Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My Love Hate Relationship with Egypt Air

Oh the joys of Egypt Air; where do I even begin? I remember before Egypt Air joined the Star Alliance in 2008, deciding to fly with them meant you were taking a gamble on a few things that were almost guaranteed. One: Your flight would be delayed. Two: Your bags would go missing. Three: The food would be almost inedible, and Four: The staff were never happy to see you.

These days, at least a few of those items are not entirely true. The food is edible (all be it rather tasteless unless that is you're looking for the taste of cinnamon and / or nutmeg). I haven't lost a bag flying with them now *touch wood* for a good few years. Surprisingly, the last few times I've flown Egypt Air we've not only left bang on time, but have arrived at our destination early. But unfortunately it seems that some things won't change, as the staff still never look happy to see you. The grumbling expression of "oh God do I have to give this security presentation again," coupled with the "Find your own blanket and pillow" mentality leaves you as the customer to fend for yourself. 

My most recent experience with Egypt Air has re-affirmed a few things for me. Primarily, that I have an absolute love-hate relationship with the airline. If you are flying out of Egypt and searching for the cheapest flights (in my case to London Heathrow) there are many websites that give you hints and tips on when you should purchase your tickets, what days and times are optimal. I abided by all these rules, and initially on the dates I was searching for my cheapest option was an 18 hour trip through Dubai on Emirates Air - hold the phones...when did Emirates Air become the cheapest airline to fly? Has their website been bugged?

After a few hours of searching and altering arrival dates and times, I managed to find that the cheap flights on Egypt Air either left on Tuesdays or Saturdays. These tickets clocked in at close to 600$. Try to fly any other day, and you're looking at $1,000 plus. Don't ask me why. The only thing I can comment on this is that flying out of Egypt at the moment, regardless of which airline, has gotten astronomically expensive. In the "peak" summer months of July - mid-October flights to Heathrow were an astounding $1,200 plus. I thought at first this was the result of the Olympics, but after checking flights out of other airports around the world was able to conclude that no, it's just flying out of Egypt. I find this exceptionally ironic, as flights into Egypt at the moment are ridiculously cheap. So in an attempt to boost the tourism economy flights into Egypt are offering amazing fares, but if you're looking to leave the country expect to pay almost twice the price. x-(

Old school de-planing
to the runway bus
So after deciding to fly with Egypt Air on one of their cheaper dates, I elected the "insurance" policy just in case they decided to lose my bags (which fortunately, they didn't). Here comes the first reason that I love Egypt Air, and will often pay an extra $100 to fly with them. While the rest of the world's airlines are cracking down on the luggage you can bring, Egypt Air welcomes you on their international flights with open arms and a two baggage allowance per person, a whopping 24 kg per bag for a total of just under 60 kg. That's double the British Airways allowance. Don't mind if I do. I cannot contend with Egypt Air's baggage allowance. 

Rather than buy return flights through Hurghada which tripled the cost of my ticket, I purchased domestic flights from Hurghada to Cairo, then my return flights internationally as starting in Cairo. Reason #1 why I hate Egypt Air: feeling the need to charge me 800 $ for the convenience of flying through Hurghada, when if I march into your Egypt Air office, I can get the same tickets for under $150 RETURN! What gives, Egypt Air, what gives. 

When I show up on the day to catch my flight from Hurghada to Cairo (having booked each ticket separately), the steward checks my ticket, sees me with two bags to check-in, and says "sorry ma'am the baggage allowance on this flight is one bag," returning my ticket to me and pointing at a little note on the bottom. Without batting an eyelid, I pull out my International Departure ticket (scheduled for the next day) and say "No problem, I'm connecting tomorrow in Cairo with Egypt Air and flying internationally." The steward takes my ticket and studies both. Now bear in mind, were I flying British Airways domestic in the UK and tried this, they would tell me there's nothing we could do. Had I wanted the 2 bag allowance, I shouldn't have purchased separate tickets. Reason #2 I love Egypt Air: I had no problem getting both bags on. 

I'm not the only one that knows to take full advantage of Egypt Air's baggage allowance. On my flight to the UK, there was a gentleman also flying with his two daughters. With a carry-on allowance of 2 bags per individual passenger, they should for all accounts and purposes be allowed 6 carry on's. Reason #3 I love Egypt Air: This guy had 10 (count them, 10) carry-ons of all shapes and sizes, and experienced zero problems. - Are you sensing a pattern here? 

It was probably just my luck that I got the grumpiest security employee the day this happened, and to be fair this isn't really a gripe about Egypt Air, so much as it is about Cairo Airport. But seeing as how that's their hub, sorry I'm lumping you together. Reason #2 why I hate Egypt Air: I set the alarm off at security, and felt mauled by the security girl. I mean mauled. I get it, you have to check if I'm carrying any concealed weapons, but was it really necessary to lift and separate more than my bra was already doing, and give a good grab just to make sure that I'm clear? I mean really...

Reasons # 3 and 4 why I hate Egypt Air somewhat go hand-in-hand as it's the overall experience of being on board. Generally speaking the staff are not friendly and often downright rude. My flight to London this time, the male stewards felt it was pertinent to come up and individually on multiple occasions try to engage in mundane conversation. But ask me if I needed anything? No ma'am. I had to walk to the back of the flight myself (despite pressing the call button - I seriously think they see that and then just turn it off) to get some water to drink. Combine that with the average food and the minimal leg room, that's my gripe as far as the overall comfort of the plane is concerned. 

And to end on a positive note, Reason #4 why I love Egypt Air: Since they have joined the Star Alliance and are expected to maintain a certain level of customer-experience, they have a great selection of media to choose from throughout the flight for a wide range of audiences. I have yet to get onto a flight on Egypt Air and not find anything that I would be interested in watching. From documentaries, to films, to TV shows and a variety of games, I have to give them the two thumbs up on at least making sure that their customers stay entertained on board. ;) 

And just because I love this poster hanging
in Cairo International Airport

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Constitutional Delays Continue

The turmoil over the drafting of Egypt's new constitution doesn't seem likely to be resolved any time soon. On Tuesday, the Supreme Administrative Court referred a lawsuit against the Constituent Assembly which has in turn given the assembly members more time to work on the draft constitution. This article from Al-Ahram provides further details.

Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court (SAC) decision on Tuesday to refer a lawsuit against Egypt's Islamist-led Constituent Assembly – tasked with drafting a new constitution – to the High Constitutional Court (HCC) has heated up the ongoing debate on the fate of the constitution-drafting body. However, the ruling has also theoritically given assembly members more time to work out their differences over the contents of constitutional articles before the draft charter is put before popular referendum.

Brotherhood lawyer Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maqsoud, for his part, expressed satisfaction with the SAC's recent decision to refer the case to the HCC, asserting that the move would give the Constituent Assembly "enough time to finish its work."

Ahmed Said, head of the liberal Free Egyptians party, on the other side, accused the Muslim Brotherhood of using the situation "to confuse the political scene in order to earn more time until it can pass a constitution that doesn't represent the Egyptian people."

He went on to warn against any Brotherhood "attempts to pressure the judiciary for the sake of wasting time and exhausting those political forces that oppose the Constituent Assembly. The assembly's dissolution is only a matter of time."

Legal Challenges

The High Constitutional Court will rule on the constitutionality of Article 1 of Law 79 of 2012, which lays down the criteria by which assembly members are chosen and allows sitting MPs to select those members.

Several lawsuits have been filed challenging the Constituent Assembly's constitutional legitimacy and the mechanisms used for selecting its membership.

In mid-June, the HCC declared the People's Assembly (the lower house of Egypt's parliament) null and void after declaring a parliamentary elections law – which regulated last year's legislative polls – unconstitutional.

Because the People's Assembly appointed the 100 members of the constitution-drafting body, the latter's legitimacy has since been thrown into question.

But according to Essam Sultan, former MP and Constituent Assembly member, even if the HCC rules against Law 79, which he expects, this "would not affect" the assembly's constitutional legitimacy.

"The Constituent Assembly was chosen by the people," Sultan declared on his Facebook page on Tuesday, going on to assert that the courts lacked the authority to "override the popular will."
Sultan explained that, according to Egypt's March 2011 military-issued Constitutional Declaration, the people had elected members of parliament's upper and lower houses, and those MPs in turn chose the Constituent Assembly's current members.

Liberal-Islamist divide continues

The HCC will begin examining the case after 45 days. Within this period, Constituent Assembly members say the assembly's draft constitution may be finalised and put before a popular referendum for public approval.

If things go ahead as planned, then assembly members will vote on the draft charter by mid-November, assembly head Hossam El-Gheriany declared last week. A constitutional referendum is then slated to take place one month later, in accordance with last year's Constitutional Declaration.
It is possible that by the time the HCC issues its ruling in the case, the public will have already voted on the draft constitution. In such an event, some legal experts argue, the people's will would represent a higher authority than a constitutional court verdict.

Constituent Assembly spokesman Wahid Abdel-Meguid told Al-Ahram's Arabic-language website on Tuesday that the assembly was passing through a "critical phase," not because of pending legal uncertainties but rather due to ongoing disputes between its members.

Recently, the rift appears to have widened between liberal/leftist and Brotherhood/Salafist forces within the assembly over proposed constitutional articles dealing with issues related to Islamic Law.

Some Salafist assembly members are demanding that Article 2 of the constitution be amended to state that "Islamic Law" – rather than the current "principles of Islamic Law" – represents "the main source" of legislation. More secular-minded assembly members, meanwhile, insist that the 1971 Constitution’s version of Article 2 remain unchanged.

"All Salafist assembly members [who number around 20] agree that draft constitutional articles concerning Islamic Law are not up for negotiation, since this would go against the interests of a country with a majority-Muslim population," Salafist Nour Party member Noureddin Ali told Ahram Online. "And this is a red line for us."

Members of both camps – liberal and Salafist – have threatened to walk out of the assembly if their views are not incorporated into the new national charter.

This week, several Constituent Assembly members launched a scathing attack on the assembly's constitution-formulation committee, led by Mohamed Mahsoub, minister of state for parliamentary affairs. They claimed that changes were being made to suggestions posited by sub-committees during the formulation phase.

A Monday joint statement by former Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa and political activist Ayman Nour asserted that the constitution-formulation committee had "tried to impose its hegemony" over the rest of the assembly.

"This hegemony is rejected by civil forces who believe that certain committee members want the president of the republic to retain the draconian powers conferred upon him in Egypt's 1971 constitution," the joint statement added.

Like the liberal camp, Salafist members also rejected the presidential powers spelt out in the draft constitution, Nour Party spokesman Nader Bakkar told Ahram Online.

"This draft gives the president exceptional powers," said Bakkar, adding that the charter gave Egypt's executive branch "the upper hand" vis-a-vis parliament.

Aside from this point of agreement on presidential powers, liberals and Islamists continue to disagree on many issues.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Where to Go: Red Sea Bookstores

Being an avid reader I'm always more than happy to find a decent bookstore around. When K and I first moved to Hurghada there was literally zero choice in terms of good places to buy English books, so we often resorted to book swapping and trading.

As the ex-pat population here continues to grow, so do the businesses catering to expats. One such niche suits me to a tee. There are now a few decent bookstores in Hurghada (I'll do a follow up where to go later) but today's focus is on the Red Sea Bookstores.

The Red Sea Bookstores now has two locations in Hurghada and offer a wide variety of books for all reading levels. One location opposite the Les Rois Hotel in Hadaba, and the second location in front of Sindbad in the same building as the Arab African Bank. The photos below are from the location near Sindbad, and it is this specific location that I would recommend.

Even better is that the bookstore offers literature in Arabic, English, and German, as well as offering phrasebooks in a host of other languages. The only gripe I have is that the cost of the books can be a bit high, but when you're limited in selection of English literature as it is in Egypt, I think like me you'll be willing to stomach that higher cost.

For more information on the Red Sea Bookstores, check out their website here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

An Underwater View of the Red Sea

The underwater world in Hurghada and the Red Sea is a huge reason the region attracts so many tourists. Divers find a rich marine life that is unique to this part of the world. Snorkellers can get just as much fun out of it, with many reefs being quite shallow and offering good visibility.

We did one such boat trip this week and I was able to catch some fantastic shots on the reefs near Giftun Island. Included among this was an unusual meeting of two moray eels. As they are traditionally known to be solitary and territorial, I believe this may be a ritual of courtship.  It was absolutely incredible to see, as I was snorkelling above the reef when I saw the first moray, who stunned me by swimming out of his hole and directly underneath me to join the other moray (which I had not seen by this time). 

In addition to the eels, there was an abundance of tropical fish. It was truly wonderful to see, so here are some shots that you can enjoy and I hope bring you a little bit closer to the beauty of the Red Sea corals. If you want to find out more about such boat trips, feel free to contact me using the button above. 

Up close and personal with the Moray Eel

Moray Eel swimming out

Monday, October 8, 2012

Egypt's Growing Trash Mountain

A brilliant article from Al-Ahram that offers a slightly cynical perspective on the growing problems with garbage in Egypt. It seems that for every step forward made here to clean the streets, two steps back follow. I've heard that the road into the Giza Dump is blocked by tanks, however the military personnel are doing absolutely nothing to stop people from dumping in the streets directly in front of them. Just shameful. Written by Ahmed Feteha and posted today in Ahram Online, read on.

Egypt's garbage: an indisposable problem for Morsi?
Photo from AP

The red plastic bag of vegetable peelings plummets from the balcony and splits open as it hits the pavement. Dark juice oozes out, mixing with the battered cans, yellowed newspapers and chicken bones heaped on the nearby street corner. Egypt's garbage mountain has gained another kilo.
Cairo has long been a city where rich and poor live cheek by jowl, where extreme wealth sits within sight of wrenching poverty. Garbage, however, is one of the few equalisers. 
Loose, fetid piles of refuse are a sight nearly all Cairenes confront when they step outside their homes; a seemingly permanent feature on the chaotic streets of Egypt's capital, the largest metropolitan area in Africa.
The average Egyptian family throws out four kilos of waste a day, according to recent figures – and this refuse is going nowhere fast.
Egypt's trash mountains have come to the president's attention too. Clearing the country's gutters and corners has been one of five key pledges in Mohamed Morsi's first 100 days in office, which end on Monday.
"Solving the garbage problem doesn't require a lot of money," said Morsi during a July speech just days after his inauguration.
Two weeks after he took office, a campaign dubbed Clean Homeland was launched in several Egyptian cities, calling on citizens and Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated youth to come together and devise solutions. 
But Morsi and his group will have found that even an inexpensive problem isn't always quickly solved.
As Ahram Online's recent look behind the scenes revealed, a bewildering range of factors – from Mubarak-era privatisations to petty theft of facilities – hamper any quick-fire attempt to clean Egypt's thoroughfares.
Wading into a decades-old problem, Morsi will have struggled to introduce a single, united vision for a social service that appear to have evolved piecemeal to meet local needs.
Cleaning up Egypt's streets means, in effect, cleaning up the entire system.
A private affair
Some of the roots of the current morass can be traced to 2002 when the Mubarak regime began to sub-contract social services to the private sector.
Privately-owned garbage firms were employed to handle collection and disposal in some areas of the country – the ostensible aim was greater efficiency. In practice, it sparked further disagreements.
Private garbage collection companies complain of weak financing and lack of support from the state. Local government, meanwhile, says the contractors are not doing their duties and threatens legal action. 
As the bickering goes on, the refuse piles up – and President Morsi's administration seems to have little idea of a clear, unified plan to tackle it.
In Egypt's second city of Alexandria, for instance, local officials lament what they claim is the poor recent performance of El-Nahda Garbage Company, a private contractor.
Karem Abdel Hamid, a former Member of Parliament and a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, told Ahram Online that it had increased pressure on the firm to meet its targets, and got little response.
"We realised that pressuring the company would not be fruitful because their capacity is weak," Abdel Hamid said. "Now we are trying to secure a partnership with some businessmen to partially takeover garbage collection in the city." 
In a further sign of desperation, he said that more than a dozen local charity organisations are also being approached to help collect garbage..
In Cairo, the story was different but the end result just as disappointing.
When the Clean Homeland campaign was announced, groups dealing with garbage management across Cairo held meetings and suggested new approaches.
Representatives from private collection firms and local government – as well as some informal garbage collectors – joined forces. It was to no avail.
"The desire to improve the system was there, and everyone had great ideas. But rhetoric is not enough," said Mazen El-Kotait, owner of Europa 2000, a collection company handling the districts of Helwan, Maadi, Tora and New Cairo.
El-Kotait said that he, along with other company executives, was asked to increase the company's collection rate but were never reimbursed for the extra work.
"Our company worked double shifts for a week beyond the contract. We were promised that the contracts with the government would be changed [and increased in value] but they weren't," he complains.
"We need to collect garbage at least twice a day to keep the streets clean," he said, drawing a contrast with New Cairo.
"The streets there are much cleaner because the local government is paying enough to get the job done."
El-Kotait's answer hints at another obstacle to a swift, countrywide clean-up: the vast disparities in population between one part of Cairo and another.
Commentators say garbage collection in the new satellite cities on the fringe of the capital is much more efficient than central districts, possibly because these settlements are better planned and less populated.
Also connected to the financial aspects of the problem is the issue of missing garbage skips.
When privatization was introduced to the sector in 2002, companies tried to install large garbage containers on every street. But the changes failed to gain much support.
Partly it was because Egyptians seemed slow to welcome a new process after generations of seeing garbage-men collect garbage from their doorsteps – but a series of thefts have played a part too, with opportunists taking advantage of a lightened police presence on the streets to help themselves to the facilities.
Contractors bear the responsibility for  lost containers, but the rate at which they have been stolen or vandalized makes replacing them quickly very difficult.
Land of confusion
As a further complication, even in the corridors of power, there seems to be some confusion over who is in charge of garbage issues.
Local government in Egyptian cities hires firms to collect garbage and perform other tasks, which fall under the rubric of the so-called "beautification" authorities (Al-Hay'at Al-Amma Lelnazafa wal Tagmeel). Officially, local officials do the hiring and expect to see clean streets with minimal hassle.
"Garbage is not our responsibility," Ahmed Abul Nasr, the head of local administration in the Cairo district of Heliopolis, told Ahram Online during a recent visit to his office.
Moments earlier the walkie-talkie on Abul Nasr's desk had barked into life.
"Ok, Pasha - we've collected the trash from Cablat Street," came the muffled voice from the speaker. 
Abul Nasr, a retired army officer, became defensive when asked about the contradiction. Then he rounded on the garbage collection companies.
It was clear from speaking to the other side, that there is little love lost between government and contractors.
"The government treats the private sector as their enemies,” Mazen El-Kotait said.
He complained of the government's reluctance to include private companies in drawing up the technical details of the contracts they sign.
El-Kotait said he had made 160 comments on the technical sheet attached with the last contract and sent them to the government for clarification. Ne received no reply.
"They insist on excluding us from the planning process," he complained. "We know what the real problems are because we work on the ground."
Asked about bringing private firms into the planning process, Abul Nasr in Heliopolis waved his hand in annoyance.
"It is not their job – it is ours," he said dismissively.
A brief walk away in the district's well-heeled streets, one resident suggested that – whoever's responsibility it ultimately is – residents have seen little change in the last 100 days.
"I wasn’t very optimistic about Morsi's promises and it seems I was right," said 60 year-old Moshira Mohamed.
She gestured from her apartment building to the large public garden that was once the pride of the area.
"Now I can't open my windows for long because the flies and mosquitoes living on the garbage pile will come in," she sighs.
"I've lived here for 40 years and this street is the worst I've ever seen it."

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Repost - Alber Saber – And all is well in Egypt

I was sent this yesterday by a friend of mine, and the blog itself is just brilliantly written and such an eye-opener. Taken from Words and Swords, read on.

Alber Saber – And all is well in Egypt

Imagine it is night. In the darkness outside a mob is congregating around your house. They scream, they hurl death threats, they say they will burn down the house and kill you. You and your mother are scared to death. Your mother calls the police by phone. They must come and protect you or something terrible will happen. Then the police come. They intrude into your apartment, but instead of calming the crowds and stopping their illegal doings – the police arrest you, drag you out of the house and through the cheering crowds that continue in their death threats while shouting Allahu akbar. Your mother is left behind without someone protecting her. And you cannot do anything, because the police have handcuffed you and drive you away. It is almost midnight and the horror has gone on for hours. You are scared stiff and don't know where the police is taking you and what will happen to your mother.

Imagine arriving at the police station at the middle of the night with no lawyer to help you, no one to turn to. Imagine the police officers, who came not to save you but to arrest you, hurl insults at you, push you, beat you, then throw you into a dark cell where there are other inmates already. Imagine one police officer shouting to the inmates that you have insulted the Prophet, that you have been blasphemous, that you don't believe in God – shouting it so loud that everyone is getting agitated and angry. Imagine the frustrated inmates, furious at the police for treating them like dirt, now turning their fury on you, because they need an outlet for their anger, need a scapegoat they can blame everything on. And imagine how they fall on you, shouting, pushing – and how then one inmate grabs you from behind, pulls back your head and slashes your neck with a razor blade until you bleed. While the mob around you want to kill you and the police officer grins his dirty grin.

Your adrenaline will pump in your head, you are so scared to die there and then in this shitty police hole of a cell, with the blood already running down your neck and into your shirt, you sweat yourself wet and your heart pounds so hard that it hurts and you know you are going to die any minute at the hands of this incited mob – and then the police officer finally shouts for them to stop and they let go of you and the police officers move away and you have to spend the rest of the night in a corner of the cell not knowing if they will come at you again, if they will take that razor blade again and slash you to death. And you feel the blood running down your body and into your trousers and you don't know if the mob on the street has killed your mother or not. It is so dark in that cell, so unbelievably dark. And you lose all grip on yourself because you don't know if you'll survive the night.

Imagine all that. And then wonder what you have done that could have caused this. Not in the Middle Ages. Not in the middle of nowhere. But in Cairo. In 2012. Under the regime – or is it a government – of Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Then you hear that the mob has told the police officers that you had posted that anti-Islam movie about the Prophet from that disgusting American on your facebook site. But you know you didn't and you know they are lying. And you don't understand how you can almost die in front of the police who never investigated anything when they where called to save you from the mob, but instead threw you in jail. Without evidence, without any reason. In Cairo. In 2012. In September.

And later you learn that the investigations of the prosecutor indeed show that you have not posted that shitty film on your facebook page, and that therefore they should never have arrested you and thrown you to the furious inmates inciting them to injure you. And you learn too that the General Prosecutor, who has already done his evil work under Mubarak and never cared for the murders of almost 1000 innocent Egyptian protesters, is still allowed to be evil and still allowed under President Morsi to continue in his evil work. And you think about the promises of this new President, who said that all murders of the revolution will be solved and all martyrs will get justice. And you know this will never, ever happen with this General Prosecutor, who did not care about the young protesters getting killed and who does not care to do what the new President tells the world in his interviews, and who still does not get sacked but can continue to be a felool, while the President just allows it to happen.

And then you learn, while you got your head shaved and have to share a dirty cell with too many inmates and get hardly something decent to eat and have to shit in front of the others while the cockroaches run around your feet, that the prosecutor knows you are innocent, but that he still won't set you free. Because he found out that you thought about religion and God and that you don't know who to believe, and to him this is worse than insulting religion, this is so evil that he would like to kill you and is sorry he can't, because there is no law for that in Egypt. And you learn that all evidence is withheld from your lawyers that your mother and human rights groups have now engaged for you. That the prosecutor is not giving it to the lawyers although he must, but he does not care for the law. He is above the law, as he was above the law under Mubarak and is now above the law under Morsi, because this new President is not better than the old one and does not care. And you learn that the prosecutor hisses at your lawyer how he can defend you, when you don't believe in a God! And you wonder why he knows nothing or cares for nothing that is called judicial procedures and defence of an accused or the rights of someone who has not been proven guilty. And you know, if he could, he would order you to be lashed or again thrown to inmates that try to kill you. And he would laugh about the blood running down your body and would go home not thinking about it anymore. Because his life is fine. His life has not changed. No revolution has forced him to change his evil way. He does not have to care for the law or human rights or the big words from the President. Because the President allows this to happen. In Egypt. In 2012. And so the prosecutor can say to the press that he demands the full punishment for you – for what?, you think – and no mercy, no mercy!

And the President says nothing. Only big words on television. And grins. Like the General Prosecutors grins. And you wonder why in God's name – yes, in his – you and your mother so often have risked your lives back then in Tahrir, when you fought for the revolution – that now eats you up like the regime before wanted to eat you up. And you ask yourself why so many died in Tahrir and around Egypt when what you got is only what you had. And you think that if you had wanted to be thrown in jail for nothing, you might as well have achieved this under Mubarak and that you would not have needed a revolution for this. Because what you get today is the treatment you could have gotten before. So why the fight and the many deaths? It has all been futile.

You are 27 years and of Coptic origin. You are not dumb. You have been taught to think and use your brains to question. And you have questioned. You have looked at the three big religions with their contradictory statements and their unequivocal belief only they are right, only their God is the one and only right God, and you looked at all that and were confused. Yes. You were a young man and you were confused. Now they hold that against you. Your crime, they say, is that you asked questions, that you tried for your life to find answers you could live with. Your crime, they say, is that you dared to use your own brains, that you not simply behaved like a sheep and said "blah, blah" when all demanded you to say "blah, blah" and not think, and not question, and obey blindly under the sword of religion that to you is not solace but confusion. Your crime, they tell you, is that you did what hundred thousands of people and philosophers have done before you in thousands of years that this world exists, trying to find answers to riddles that are so difficult to solve, trying to see light in dark tunnels, trying to find a personal way to understand life.

That was your crime. In Cairo. In 2012. In the 21st century after a revolution and under a President who says that now all are equal in Egypt. And he tells it to the world in staged interviews, grinning and smiling as if everything is in order. But he does not tell to that world that he is lying, that the Muslim Ahmed Mohamed Abdallah (known as Sheikh Abu Islam), who burned a Bible at the U.S. embassy protests and who was filmed doing that and who said that next time he will "urinate on it" and who too is charged with blasphemy, is free and not in jail and not beaten and not slashed with a razor across the neck and does not have to sit in a cage like an animal for all to watch and scorn at and has no mother who had to flee the angry mob threatening to kill her and burn the house down and who cannot return to her home because the Egyptian police is only protecting the mob but not the innocent woman. And who is not sitting in a dark, infested, dirty cell at night with unruly fellow inmates and is scared stiff that he will be sentenced to years in prison and never see his mother in freedom again and will not be able to protect her from the mob that still wants to kill her. In Egypt.

In the Egypt, where the President Morsi says, all now are equal. And where lying is still the name of the game in the presidency, in the judiciary, in the society. And nothing has changed from Mubarak times. Nothing has changed, just nothing. And they drag you from the cage after a futile court date, where your lawyers not even got the evidence against you into their hands, where the prosecutor molests your mother and treats her like dirt so that she weeps and weeps, and where you are insulted and degraded and can't help her from out of that cage. And they lead you down the stairs to the truck waiting to bring you back to your cell, and they need five men, five grown men to shove you down one single staircase, though your are handcuffed and thin and skinny from the shit treatment you had to endure already for weeks, and you can't look at your mother one last time because they won't let you, and you know that Abdallah is free and that the mob is free and that the General Prosecutor is free. And all are grinning and smiling and free. Because the President says in an interview that now all is good in Egypt and all are equal before the law. And you know you will spend your nights and days until the next court date in weeks in that infested, dirty cell, degraded, humiliated, treated like dirt. Because you too are an Egyptian. And equal. And you wonder what Morsi means, when he says "equal", and whether he knows that he is lying, and you don't know how you will survive.

Just imagine all this would happen to you. Your name would then be Alber Saber. And you would not understand why the world, why Egypt, why your fellow Egyptians, why the President Morsi is allowing all this to happen. But as this did not happen to you, you are not Alber Saber. That is wonderful. You will sleep well. Because Egypt is well. And all are equal now. And all is good now. And the President will not lie anymore and means what he says. Because he is not Mubarak. No. Mubarak is gone. There was a revolution, remember? Now all is well. And Egypt has nothing to fear anymore. Never again.


Alber Saber was arrested on September 13, 2012 on false charges in Cairo, Egypt. He has not regained his freedom.

Report on the trial – The Washington Post

Report on the case – Daily News Egypt

The arrest video – "Alluha akbar"

Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2012

Hurghada's very own UK operated and managed liveaboard fleet, blue o two, have just had the great news that they have been shortlisted for the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2012! This is fantastic news, not only for anyone associated with blue o two, but for tourism in Egypt itself. As we all know, Egypt can use all the positive press it can get at the moment, even more so when it comes to showing that the tourism industry is bouncing back and ready to provide superior service. 

blue o two has been in operation in Egypt since 2001, and accommodates approximately 5,000 guests each year. Their growing fleet of ships have already proven to be outstanding, with M/Y blue Melody (Pictured below) already having won the award for best liveaboard in the 2012 Sport Diver Awards. Their dive destinations have expanded beyond just Egypt, and now offer liveaboard excursions from the Maldives, to Mexico, and more!

Photo courtesy of blue o two

In addition to making waves in the water with a sparkling liveaboard reputation, blue o two go above and beyond to give back to the marine environment, not only in Hurghada, but around the world. In Red Sea dives, blue o two has trained dive guides to instruct guests on how to implement HEPCA's underwater clean ups, and continue to help remove refuse from the Red Sea bed with each and every trip out. Their commitment to excellence extends far beyond just customer service and truly showcases the comapny's belief in giving something back.

Alongside this, blue o two has been an outstanding contributor to the UK based Bite Back shark and marine conservation charity. With an annual pledge of £10,000, in the first 12 months of partnership with Bite Back the fleet managed to raise an astounding £13,494 for marine conservation. As Campaign Director for Bite Back Graham Buckingham said: “Not only does blue o two lead the industry in terms of product and customer satisfaction, it has also set the dive holiday standard for supporting marine conservation initiatives. The financial windfall from the ‘Breathe Life Into The Oceans’ programme has directly funded programmes that have seen the charity negotiate with MAKRO to stop selling blue shark in 18 stores, prompt Innocent Drinks to drop an on-pack promotion to win 50 shark fishing prizes, expose and reform Slimming World’s suggestion that its 400,000 members eat shark to lose weight, and rebuild its web site entirely. Bite-Back is truly indebted to blue o two for its support and commitment to protecting and celebrating the oceans.”

blue o two has previously won the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards for "Best in a Marine Environment," in 2007, and were Highly Commended in 2008. Here's wishing then the best of luck this year, let's hope that they can bring that title home to Hurghada again!