Friday, April 28, 2006


I heard the blasts in Dahab, in fact I even felt the largest one, and refused to immediately acknowledge them for what they were. Even when we heard the sirens a few minutes later. No, not here, not now, not when I wouldn't know where to run to be safe, not when I have friends wandering around the town, not when the death and the blood and the shock would be here, now, and not on a TV screen. Not when I am not ready to be anything but a coward. Bombs go off evey day.

We dealt with Dahab, with the priority that was given to foreigners to exit the town, with a government which was more concerned with the peace of mind of foreign tourists than the safety of its citizens. With the next wave of attacks in Egypt, with the lack of clear information about exactly what happened and where, with the ridiculous blame being placed on the same group of bedouins, with the reality that the truth will likely never be unearthed. Ras shaytan, Taba, Sharm el-Sheikh, how many fucking resorts do you need to see blown up on national hoidays before you start giving a shit. Where is the money which is being funneled into the security apparatus going? Where is it going when you cannot protect your cities, your people, when you can't run a simple or effective check at a checkpoint?

And then my friend. In jail. Or maybe at still at the police station. No one seems to know. Arrested in the early hours of that same day as the Dahab attacks for demanding independence of the judiciary. For demanding what is a fundamental base for a functioning state. They raided the vigil, beat up a judge amongst other people, and arrested a group of 15. Twenty something years into a state of emergency and you can't yet counter the instability which you have identified as the reason for the lifting of all normal rules of government. Bombs are being planted in the sinai and you are busy beating up judges in the capital. Cells are being formed and you are busy torturing people for countries which pay you to do their dirty work. Kos ommokom.

And I am afraid for him. I'll admit it. I am pissed off, angry about a lot of things which caused his arrest; but I am also afraid for him.

And then I return to cairo. I go to class and there are some security people around. Four hours later there are around 10,000. They are still beating up protestors. Sometimes they do it themselves, sometimes they inject civilians whom they have paid what might buy them a pack of American cigarettes to become state-sponsored criminals, to beat and provoke and aggravate. I am trying to find out simple facts: where exactly were the second round of attacks located? Where exactly are the arrested protestors being held? And all I get is contradictory information. One of the few consisitent pieces of information I run into is a statement by the president to the press, explaining his respect for the judiciary and the ultimate sanctity of its independence, and asserting that the problem is an internal one amongst the judges themselves. Nothing to do with his executive wing and the influence it exerts through the ministry of interior, which has created a prosecutor's office which dances to the beat set by state security offices.

In my on-line hunt for information, I watch the video of that first round of arrests. I watch it again as I write this. It looks like early morning. People are screaming as they drag them away. My chest hurts as I try to spot my friend. They take them. Just like that. Then they tear down the enormous Egyptian flag in front of which the protestors had been standing. Don't touch that. It is not yours. You have never understood, will never understand, what a nation means. You only know your own world, of orders, of favors, of the weak clinging to power that is not theirs. You are disgusting and filthy and you should not touch that. It is a symbol. It's a symbol for something which has, so far, only been realized in the minds of people. And they know that. But they want it. They hope for it. Some work for it - in, around, and outside your tyranny. Leave it be. It is not yours.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Five random thoughts

On the attacks in the churches of Alexandria

1- I don't know what the "real picture" of discrimination against Copts in Egypt is. Although I've never seen it manifested beyond the everyday bigotry which is exemplified by comments dropped at the dinner table, or jokes cracked in coffee shops (on both sides), that's always been enough for me.

2- People say that claims of discrimination are "exaggerations" and foreign-inspired attempts at causing social strife. Where in the world has there ever been a minority which has not suffered discrimination? I could cite examples and give names of villages where wholesale massacres have occured, but I don't think I need to. Although I have every inclination to believe that Egypt is a place where rules and expectations are futile, I highly doubt we have managed to escape those most tenacious and dangerous human tendencies: to stereotype, and to hold firmly to a category of "others" against which we can reassure ourselves of our "sameness".

3- That (#2) really is all that is needed for ethnic or religious hatred to emerge. Just plant that seed: life will take care of the rest. Bad employment oppurtunities (those damn "whoevers" taking all our jobs), traffic (those "whoevers" can't drive), a child with a learning problem (those kinds of kids are just slower), etc etc.

4- If you really want to know whether a person or a society is truly tolerant, don't watch them during flammable times. Rather, observe how people behave when everything is fine and "everyone is getting along", when the issue is not in the spotlight.

5- I am actually quite upset by these events. Not only for the ugliness of the events themselves, but for the hideousness which they have brought to surface in people. I think every religion has the potential to be used for both good and evil; they are multi-vocal, with many trends to be drawn upon. And I am afraid that this happening will result in people drawing on dogma, self-righeousness, and exclusivity.

No means no?

Why do all sex scenes in Egyptian movies (particulary pre-2000) start out as rape scenes?

It always starts with what can only be described as an attack on the female, then there are a few minutes during which she is resisting (usually pretty pathetically) and then - get this - she begins to enjoy the activity. The message: women do not realize that they enjoy sexual activity. Do not be discouraged by rejection.

This is something I've wondered about for years. I mean since I was a kid and had only some vague understanding of what sex was - but I did understand it was supposed to be consensual.

What came to my mind the other day was this: it's a matter of ownership. Women in the Arab world (and yes, I am about to grossly generalize) do not own their sexuality. It is owned by the family (wrapped up in notions of honor), by society, and eventually by their husbands. It is only after marriage when they have a chance of taking control of it - if they are lucky, if they are able to establish a connection with themselves and if their husbands understand that sex can be fun for women too.

And so, not being in control of their sexual selves, the women in the rape/sex scenes can be portrayed as fumbling, naiive, unaware of what they like and don't like and easily duped by first-time physical contact. Characters which need to be shown, even if by force, what sexual contact is and why they like it.

I realize that I am only talking about movies - but movies are more than entertainment. They are supposed to tell us something about who we are, how our societies function. So I think about the messages in there, and I can be found arguing that people should think critically about movies, TV, and advertisements because more often than not they can tell you a lot about how myths are propagated and how the status quo is maintained in the face of changing tastes and quickening paces. They used to use folk stories for this kind of thing.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Change of weather

So I went ahead and got horribly sick over the exact week during which I could not afford to do so. Suffice to say the fever was high, my kidneys felt like they were either being stabbed or like someone was trying to rip them out of my back, and by the fourth day I was so bored of my walls that I started making up stories behind each of the pictures within my view.

One thing that surprised me was how nice a couple of my professors were about extending deadlines, etc. Especially this one dude who teaches my most challenging course and has a reputation that's enough to scare you away from ever thinking of enrolling in a class with him (Why am I taking the class with him and not with the other, much easier, much less-structured, and less good professor who teaches it? Some deluded part of me wanted to be challenged. Yes, I know, I'm an idiot) Anyway, he was really very nice, not just because he saved my ass by extending a deadline, but he also wrote to ask about me and shit. Surprising. The genius political economist who seems to be approaching giant academic stature actually has a heart.

Anyway, I'm mobile and of regular temperatures now, and I'm all happy to be alive and shit. Seriously. I think illness can put things into perspective -- I feel like I've been running on overload for several months. And I don't really want to do it anymore. I think I'll try to switch back to a less frenzied mode...we'll see.