Sunday, October 30, 2011

It all started with one small country

I realise there are quite a few people who follow on here who will not have seen me post this elsewhere. Here is my article I wrote for the International Observatory on Stability and Conflict, and I'm thrilled with the result. Check out the OISC's website for further analysis on the evolving situation of the global protests. So happy to have collaborated with them.

Last spring, the western world watched with wonder and bewilderment the people once under colonialist submission rise to defend their right to self-determination. Concepts such as one man-one vote, direct suffrage, equality for all, redistribution of wealth and freedom of the press were defended amidst blood and sweat, the very same price western peoples paid for their freedom two centuries ago. More importantly, the western world watched as unarmed, young protesters without leaders made decades-long dictatorships fall, in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, and more bloodily, in Libya. The once apathetic American youth received a massive electrical shock in 2008; placing all its hopes and dreams on the sole shoulders of President Obama, their activism is now focused against their own leader: corporate greed, corporate personhood, and corporate domination has to fall. The Occupy Wall Street movement has spread nationwide, is unarmed, without a leader, and is very much hoping to reclaim the American Dream. 2011 could be the year of worldwide successful revolutions; it could be the new Dawn of the People. But what are the consequences of such massive political overhaul? Is Occupy Wall Street the child of the Arab Spring, in a reverse clash of civilizations? Journalist Susan Richards-Benson, on the foreground of the new era, gives us a compelling analysis.
“One man, lighting himself on fire in protest of a continued reign of tyranny, through his actions lit a fire in the souls of people around the world”
The world today is trembling, and not just from the movements of its crust. People around the globe are unknowingly uniting together against one front: fighting the continued abuse of power that for so many years went ignored.
It all started with one small country. One man, lighting himself on fire in protest of a continued reign of tyranny, through his actions lit a fire in the souls of people around the world. What started in Tunisia quickly spread to Egypt. It wasn’t long before surrounding countries also began to feel the heat. The spirit of Revolution had been awakened.  But this time, people were not going to simply sit back quietly and accept the tirade of excuses presented by the powers that be. This time, the power of the people would triumph and their voices would be heard.
The Arab Spring sent shockwaves throughout the world. For many sitting in the comfort of their living rooms in the United States, there seemed little reason to be worried. These were countries far away with political policies that barely impacted their everyday lives. How could the United States possibly have anything to fear with the growing tides of revolution in the Middle East?
“Is it possible that people currently in New York really share the same grievances as the Egyptian youth staked out in Tahreer Square?”
The Occupy Wall Street movement serves as a reminder that revolutionary spirit is not limited to developing countries only. As more protesters flood the streets of New York, activists begin looking to protesters across the Atlantic for inspiration on how to best keep the momentum moving. If the revolution in Egypt proved anything, it was the power of social networking to inspire and unite. As with the Occupy Wall Street protests, media outlets initially ignored the growing tensions in both Egypt and Tunisia, leaving it to the protesters themselves to get the word out. Facebook and Twitter have proven to be monumental tools in coordinating protests, garnering support, updating on developments, and ultimately breaking through the blackout wall erected by both regimes and media outlets.
But how similar are the movements in reality? Is it possible that people currently in New York really share the same grievances as the Egyptian youth staked out in Tahreer square?
To answer this question, one must first examine what the root causes behind the protests really are. Are they simply the disgruntled and unemployed who have nothing better to do with their time? Or are they in fact the great majority of a population who have simply tired of being trodden on and suppressed by the ruling elite?
Egyptian society during the Mubarak era was highly striated; the difference between Egyptian and U.S. social hierarchies is that in Egypt, this societal structure is well known and documented. But now, due to global protests, more and more people in the U.S. are realizing that class warfare exists in their home country also. The fundamental difference between the two countries is that in Egypt, people came to accept this hierarchy as an absolute truth, whereas in the U.S. there is always hope that the “American dream” will become a reality if you work just that little bit harder, just that little bit longer.
The Egyptian revolutionary youth broke through this mentality. During the January Revolution, young and old, rich and poor, Muslims and Christians stood side by side united in their cause. Together, they toppled a regime that had kept them under lock and key for three decades. Together, through the power of the people they triumphed. Now however, Egypt is witnessing attempts to rip apart this social fabric that was so carefully woven during the Revolution. Egyptian media outlets are continuously dominated by stories of Muslims attacking Christian churches, of Christian business owners attacking their Muslim neighbors’ store front. It smacks of methods previously employed; methods which had successfully implanted in many minds of Egyptian citizens that they were not all equal and did not all deserve the same chances in life. It is an attempt to sabotage the undeniable solidarity that pushed Hosni Mubarak out of power to begin with.
Protesters in Wall Street should be watching carefully as these tactics are employed throughout Egypt. They too are facing similar tactics, with smear campaigns circulating the very social networks they used to get their message out in the first place. A picture is being painted of social activists who are merely attempting to stir up trouble, and true patriots should never question the ruling elite. It’s worked for centuries has it not? Why rock the boat now?

Tahrir Square, February 3
“They have learned a valuable lesson; one that should be translated to protesters throughout the rest of the world. In order for the power of the people to triumph, it must be united.”
To this day, many Egyptian protesters are still taking to the streets, despite the lacking media coverage to emphasize their cause. Despite attempts to stir up sectarian tensions amongst everyday citizens, Muslims and Christians together are presenting one voice, one united front: “We are the revolutionary youth. We are all Egyptians.” They have learned a valuable lesson; one that should be translated to protesters throughout the rest of the world. In order for the power of the people to triumph, it must be united. To allow attempts to divide individuals or groups, to plant the idea that one person is somehow more entitled than the next will only serve the very ruling elite people are rebelling against.
Now is the time for governments that were built for the people and by the people to listen to their citizens. To acknowledge their past mistakes. To accept that further dividing a country and its citizens will never succeed. If Egypt proved anything, it is that one voice alone cannot change anything, but a million voices united in a cause can give birth to a new country – to a new future.
As Alexander Solzhenitsyn once said “You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything he’s no longer in your power – he’s free again.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Where to Go - Harbour Restaurant

Last week K and I decided to go out for dinner. Originally we had planned to head to the "American Restaurant" on the Marina. Upon arrival however, we found it gutted from the inside out and evidently in the midst of renovations. So we improvised, and went to the restaurant right next door, Harbour Restaurant.

Located on the Hurghada New Marina, Harbour Restaurant offers great views of the surrounding area. The advantage to dining here is that we were able to bring Orien along for the night. There's something so nice about going out for dinner together, and Orien was so well behaved it made it all the better.

The prices at Harbour Restaurant are very fair, considering its location on the New Marina. Generally I will avoid eating at many places there, as the prices are usually extortionate. (Although in defense of the restaurants, they don't have a choice when they are being charged thousands of dollars in rent...) Our total bill ended up less than 40 $ for everything, making Harbour Restaurant an ideal place for a date night on a budget.

The menu is fairly diverse, offering a variety of pasta dishes, grilled chicken, steaks and seafood. K inquired about the Barbeque Chicken, specifically how it was grilled. He was told it's not done on a I'm not quite sure how it can be marketed as such, but... yeah. It ended up being grilled chicken, and was quite tasty!

I ordered the Tomato Soup and Caesar Salad, and between the two of us we shared a Spaghetti Bolognese. As far as the quality of the food goes, well it left some things to be desired. My Tomato Soup was very watery, and I would not be surprised if it had come out of a packet. I had to add a great deal of salt and pepper to flavour it up, as it had very little taste to it. The Caesar Salad was smaller than what I had expected, and if you are looking to make a salad your main course, you'd better order two. The salad was also very rich, and was dripping in dressing on the bottom, making it quite a heavy 'light' meal. Next time I will be ordering the dressing on the side.

The Spaghetti Bolognese was tasty, but it wasn't anything unique. It was the a-typical Egyptian style Spaghetti Bolognese (read: seasoned with what was most likely cinnamon and a nutmeggy blend of spices - so it is slightly sweet). K quite enjoyed his chicken, which was garnished with quite a lot of rosemary that he ended up having to scrape off. Served with French Fries, the BBQ chicken is definitely satisfactory for a single person meal.

We arrived at the restaurant around 18:45. There was one other couple there alongside us. Despite being the only ones there, we waited almost 40 minutes for our food, making me wonder how long you would have to wait were the restaurant busy! Seeing as how we arrived at what should be dinner time, I was disappointed with the speed of the service. Our waiter was more than pleasurable, but again, the speed left much to be desired.

If you are looking for a family dinner out on a budget, Harbour Restaurant is a good place to go. I would rate the food a 7 out of 10, location was definitely a 10, and service a 5 out of 10. Overall, I would rate Harbour Restaurant a 6.5 out of 10.

Egypt Unbound on Traveler Voice

This blog was recently nominated for an award on Traveler Voice as one of the top Living Abroad blogs out there.

Although the blog did not win, it did garner special recognition, and for this I would like to thank you! Without your continued support of the blog I would not have been able to do it.

Here's hoping that the next time around, Egypt Unbound will be the winner in its category!

Travel Bloggers Community

Friday, October 21, 2011

Butterscotch Brownies

I was requested that I post this recipe, which was a huge hit. Apparently it tastes very similar to an Egyptian style of cake, so K was more than enthused to have it with his morning Chai Bil Laban (Tea with Milk) for breakfast. As per usual, I found a recipe in the Joy of Cooking and made it my own!

So here's what you'll need: 

1 eight inch baking pan (lined with foil) 
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt 
1/2 cup butter (unsalted preferably)
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla essence 
1 tbsp white sugar mixed with 1/4 tsp water (original recipe called for 1 tbsp corn syrup, but that's something I cannot find here so I improvised)


Preheat your oven to 175 Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit).

Grease your foil-lined baking pan. This is very important, if you miss this step you'll end up peeling off foil from your brownies. Mmm...foil covered brownies.

Whisk together in a large bowl your flour, baking soda and powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a non-stick saucepan, melt your butter. Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until the butter turns a golden brown colour (takes three to five minutes).

Remove from heat. Stir in brown and white sugar until well blended.

As the mixture cools, add in your egg, egg yolk, your sugar / water (or corn syrup) blend and vanilla.

Mix your wet ingredients into flour mixture.

Add to baking pan, and cook until top is golden brown and toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, between 20-30 minutes.


Et. Voila! Bil Hana Wa Shiva! 

Top with cream, or serve with Ice Cream! 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Before you give $$$

Look for the follow up to this blog later on today. Re-posted from Simply LeAnne, it's about time that the sad truth came out. 

Animal welfare is not even an afterthought in Egypt, but one organization has many believing that it is bringing this issue to the forefront with its so-called charity.

Enter Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals (ESMA).

ESMA’s website touts that it is “a charitable organization registered in Egypt (No. 3059/2007).” It was formed in late-2007 in “response to a horrific shooting spree of street dogs by the Egyptian government.” Thus, a small group of Egyptians and expats came together to “fight this notion of population control and to protect and rescue animals in immediate danger.” Their exact protection and rescue methods are in question with a recent report released on mistreated horses questioning the organization and stable (please refer to link provided at bottom of page to note the finger-pointing and discrepancies listed as well as comments).

If adequate animal welfare is in question amid donations continuously pouring, you have to eventually ask yourself where the donated items and money is dispersed (many non-profits use most of the funds for “administrative” purposes, ie many times filling the pockets of a select few within the organization).

After my Facebook newsfeed was bombarded with ESMA’s desperate need for donations and rumors began circulating as to where exactly these donations were going, I decided to do some further research. I sent an email directly to Mona Khalil, ESMA founder and board chairman, posing as a potential donor with substantial funds deriving from US contacts.

Prior to contacting Mona, I posted on ESMA’s Facebook page: “Does ESMA keep detailed financial reports of the donations it receives and where the money is allocated in its entirety?”

To which an ESMA member responded: “Yes LeAnne, ESMA keeps receipts and full details of donations. If you would like to review them, you are more than welcome to come visit our accountant at the shelter in Shabramant.”

Immediately after this response, I received a phone call from the ESMA member whom informed me that he had been so busy rescuing animals and was getting tired of the “accusations” regarding ESMA. To which I replied that as a potential donor, I was well within my rights to inquire as to the allocation of funds in order to ensure transparency. I added that the US donors also need clarification in order to obtain the tax write-offs which required documents and since the organization is registered as a non-profit in Egypt backed by a US non-profit, then I knew documentation must be compiled. The ESMA member informed me again that I was welcome to come to the shelter and personally review the records which led me to inquire about electronic documentation. He then assured me that he would send an electronic version of the organization’s 2010 records.

However, I received a very different response after my email to Mona dated October 4 which read:

Hi Mona,

I am inquiring about further information regarding 
ESMA for potential donations. I collect funds and items from various friends in the expat community in Cairo as well as friends abroad (mostly the US) for charitable contributions and I'm always looking for new causes to contribute.

In order to determine where the funds/items will be donated, I was wondering if you or someone at 
ESMA could provide more information. Since ESMA is a charitable organization, can you please provide me with financial records to show the money received and its allocation? I'm sure you understand, but I must check these facts before giving such sizable donations to ensure transparency as many of my US contributors use this as a tax write-off.

Your earliest response is greatly appreciated.
Debbie Smith, ESMA Treasurer, replied on October 9:

Dear LeAnne,

Mona forwarded your email to me, so that I can respond to your questions. Are you here in Cairo or in the US? Regarding making a tax-deductible donation to ESMA from abroad, we are fiscally sponsored by Animal Diplomacy, which is a registered US 501C3 non-profit organization. There is a link to the 
Animal Diplomacywebpage from our site (, and most donations from the US and other countries outside Egypt are processed in this way through Paypal. I am cc'ing Kristen Stilt on this, who can answer any questions you may have about Animal Diplomacy.

On the other hand, If you or your friends are here in Egypt and want to make a donation, it is easy enough, you can just contact me or Mona to arrange for it to be picked up, or go to the shelter where our bookkeeper is working and drop it off there. In either case, you can specify if there is a specific program (i.e. shelter, horse feeding, etc), animal, or purpose that you want any donations to be applied towards and it will be directed to that purpose. I hope this was helpful, and thank you for your interest in raising money for animal welfare in Egypt.

I immediately responded:

Dear Debbie,

Thank you for your response; however, my initial question remained unanswered. In order to properly contribute, my donors as well as myself need verification as to the money received and its allocation in order to ensure credibility as well as for tax documentation. As far as the funds we raise, we would like to further explore your programs to better attain where the most need is (including amount of animals separated by category).

We require this information from any organization that we’ve worked with, including Egyptian organizations like the Spirit of Giving.

I was instructed to visit the site in order to look over the paperwork, but electronic documentation should be readily available in order to also provide Animal Diplomacy an update, among others.

Please contact me at your earliest as we are getting ready to determine which organization should be the recipient of this year’s donation.

I understand being an animal lover. I happen to be one myself. I, in addition to many of my friends, have also taken in unwanted/abused pets. However, I also have a few pet peeves and one of my biggest has to be so-called charitable organizations that seemingly operate under the guise of “the greater good” yet take contributions without proper documentation of where the money is allocated. If ESMA’s claims of its “commitment to improving animal welfare in Egypt” were true, why are there such obvious discretions from financial statements to vaccination records? What’s even more worrisome is the Animal Diplomacy’s website that has no information available except how to donate and that it supports ESMA. In addition, try doing a search on further information from this US organization and its contact. All you will find is an address (1227 B Central Str, Evanston, Ill. 60201) to send checks, but no phone number, email, foundation information (inception or founders) or even specific tasks in which it operates. In fact, the only other charity it supposedly supports as listed on its site is ESMA.

Is it just me or does this not add up?

Debbie responded to me again:

Thanks for your email and I appreciate your concerns.

I am curious who you are representing when you say my donors, are you asking as an individual, or on behalf of an organization, or a group of people?

Regarding the initial question being unanswered, are you asking for verification of how much money is received and where it is allocated? if you are asking to see our financial records and reports, under Egyptian law and on the advice of our lawyer, we do not provide our financial records to individuals.

However, we are in full compliance with the reporting and auditing requirements of the Ministry of Social Affairs, our fiscal sponsor Animal Diplomacy, and any foundations we have received grants from, and according to our organizational bylaws and governance, and handle all donations of any size and from any source in good faith.

In any case, if you are an American donating here in Egypt to an Egyptian NGO, you will not be eligible for a tax write off with the IRS anyway. I directed you to the site as a way of making a donation through our fiscal sponsor, in the event that you or another US citizen wants to make a tax deductible donation.

If by further exploring our programs, you would like to know about what areas we are active in, and how many animals we are currently responsible for, or discuss what the areas of greatest need are, you could meet with me and/or with Mona Khalil in person if you want. You can also visit the shelter in Sakkara or attend the next scheduled horse feeding at Nezlet Al Samman, or volunteering is also a good way to experience some of what we are doing and meet others who are involved with ESMA one way or another. I think this will give a better idea of the scope of what we are doing and what the needs are.

If ESMA is in compliance with governmental laws, I wonder if the organization was informed about new legislation passed in June that had the Egyptian Minister of Social Solidarity, Dr. Gouda Abdel Khaliq, warning “civil society associations and NGOs against applying for foreign grants” and called direct US funding to Egyptian NGOs a violation of Egyptian sovereignty. Under Egypt’s Law on Associations and Foundations (Law 84 of 2002), civil society organizations are prohibited from receiving funds from abroad without the approval of the Ministry of Social Solidarity. Violation of this provision of the law is punishable by up to six months imprisonment. Furthermore, how is the organization reporting its figures, particularly the funding received via PayPal?

When posting a comment on ESMA’s page that is anything other than praising their work, instant attacks begin in retaliation. For instance, when someone whom was helping in relocating ESMA-rescued horses inquired about the donated horse gear and its absence, an ESMA member replied: “i suggest you start opening your eyes and looking at what efforts are being made, rather than always bringing us down. Where do your loyalties lie? To the animals like us? If they did I would expect a very different method of communication from your side. Sadly, it seems your communication methods are too political for an organization that does not play this game.” The ESMA person also called via mobile and used such intelligent language as, “You’re a douchebag.” Bravo. This is exactly the type of mentality that makes me a) interested in volunteer opportunities and/or b) donating believing in its cause.

My advice: if you were thinking of donating to an animal rescue organization in Egypt, look elsewhere like the Egyptian Society of Animal Friends (ESAF) as ESMA raises (or should at least) too many red flags. And to any ESMA member reading this, if you would like to justify these claims then provide the financial documents – it’s not hard unless you’re hiding something. However, based upon your previous actions, I would assume that you question my affinity for animals. Just because I question your transparency does not mean that I love animals less than any of your volunteers.

For those ESMA volunteers that do genuinely care about animals, I sincerely applaud your efforts; however, the organization in its entirety should be more transparent so as to ensure its donors that their contributions are being placed in good hands and for a good cause.

I adopted Layla in 2004 from Tucson Animal Control

Further reading:

Remember, there are three sides to every story: hers, his and the truth. Look at these two reports and make your own judgment. The issue more than likely falls on both ESMA and the stable, but finger-pointing is not a solution. Instead, I would like to encourage both parties, in order to avoid another similar incident in the future, to work on a compromise behind closed doors that places the animals at the top of their agendas – not a he said/she said public sparring.

By ESMA ‘Egyptian Society for Mercy to Animals’ on Monday, October 17, 2011 at 12:50 am (Cairo time)

After this report was published PFK posted a response on its FB page which I will not repost here because it’s lengthy, but suggest you visit its page and look for the report dated October 17 (Monday) at 11:21 pm.

Further response to allegations posed by ESMA member:
By Prince Fluffy Kareem on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 at 12:38pm

And with all the finger pointing, does no one question where the money is going? Just like with any potential donation, please make sure to research the charity and ask pertinent questions. Any evasive responses should immediately trigger a red flag. For those of us living in Egypt, many times we want to give because we feel much more fortunate. Give give give, but give wisely (and I strongly urge you to donate other items including time before so readily giving money).

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Where to Go - Planet Animal

Firstly, I apologize for the absence in posting in the past week. It has been a very long, and very stressful past few days for me. I hope to update on how and why in the coming period. Anyhow, moving on!

A few weeks back, I was asked by EgyPuppy, an up and coming company in Egypt, to review their shop. Well, last time I was in Cairo, I went in. The first thing you are met by are sales clerks sat at a computer with revolving monitors, presumably from which you can select your puppy that you plan to import.

They have supplies, but use the excuse that because most of the products are imported they can charge outrageous prices for them. (I saw one pack of Beggin Strips, on sale in the U.S. for under 2 $, marked at a price of close to 15 U.S. dollars. I mean come on, there's costs for importation...and then there's costs for importation. Echs). Needless to say, EgyPuppy, I'm sorry, I cannot recommend your location or services.

I realised that with all my postings on animal rights in Egypt, and where you shouldn't purchase your pet supplies from, I have neglected to suggest any locations that are decent!

To provide a contrast to EgyPuppy, let's look at Planet Animal in Hurghada.

Located on Maderis Street, the first thing that strikes you about Planet Animal is ... wait for it .... there are no animals for sale inside the shop! Three cheers!!

Planet Animal is run by two friends who have dedicated themselves to providing access to reliable and affordable dog toys, cat toys, the average medicine, and supplies.

Orien says "Treat Please!"
In the store you can find dog and cat food of various varieties and price ranges, including locally made Egyptian Kibble to imported Pedigree selections.

They have a good array of dog chew toys and rawhides, as well as cat toys and snacks.

Planet Animal offers dog leads, harnesses, and collars, in a host of materials including nylon and leather. They offer cat houses and the scratching posts.

If you're looking for worming or flea supplies, Planet Animal also has all of this on offer. You can choose from products imported from Germany (and still within a reasonable price range), or even request that a specific product you are looking for be shipped in.

For more information or to find out if Planet Animal has what you're looking for, call 011 211 344 51, or visit their location at 457 Maderis Street. Tell them Egypt Unbound sent you their way, and get a 10 % discount! 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hurghada Blood bank

Recent events in Egypt are making one thing very clear: hospitals here are under-staffed, poorly equipped, and lack some of the emergency response abilities that can make the difference between life and death. One such commodity is a blood bank.

In Cairo, the chance of dying in an Ambulance en-route to the hospital after a car wreck, or dying in the hospital itself, are almost higher than the odds of the car accident killing you to begin with. With an estimated 30,000 car accidents in Egypt every year, providing adequate emergency response mechanisms to at least allow doctors and nurses the chance to save a life is crucial. In the post-revolution Egypt these figures are not slowing down; many people will testify that they fear driving in the country more now than they ever did during the Mubarak era. That's saying something.

Residents in Hurghada have decided that enough is enough. One of the most important things for a hospital to have on hand in case of an accident is blood. A work-related injury sustained by an individual in Hurghada made it blatantly clear that crucial element was missing.

Following his injury, Mo* was forced to wait almost three days before doctors would operate on him as there was apparently no blood available. Even worse, Mo - who earns an estimated 400 LE (less than 80 US dollars) salary a month - was asked to pay 500 LE for a half litre of blood alone (this does not include the expenses of the surgery!). First aid assistance should not be something that we are in the business of charging people for, particularly when their lives hang in the balance.

Mo's story has prompted the creation of a website whereby residents of Hurghada can register, mark down their blood type (with confidentiality ensured), and should the need arise for blood of that type they will be called and asked to come to the hospital or local clinic to make the donation. An early idea yet in its introductory phases, there remain a few kinks to be worked out, but the idea itself is solid.

This way it is not only guaranteed that your blood is coming directly to you, there's less chance of confusion in administering the wrong blood type - which can have disastrous and fatal results. My main concern remains with the facilities that would be collecting the blood, as I am very picky when it comes to sterilization of equipment, but I would highly endorse this project as one way for residents to truly give back to the community.

For more information or to register, please visit BloodBank Hurghada Online.

* Name changed for privacy reasons

Monday, October 10, 2011

Facebook Fuels Ignorance, Hatred

An insightful look at the reactions on Facebook and other social media sites yesterday in response to the events unfolding in Cairo. Taken from Simply LeAnne, read on.

So now, let’s take it to social media – the catalyst behind the revolution. Egyptians were the first among the ‘Arab Spring’ nations to utilize social media as a platform for political change with blogger Wael Abbas accredited for its onset. As a journalist, I use Facebook for a variety of reasons – not just for personal contacts but to also monitor the banter for situations such as this. Here are a few excerpts from my newsfeed to give you a better insight as to what others on the ground in Egypt are saying as well as to highlight what happens when people take to the internet to post rhetoric without looking up any facts to substantiate their argument(s).

*Please note that all names are withheld for privacy purposes*
**Excerpts were not edited and remember, for many, English was not their first language**

“My only advice to the Egyptian army today. SHOOT TO KILL. These people are not protesters, they are barbarians and hooligans. The country and world could use a few thousand less of them.”

This person was reamed with 90 comments coming back protesting this statement. Then the same person began to justify this statement with unverified and untrue figures:

“It's a protest because of a church incident in Komombo. I don't understand why they would attack the army in Cairo! 3 army officers dead, 400 injured, 30 of which are in ICU...

This was posted around 8 pm local time, at which time reports varied with 19 deaths total, including two to six military personnel, and 150 injured. When the person was asked to support these numbers, the response was: “will find you a link one second.” I’m still waiting for that link…

Once the original poster continued to get an earful from those considering the words inhumane and insensitive, the person did the typical Egyptian move and backpeddled.

“Wow...I can't believe you took this status the two [statuses] above it

The next two status updates to combat the initial outburst were (shortened rant):

“It is so simple to take someones sarcasm and words and process your understanding of what their beliefs are. I do not and will never encourage mass shooting by anyone, specially not the army which is OBVIOUSLY more powerful by numbers and force.

I am sorry if my status offended you, and I retract it immediately as it was sarcastic in regards to 'touchy topics'...but for future reference, don't be so quick to judge someone, and try and see both sides of a story. THE ARMY ARE PEOPLE TOO. THEY HAVE FAMILIES!!!!!

Yet, I failed to see the both sides present in the argument. Coincidentally enough, the next status all of the sudden, undoubtedly expecting to gain sympathy and forgiveness for the first uncouth rant:

“UPDATE for all the people who stood against me defending the army today...My moms car just got attacked by a group of "protesters" on her way home from work (in Tahrir).”

The next poster grew up in the UK mostly and splits time between Egypt and the UK, but is Egyptian and Muslim.

“My heart goes out to all that were shot, killed or injured today for standing up for Justice, Love 'n Unity and an END to the INJUSTICES towards the 'I'riginal Orthodox Coptic peoples of Egypt ..”


“u see first and talk smart instead of spreading western propaganda. U r not even in egypt so dont talk about Egypt”

This person continued to post against the original poster:

“u r lebanese and u r more attached to the american culture than ur own culture. And u r doing music which is not egyptian. U r more ethiopian than egyptian...

How American culture got involved when the person has never spent any time in the US is beyond me. And someone else’s response to the original post (which I will shorten since Egyptians tend to ramble):

“let's say that the Aswan villagers who really burnt da church ok ... nd sure there are many videos showin how small the burnt buildin was nd sure u can find it in utube or i can send it to u .. nd no matter how big or small is it ... no matter if da villagerz or sum ppl did it on purpose ... is burnin a buildin worth killin one human being ? but da orthdox church leaderz made a public threats thru da media nd thru utube nd i can send ya da video if u want ... the orthdox pops learderz said exactly : the governer of Aswan is a liar nd i can beat him wit my shoes nd this governer will die in 2 dayz in a bloody way nd if da leader of da military council didn't respond to our demands , he knows wut's gon happen to him ) this is wut they said.”

He failed to post the YouTube videos and/or links. See the pattern?

And to be fair, here’s a view from a Coptic Christian’s page (note when I brought this person food after the revolution, he was too busy to be present to collect the items and was instead in Tahrir Square – long before the church attacks. He sent someone to pick it up, never said thank you and only asked for more):

“the Egyptian army crushed the Christian by its tanks and cars in Masbiro in Tahrir square


“I think the army is the victim, the protestors attacked the army. Most of the killed people are from the army.” (Not true about the majority of deaths being military)

His reply:

“Really, please see the pic in the news and the videos how the army crush the Christine, and don’t follow the Egyptian TV” (failed to provide links)

He then posted a gruesome picture which I will not add here from another friend (no source cited) saying, “the army killed more Christians every day

He continues with various statements compiled below:

“I am so confused and can't thinks my mind is paralyzed ,what is happening for the church in Egypt which is Coptic from the beginningIf you,Marshal are Traitor , God is faithful, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

"the army use the same way of killing the Christian like Moubark's system" 

I’ve only taken a few pertinent examples to demonstrate the negative repercussions of the internet. Social media can be a useful tool, but just like everything else, when used by ignorant people, it can be a very negative facilitator spreading unfounded and ill-conceived rhetoric. 

A firsthand account: Marching from Shubra to deaths at Maspiro

I was sent this article by a colleague this morning which provides an eye-witness account of the ongoings in Maspiro last night. It is a tragic article, yet the message at the end is what I hope will stand out to everyone. It is time that Egypt stops trying to place the blame for internal issues on external forces. This country needs to heal from within; as long as these invisible lines of division continue to be drawn and played upon there is little hope for Egypt to ever fully rebuild itself.

Written by Sarah Carr, taken from Al-Masri Al-Yawm, here is the article. My thoughts are with everyone, both on the side of the military and civilians, who lost their lives in the brutal violence last night.

Image from Al-Masri Al-Yawm, photographed
by Mohammed Hossam Eddin

The march from the Cairo district of Shubra was huge, like the numbers on 28 January. In the front row was a group of men in long white bibs, “martyr upon demand” written on their chests. A tiny old lady walked among them, waving a large wooden cross: “God protect you my children, God protect you.”

The march started down Shubra Street around 4 pm, past its muddle of old apartment buildings, beat up and sad but still graceful compared with the constructions from the Mubarak era next to them - brutish and unfinished-looking.

A man explained why there were bigger numbers than the march last week in response to the attack on the St. George’s Church in Aswan: the army had hit a priest while violently dispersing Coptic protesters in front of the Maspiro state TV building on Wednesday. A video posted online showed a young man being brutally assaulted by army soldiers and riot police.

At a traffic underpass at the end of Shubra Street, at around 6 pm, there was the sudden sound of what sounded like gunfire. Protesters at the front told those behind to stop - the march was under attack. Rocks rained down from left and right and from the bridge, underneath which protesters were taking shelter.

Some threw stones back. Behind them, protesters chanted, “The people want the removal of the Field Commander.” The stone throwing eventually stopped sufficiently for the march to continue. A teenage boy crossed himself repeatedly as he moved forward toward the rocks.

Darkness fell just as the march reached Galaa Street. “This is our country,” protesters chanted, led by a man on a pickup truck full of speakers. An illuminated cross floated through the darkness. At the headquarters of state daily newspaper Al-Ahram, a single rock was thrown at the door, likely a comment on its coverage of violence against Copts.

Outside the Ramsis Hilton Hotel, the chanting stopped momentarily - the exuberance of having escaped the attack in Shubra faded as the march rounded the corner toward Maspiro.

It was immediately met with gunfire in the air. As protesters continued moving forwards, the gunfire continued.

Suddenly, there was a great surge of people moving back, and something strange happened. Two armored personnel carriers (APCs) began driving at frightening speed through protesters, who threw themselves out of its path. A soldier on top of each vehicle manned a gun, and spun it wildly, apparently shooting at random although the screams made it difficult to discern exactly where the sound of gunfire was coming from.

It was like some brutal perversion of the military show the armed forces put on for the 6th of October celebration three days before. The two vehicles zigzagged down the road outside Maspiro underneath the 6th of October Bridge and then back in synchronicity, the rhythm for this particular parade provided by the "tac tac tac" of never-ending gunfire, the music the screams of the protesters they drove directly at.

And then it happened: an APC mounted the island in the middle of the road, like a maddened animal on a rampage. I saw a group of people disappear, sucked underneath it. It drove over them. I wasn’t able to see what happened to them because it then started coming in my direction.

Later, as riot police fired tear gas at another small attempt at a demonstration and fires burned around Maspiro, I found on the floor part of one of the white “martyrs upon demand” bibs the men had been wearing, and took it home. It had been ripped in half.


The Coptic Hospital tried its best to deal with the sudden influx of casualties. Its floors were sticky with blood and there was barely room to move among the wounded, the worried and the inconsolable.

A man asked if we were press, and whether we’d like to film the morgue if we “were strong enough.”

The morgue was a harshly lit two-room building surrounded by men and women screaming and hitting themselves in paroxysms of grief. In the first room there were two bodies, middle-aged men on the floor next to the fridge, which we were told held three bodies. In the other room there were the bodies of 12 men of varying ages.

A young woman sat by one of them clasping his hand and wailing. Vivian and Michael, who were engaged to be married. Michael had been crushed, his leg destroyed. Next to Michael was the body of a man whose face was contorted into an impossible expression. A priest opened his hands and showed me the remains of the man’s skull and parts of his brain. He too had been crushed.

Outside a woman said out loud to the dead, “How lucky you are, now in heaven!” A man screamed, “We won’t be silent again.”


Even while the wounded were still being brought in, state TV was reporting that Christian protesters stole weapons from the army and killed soldiers, and that the busy foreign hands are back again, still trying to destabilize Egypt.

There should be a finality in death, an unchallengeable truth when it happens with the simple brutality of last night. But even when death happens on Maspiro’s doorstep, it can be rewritten, in order to lend a twisted sense where there is none, to justify the impossible and, above all, to sabotage any attempt to consider that the problem is within us, not without.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Coptic protests in Cairo turn to violence

In what is being seen by many locals as the latest ploy to pit Egyptians against one another, a Coptic protest in Cairo today has erupted into violence.

Thus far the details are hazy. State TV is reporting one thing while international outlets report another. One thing is clear: The situation on the ground is not stable, and there are continued outbursts of gunfire that have left an estimated 17 people dead according to ministerial statements.

Sadly, also evident is how media outlets are highlighting this as a "Coptic" protest, when sources on the ground report that there are Muslims and Christians holding hands and chanting "we are all Egypt," reminiscent of the revolution. Everything at this point remains unclear.

To follow the events as they unfold in Cairo, click the links below.

Al Masri Al Yawm live updates

Egypt troops dead after Coptic church protest in Cairo - BBC News

Deadly Cairo clashes over Coptic Protest - Al Jazeera 

Fantasia Exchange is not so fantastic

Sometimes I just really do not understand people. The general blanket belief that we were all born stupid. Yet time and time again I am seeing examples of people who obviously believe just that. 

Corruption is again thriving in Egypt. I don't know if it ever actually disappeared, but at least it appeared to do so for a short period of time there. 

The sad thing about corruption in this country is that it is not a phenomenon reserved to the upper echelons of society. No, it goes all the way down to the bottom feeders. Enter Fantasia Exchange, located on Sheraton Street.

I am regularly exchanging currency so I keep up to date with the conversion rates. Currently, the dollar sits around 5.94 EGP to 1 U.S. dollar, give or take a few piasters. It has sat around this rate for a few months now.

With the ongoing banking crisis in the world it is of course normal for currency exchange rates to fluctuate. These fluctuations are rarely as dramatic as falling an entire Egyptian pound however, unless the economy of the 'host' country if you will has completely collapsed. It rarely happens over-night. 

But Fantasia Exchange would have you believe it does. Or, they just assume that you're ignorant and don't bother to check exchange rates before attempting the conversion.

Now, I have previously blogged about the Nile Exchange located on Sheraton Street and their blatant thievery. Let's take the exchange rate of today as an example. 

The rate today as posted online is: 1 U.S. $ equals 5.962 Egyptian Pounds

Therefore you would expect exchange places to hover around this figure. They make take a slight commission, but nothing really noticeable. 

Until you go to Nile Exchange. 

There, you would see the following exchange rate: 

1 U.S. $ equals 5.092 Egyptian pounds

Sneaky beggers

This means essentially that for every 100 U.S. $ you convert, you're losing close to 20 $ (or 100 EGP). That is not a small sum of money. 

Fantasia Exchange have decided that they too want in on this game. Meaning, were you to go to Fantasia Exchange you would notice the same 0 placed after the decimal point.

Is it coincidence these two are basically across the street from one another? Did someone in Nile Exchange march across the road and tell the tellers they could line their pockets with HUNDREDS of EGP every day by adding in this figure?

The sad thing is that I used to use Fantasia to exchange money. No longer my friends. Is it too much to expect honesty these days? 

So, consider yourself warned. If you choose to frequent either of these exchange places, expect to get ripped off. 

Click here for a great currency conversion site online. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

New Mobile Numbers Start Today

Last week I posted a blog notifying people of the upcoming changes to Egyptian mobile numbers. These changes have gone into effect today. As per usual, nothing is made easy here. Trying to find specific examples online is like trying to pull teeth!

Fortunately K found a detailed listing of the numbers, which you can see below. I daren't post the text, because the English is so poorly written it will only further confuse people. If you want to read the explanations further click here.

Current NumberThe Number After Modification

Current NumberThe Number After Modification

Current NumberThe Number After Modification
0155 XXX XXXX (Data Accounts)0115 XXX XXXX (Data Accounts)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Where to Go - Dolphin House

**Let me first make something very clear, I am not referring to the Dolphinarium in Makadi Bay, nor would I ever recommend going to such a location. **

It was my birthday a few weeks ago, and this year we decided to do something different from the "go out party and get wasted" theme. Instead, K and I decided to do something that has been on my bucket list for years. To swim with dolphins.

I have blogged in here before about how excited I get when I see dolphins from a distance, so you can only imagine how unbelievably excited I was at the prospect of swimming with dolphins. 

The trip that we took goes past what is known as the "Dolphin House" about 2 miles off the Gouna coast. It is called this not because the dolphins actually live there, but because of the frequency with which the dolphins are constantly spotted.

Heading out to our first snorkel spot

One thing that made this trip stand out from any other boat trip, is that our boat actually asked people to be quiet when we saw our first pack of dolphins. Instead of the deafening blowing of the horn, high-pitched whistling and shouting in an attempt to attract the dolphin, our boat cruised along silently. It made all the difference; the dolphins were so curious to come up and see who was around, and were enjoying showing off. We saw tail slaps on the surface, dolphins swimming past the boat sideways to check everyone out, and a total of at least 15 dolphins in the first pod to pass our boat.

Corals and clams! 

The trip includes two snorkelling stops and lunch on the boat. Our first snorkel spot was beautiful, although I have to admit that the corals we snorkelled around did not have as much of a variety of marine life as the corals closer to Giftun island do. So if seeing loads of marine life underwater is your objective, look for snorkel trips around Giftun. If dolphins are your primary goal, this trip is ideal. 

After the first snorkel, we got back on the boat to have lunch. The lunch includes meat, fish, fresh salads and veggies, and a variety of potato and rice dishes. Overall the food was good, but not the best food I've had on boats. I would rate the meal at around a 6 out of 10, we had to add salt, and the Kofta tasted like the frozen store variety. 

Following lunch we moved our boats about a half a mile, and anchored to the second snorkel spot. This spot was next to a massive coral, and proved more exciting than the first spot. Our boat had attracted the attention of about four dolphins who swam around our boat on a 50 metre perimeter. At one point they swam directly under the boat, but it seemed that once people got into the water they disappeared. 

The current this day was very very strong, so after debating whether or not I'd actually get in the water for the second snorkel session, I was ready to get out after about ten minutes. While swimming back to the boat a dolphin surfaced about 10 meters to my left. I swam like I've never swum before...and it made everything worth it. The minimal sightings on the coral, the 'just average' food, everything was made acceptable by what transpired next. 

By this point there were only a handful of swimmers in the water, which may have helped in letting the dolphins feel confident enough to get up close and personal. I literally had a dolphin swim directly underneath me, and had I wanted to I could have reached out and touch them. I did not though; it was enough of a privilege simply to be around these incredible animals that I did not feel the need to have to "pet" them.

The curious four

I wish I could describe how it felt to be in the presence of these majestic creatures. To know that they willingly came close enough to check us out. It was a quiet intelligence and a sense of really being "seen" by the dolphins. I cannot imagine that swimming with captive dolphins would even come close. 

Our captain told us that we were very very lucky to actually have been able to swim so closely with the dolphins. Often the trip will include dolphin sightings, but rarely will it actually involve people swimming with the dolphins. It made it so much more special, and this will definitely go down in the books as a birthday to remember. 

No words

The cost of the trip as advertised is 30 Euro per person, however resident rates may apply. For more information you may see here, or contact me for a direct phone number. 

And here is a clip taken during our day out :) I am sorry it is so short, but I was too excited to stay still long enough underwater for a decent video!