easily Photoshopped. Meanwhile the church released a video of her Christian confession, but this was either ignored or dismissed by salafists. Poignantly, she never appeared in a live setting to settle the matter once and for all. That is, until this satellite program, which was announced a day before.

Does this suggest the assault on the church was planned in advance, and that the rumor, however true the story of 'Abīr may be, was constructed to play on the emotions of disturbed salafists reacting to their mistaken fury over Kāmīliyā Shihātah?

This is impossible to ascertain at this point, but the location of Imbābah would have been well chosen as a Cairo neighborhood easily ignited by such a spark. Imbābah is one of the poorer districts of Cairo, hastily and haphazardly constructed in the 1970s following large scale population transfers from Upper Egypt to the city. Basic services such as water, sewage, and paved roads were absent, and the poverty combined with the resurgence of strident religious identity drove many toward extremist Islam. The conditions led local Muslim leaders to declare themselves ‘the Emirate of Imbābah’, which successfully secured practical independence from the state, keeping out all unwanted visitors, including police, for a period of weeks. During this time, there were few Christians in the area at all.

After the police broke the siege and reestablished government control, in the 1980s Egypt cooperated with USAID, an American aid agency, to bolster living conditions. The program was largely successful, improving infrastructure and microenterprise, but was also subject to local criticisms. Over time, Upper Egyptian Christians also relocated to Imbābah, and though there were occasional sectarian tensions between them and Muslims, nothing to the extent of this attack had ever been witnessed before. Yet given that community growth was random in constitution, the centuries-long historical bond between Muslims and Christians in traditional village settings, however tested on occasion, was absent from Imbābah.

What is next? It is too difficult to judge all the different conclusions being paraded. Christians are furious at the police and armed forces for taking so long to contain the violence. Accusations are that they deliberately stood aside, yet it may well be they were simply ill equipped to confront such a large, apparently organized attack in an urban setting. Some in Maspero were heard chanting, similar to the revolutionary cry, ‘the people want the downfall of the general’.

Others say this and other sectarian conflicts have been engineered by forces of counterrevolution. Most major former regime members are in prison, and Mubārak himself was recently cleared by doctors to be interred with them as well. Salafists traditionally and in their theology had always sided with the Mubārak government as being established by God. Assumptions abound that they are heavily financed by Saudi Arabia, which was loath to see an autocratic ally ousted from power, and now under judicial trial. With these allegations, the army could either still be implicitly aligned with the old order even as they ‘protect’ the revolution, or, such incidents are meant as a wedge to drive people against the army, invalidating their popular stand with the revolutionaries. Or, it could simply be the interweaving independent errors of misguided action coalescing into deep conspiracy.

Yet on the side of the Christians there is conspiracy-worthy evidence as well. Why was Kāmīliyā Shihātah silent for so long, only to appear on a foreign, not Egyptian, program? Her lawyer chastised her publically for going against his advice to speak on Egyptian television, and legally with the public prosecutor. This was only days after he procured a photo with her reconciled with her husband, with public documentation he was entitled to speak on her behalf that she was a Christian, never having converted to Islam.

Interestingly, even if irrelevantly, the satellite program she appeared on is produced in the United States, and carries frequent testimonies of Muslim converts to Christianity. Provocation could have been anticipated.
Arab West Report has been able to secure an interview with Kāmīliyā and her husband. She admitted to marital problems which caused her to run away. Likely ashamed, as often occurs in such situations in Upper Egypt, local Christians and perhaps her family instigated protests claiming she was kidnapped by Muslims. This played into a known narrative which Muslims picked up on, then assuming the reality that she did in fact convert to Islam.

As protests about her increased, Kāmīliyā testified she was a Christian online, but this failed to convince the hardened Salafī audience, believing the YouTube video was a fake. She grew and is increasingly terrified for potential violence against her, understandable given the events in Imbābah. All the same, her testimony in this case puts aside the many conspiracy theories surrounding her. She is simply a woman who made a mistake, which amplified exponentially and engulfed a nation.

Yet to return to conspiracy along the same lines, the subsequent Coptic protest at Maspero was their natural destination point. Why then did a few hundred gather at the US Embassy, demanding international protection? This call is consistently rejected by local Christians as being traitorously fatal to their interests as citizens of Egypt. It is heard from Copts abroad, but almost never internally. Simultaneous to their denouncing of the Imbābah attacks, Salafī leaders criticized Copts for appealing to America. Are elements of the Coptic Church or community, perhaps even the United States, also aligned with counterrevolutionary forces?
Or, does all this simply represent the coalescence of error in the midst of confusion? In all likelihood, yes. Deep conspiracy helps to make sense of facts difficult to connect together. Egypt is undergoing significant changes, and these are uncomfortable for all. Conspiracies such as these are on the lips of many, which do not help the effort to foster national unity and democratic development.

Yet it could also be said that once again this tragedy has engendered demonstrations of Muslim support for their Christian kinsmen. The revolution unleashed clear evidence of Muslim-Christian unity from Tahrīr Square, confirming the solidarity witnessed after the church bombing in Alexandria. Then, Muslims around the country surrounded churches and joined Copts inside, willing to die with them should the act be repeated.
Now, Christians are worried that Islam in the hearts of Muslims will ultimately make them side against Christians in times of fitnah. Unfortunately, Imbābah offers evidence of this. Yet even during the hours of attack in Imbābah, groups of Muslims came together in demonstration, proclaiming Muslims and Christians to be ‘one hand’. Post-revolutionary freedom has also unleashed Salafī activity and fervor, threatening the revolution in the eyes of many. Or, could Salafī drum-beating cloud over the essential unity which normal Muslims assert has always been characteristic of Egypt?

Many Egyptians are tired. They have crafted a great revolution but are now running into the realities of their success. Interruption of the national economy has exasperated an already poor multitude. Freedom of expression has brought unwelcome views to the forefront, regardless of perspective. Governance is entrusted to military forces simultaneously valuing stability and seeking to carry out revolutionary demands, all the while having little experience in day to day management and public relations. Political factions argue over issues both major and minor, with consensus rarely apparent.

It is understandable to be tired; yet now more than ever commitment and resolve are necessary. Christians must cling to faith, both in God and their fellow citizens.

Democrats must navigate political streams yet maintain unity in the reconstruction of government. Islamists must curb their quest for influence developed over long years of oppression, while continuing sensibly to shape society as they believe God intends.

Salafists … I don’t know what is needed here; may God guide them as he guides all the above. May each commit to the other as an Egyptian, and refuse to allow legitimate differences to divide them in essentials. Egyptians have always been one people; perhaps there are forces, both internal and external, which seek their unfastening. Yet these are days of opportunity; a great future is before them. May the issues of Imbābah be brought justice in all its forms; may these be the labor pains following a great revolutionary conception. May belief be held that a baby is soon to be celebrated.

Taken from Arab-West Report.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Was celebrating Bin Laden's death wrong, politically incorrect?

I was sent this by a close source who has requested anonymity. It certainly makes you wonder how "civilized" a people can be considered, when they revel in the death of one person. Regardless of who that person was, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.

I am glad bin Laden is dead. The world is a vastly better, safer place with him no longer in it. There is certainly a sense of relief, but I don't take any more joy in his death than I would a rabid animal. It needed to be done and it got taken care of. Well done to Team 6!

That being said, when I saw the pictures of the kids out celebrating his death:

it immediately brought to mind these pictures that were taken in the aftermath of 9/11:

Enough said......but it will not be the
End of the Story.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What can Britons learn from the Egyptian Revolution?

Budget cuts in Britain are a hot topic of discussion in light of the past few years of economic distress in many Western nations. Countries are doing everything they can to cut back on government spending and programs in an attempt to revive a fledging global economy. New powerhouses are coming onto the scene, with countries such as China flexing their economic weight in the world, and seizing this opportunity to spread their arms of investment far and wide.

I was listening to the BBC Radio 2 a while back, and their main focus of discussion were the proposed cut back to the country’s police force. It is estimated that over 25,000 officers will be pulled off the streets in the next four years.  Source

Of course this has tongues wagging for many people in the United Kingdom. What will this mean for their personal safety? What will this mean for the security of the country as a whole?

To compensate for the expected police drawdown, citizens in the U.K. are beefing up their own security. One of the radio listeners phoned in to explain his extensive CCTV system that he has had installed. He claimed that it was in part responsible for discouraging local youth in his neighbourhood from vandalizing on his property, and overall kept him feeling safer. The only setback? The cost of implementing this connected network of CCTV can total in the thousands of pounds for reliable protection. Source.

CCTV cameras are already up and running in London, so to see just how effective the installation of CCTVs would be in your home, let’s take a look at the crime statistics in London for the past few years. Ideally, you’d notice a decrease in the level of crime occurring if the CCTV network was deterring criminals from carrying out their crimes. According to some studies, CCTV has effectively helped to reduce crimes of burglary and theft by upwards of 50 %, but has done little to the rate of violent crimes. Source.

So here’s my question, is it really necessary to spend thousands of your hard earned money to install cameras and other security systems around your house? My immediate answer would be yes, but having seen something else with my own eyes, I will argue that “no, it is not.”

During the Egyptian revolution, police presence was entirely withdrawn from the streets. Criminals took this opportunity to run rampant throughout the city, looting stores and breaking into apartment buildings.

Army tank on the main road running along Maadi's outskirts
I was in Maadi, a suburb in Cairo. Maadi is an intricate layout of closed and small streets that from a bird’s eye view appear to follow the design of the English flag (Not coincidentally might I add). Maadi is unique in that there are only three main entrances into the suburb from Cairo itself. Army personnel set up check points and road blocks at these main entrances. But once inside, there was limited Army presence outside of the police stations in Maadi. Essentially, it should have become a lawless jungle.

What happened instead was an inspiring look at the power of neighbours banding together to protect their neighbourhood. Men and sons from individual buildings, apartments, and villas in Maadi went down to the street, forming impromptu "neighbourhood watch groups" to protect their assets. 

Rumours surfaced that criminals were driving around in pick-up trucks, firing randomly throughout neighbourhoods in Maadi (and throughout the rest of Cairo). The neighbourhood watch groups responded by setting up road blocks throughout the densely intertwined streets in the suburb. As the Army was not as obvious a presence as in many other areas of Cairo, Maadi became a city unto itself. 

Because it is a fairly small suburb, most people recognise each other in Maadi. This made it easier for the road blocks, recognising a familiar face, and you would be allowed through. The road blocks themselves were inspired; some grabbed police "huts" to block the road, I even saw a bathtub roadblock. 

Yes. That is actually a bath.

Over-turned police hut becomes an impromptu road block

Alongside the roadblocks, local residents took to wearing Seoudi market bags tied around their arms as indicators that they were from Maadi. An ingenious method of distinguishing "Maadi-ites;" Seoudi market is a notorious supermarket in Maadi, and their white and green bags very easily recognisable. 

Seoudi bag in the front of the car to distinguish
us as Maadi residents
When Karim and I were driving through Maadi, we would have to place this Seoudi bag by the windshield, so that going through checkpoints we'd be immediately spotted as locals. When Karim was out patrolling, he also wore these bags tied around his arm. Alongside their impromptu weapons (sticks, kitchen knives, and anything else that could become a potential weapon), men in Maadi headed out to stand guard under their homes, and man the road-blocks that were found on virtually every street corner. It was an incredible, and very amusing, spectacle to behold. 

So what is the point behind this? What can Britons learn from the Egyptian experience? 

Simply, get to know your neighbours, get to know your neighbourhood. Your neighbourhood is only as safe as you allow it to be. Even without any police presence whatsoever, it is possible to look out for one another. All it requires is going back to the fundamental belief that inside, we are all the same, and we all want to see our homes, families, and possessions stay safe.