Saturday, December 31, 2011

Egypt to reassure diplomatic ties following raids on NGO offices

This past week saw yet another question mark raised in how exactly Egypt wishes to continue with their diplomatic relations with Western nations. The raid by security of 17 NGOs, under the auspices of alleged concern over foreign funding received, has been met with alarm and diplomatic outrage by not only the US, but the UK and Germany as well. Below the BBC provides a report on the increasingly strained ties between Egypt and the West, and how Egypt is in turn attempting to assuage their fears.

Egypt has reassured the US that it will stop raids on the offices of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the US state department says.
Officials said property seized in the raids would be returned to the groups, which include two based in the US.
Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has spoken to Egypt's military ruler by phone to discuss the issue, they added.
Egypt raided the offices of 17 NGOs in Cairo on Thursday, after expressing concern over foreign funding.
The country's ruling military council has said repeatedly it will not tolerate foreign interference in the country's affairs.
But the US reacted sharply to the move, condemning it as an attack on democratic values and hinting that it could review the $1.3bn (£0.84bn) in annual US military aid to Cairo if such incidents continued.
'Normal operations'
On Friday, Mr Panetta and the US ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, spoke to top Egyptian officials including military ruler Field Marshall Mohamed Tantawi, the US state department said.
"The ambassador has sought and received Egyptian leadership assurances that the raids will cease and property will be returned immediately," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in emailed comments.
"She has also made clear that we expect all international NGOs, including those that receive US government support, be able to return to normal operations as soon as possible in support of the democratic transition underway in Egypt."
David Kramer, the director of the US human rights watchdog Freedom House, told the BBC that while the reassurance was welcome, it was not enough to undo the damage.
Mr Kramer, whose office was among those raided, said some of his seized property had still not been returned.
Thursday's raids were part of a probe by Egypt into allegations of illegal funding from abroad.
Evidence suggested some groups were violating Egyptian laws, including by not having permits, prosecutors were quoted as saying on Thursday.
But analysts said they were part of a broader move by the ruling military council to silence dissent after months of criticism of its human rights record.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) has been running Egypt since a popular uprising ousted former President Hosni Mubarak in February.
But in recent months the military government has found itself the focus of protests, as activists questioned its commitment to democratic reform.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Back from a Hiatus

I'm back online after a week long Hiatus, during which I travelled to the Sinai peninsula. I'll be updating my blog with the details of these travels, including hot spots in Dahab for eating, snorkelling, and more :)

In the meantime, I hope that everyone has had a wonderful Christmas, and that 2012 will bring love and light to everyone reading! Happy New Year! 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The US war in Iraq is officially over!!!

Today marks the day that the last U.S. convoy leaves Iraq, leaving a country that is learning to stand on its own two democratic feet. It has been a long nine years, and has cost Iraq and the U.S. dearly. I hope that Iraq becomes a beacon for the rest of the Arab world on what real political cohesiveness and positive outlooks for the future can bring about for a country, even one devastated by war. Below, a report from Aswat al-Iraq on the last U.S. convoy to leave Iraq and signal the end of a nine year conflict.

BAGHDAD / Aswat al-Iraq: The last US Army convoy has crossed Iraq's borders into Kuwait on Sunday at dawn, officially ending the withdrawal of the American Forces from Iraq.

The final withdrawal comes after 9 years of war and military interference, resulting in the deaths of 4,500 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis, Reuters News Agency reported.

"The last US convoy, including 100 American armored vehicles, carrying 500 soldiers, have crossed Iraq's southern desert during Saturday night, on the main highway leading to the Kuwaiti borders," Reuters added.

US Staff Sergeant Christian Schutlz said, prior to leaving Contingency Operating Base Adder, 300 km to the south of Baghdad, and heading for border, “It’s good to see this thing coming to a close. I was here when it started."

"I saw a lot of good changes, a lot of progress, and a lot of bad things too," he added.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Where to Go - Glow

Christmas in Egypt is unique, to say the least. Whereas in Europe and the U.S. you are bombarded by lights, music, carolers, trees, santas, elves, etc. pretty much wherever you go, here you're lucky to find a small Christmas display in certain shops. These displays inevitably involve the same tinsel, the same Christmas ornaments, and the same big bottles of "champagne" stuffed with chocolates. Ah, I can't forget, the 'fizzy non-alcoholic wine' of course.

As a result, as friends start posting pictures of their trees on facebook and elsewhere, a strange pattern emerges. "Hey...I have those EXACT same decorations on my tree!" Coincidence? Not really, as there's likely only one manufacturer of ornaments in Egypt / importing into Egypt.

This means that Christmas shopping for people at this time of year, or looking for that unique ornament to set your tree aside becomes very difficult. While Senzo mall has a decent array of Christmas supplies, they are limited in what you can give as seasonal gifts for this time of year.

Even more difficult than the hunt for gifts? The search for Christmas wrapping paper. I cannot tell you how many places I went to before I was able to find wrapping paper that wouldn't run out after wrapping one present!

Glow is located right behind the Sheraton street Metro, and is a great place to go to get niff-nacks throughout the year. I know that Glow has ribbons for sale, and throughout the year standard wrapping paper, so I thought I would give it a try.

I was pleasantly surprised. Glow is jam packed with Christmas goodies. Ranging from light up snowmen you won't find elsewhere in Hurghada, to stockings, to Christmas decorations, to multitudes of wrapping paper, to perfect stocking stuffers and fillers for crackers, I'm sure my eyes popped out of my head a little upon walking in.

Wrapping paper is sold by the sheet, and although a little bit on the expensive side at 7 LE for one, I purchased 5 sheets and had plenty left over to spare. Alongside wrapping paper, they have perfect stars to stick to pressies, little "to and from" tags, Christmas gag gifts, ornamental displays, table covers, Christmas candles, gifts ideal for youngsters, and so on. Really I cannot detail everything on here, so instead I recommend that you head out there yourself and get your Christmas shopping spirit lifted!

Glow's opens at 11 a.m, in the morning, shuts for an afternoon break and then re-opens at 5 p.m. Pass by and check out their Christmas array for yourself, they are located just behind the Metro on Sheraton Street, Hadaba.

Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ginger snaps

It's that time of year again when baking becomes a natural past-time. This year I'm embarking on making a new selection of goodies, including minced pies, of which I will post the recipe later. 

A few years ago I posted a recipe for Sparkling Ginger Cookies, and although this is similar, these Ginger Snaps are in a league of their own. I have had multiple people who have tasted these request the recipe, so your wish is my command! Below find the recipe for a delectable Christmas treat, sure to go over well with any crowd. As per usual, I found an original recipe (in this case in the Joy of Cooking) and altered it to fit my needs - and through trial and error. In my opinion their recipe had too much ginger; it made the cookies far too spicy, so I reduced quantities as necessary. 

Here's what you'll need. 

1 3/4 cups fine baking flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves 
6 tablespoons softened butter (unsalted)
3/4 cup white sugar (or you can do half white half brown)
1 large egg
1/4 cup dark molasses
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice


Preheat your oven to 350 Fahrenheit (176 Celsius). Although Joy calls to grease a cookie sheet, I have found that the butter already in the recipe makes it so the cookies don't stick as it is. So it's your call to grease or not :)

Mix together your dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and cloves) and add a pinch of salt. -- I bought fresh cloves and crushed them myself, I love the smell of fresh cloves! 

Beat together your butter and sugar until fluffy. 

Add to your butter mix your egg, molasses, lemon zest and lemon juice. Mix until well combined. 

Gradually stir in the flour mixture until well mixed. 

Roll out little balls (about the size of a bouncy ball) and place on your baking sheet. 

Bake for about 10-12 minutes each. If you want softer cookies, bake for 8 minutes. 

Alternatively, once you've rolled the dough into balls, you can also then coat with a sugar / cinnamon mix for a little extra sweetness on top. 

Bon appetit!!!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hurghada's TNR

Anyone who has ever been to Egypt will often remark on one thing: the amount of stray cats and dogs that roam throughout the streets. Hurghada is no different, and various areas throughout the city are home to dog packs and ferral cats.

To combat this problem, the government (or even individual citizens) will throw poisoned meat down. This creates huge issues, as far too many people have lost their own dogs or cats to poison. Not only this, but it poses a grave danger to children were they to come in contact with it.

Residents of Hurghada want to ensure the realisation that poison is not the way to deal with the issue is brought about by the death of a child. Instead, the community has come together to provide a sustainable solution to the issue.

The Blue Moon animal shelter, run by a dedicated woman Monica, has launched a mass TNR programme, whereby residents in Hurghada will bring by ferral cats and stray dogs on designated days. The animal will be neutered, given worming meds and rabies jabs, tagged to ensure it's clear it's been taken in, and re-released to the streets.

This entire process is not as easy as it sounds, and has taken a huge level of collaboration between residents and the Blue Moon shelter. For the next few weeks, every Tuesday groups will be collecting dogs and cats throughout Hurghada, bringing them to the Blue Moon, and re-releasing them at the end of the day.

I've already had our building's ferral cat, nicknamed Bravie, spayed. She's already had 2-3 litters of kittens, and alone has contributed to the growing cat population around my street. She was easy as she's very used to human contact, and since her surgery has adopted my front door as  her new home, meowing in the morning when she's ready for her breakfast.

If you have any questions or you want to find out how you can get involved, feel free to use the tab above and contact me, and I'll let you know what area they will be targeting next.

Initiatives like this fuel hope that one day the problem of strays in Egypt will actually be brought under control, as long as we all work together!

Orien and Bravie chilling on a very dusty balcony!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Watch out for those cucumbers ladies!

Every once in a while you'll find a gem of a quote that is just so far fetched, it has to be true. Today is one of those days. Ladies, I'm sure you will enjoy this one as much as I did.

Love me some Cucumber!
Image from Bikya Masr
An unnamed sheikh, ironically enough residing in Europe, has recently warned that women should stay away from fruits such as bananas and cucumbers, in order to avoid any "sexual thoughts." Featured in an article on el-Senousa news, the sheikh has said that these fruits "resemble the male penis," and accordingly could cause arousal in the women or "make them think of sex."

I don't know about you, but I definitely love some sexy fruit!

Added to the list of 'forbidden sexy foods' were carrots and zucchini. When asked by the interviewer what women should do who wish to eat these foods, he advised that a male, preferably husband, father or brother, should cut up the fruit / veg into smaller pieces - out of eye shot of the women lest we start having any inappropriate thoughts.

The interview also questioned the sheikh what should be done for women when out grocery shopping who wish to purchase these items, to which he responded "this is a matter between her and God."

I'm so glad that we have these outrageous statements around to keep us on the right path. At least this will make your next shopping experience that much more entertaining!

And to the 'unnamed sheikh,' I must ask, pray tell - what would you tell women about the fruit from the magnolia tree, pictured below? :-o

For further reading, click here. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hurghada protests suggested boat tax

Boating and snorkelling trips are one of the hot commodities as far as tourism excursions go in the Red Sea. Hurghada is no exception. It's unlikely that you can run into anybody who has come to spend time on the sea-side resort town who will not be taking a boat trip. Diving, trips to surrounding islands, boat parties, snorkelling outings, dolphin sighting trips, the list goes on. There is no shortage in boat trips to choose from. This made recent suggestions to impose a 10 LE per person per boat tax a seemingly great way to earn some extra revenue.  

It came as a surprise to tour operators and boat owners when last week the Governor of Hurghada, newly appointed after the Revolution, announced plans to impose a 10 LE charge (just under 2 dollars) per person, per boat trip, for all companies. This included live aboards, dive trips, down to the average boat ferrying people back and forth to Giftun island. This 10 LE surcharge was in addition to the taxes and fees already paid by each company to the government, taxes that include environmental protection taxes, security taxes, marine taxes, the list goes on.

A protest was organized for today, Sunday, among tour groups, boat owners, and excursion companies. Approximately 200 protesters all gathered in front of Hurghada's Naval building, located near the Nile Hospital. Their demands were simple. At a time when tourism in Egypt is already suffering as a result of continued unrest, companies do not need additional unnecessary surcharges per client, particularly when the destination of this surcharge was not clarified.

The protesters were gathered on a well-travelled road in Hurghada, and consequently took great care to ensure they were not disrupting the normal flow of traffic. The protest was peaceful and orderly, with one 'spokesman' leading the chants with the protesters demands.

Ultimately, the end result proved successful. The governor initially promised to "look over" the proposal and see if it could be amended, but following pressure from the protesters - who promised a sit-in did the governor not comply - the governor recanted his initial statements, ensuring protesters that the tax would not be imposed.

Below are some shots from the protest, all photos copyright Karim Mubariz.

The leader of the protest, shouting out their demands 

Down on the street, protesters urged people upwards
to ensure normal flow of traffic.

Close up of the "spokesman"