Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hurghada as a Haven for Russian Women

This article was published in the Egypt Independent. It's actually given me a lot to think about, and I'll do a follow up post responding to some of these points shortly.

On a typical evening at the Spicy Cafe in Hurghada, camera phones snapped shots of an unlikely pair: a local man robed in a white galabeya and a Russian tourist clad in a short dress and pumps, caught in mid-dance. Customers and staff members, and even pedestrians outside the popular waterhole, stop to watch as the man brazenly lifts and twirls the woman in his arms.

“Hurghada is not Egypt,” says onlooker Leela Abubekarova, a 27-year-old diver from Moscow now living in the Red Sea town. Two decades after the dissolution of the Soviet Union that lifted a rigid travel ban barring citizens from foreign travel, Egypt has become a popular and affordable destination for tourists from Russia and other post-Soviet states.
Hurghada is swamped with ads, signage and menus written in Cyrillic, while its waiters, touts and taxi drivers haggle and argue in Arabic and Russian. But only in the last decade has an ostensible community of Russian expatriates in Hurghada emerged.
“Today a tourist, tomorrow a resident,” says Abubekarova. An industry built on cheap charter flights and all-inclusive resorts combined with lenient visa restrictions and inexpensive overstay fines has allowed for more frequent travels between Russia and Egypt and temporary to long-term residence.
According to MK in Egypt, a bimonthly newsletter based in Hurghada and an offshoot of the 93-year-old Moscow daily standard, Hurghada hosts the largest number of Russians residents in the country.
“Officially, there are 3,000 documented Russians living in Hurghada, but unofficially there are more than 20,000,” says the newsletter's publisher, Yulia Shevel.
She and her family moved from Moscow to Hurghada in 2003, where today, their children attend a co-curricular program at a local Russian school where they learn about their Russian heritage, traditions and language.
“For many Russians, coming to Egypt is easy — easy to fly, easy visa, and good for real estate. A lot of families who have properties in Moscow and rent out their flats get somewhere around US$1,000 per month and by this a family can live perfectly in Hurghada, where there’s fresh air and sea and sun all year,” says Shevel.
But Russian businessman Andrey Alexandrov claims that Russians have limited rights compared to Germans and any other European community in Egypt.
“Usually, Europeans can get a visa minimum three months to half a year. Russians and Ukranians have an agreement to get a visa for one month maximum, after that they have to leave the country,” he explains. “Of course, everybody breaks this rule because the law helps tourists to do it, and thank the government or else we’ll have to spend too much money on airline tickets. Russians just break the rule and pay the penalty of LE150 when they leave the country. So until now we don’t understand why there are limits for Russians, although we have the number one position of tourism here.”
Alexandrov and his wife have been residents in Hurghada since 2006 and own Famous Bar, one of the only joints that serves Russian cuisine, and where every Tuesday, Russians and their friends convene for a cultural night complete with a Leninist flag, Russian karaoke, comedy, games and door prizes. 
The majority of Russian expatriates in Hurghada aren’t families, however. Most Russians in Egypt are single women working in tourism or retiring in a balmy beach town, where leisure and companionship for foreign women are common and accommodated by the questionable process and documentation of an urfi marriage. Urfi marriage does not constitute an official marriage contract but rather a commitment before witnesses, conducted with a Muslim cleric or storefront lawyer for a nominal fee. The validity of urfis remains unclear, as some businesses and hotels refuse to recognize them.  
How a babushka got her groove back
Sitting at Spicy Cafe in a coral summer dress, Nina Abdullina inhales a drag of peach shisha, and a coy grin forms under her snowy bangs. When the 78-year-old is asked what her secret is to maintaining her youthful appearance, she responds simply: “Egypt.” 
Abdullina moved to Egypt in 2007, after leaving her teaching position at Moscow University and her colleague and husband of 40 years. Since then, the great-grandmother has been through two marriages with Egyptian men, both less than half her age.
“I was married because it’s difficult to live alone here in a Muslim country. The first marriage was a mistake of course, so I divorced very quickly. But the second one was happy. My husband was a lawyer, 32 years old, very kind, very honest,” she says. “He was so good that Allah took him. He died in a car accident two years ago. I can’t believe up to this day that he’s dead. But Egyptians they take it easy. He’s there in the sky and he’s happy. This religion helps to carry these tragedies.”
Today, Abdullina says she is content living alone and enjoys her job tutoring Russian women in Egyptian Arabic and teaching English and German to children of mixed Russian-Egyptian families. An avid swimmer and nightly bar hopper, Abdullina boasts a healthy physical and social life in Egypt as opposed to her former life in Russia.
“I was really ill with high blood pressure in Russia and I wanted to leave. My husband was against it, so I had no choice. I divorced him and left. So after one year of swimming slowly everyday in the Red Sea, 700 meters there and 700 meters back, I felt so healthy. I’m really so sorry I came late to Egypt,” she adds. “But it’s ok.”  
Abubekarova and others agree that what Pattaya is to Russian men, Hurghada is to Russian women. Pattaya, a sea town in Thailand, is notorious for its sex tourism.
‘I feel like a woman here’
But Svetlana from Samara, Russia disagrees. The 28-year-old working in guest relations at a resort in Hurghada is optimistic about Egyptian and Russian marriages, saying, “Most of the time everyone wants to talk about the bad stuff. But it depends on the type of people you meet. There are people I know who have been together for 10 years and are happy together.”
Walking through Hurghada, one easily encounters local men hand-in-hand with foreign women and the occasional stroller carrying a Russian-Egyptian baby. Svetlana, who has been in Egypt on and off for the last three years, anticipates marrying her boyfriend.
“Egyptian men have a special trait,” she says. “They take responsibility for themselves. It’s not like in Russia or Europe where everything is half-half. No, he tells me you work as you want and make money and spend it as you want but don’t worry about anything else. If there’s a problem it’s not yours. I feel like a woman here.”

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Contaminated Drinking Water in Egypt

One of the first things that I always tell people when they arrive in Egypt is "don't drink the tap water." If you do, make sure you have a stock of immodium or stomach tablets. The tummy bugs are so notorious that it has a few names, "The Pharaoh's Curse," and "The Cairo Curse," to name a few.

In Hurghada we're a tad bit luckier than in Cairo - where once I actually saw little beasties floating in my water. As a great deal of the water in Hurghada is de-salinated, or straight off the water trucks, you'd imagine that it would at least be safer to drink than the water in Cairo, right? Unfortunately, based my own research this is not true. As Hurghada's pipe systems are rather old, most of the pipes are lead-based. This then catches in the water, so you will be drinking lead. Negative affects of lead consumption are wide and varied. The misnomer that you can simply 'boil' the water to make it safe doesn't work with lead. With it being a metal, boiling the water simply pushes the lead to the base and ends up leaving a higher concentration once water has evaporated.

So the solution is simple, bottled water all the way. For cooking and drinking, big bottles of water are found in virtually every house. There's just an assumption that they are safe to drink, after all, the advertise themselves as safe drinking water.

On Tuesday, the Egyptian Health Ministry officially closed seven mineral water companies. Yes, you read that correctly, 7 companies have been closed. (And we all know what the levels of health and sanitation here are..just go into your local restaurant's kitchen and take a gander, so for the Health Ministry to actually shut down the water companies is a big deal).

I know when reading this I had to go and check what bottled water we have, and unfortunately it is on the list of contaminated companies. According to the Egypt Independent, the contaminants include water pollutants and live protozoa. The definition of a protozoa, taken from Niles Biological, is "Protozoa (in Greek proto = first and zoa = animal) are single-celled eukaryotes (organisms whose cells have nuclei) that show some characteristics usually associated with animals, most notably mobility and heterotrophy."

Although most protozoa are harmless and some are even positive inhabitants in our body, the protozoa in the water are more commonly known as amoebas. It can cause dysentery, gas, cramping, and overall discomfort. End all and be all, it's not something you want in your system.

So the companies that you need to avoid for the time being are: Alpha, Hadir, Seway, Aqua Delta, Tiba, Aqua Mina and Aqua Soteir. 

Tiba and Hadir are very common to see in Hurghada. So do yourself a favour, and make sure you're avoiding purchasing water from these companies. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Are These Morsi's Moves Against Democracy?

I haven't written anything about the recent political turmoil in Egypt, because to be quite honest I still don't know what to make of it. The recent reshuffling of the Egyptian political sphere has left many questioning what could possibly happen next. Western analysts are wondering how this will impact US foreign policy in Egypt, commentators are questioning if Israel will see the recent events in the Sinai as the beating war drums. More shocking, are the continued claims that these are the steps towards a democratically free state.

Anyhow, I digress, and will write an individual post on my thoughts of what's going on these days later. For now, I wanted to share this brilliant article by Eric Trager, published in the Washington Institute's Op-Eds section. Eric provides a look at current events in Egypt from the perspective of Washington, and what the Obama / US Administration needs to immediately do to address the ongoing situation.

Mohammed Morsi has given himself complete legislative and executive power, plus the right to select writers of a new constitution.
Egypt's "full transition to civilian rule," long sought by the Obama administration, has finally come to fruition. But it is neither liberal nor democratic.
On Sunday, having purged top military officials, Muslim Brotherhood veteran and new President Mohammed Morsi issued a sweeping constitutional declaration. It grants him complete executive and legislative power, plus the authority to select the writers of Egypt's new constitution. Eighteen months after Hosni Mubarak's ouster, Egypt has a new dictator -- and the way in which Mr. Morsi grabbed power says much about what he will do with it.
These moves follow an attack last week in the notoriously unstable Sinai peninsula, where militants killed 16 Egyptian soldiers, stole a military vehicle, and attempted to breach Israel's borders. The incident gave Mr. Morsi an excuse to sack the security officials who posed the greatest threat to his domestic authority -- particularly the leaders of Egypt's now-defunct military junta, which in June had issued its own constitutional declaration limiting the newly elected president's powers.
More important, Mr. Morsi used the Sinai crisis to assume the powers that the junta had undemocratically asserted for itself in a March 2011 constitutional declaration. He thus claimed unprecedented executive power, including complete authority over legislation, public budgets, foreign affairs, pardons, and political and military appointments.
Mr. Morsi's declaration also gives him the power to select a new assembly for writing Egypt's constitution. And since the new constitution must be approved by popular referendum before new parliamentary elections can be held, Mr. Morsi can intervene in the constitution-writing process to delay legislative elections -- and thereby remain Egypt's sole legislator -- indefinitely.
Based on the evidence to date, Egypt's president will use his expanded power to advance the Muslim Brotherhood's radically intolerant domestic agenda.
Consider the editors he appointed to lead Egypt's two largest state-run newspapers. The new editor of Al-Ahram is an old Mubarak regime hack who called last year's uprising "foreign funded" and lost his column in 2010 for writing anti-Christian articles. The new editor of Gomhoriya shut down a conference on religious freedoms in 2008 and called for the murder of a well-known Bahai activist in 2009. The new editor of Al-Akhbar recently censored an article that criticized the Brotherhood.
Meanwhile, Mr. Morsi's newly appointed defense minister, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, admitted that the military had subjected female activists to "virginity tests" in its brutal crackdown on Tahrir Square protests in March 2011. In its first major move against dissenters, the Morsi regime this month began prosecuting the editor of Al-Dustour, a private daily, for "harming the president through phrases and wording punishable by law."
While the consequences of Mr. Morsi's power grab are primarily being felt domestically, this is unlikely to last. His recent actions suggest that he will soon turn his attention to Egyptian foreign policy, steering it in a direction decidedly hostile to U.S. interests.
His constitutional declaration empowers him to do just that. His amendments to last year's interim constitution give him the authority to sign -- and presumably abrogate -- treaties. Although many expected that de facto foreign-policy power would remain with the generals, Mr. Morsi's quick reshuffling of the military leadership has brought the armed forces under his command.
Then there are his overtures to adversaries of the West. In a mere six weeks as president, Mr. Morsi has hosted top-level Hamas delegations twice and, despite the flow of militants from Gaza into Sinai, promised to keep open the Rafah border crossing. Last week he welcomed Iran's vice president and was invited to attend the Non-Aligned Movement's upcoming meeting in Tehran.
If he does, he'd be the first Egyptian head of state to visit Iran since the 1979 revolution. Accompanying him could be his new chief of staff, Mohamed Rifaat al-Tahtawi, a former ambassador to Libya and Iran who has declared Israel to be Egypt's "main threat," praised Syria as "a fundamental pillar of the resistance camp [against] Israel," and called for closer relations with Iran and Hamas.
Many Washington analysts believe that Mr. Morsi won't make any major foreign-policy moves, such as revoking Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. They take his verbal assurances at face value and reason that he won't rock the boat at the very moment that he needs international investment to boost Egypt's ailing economy.
But this same logic once dictated that he wouldn't rush to challenge Egypt's generals. After all, he sat smiling next to Egypt's top military officer (now fired) at military events, and Washington observers widely assumed that the Brotherhood would be content to focus on Islamizing domestic policy while leaving national-security matters to the military.
Mr. Morsi's modus operandi, it turns out, isn't accommodating or gradual. And now that he has declared extensive powers for himself, the only way to prevent him from moving swiftly against American interests is by pushing back immediately.
Rather than touting him as a democratically elected leader -- as the Obama administration has frequently done -- Washington should denounce his power grab and insist that he demonstrate his commitment to democratic rule with action or risk losing the international goodwill that followed his election. Failing to do so will enable him to continue building his power domestically without paying a price abroad. And that raises the likelihood of another -- much more damaging -- Sunday surprise.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Caution: Dog Owners in Hurghada

Sadly this is a posting that never seems to just go away. My friend just phoned me in a frantic panic, as one of her friend's dogs has apparently ingested poison in the area of Toscana and The View in Hurghada.

It's my biggest fear, Orien eating something on the street that he shouldn't. Fortunately for pet owners there are things that you can watch out for in such situations. Make sure first and foremost that you never allow your animals to eat anything off the street. The poison is most commonly put into meat and then placed in BLACK PLASTIC BAGS. Keep an eye out for this. Time is going to be your only ally to have a chance to save your animal if they have ingested poison.

I've previously written a blog on this, but feel it is pertinent to re-post it here for fear of further poisonings in the Hurghada area. For anyone in Cairo reading this, I still want to add to the list of vets in the country that will rapidly respond to any cases of poisonings, so please send me any info that I can add to it.

So here's the link to the posting, What to do if your dog / cat ingests poison

Where to Go - Squash

Living in a beach-side resort, it's only  natural that most of the athletic activities will be water related. There's a wide array of water sports to choose from in Hurghada, be it kite surfing, water skiing, wind surfing, the list goes on. But for people that are looking for more of a 'land-based' sporting action, it's fairly limited to the local football pitches or the occasional tennis court. K and I were craving something more, and decided to explore some other sporting activities available in the area. (Watch for a future blog when we venture to the local "Olympic Venue" and see what they have to offer)
Image Source

Many hotels will boast on their websites that they offer a wide variety of sports. The Mercure claims to offer Fencing, yet when you phone the reception, the receptionist is wildly bemused by what you are exactly looking for. Seems I'll actually have to head over there one of these days and check it out.

The Hurghada Marriott however, does offer some land based sporting action, from tennis to squash. You have the option of choosing to play with a coach or to simply reserve the court for yourself. Equipment can be provided, or you can bring your own for a reduction in the overall cost.

We had an absolute blast. You're able to book the courts in advance, and can take anywhere from a 30 minute slot, to a one or two hour work out. Better still, when you're finished sweating it out on the courts, the Marriott gym offers steam rooms, saunas, and even spa treatments if you really want to splurge.

If this sounds like something that's up your sporting alley, get in touch with the Marriott reception who will patch you through to the gym where you can make your booking! One hour is 30 LE for a court, plus 6 LE per racket that you'll need to take. Bargain! Phone number to contact is: +20-65-344-6950.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Top Photos of Egyptian Athletes in the Olympics

Sigh. Today marks the end of two weeks of fantastic sporting entertainment that the Olympics has provided. London 2012 has reportedly been the most watched Olympics ever and will have undoubtedly left its mark on participants and observers alike. I know that I'm far more motivated to hit the gym, if only to be the 'chase' group to the incredible leaders in the running events (I mean, a 15 minute 5 km run? WOW!). It seems only fitting that today of all days, I provide a blog showcasing the top moments in Egypt's Olympic memories from 2012.

Despite a relatively poor showing as far as medals go, with Egypt only bringing home 2 silvers, 1 in fencing and 1 in wrestling, it cannot be denied that the Egyptian athletes went out and gave it their all. Although their initial participation in the games was marred by reports of being given false gear, there were more than enough positive memorable moments to leave a lasting impact. I've selected some of what I think are the top moments that capture some of Team Egypt's Olympic experience.

Egypt's team in the London 2012
Opening Ceremony

Egypt's silver medallist in the fencing, Alaaeldin Abouelkassem 
stands with gold medallist Lei Sheng of China,
and bronze medallist Choi Byungchul South Korea
Damir Sagolj  / REUTERS)

Sherine El Zeiny in the women's qualification
round of balance beam.
 (Dylan Martinez / Reuters)

Egyptian Synchronised Swimmers perform
in the finals of the free routine
(Samar Hassounah / Source)

Sherine El Zeiny leaves the gymnastics
competition after tearing a muscle

Egyptian Sprinter Amr Seoud

Egypt's men's football team in the quarter-finals
against Brazil.

On the left stands  Karam Gaber Ebrahim,
Egypt's silver medalist in men's wrestling.
(Reuters / Source)

Mohamed Abdel Baki of
Egypt's weghtlifting team
Quinn Rooney/Getty Images Europe)

Khalil K Abir Abdelrahman following a failed attempt
Ahmed Hegazi (L) and Mahmoud Alaa Eldin (R)
and New Zealand's Chris Wood

(Andrea Comas / Reuters)

Amro El Geziry of Egypt riding Magic Man
in the men's Modern Pentathlon

I hope everyone has enjoyed these incredible games as much as I have, and I cannot wait for Rio 2016.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Attack on Egyptian Border Guards

I haven't updated in a week or so because I've been completely caught up in the Olympic fervour (woo), meaning I have a lot to catch up on. First however, I'm going to re-post this article that comments on the recent attack on the Egyptian border station of Rafah, which left at least 15 Egyptian border guards dead. It didn't take long for the blame game to start, and although initial reports from both the Israeli and the Egyptian side placed the blame on Islamists, the MB and Salafis in Egypt have struck back pointing the finger of blame  on Mossad. The reason why? Of course the Islamists never advocate violence and are overall peaceful and believe in a peaceful co-existence. (And for those who have followed the news in Egypt in the past few weeks, all you have to do is ask why this rhetoric was not raised when Christians were being persecuted in Dahshur).

From the Egypt Independent, please read on. 

Photo from Egypt Independent, courtesy
of Reuters
Islamist forces in Egypt on Monday condemned yesterday's attack on security forces guarding the Egyptian border in Rafah, which killed 16 officers and soldiers and wounded seven others.
The statements were made as President Mohamed Morsy, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, General Intelligence Services head Mourad Mowafy and Interior Minister Ahmed Gamal Eddin visited Rafah today to assess the situation.
The Muslim Brotherhood said in a statement on Monday that the attack “could be attributed to the Mossad, which has been seeking to abort the Egyptian revolution, especially as it had several days ago instructed Israeli citizens who were in Sinai to leave immediately.”
The statement also said that the incident “aims to add problems at the border to those already plaguing the country internally following the collapse of a corrupt system, and attempts to claim the failure of the new Egyptian government that was formed only three days ago.”
“The incident is also an attempt to disrupt the president’s reform project and drive a wedge between the Egyptian administration and its people, and the Palestinian government and the people of Gaza,” the statement concluded.
Yousry Hammad, spokesperson for the Salafi Nour Party, accused unnamed foreign organizations of carrying out the attack, and denied that Islamists had anything to do with it.
“Salafis have been against the use of violence throughout history,” he said.
Hammad also said the party leaders told the interior minister that he must face up to extremists in Sinai with all his strength.
The party rejected the reinstatement of the Emergency Law to fight violence, stressing that such crimes should be handled with ordinary laws.
Adel Afify, head of the Salafi Asala Party, called on Morsy and Prime Minister Hesham Qandil to form a fact-finding committee to discover any information that has been hidden from the president to embarrass him and his government and falsely accuse Islamists of being behind the attacks. Afify held security services responsible for "deliberately failing to prevent the incident." 
Jama'a al-Islamiya and the Islamic Jihad group also condemned the attack, calling for those behind it to be brought to justice, be they extremist Islamic groups, Al-Qaeda, Palestinians or the Israeli Mossad.
“They aim to embarrass the president and drive a wedge between the Islamists and the army,” said Sheikh Osama Qassem, a leading figure in the Islamic Jihad. “I do not rule out the involvement of Israel in this ugly incident.”