Lozah

Ikhwanweb takes random comments from Facebook?

So apparently I was interviewed by the Muslim Brotherhood without even knowing about it. Imagine that!

Someone pointed out to me the other day that I was quoted on Ikhwanweb, who made it sound as if we had actually had a conversation. Far from a conversation, this quote they attribute to me is actually a comment I made on a friend’s wall on facebook. Ikhwanweb had apparently no journalistic or ethical qualms with copy-pasting that comment and using it in their article as if they had interviewed me without asking my permission.

This is how they used my comment in their article:

“Not exactly shocking I guess, the Nobel has always been colored by Western interests. Nothing new there. But what’s crazy is that he got it after being in office for less than a year and after accomplishing nothing substantial,” said Deena Khalil, an Egyptian blogger. “He basically got it for talking a good talk, without having to walk the walk.”

Khalil believes that speeches are one thing, but “results are another. But, I guess if Begin could win it then really, anybody can.”


Like many Egyptians and Arabs, the belief is Obama has yet to accomplish much in deserving to win the prize. Khalil says that this is not surprising, as the President has only been in power for less than one year.

“What are they giving him the Nobel for, if not his actions?” she questioned.

Ha! Yes, I question indeed.

Advertisements

January 22, 2010 Posted by | Egyptian Affairs, Media/Press | Leave a comment

Can the eternal victim ever be empowered?

This article was originally published at BikyaMasr.com

In the intellectually bankrupt world of dichotomies we seem to be living in, the issue of empowerment of women is caught in the middle of a reductionist whirlpool just like every other complex multi-layered issue. Women are either eastern or western (posing interesting identity politics for those of us who are both), they are either oppressed or liberated, and when they are oppressed, they are either eternal victims or they are themselves to blame for their own oppression.

The world has had a strange victim fetish for as long as injustice has existed, and it is by no means exclusive to the realm of the portrayal of women. During the recent Egypt/Algeria scandal we saw this fetish manifest itself in the opinion that the thugs who vandalized and bullied others are just poor Egyptians who have no other outlet for their frustration. As if they are so victimized that they have contracted some irrepressible urge to act as hooligans. The same pattern can be detected when analyzing rhetoric surrounding economic development. For years the dominant development paradigm was based on a theory called “dependency theory”. This theory posits that many nations are underdeveloped because they have been victims of colonization, which is true, but the theory takes it one step further by claiming that their victimization is so extensive that they are no longer capable of even participating in their own development.

When it comes to women, this pattern of thought is alive and stronger than ever. Whether its the cliche Hollywood damsel in distress, or the stereotypical portrayal of Muslim women by the media as oppressed downtrodden souls, the world is always looking for someone to save, liberate, or enlighten. This worldview becomes especially problematic when speaking of women’s empowerment because a belief in chronic victimhood directly conflicts with the notion of self-empowerment. And there is not an issue that stands in the way of women’s empowerment today that can be solved without their own initiative.

The issue of sexual harassment in Egypt provides a prime example. Those who aren’t busy denying sexual harassment usually explain it using one of many predictably simplistic approaches. There’s the camp that feels sorry for the male perpetrators of harassment and blames the female victims for somehow bringing on this abnormal behavior. And there’s the camp that acknowledges the issue, but sees women as the silent victim who can do nothing but wait for the problem to be solved by somebody else.

I am not pointing this out because I am against providing explanations for such a phenomenon. Quite the contrary, I believe that understanding the root causes of any problem is crucial before we can find a solution. What worries me is that such a simplistic perception of a complex phenomenon necessarily results in ineffective solutions.

Consequentially, the “blame the victim” camp, rather than advocating for the education of men, advocates to place restrictions on women so as to avoid posing any temptations to potential perpetrators. On the other side of the coin, the “eternal victim” camp believes women should not speak up against harassment but should rather suffer in silence and wait for somebody else to do the talking. Interestingly, many (and I dare say most) women subscribe to these opinions just as often as men do.

It is important to acknowledge and admit the sad state that many women find themselves in today before we can ever hope to alleviate these horrible circumstances. The problem is that oftentimes the victimhood of women is talked about, and then talked about some more, and then it turns into a kind of obsession. By the time we begin to talk about solutions it’s time to go home.

Any strategy for long-term empowerment must have two wings: the outcome wing and the process wing. Even though the intended outcomes may be economic, social, or cultural, the process must necessarily be political in order for it to be sustainable, and this can never be achieved without the full commitment and active participation of women.

January 22, 2010 Posted by | Development, Egyptian Affairs, International Affairs, Media/Press | Leave a comment

Random Thoughts on History Repeating Itself

From the book “Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes” by Tamim Ansary, describing the spread of Islam during the Ummayad dynasty:

Another shadow haunted the conscience of the Islamic world as well. Muslim sacred history was problematically rich with anecdotes about the simple, rugged lifestyle of the founders. Their simplicity and humbleness went to the very essence of their appeal as religious figures. Inevitably, therefore, a feeling started percolating in the lower reaches of this new society that something about all this splendor wasn’t right. This prosperous, pleasure-plump society could not be what Allah had meant when he charged Mohammad with establishing a just community devoted to worship of the one God. Of course, the richer you were, the less likely that such considerations would trouble your dreams. For the poor, however, tales of luxury at court and the sight of perfumed Arab noblemen riding through the streets clad in silk had to evoke comparisons with Mohammad’s simple blanket folded four times to provide both mattress and cover, and Khalifa Omar at his cobbler’s bench, mending his own shoes. Add to all this the odor left by the way in which the Ummayad’s came to power, a process that had generated two enduring opposition movements, the Shi’a and the Kharijites….

Inevitably, the one mapped onto the other. Persians began to embrace Shi’ism, and Shi’ite agitators began looking to the Persian east for recruits. When the two currents mingled, rebellion began to bubble. It bubbled ever harder the further east one traveled, for Umayyad police power ran ever thinner in that direction, while anti-Arab sentiment mounted ever higher. One day, around 120 AH, a mysterious man blew into the city of Merv … almost fifteen hundred miles east of Damascus… He went by the handle Abu Muslim… In truth, Abu Muslim was a professional revolutionary, dispatched to Merv by a secretive underground group based in Iraq, a group called the Hashimites. This group was a cross between a cult adn a political party, whose core membership probably never exceeded thirty. …This was just one of many angry little hard-core bands of antigovernment conspirators active at this time, all preaching some version of the same message: the comunity had fallen off the track, history had gone off course, the Mesenger’s mission had been subverted, and toppling the Umayyads and empowering a member of the Prophet’s family in their stead would set everything right again. Let me note that this narrative has been reinvented again and again in the Muslim world over the course of history, and some version of it is being recited even today, by revolutionaries who have substituted “the West” for “the Umayyads”.

The above passage made me think:

1) Muslims have been a burden on Islam pretty much since the end of the Khulafaa Rashidun (or some may argue since the end Sayyidna Omar’s rule). Classism, decadence and corruption have been rampant ever since and the true message of Islam is slowly getting lost among the mass of Muslims.

2) History has a scary way of repeating itself – whether it’s the decadence and corruption of Muslim regimes in the East or Western colonial ambitions coupled with orientalist fantasies and ideas about an imminent clash of civilizations in the West. They say one of the definitions of madness is repeating the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Anyone notice a pattern here?

3) According to a Sheikh I was speaking with recently, this pattern of the Muslim community consistently “falling off the track”  has led to the many Islamic scholars accross history who believed that the poor condition of the Muslim ummah can only be a sign that something must be fundamentally wrong with the Aqida (creed) of the Muslims. Instead of seeing things for what they are – that a corrupt Muslim is simply a Muslim who has stopped practicing the Sharia the way it should practiced – these scholars sought to “reinvent the wheel” so to speak, by revisiting some of the core issues in the Islamic creed, such as Ibn Taymiyyah and later Muhammad Abdel Wahab (who led to Wahhabism).

I have only recently started reading about Ibn Taymiyyah so I can’t say for sure whether I agree with this Sheikh’s theory or not, but it is definitely an interesting point.

Another passage from the book, describing the same period in history:

Mainstream Western histories usually praise this process. The Umayyads introduced that wonderful quality called stability to the civilized world. Stability enabled farmers to plan next year’s crop. It enabled businessment to invest in long-term projects. It encouraged students to enter upon long courses of study with confidence that what they learned would still apply by the time they graduated. Stability gave scholars the freedom to lose themselves in study and dig deep into the mysteries of nature without having to worry that their families were meanwhile getting killed by thugs. All this came at a price however, the usual price of stability, which ensures that whatever is the case one day is even more the case the next day. The rich got richer. The poor increased in numbers. Cities with magnificent architecture sprangup, but so did vast slums sunk in squalid poverty. Justice became a commodity only the rich could afford.

(Emphasis mine.)

This particular situation is being repeated today almost word for word. So-called stability in Egypt is often praised for allowing for long-term investments and businesses to open up. Politicians point to the rise in foreign investment, trade, services (for the rich only, of course), and magnificent suburban communities (mostly gated, of course, so as not to be disturbed by the slums across the street). The rich are getting richer, and poor are getting poorer and increasing in numbers. “Justice is a commodity only the rich can afford” only the rich would dare dispute the truth of this statement. The West praises these “successes”. In fact, stability has been probably the main argument used by the Egyptian regime to dissuade Western governments from pushing for democracy: If you want democracy, you just might get another Hamas or Hezbollah in Egypt. You have to choose: democracy or stability in the Middle East.

The Prophet (Salla Allahu Alaihi Wa Sallam) said:

“When the most wicked member of a tribe becomes its ruler, and the most worthless member of a community becomes its leader, and a man is respected through fear of the evil he may do, and leadership is given to people who are unworthy of it, expect the Last Hour”

August 21, 2009 Posted by | Egyptian Affairs, International Affairs, Islam | , , , | 12 Comments

Meeting “Abu Treika” in an Aswan Youth Centre

As the taxi was speeding down the incredibly bumpy alley, I looked around me trying to picture the youth centre that would eventually appear among all this rubble. 1 flat tire later, we finally made it to the centre, which was really just a very run-down 2-story building. I stepped into the centre to be enthusiastically greeted by a group of girls and women, and the director of the centre Hagg Sayed. They proceeded to tell me about the work they’d been doing to get girls more involved in centre activities, and to get women more involved in centre governance. All this was done as part of an initiative that I was charged with documenting as part of my job. This project was implemented by the Future Association for Development and Consumer & Environmental Protection, a local NGO in Aswan, and targeted 23 youth centres across Aswan governorate. Their goal was to open up this traditionally male-dominated space to be more inclusive of girls/women.

According to my guide – a woman from the NGO who was kind enough to take me around to the centres – there is no other form of recreation for these kids other than to play on the streets. These youth centres offer children a much-needed safe space to just be kids, a place where they can run around and play and engage in constructive activities. But these centres have long been non-inclusive of girls, largely due to societal perceptions. The idea of the youth centre as a place unsuitable for girls is deeply entrenched in the community (and probably across the country) and many parents were worried about their daughters’ reputations if they were to become involved in centre activities.

That’s why prior to implementing the initiative itself, it was important to first build trust with the local community. The NGO conducted extensive interviews, focus groups, and public seminars to try to change the community’s perception of the centres as a male-only space that is unsafe for girls.

According to some of girls I talked to, their parents’ fears that rumours would begin to spread about their daughters actually materialized. In reaction, some of the girls stopped coming to the centre, and others were prevented by their parents. But the NGO persisted in talking to the girls and their families and managed to convince a few to pay no attention to the rumours. For anybody who knows Egyptian culture, you will understand that persuading families to ignore rumours about their children is no small feat, for saving face is very important. Eventually, these few girls that continued to attend managed to encourage other girls and their families to follow. Gradually, opinions and perceptions changed.

The next step was to get the girls involved in sports. Now here was a revolutionary idea. They started them off with more “girl-friendly” sports like table-tennis. But eventually challenged them to take on soccer, karate, and even weight-lifting. When the girls started to participate in these more “male-oriented” sports, they were mocked mercilessly by their male colleagues. My guide was telling me all this when she yelled out “hey, Abu Trieka, come here”.  (Abu Treika is the name of one of the most well-known and admired Egyptian soccer players in Egypt). I looked over my shoulder, expecting to see a teenage boy or something, and instead saw a shy 12-year old girl. “Your name is Abu Treika?”, I asked her, smiling. The guide told me that the boys had given her that nickname after she scored a killer goal during one of the soccer matches. The girl beamed with pride as she told me she could beat any guy at the centre.

Today girls are credited with winning numerous trophies in soccer, weight-lifting, and table tennis among others. Furthermore, the once sceptical male members of the centre today attend all the girls’ tournaments, enthusiastically cheering them from the sidelines.

Talking to the girls, it was impossible not to notice how proud they were. Two of them volunteered to sing a song they had just learned the week before about the beauty of Aswan. Another insisted on displaying her weight-lifting skills and proudly carried weight after weight in the tiny broken-down gym. They took me on a tour of the centre  and showed me their library and some of the arts and crafts they had created and displayed on the centre’s walls.

To see firsthand the changes that have occurred in these communities was truly inspiring. This isn’t to say that eveyrthing is now perfect there. Keep in mind that these are some of the poorest villages in Aswan, some of the poorest in Egypt. These villages face a whole host of problems related to poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, lack of healthcare, lack of clean water, pollution, and other problems that are common to most Egyptian villages. These children are deprived of a lot of things and so many of their rights are violated. But this initiative has managed to make things a little bit better by fulfilling a very important right: at least now, these girls aren’t deprived of their right to a childhood.

P1010877

P.S. The above-mentioned NGO is NOT a foreign organization. It is 100% Egyptian and 100% Aswani.

August 8, 2009 Posted by | Development, Egyptian Affairs, Portraits of Egypt | 2 Comments

Traditional Vocations in Egypt

I am LOVING the Daily News Egypt’s new video channel on YouTube. So far they have put up a few really good videos that shed light on some of the remaining traditional vocations in Egypt. I only wish they were a bit longer and more in-depth. It would also be interesting to see them get out of Cairo and start searching the rest of Egypt – as I’m sure they’d find plenty of material there.

These three are my favourites so far:

Glass-blowers:

Coptic Christian Tattoos:

Pigeon-Breeders:

July 12, 2009 Posted by | Egyptian Affairs, Media/Press, Portraits of Egypt | Leave a comment

On the 2009 6th of April protest (better late than never!)

The use of the internet for political mobilization and facilitating citizens’ access to information has been steadily increasing in Egypt. Several Egyptian bloggers have seen massive increases in readership after waves of arrests over the course of the past few years. International media organizations have taken an interest in the phenomenon of online activism in Egypt and profiled many Egyptian bloggers. Many have come to obtain the majority of their updates on current affairs from Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and online news services such as GlobalVoicesOnline.

The 6 of April Youth Movement has further reinforced the notion that the internet has become a foremost means of youth activism in Egypt. This especially rang true after the first 6 of April strike in 2008 which was by most accounts a success. According to al-Jazeera English, “the power of online activists reached its height in 2008 when they backed a call for a strike at a textile mill, urging nation-wide civil disobedience…which resulted in deadly riots”. Many agree that it is precisely because the strike originated with the textile workers, and only later gave birth to the online 6 of April Movement, that it saw such strong participation. In 2009, on the other hand, the call to strike was made by the 6 of April Youth themselves online and through posters, rather than backing an already existing citizen protest.

However, opinions as to the success/failure of this year’s strike vary widely. Egyptian writer Belal Fadl waxes poetic about the 6 of April youth, stating that that the mere attention this year’s strike received both in terms of media coverage and government mobilization of security forces is an indicator of its success. Others disagree, such as the Egyptian state press who gloat about the failure of the strike, and many in the opposition press who acknowledge the weakness of this year’s participation. Well-known blog “The Arabist” goes even further by advising Egyptian opposition activists to distance themselves from the movement, stating that “Egypt’s activists and opposition politicians are discrediting themselves if they make a big deal about a day of protests that most don’t even participate in – and no, joining a Facebook group does not count”.

It may be true that internet activism is becoming a central means for Egyptian youth to become politically and socially active. However, the weak participation in this year’s strike is a strong indicator of what internet activism is not: namely, the new form of activism for the Egyptian masses. In a country where it is estimated that only 15% of the population are regular internet users it is clear that merely issuing an online call for a nation-wide strike is not enough to gain broad citizen support. This year’s strike makes it unabashedly clear that it is not sufficient for a marginal disgruntled middleclass to claim to speak on behalf of the discontented masses. Rather, equitable social change is instigated only when all segments of society are equal participants with equal voice.

This is an edited version of the original article which appeared in the April issue of the Civil Society Nesletter published by the Ibn Khaldun Centre

June 12, 2009 Posted by | Egyptian Affairs, Media/Press | Leave a comment

GazaMom’s Detainment

Many of us have been following the ordeal of Laila El-Haddad (aka GazaMom) as she posted her updates on Twitter. El-Haddad was her way back from North Carolina, where she had been living on a temporary visa with her husband and two young children, to her home in Gaza. Her children were with her. Her husband was set to travel a week later. She (along with her children) was detained at the Cairo airport and refused entry into Egypt. She was told she would be deported to the UK, where she has no visa, or the USA, where her visa had expired.

I’m not sure what to say when a Palestinian, a fellow Arab, is refused entry into our country. I’m not sure what to say when a mother and her two young children are treated as if they are less than human because they are Palestinian. I’m not sure what to say at the notion of somebody being denied access to their own home. And I’m speechless at the sympathy she received from the USA official who, after hearing what happened, renewed her visa in a second.

Once again, our government surpasses all expecations. Bravo.

I will not add anything to what El-Haddad herself says:

Always waiting. For this is what the Palestinian does: we wait. For an answer to be given, for a question to be asked; for a marriage proposal to be made, for a divorce to be finalized; for a border to open, for a permit to be issued; for a war to end; for a war to begin; for a child to be born; for one to die a martyr; for retirement or a new job; for exile to a better place and for return to the only place that knows us; for our prisoners to come home; for our home to no longer be prisons; for our children to be free; for freedom from a time when we no longer have to wait.

Please read her post at http://a-mother-from-gaza.blogspot.com/2009/04/i-was-born-palestinian.html. You can get the full account of her twitter updates from here http://hootsbuddy.blogspot.com/2009/04/laila-el-haddads-palestinian-passover.html

7asby Allah wa ne3m al-wakil.

April 14, 2009 Posted by | Egyptian Affairs | Leave a comment

On the 6th of April Movement

Yesterday a column by Refaat Rashad in al-Masry al-Youm daily newspaper titled “Who is Behind the April Youth Movement?” criticized the 6th of April movement for not having an official structure. After briefly outlining the recent developments in political culture in Egypt, the author ends his column with the following:

 

وإذا كانت الأحزاب الشرعية رفضت المشاركة، فمن يقف ويساند ويخطط لشباب أبريل، ربما إذا عرفناهم، ساندناهم، وربما إذا عرفناهم طاردناهم، لذا أرى أن تخفِّيهم وتخفِّى الجهات المساندة لهم يضفى الكثير من الشكوك حول هذه الجماعة التى تستمد اسمها من شهر اشتهر أوله بسمة يرفضها الجميع أو على الأقل يتندرون بها.

 

Translation:

And if the official parties refused to participate, then who is supporting the 6th of April Youth? Maybe if we knew them, we would support them. But maybe if we knew them, we would resist them. Thus, I see that their obscurity and the obscurity of their supporting entities places a lot of doubts around this group – a group that draws its name from a month [April] that is famous for starting with a trait that everybody abhors.

 

What I don’t understand is why the author feels the need to link the unofficial status of the 6th of April Youth to obscurity and lying? Many unofficial Egyptian networks and alliances view their unofficial status as an asset so as to escape government cooptation as well as the bureaucracy and leadership struggles that emerge in many official Egyptian structures.

The 6th of April Youth are an organic social movement that was started by a group of youth who actually worked for an official political party and were tired of the bureaucracy and cooptation and wanted a chance at instigating real change.

 

He also states in his column:

 

ولكن أيضا على جماعة أبريل وغيرها من الجماعات المناضلة أن يكون لها شكل وملامح وكيان شرعى لكى يمكنها بلورة مطالبها والدخول مع الحكومة فى مفاوضات لتحقيق هذه المطالب.

 

Translation:

The 6th of April group, and other resistance groups, must also have an official structure and become an official entity to be able to crystallize its demands and enter into negotiations with the government to fulfill these demands.

 

While the author asks some good questions and raises some legitimate points, I think he is asking them prematurely. This movement is a nascent one – its first protest was only 1 year ago! Some of the greatest movements in history emerged from informal, unofficial collectives of citizens gathered around a common goal. The labour movements, even the civil rights movement, began as an organic informal engagement by ordinary citizens in political life. Not because they’re politicians or members of political parties, but simply because they wanted to live a decent life and becoming politically active was the only way to achieve that. But these movements take years to formalize. We cannot expect a 1-year old movement to become a structured, organized, official entity with a clear mission statement and leadership.

 

Social movement theory states that movements go through several stages. They emerge for a particular purpose, they coalesce and begin to organize, they bureaucratize, and then they either succeed or fail at achieving their original purpose, after which they decline when there is no longer a purpose for their existence.

 

Perhaps the reason why we don’t know who is supporting and funding them is that they don’t actually have any funding yet. What have they really done so far that requires funding? Their campaign has been conducted on Facebook and through brochures and posters, which don’t require a lot of money to print.

 

As I previously said, I am not refuting the points raised in the article, but to put them under the title of “Who is Behind the April Youth Movement” implies a conspiracy-theory tone. This tone bothers me because there are many who have been accusing the movement of receiving foreign funding and trying to impose “foreign morals” whatever that means (I guess they think democracy, human rights, minimum wage, constitutional reform, and not forming political and economic alliances with colonizers are foreign morals?). These types of accusations are expected. How else can the corrupt delegitimize a citizen movement? They are just using what ammunition they have.

 

Note:

I would like to emphasize that I am not in any way implying that the author of this column has partaken in these conspiracy theories. To my knowledge the author of this column has NOT been among those who have accused the Movement of foreign support. I am merely comparing what he said in his column to what others have been saying.

 

Links:

 

http://www.almasry-alyoum.com/article2.aspx?ArticleID=205645&IssueID=1366

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_movement#Dynamics_of_social_movements

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2005/748/eg10.htm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/arabic/middle_east_news/newsid_7984000/7984844.stm

http://arabist.net/arabawy/2009/04/06/facebookstrike_fails_so_wake_up/

 

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Egyptian Affairs, Media/Press | 1 Comment