Monday, September 24, 2012

HEPCA's New Waste Removal Programme

For those living in the Red Sea, HEPCA is a well-known name. Originally founded to help protect and conserve the Red Sea environment, in Hurghada they have also become synonymous with refuse removal and solid waste management.

Rubbish in Egypt is not a new phenomenon, but with Hurghada being such a popular tourist destination the last thing we want everyone to see are piles of rubbish on all the street corners. To try to help alleviate some of these problems, when HEPCA took over the responsibility for rubbish collection in February of 2011 they distributed over 500 individual 770 litre capacity red bins. They were dotted throughout the city; in fact I have three on my street itself.

HEPCA's new 1,200 litre bins
A number of problems arose with these bins however. Within a few weeks people were reporting  that the bins were being stolen. As individuals in one area, Hadaba were expected to purchase the small wheelie bins it doesn't take a great leap of imagination to think the bins were being sold on. Other bins were vandalized or left damaged, many with holes at the base of the bins rendering them virtually useless as a trash container. On our street the bins became "cat houses" and the cats themselves would get into them and spread the litter everywhere. When I asked HEPCA about these bins, they told me "Since that time [Feb. 2011] more than 350 of these have been stolen, vandalized, set on fire, utilized as water tanks and a myriad other uses other than the one for which they were intended."

In an attempt to alleviate the problems that arose with the 770 litre bins, HEPCA has just rolled out new 1,200 litre capacity bins. These stand out from the old ones in a number of ways. Firstly, for anyone that has lived in a larger Western city, they are what we would know as "good old dumpsters." Secondly, having been constructed out of solid metal they are much more difficult to move and therefore less likely to be stolen. Finally, they are fire retardant to prevent any random acts of individuals who set them ablaze.

Commenting on the roll-out of the new bins, HEPCA's Denise said: "140 of these new bins are already in place in Sekalla and El Dahar with 160 more to be delivered in batches over the next few weeks. As they arrive they will be placed in areas which currently are very sparely supplied and also used to replace the older plastic containers as they break, or simply “vanish” ..."

In addition to the new bins, HEPCA has launched an initiative to clear up the rubble from the streets. Although it is not their legal responsibility and that responsibility in fact lies with the owner of the building, walk any myriad of streets in Hurghada and you'll find mountains of rubble everywhere. In fact, pictured below is just across from my house. During construction the workers would wheel this out in wheelbarrows and simply dump into the street. It blocked traffic for over a day until people that actually lived in the street decided to get together and move it. If whomever owns this building just happens to read upon this blog, shame on you.

This rubble has sat here obstructing
our street for over 6 months now!

HEPCA's website describes this "rubble initiative" saying:

"...It is the legal responsibility of the owner to ensure that all debris, rubble, unused materials and the like are removed from the site (and the surrounding area which has most likely also been contaminated) and furthermore to dispose of it in the location designated and provided for this purpose by the City Council. One or both of these actions are all too often ignored ... The City Council has acknowledged that the situation is out of control and therefore in consultation with HEPCA has now started an extensive programme which will continue through the coming months to clear all the highways, roads, streets and pathways of Hurghada ... Already underway the campaign will comprise up to 8 loaders/diggers and 8 tipper trucks working full time to achieve the goal of a rubble-free Hurghada."

I know that I for one wish them the best of luck with this initiative. But at the end of the day it's up to each individual to help make an impact. Even if it means using fabric bags for your shopping rather than the plastic bags, or sorting out your recycling for the guys that come dumpster diving for the bottles, every little bit counts. And now that we actually have designated dumpsters for the disposal of rubbish, encourage people to use them! As long as individuals continue to just throw rubbish out of their windows, or the front of their houses or even the small alleyways we will never see an end to this problem. HEPCA can only do so much, the rest is up to you. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Egypt's own Culture War?

Find below a re-post of a brilliant article by Mahmoud Salem, also known as the blogger Sandmonkey, on what he sees as an emerging culture war in Egypt. Published in the Daily News Egypt, read on...

A country of extremists

Like many of you, I have been horrified with the phone call made by constituent assembly member, Mohamed Saad El Azhary, to the 10 pm show on Dream, where he stated his intention to change the Egyptian constitution to allow the age of consent for marriage for females to be the age at which they reach puberty and have their first period, even if this age is as low as 9 years-old. He stated that the current legal age to be inappropriate with Egyptian cultural values, which always encourage marriage at a young age for certain segments of Egyptian society, and that the international treaties regarding human rights and women’s rights to be a product of western values that are not suitable for Muslim Nations, and therefore should not be followed by us. This is coming on the heels of the week that had both the prophet movie crisis, the attack on the US embassy with people carrying an Al-Qaeda flag and the ensuing political fallout with the US, where we were described, for the first time in almost 40 years, as “not an ally”. It has been a splendid week, as you can imagine.
It is safe to say that Egypt is going through its own version of a culture war, except that unlike the US for example, it is a culture war in which one side always attacks and the other side scampers for cover. The amount of people who told me that this is the week where they have lost all hope and decided to leave the country is ridiculous. For some odd reason, the same people that should stay and engage in this culture war are the same people who are thinking of running away from it, thus allowing the other side to win by default. Nothing showcases this more than the case of Albier Saber.
Albier is a 25 year-old Copt who got arrested by the Egyptian police for the crime of posting the trailer of the movie Innocence of Muslims on his Facebook page, and he is currently being accused of disdain for religion and has been attacked in his holding cell by other inmates for it. One would think that such action would be considered preposterous by the non-Islamist population because 1) the trailer was shown on TV, and introduced to the Egyptian population, by Salafi TV presenter Khaled Abdallah, and yet he didn’t face any charges and 2) Since when is sharing content on our own Facebook pages a crime? and 3) The irony that the police operating under a government that exists only due to a revolution that got organised by a Facebook page that published content that the previous government thought was offensive and dangerous for the country’s unity is now doing the same thing and arresting such Facebook offenders as well? Nope, such points are usually only found on Twitter, but everyone, with the exception of some human rights NGOs , are shying away from defending Albier, as if fearing that they would be labeled Prophet Haters by the Islamist camp or something. And none of them seems to think that them standing up in those specific battles is the only thing that will stop the sum of their fears from actually happening. They have willingly given the Islamists the right to speak in the name of Islam, and step on eggshells in order not to confront them, even though confronting them is fairly easy, and it starts with calling them out on their bullshit.
First of all, given that this is a Muslim country, one should call Egyptian “Islamists” on who they really are: a bunch of shrill, patriarchal, misogynistic, violent extremists who are using Islam as a cover for their behaviour. That in reality we don’t have “islamists” as much as people with unresolved sexual and personal issues that have found in certain Islamic schools an excuse to carry out their convoluted fantasies about sex, control and mental lock-down. That their so called fundamentalism is synthetic and created primarily to excuse their behaviour, and that their “back to basics” mantra that romanticises a time where they believe that their social rules, intellectual walls and sexual fantasies were part of society’s norm and wishes to bring it back is obviously a crock and wishful thinking.
Secondly, one should establish that calling them up on it doesn’t make someone less of a muslim, but rather a defender of Islam from those who are actually tarnishing its image, for what they are doing is more damaging to Islam’s reputation than a thousand so called “Islam –attacking films”. And finally, that their aggressive drive to push their vision on the Egyptian population with its diverse Islamic beliefs and modes of behaviour will not only end up with creating an unbridgeable chasm in Egyptian society amongst its muslim population, but will lead many people who are perfectly good muslims to walk away from the religion and its practices all together.
You see, it is my firm belief that all Egyptians are religious extremists, in the sense that no matter what it is that they believe in, they really don’t like it when someone pushes their religious beliefs on them, and while some will flight, most will fight, even in subversive ways. For example, did any of you notice the amount of people, who never broke their fast before, but didn’t observe the fast this Ramadan? Coffee-shops were full, people were smoking normally in the streets and juice shops had lines in front of them on the street. Many have confided in me that they believe it was a knee-jerk subconscious reaction to having Morsy in office. And this is not a new thing to happen at newly “Islamised” countries: the same reaction was found and notoriously documented in Iran for the past 30 years. It’s starting to happen here now. Observe.
While we all do respect the results of the presidential election, the islamists should understand that it was a referendum between Shafiq and Morsy, and not a referendum on Islam itself and how it should be implemented legally and socially. That the side-effect of mixing politics with religion isn’t that if the politicians fail, people will say that the religion failed, but rather that people who dislike the politicians will start turning their backs on the religion as well. Newton’s first law is that every action has an equal and opposite, if not sometimes delayed, reaction, and something tells me that if they keep this up, if they keep pushing the population this way, the reaction that they will eventually get is not one that they will like. It just won’t end well for anyone.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Update: Child Abduction Warning

The post detailing the horrific story of Somaya and her mother Peggy has been in the top ranked blogs on this page since it was written. It is a story that has gripped many people's hearts, not only because a mother was separated from her daughter, but because of the increasing number of women who face the same plight.

Many comments asked about updates on Peggy's situation; many other comments reflected women who were also fighting to regain custody of their child. From Peggy and Soraya's story a few valuable lessons should be learned.

1 - Ensure that you do as much research as possible when you are considering marrying someone of another culture - this goes for everyone. You don't want it to be too late before you realise that custom in Egypt for example, is that the Egyptian husband maintains custody of the child if the mother is a non-Muslim foreigner. It's one of the huge problems faced by many foreign women who's children is kidnapped, in the eyes of the legal system in Egypt the father is only reclaiming his natural rights to custody.

2 - Make sure that when you do have a child with your partner that all the legal paperwork is in place. Are you a foreigner? Did you have your child on Egyptian soil? Do you want your child to also bear the same nationality as you do? Contact a lawyer and make sure that everything is squared away before it's too late and all you can do is wonder "What if."

3 - Love is blind, but it doesn't mean your reason has to be. Sure, your Mohammed is different. Sure, you will live happily ever after. But there are enough stories out there to indicate that not all these 'love sagas' end happily, with many women feeling neglected and without options by the end of it. If your relationship does sour, and he's begging you to come back "just for one more visit," do so at your own discretion. You set the meeting place. You make sure that you have your affairs in order. And for goodness sake, do not go to the meeting alone.

With that being said, I do have some fantastic news to share as far as Peggy and Soraya's story goes. Mother and daughter have been reunited. For security concerns, Peggy is reluctant to share where she is now living and will have to watch her step for the coming few years until Soraya is at an appropriate age where she can make the decision for herself.

This is one story with a happy ending, and I for one am so glad to be able to provide this update for everyone.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Critical Response to the Embassy Attacks

Below find the text to a response from Arab-West Report to the recent attacks on the embassies. AWR is an independent media outlet that sent in their own investigative journalist to the scenes of the protests, and offers some chilling insight into real-time on the ground reactions - both from within Egypt and from a media's standpoint.

September 12, 2012

CAIRO, Egypt  (AWR) -- Crowds of angry protesters continued to gather for a second straight day outside the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on Wednesday, denouncing a short, obscure online film produced in America that denounces the Prophet Muhammad and insults Islam. Similar protests in Benghazi, Libya, unfortunately turned violent, resulting in the senseless death of the U.S. ambassador and three other American embassy staff.

AWR's Jayson Casper, who attended the Cairo protest and spoke first-hand with many of those in attendance, says most of the protesters who scaled the embassy walls on Tuesday were not radical Islamists, as reported in Western media, but part of a group known as the Ultras, a legion of angry young soccer fans who are known to take advantage of protests by sometimes inciting violence and clashing with police. Some of those in attendance were also Copts.

Nonetheless, foreign media reports quickly jumped on the story, reporting that the Cairo embassy was "under seige" by ultra-conservative Islamists. 

AWR Chief Editor Cornelis Hulsman, who condemns the breach of the U.S. embassy, says such distortions are commonplace among foreign media, who are suspicious of the rising influence of Islamists and are willing to bend the facts in order to undermine Egypt's current government.

But Hulsman says that such protests, which unfortunately included the burning of an American flag and the chanting of anti-Western and anti-Coptic slogans, did not occur in a vacuum but were the result of a prolonged and inappropriate campaign to stoke the religious tensions of Egyptian Muslims.

"The four together: Raymond Ibrahim, a U.S. Coptic activist, blaming Salafis: U.S. Copts accused of having produced an anti-Muslim film; a U.S. Coptic radical calling for an invasion of Egypt; and Dutch authorities apparently easing applications of Coptic asylum seekers are an explosive mix created totally by irresponsible people," says Hulsman.

AWR condemns the breach of the U.S. embassy in Cairo and the tragic death of U.S. embassy officials in Libya. It also condemns the inflammatory, anti-Islamic film that has intentionally upset the religious sensitivity of Muslims around the world. It urges Egyptian security forces to ensure that all further protests remain peaceful, and calls on Egyptian religious figures to continue to encourage restraint, particularly during planned protests on Friday.

But it also urges foreign media to stop reporting distortions and giving credence to inflammatory statements that will only strengthen extremists both in the West and in Egypt and contribute to the endless cycle of violence and prejudice.

"If we want a pluralistic world in which people of different faiths and convictions live in peace and harmony together, then the first thing that needs to be done is to provide honest and fair information," says Hulsman.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Re-Post: Embassies Under Attack

I have nothing to add to this right now, other than expressing my deepest condolences to those who have lost family members as a result of this behaviour. From writings by Hassan, please read on. The only thing I may remind everyone, is that the actions of a few individuals do NOT represent the mentality of an entire nation.

Defending a faith through the use of violence and murder seems rather curious. If the followers of Islam still believe that by terrorising the world over a book or a film they deem offensive to their religion they will embellish its image, they have some serious thinking to do. If they are convinced that intimidation and storming embassy compounds is the best way to heaven, they’re probably in for a bad surprise when their time in this world is up.

The attacks on American compounds in Egypt and Libya – with the latter reporting the assassination of the ambassador – over a film seen as offensive to the prophet cannot, however, be perceived as a reflection of national trends that overwhelm entire populations. They were conducted by sinister minorities and they serve a purpose.

In Egypt, a power struggle is in full swing between radical religious forces and a majority vying to save their country from falling into the clutches of Wahabbism. Some opponents to Islamist rule are prepared to accept military rule as the only antidote to the bearded bigots, a path that can only lead to more religious extremism.

Islamists have been granted limited power by their military masters, mainly to deflect public frustration that would otherwise have landed squarely at the feet of the generals.

The conspiracy that continues to grip Egypt and aims to destroy all traces of the admirable revolution can never be ruled out when attempting to analyse current events. Drowned in a wave of complaints and failures, the rulers of Egypt today aim no more than to avoid having to face another mass uprising that could rattle them and eventually dislodge them in the style of Mubarak. Taking the attention of the masses away from volatile areas of explosive potential is unquestionably a top priority. Allowing female harassment to reach such worrying levels is an example that has scored well.

Why not capitalise on a third-rate film that any Muslim with solid faith would dismiss with a wave of the hand in the manner a persistent fly would be dealt with? Why not seek to rally hired Islamist free-lancers for a few hours of muscle flexing at the U.S. embassy, after Washington has sent its tacit okay, and stage a farce of spurious Islamist outrage in the style of the Danish cartoons? This way everyone’s attention is conveniently deflected away from Mr Mursy and his military commanders and the West’s hatred of Islam becomes the new centre of attention.

Some will see me as taking the conspiracy theory a bit too far and I recognise their argument. I would, nevertheless, ask you to consider why nothing coming from Washington over the embassy incidents smells of rebuke, let alone a threat of some form of retribution to the Egyptian authorities for failing to provide adequate protection.

The bulk of the Egyptian people, the instigators of the greatest and most peaceful revolution in history, repudiate the embassy attacks. But the American authorities can now convincingly claim that Egypt has become a ticking time bomb in need of extraordinary measures, including supporting its new ‘government’ and probably upholding all clandestine business with the military still the effective rulers.

In the meantime, the Egyptians, who one day believed the free world would help them in the attempt to emulate their political system, are discovering that the United States has an entirely different agenda.

Do not be fooled by the embassy attacks. It is but another sordid chapter in a long-winded saga with many chapters yet to unravel.

12 September, 2012

Monday, September 10, 2012

Chicken Enchiladas!

It's time for another savoury recipe. I tried this the other night for K's birthday, and they ended up a huge success. Completely made from scratch, you can't get much better than this. One enchilada filled me up nicely, and this recipe will fill 8 tortilla wraps, so you can serve at least 4 adults.

Here's what you'll need: 

First, either purchase tortilla wraps (about 8 inches) or check here for an easy home-made recipe. 
1/2 kilo chicken 
1 plain yoghurt
1/2 cup shredded cheese
2 large onions
2 large tomatoes
2 medium bell peppers (I used one red, one green)
1 large carrot
1 pepper (or more, depending on how spicy you want the salsa)
2 tbsp Olive Oil
2 tbsp Tomato Paste
2 lemons squeezed
1 tbsp vinegar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon cumin 
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Salt to taste

The first thing you'll need to do is prepare the tortillas if you are doing home-made. 


1. Chop one of your onions. In a medium saucepan, add 1 tbsp of Olive Oil and your chicken. Cook the chicken through, remove from heat and let cool down. 

Cook your chicken with onion first
2. While you're waiting for your chicken to cool, you can make your salsa. Chop your: remaining onion, tomatoes, peppers, carrot and pepper. Combine all in a blender or food processor (sorry, if you don't have a blender you're going to have to chop all these by hand!). Throw on top 1 tbsp Olive Oil, Vinegar, garlic, tomato paste and lemon juice. Blend until a saucy consistency. -- if you have cilantro, throw some in there too. Despite searching everywhere, I couldn't find it on the day. Go figure! 

Love fresh veggies. YUM!

3. In a large bowl, combine your cheese, chicken, yoghurt, spices and mix well. At the same time, preheat your oven to 180 Celsius (350 Fahrenheit).

Blend your yoghurt, chicken, cheese and spices. 

4. One scoop at a time, put your chicken mix into the tortillas, and wrap.

Don't add too much in the tortilla, or it will spill out
while baking. 
5. Place your rolled tortillas in an oven safe dish seam side down, and top with your salsa mix. 

If your tortillas won't stay sealed, use some
toothpicks to secure them in place.

6. Cook in the oven for about 20 minutes, and enjoy!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Repost: A Victim Myself

Re-posting from Simply LeAnne, here she accounts a recent attempted mugging in Maadi that she herself was subject to.

Letters from Egypt: A Victim Myself

This blog has detailed several accounts of attacks mostly post-revolution, and I also strive to ensure that each allegation has been reported and verified. I had never personally experienced an attack. That was until recently.

I went out with friends on August 9 to a private place in Maadi to listen to a band. After the group finished playing, we all decided to head out to some of the area’s lesser known establishments. Grouped in two SUVs carrying three men and two females including myself, we all get ready to load back up on end our night. As three individuals were getting into the first car, I saw an Egyptian 20-something male lurking around the vehicle. I say to my friend, “Are you watching this guy?”

Out of the entire group, I was the only one paying attention to the man. As I turned my back to get into the car, he attempted to take my bag. I saw something in his hand and thinking it was my wallet, I immediately ran after him. I began screaming at the top of my lungs repeating, “HARAMY” (thief). No less than 20 men came out of the woodworks, chasing after the culprit.

I know what you’re thinking: that’s awesome. It was what happened next that is disappointing.

After I turned the corner to see the men had caught the mugger, the group saw that a) I was foreign and b) the man was actually unsuccessful in getting my bag and/or contents. They let him go telling me, "Well, he didn't get anything, ma3lesh (whatever)."

The old Egypt would have beat him anyway, just for his attempted wrongdoing. And personally, I think he should be beat just for making me run since I HATE running. The new Egypt instead blamed me for being out so late and drinking during Ramadan. I asked them if that was an excuse and if the action was any less “haram” because of it. Then when one of my foreign friends caught up to the group, the men said to me, “Is this the person chasing you?” This after they had already caught and released the culprit and as though I’m going to run away from another foreigner…

But I try to look at all angles and I began thinking that perhaps the thief instead told the group that it wasn’t him. After all, he didn’t have any incriminating evidence in his possession.  Despite how it turned out, I will still highlight how many men came to the rescue running after the mugger. And I think God no one was injured or anything stolen.

Some of my Egyptian friends said that I should be more careful and not be so quick to react. However, I think it’s one of those things that you realize some people would freeze in the moment and I realized that I am not a freezer. That doesn’t mean I’m na├»ve enough to think that I can fight three grown men on my own which brings me to another brief story of walking home and having three men park their car, get out and begin following another friend and me. Obviously that was not a situation that I chased back. Instead, I walked in shadows, hid behind cars, watched them the entire time and when a taxi pulled up, quickly flagged him down and jumped in.

So here are some quick pointers that you should always follow no matter the country:
  • Be on your guard at all times, even if you are a female and have men by your side.
  • If you drive, always keep your doors locked and windows up far enough so someone can’t just reach in. There have been several incidents where a woman’s purse was in the passenger seat and someone reached in and lifted it while driving.
  • Carry a weapon, but if you’re going into a place that checks your bag, know that anything can be a weapon. Victoria’s Secret body spray can act like pepper spray or any cologne/perfume. A fork can be seen as just in your purse for your lunch, but you can use it to stab.
  • Take trusted drivers at night and do not walk alone.
  • If you attend Ace Club or any other expat place, be aware that the cabs parked outside are NOT affiliated with the club. Try not to take taxis that are parked directly outside of any place unless you know them as many times those are the exact ones that will do something whether it’s as small as a rigged meter or larger problems like attempted abduction.
When others heard of my story, they instantly began making excuses: “You shouldn’t have been out so late” and a wide variety of other justifications. Many attacks are happening during daylight hours as well and no, I don’t need your commentary on how much more dangerous other cities are – Egypt WAS safe and I’m not living in those other cities. It’s all of our duty to try and help others in similar situations. And it’s undisputable how much worse crime has gotten in this country after Mubarak. It is impossible to go from a 100% police state to no police without numerous problems. Welcome to the new Egypt.