On March 19, a referendum on recent constitutional amendments as devised by a committee of judges and lawyers will take place. In all optimism, this may be the first time Egyptians experience democracy. For this reason, I find it unnecessary to cancel or postpone the referendum as it will give Egyptians an opportunity to feel involved in the affairs of their country. It will instigate the sense of belonging that has been wiped out over the years. This is what Egypt needs rights now – democratic activity. Whether you support or oppose amendments, your points are valid and must be respected by others.
I, however, would vote no (if I were to vote).
This immediately brings me to my point. The approximately 7.5 million Egyptians living abroad, nearly 60,000 of whom reside in Canada, are excluded from voting for or against the referendum since there are no voting stations set up at Egyptian embassies or consulates, thereby depriving them from their right to enjoy a democratic Egypt. Also, the amendments de-qualify Egyptians with dual nationalities, or ones who are married to Egyptians with dual nationality, or ones whose parents have acquired a nationality other than the Egyptian from holding the office of President, a civil service position.
The concern about Egyptians with dual nationality is understandable and may be valid. However, the response to this concern must not simply be exclusion. Excluding the nearly 7.5 million Egyptians hinders the sense of belonging that a new democratic Egypt desperately needs. Excluding them is a direct way to doubt their loyalty to their country. In fact, if their loyalty is questioned, then the fact that they hold the Egyptian citizenship should be questioned as well, which does not coincide with principles of freedom, democracy and social justice, the key ideals that the January 25 Revolution stood for.
Egyptians abroad are in no way less loyal or less in love with Egypt than any other Egyptian. There is no rule to that. What about the corrupt Egyptians we all know who have lived their lives with behaviors and activities that have only harmed the country disastrously? How can Egyptians abroad be treated as second class citizens, while corrupt Egyptians are still freely roaming the streets of Egypt?
Priorities need to be reorganized and made clear. A constitution must protect the rights of all its constituents, regardless of their present location, religion, race, ancestry, etc.
This is one reason why I will vote no to the proposed amendments.
It has been 21 days since the historical day when the Egyptian people overthrew their now former corrupt “democratic” dictator – February 11, 2011. It took a swift 18 days, from January 25, for this revolution to finally start having concrete outcomes. The ouster of Mubarak. The drafting of constitutional amendments that cater the people’s demands (pending referendum result). The Resignation of former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik and the appointment of revolutionary academic former Transport Minister Essam Sharaf. And there have been indications that more is yet to be achieved.
All that aside, there have been significant changes within Egyptian society, most obvious is the shift from nearly absolute political apathy to a newfound interest in politics. For many many years, as long as I can remember, the one most notable characteristic that I believe has described a vast majority of the Egyptian people is political apathy. If not a vast majority, then quite a considerable and dominant number.
From a class perspective, lower classes were politically apathetic possibly because they were more concerned with day-to-day issues or rather, daily survival. People belonging to the tiny middle class remaining in Egypt had their worldly concerns, just like the upper class. School children were censored from politics in one way or another. Students had their school and university social lives and studies to worry about. And so on. Many Egyptians always had an excuse or a reason to refrain from being politically informed and/ or from being politically involved. More often that not, political involvement was discouraged. And the reasons for that are the very reasons why the Egyptian people have called for dismantling Egypt’s 30+ year old corrupt regime.
A decrease in political apathy is definitely a positive outcome of Egypt’s revolution, but not without challenges. In fact, it has proven to be quite problematic. Egypt now hosts millions of citizens who are forced to be engaged in politics, at least mentally – whether they really like it or not. Many of them have attempted to be involved in political discussions and arguments, and many have often failed miserably at either formulating a logical argument or expressing it. Friends have been lost, families split, etc as a consequence. To me, it is the system to blame, the system that had worked to keep its constituents far from any light that could lead them forward.
This sudden revolutionary shift from political apathy to its opposite is certainly a challenge that must be brought into light and must soon be overcome. In the most basic sense, being well-informed (and well-exposed) is the key. And this is a request to all Egyptians:
If you are passionate about something. If you (and/ or others) consider yourself an expert in a field, do tell us. Politics or not. Do tell!
(written on March 5, 2011)
A couple of weeks ago, prior to the start of this Ramadan, I began to research which series I would follow during this month. I set a limit of one or two series in order not to be completely distracted from the purposes of such a holy month. After having followed the blog, the final decision was to follow the series ‘Ayza Atgawez. What interested me the most was the vast changes that our culture is currently facing. Egypt has now witnessed its first case of an online blog turned into a book, then into a television series. Please note that I have read most of the blog and I am writing this blog post based on what I have read from the blog and less than a week of daily episodes of the series; I have not read the book.
The blog began with its first post published on August 19, 2006, almost exactly 4 years ago. Written in colloquial Egyptian Arabic by Ghada Abdel Aal in a very sincere yet confrontational tone, the blog has become the first of its kind. With an average of two posts per month, Ghada documents light-heartedly her experiences of meeting her Prince Charming. In a Western society, this blog would have expressed the humor in a young woman’s dating experiences. In more conservative and traditional societies however, meeting Charming occurs through courting, which is much like dating yet done in public and requires family approval. Egyptian society today remains to be labeled conservative (and rightly so), despite the liberal westernization of Egypt’s high society. For the well-off minority of Egypt, families are very likely to accept dating for their sons and even their daughters. For the vast majority of Egyptians, traditions prevail.
The blog ‘Ayza Atgawez is much like a young woman’s journal, where all that humors her (in what frustrates her) is told. Some of the posts were general questioning of social values; others numerically listed the “3irsan”, or potential husbands, and Ghada and/ or her family’s first encounters with them. Again, the vast majority of Egyptian women can relate to Ghada in one way or another. First is the importance of marriage in Egyptian society, particularly for women. Second, is the changing age of marriage. As the blog reiterates many times, a woman that reaches 30 years of age and is not married is generally looked down upon. Egyptian women are in a constant race that must end by the age of 30; the starting age varies from 15 to 20 to 25 depending on the family values and social backgrounds, but most importantly the race must end at 30.
While it may be argued that this blog is stereotyping, it is without a doubt showcasing a problem that the majority of young Egyptian women are facing. Ghada, the author, speaks for herself and tells her own stories, therefore avoiding the stereotyping of the problem. While catering for their careers may appear to be a priority at times, it remains a fact that marriage is either a hidden or openly exposed target for most Egyptians, and women in particular.
Director: Rami Imam
Written by: Ghada Abdel Aal
Music: Hisham Gabr
Actors: Hend Sabry; Sawsan Badr; Ahmed Fouad Selim; Ragaa Hussein; Tarek Ebiary; and a variety of guest stars
The series fall under the comedy genre, observational comedy in particular. Under this type of comedy, trivial every day things normally accepted by society are exaggerated, in this case the general desire for young women to get married. It is characterized by humorous sarcasm. The fact that this is the genre that has determined the fate of the series responds to those who immediately criticized the first episode (myself included) for the exaggerated facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice of the actors, Hend Sabry in particular. This type of comedy justifies this type of acting. It is important to acknowledge however that this genre is not entirely common in Egyptian cinema and television.
One may question if comedy, let alone observational comedy, was the best choice for such a grave social topic. Of course, the question is valid. One may also ask: How else could this topic have been handled? The only other genre I could propose would be tragedy. However, this would have turned the series into another brutally and depressingly confrontational Egyptian soap opera; thereby not offering anything new to Egyptian television or to Egyptian society-at-large.
Another reason why comedy wins over tragedy for this particular topic is the evident desire for the film crew to stay in line with the blog/ book. The series is not merely influenced by the blog, in fact, it is directly and completely based on it. This essentially necessitates transferring the author’s attitude in the blog to the general attitude of the series. Had another genre been chosen, the humorous conversational nature of the blog would have not been implemented. As such, the script is characterized by a mixture of spoken thoughts (like the written thoughts in the blog) and conversation, thus inevitably adding to the exaggerated acting.
Also concerning such style of acting is how the actors’ exaggerated actions and reactions express taboos. It was previously a taboo for a woman to publicly admit her desire to get married. In fact, this is highlighted by the very opening lines of the blog and the very opening lines of the first episode, “… a girl who talks about this is either looked upon as indecent and hasn’t been properly raised… or as being excessively in a rush for marriage… or as being “wasted” and cannot find anyone to marry her…” (PS. This is a literal translation. “Wasted” could be replaced with “put on the shelf” or “aging” and thus “abandoned”)
اللي بتتكلم فيه بصراحة يا إما بيتبصلها على إنها قليلة الأدب و ماتربتش ..يا إما على انها مسروعة ع الجواز ..يا إما على انها بارت و مش لاقيه حد يتجوزها..
This emphasizes the taboo nature of the topic, which foreshadows the public’s reaction towards the blog, as seen in three-dimensionally through the series. The series has proven to be courageous in tackling such a sensitive topic.
Nevertheless, I have personally had much higher expectations for the series, while I still believe it deserves to be applauded for breaking communication barriers and illustrating what many Egyptians, women and men alike, must admit. If Egyptian men and women consider late marriage or lack of marriage altogether a problem, then there must be an extended form of openness in discussing it in order to find and consequently implement solutions.
It is difficult to precisely pinpoint what dimension was missing from the series, yet, I expected more depth to the main characters’ encounters with the potential husbands. It seems that the series focuses more on character-building and showcasing the dynamics of the characters, Hend Sabry’s role in particular. Perhaps some form of reflection would have created depth, although somewhat straying from the blog’s wording.
As for my expectations after the completion of the series, it would be interesting and perhaps even necessary to showcase, either through a blog, book, and/ or series, the male perspective to the problem. One must acknowledge that, like women, Egyptian men are also experiencing the struggles accompanying the desire to get married, whether it is a personal desire or a societal expectation. This would support the multi-directional communication on the subject, which could potentially solve this “problem”.
Finally, I intend to continue watching the series. Also, the validity of this critique is entirely pending the airing of the remaining 24 episodes of the series.
(written on August 17, 2010)
In my previous post, I posed an important and fundamental question that a friend of mine had asked me and I have yet to provide a response.
What might first come to mind is what does this question mean or, rather, why is this question significant at all? It is important to note that this question is not asking: do you love life? It is in no way a yes or no question with one definite answer. The question is asked based on the assumption that each person’s life has some sort of purpose and that there are things in life worth loving. The question also does not intend to inquire about the physical aspects of life (i.e. breathing, eating, and other basic necessities for being alive). Thus, the second assumption that this question is based on is that what one might love about life transcends the basic means and ends of survival in its physical sense; there is more to life than breathing and consuming nutrition, right? It is true that it may have otherwise been asked as: what are you grateful for? what makes you happy? etc. All these questions are essentially interrelated and cannot stand independently from one another. What makes you happy is generally believed to be what you love about life and it is, in turn, what keeps you grateful for living.
While some very conservative cultures (and religions) seemingly call for living only for the purpose of preparing for the hereafter (if you believe there is one; often seen as the antidote of life or equivalent to death), other cultures (and religions) place utmost emphasis on the life we currently know of. Regardless of which of the aforementioned perspectives is “right” or “correct”, one must be capable of identifying the thing(s) he or she love(s) about life. Otherwise, there will be nothing to appreciate and perhaps there would even be no alternative to look forward to (if you believe in some form of afterlife).
After much contemplation, I have come to the conclusion that my response will always be a response in the working. What I love about life today may possibly differ from what I will love about life one year or 10 years from today. For the time being, as of Wednesday, March 24, 2010, this is what I love about life.
I love how we, as humans, are always given a choice to accept or reject. Personally, I do believe that each person’s fate is somehow predetermined. Even then, we are always given options that may be from opposite sides of the choices spectrum or from anywhere in the grey area between the two extremes. Sometimes you get more options than you need (which sometimes stands between me and the love I have for being given options). We are given a strong yet fragile power to make decisions. You might choose to drink a mocha as opposed to an espresso. You might choose to drive while drunk, or not. You might choose to give up a passport you possess for another. “Life is a sum of all your choices” wrote Albert Camus. Although challenging, choices allow us to showcase the capacity of our mind. Choices allow for creativity or lack thereof. Choices allow for freedom or lack thereof… even if the choices are restricted! Your choices determine who you are.
Another thing that I love about life is rather ambiguous. I love people. I sincerely love meeting new people and reconnecting with people I have known in the past. Although seemingly naive, you can otherwise say that I love the interaction that people can have between each other. True, it is complex and occasionally difficult to predict. However, this mystery is what adds suspense to life (at least mine). Your interaction with people and their interaction with you reveals so much yet very little about who they are.
I love how with people, you can communicate. I love how you might not speak the same dialect, let alone language, as another person and still be able to communicate perfectly. This reminds me of Pink Floyd’s piece Keep Talking. “All you have to do is to just keep talking.” Although this song is based on many assumptions, like assuming the truth of Darwin’s theory of evolution, it certainly describes how communication has become a basic need for human beings. Psychological studies have determined this to be true (i.e. Maslow and others). Self-expression has even become identified as a basic human right. Any nation that places excessive limits to self-expression scores low on the human rights scale.
I love human interaction (one way or two way) because if it weren’t for self-expression, there would be no words to enhance your imagination (and knowledge, at times), there would be no (musical) notes to elevate our souls, there would be no brush strokes to illustrate an alternate human reality. If it weren’t for self-expression I would have never met those whom I love most. If it weren’t for self-expression I would have never met those inspire me to write (like the person who inspired me to write this and the previous post).
If it weren’t for self-expression, I would have never written, spoken, or sung a word. I wouldn’t have been able to show you how I feel, truly and deeply. And for this, I love life and I am eternally grateful.
(written on March 24, 2010)
A good friend of mine struck me with what I initially perceived to be a very naive question. I was surprised to hear such a question from a bright young man at his age. After a few seconds of attempting to absorb the question, I realized how we tend to neglect some of the most important yet basic questions that we might come across. We have become too consumed with the most materialistic aspects of life, too consumed that we have forgotten to ask questions; we have consequently forgotten to answer what we more than often fail to ask.
“What do you love about life?” he asked.
After my initial surprised reaction, I stuttered and almost choked on whatever words were coming out. “What do you mean what do I love about life?” I felt the need to ask a quite absurd question, “what IS there to love about life?” I sure did and do know that there is a lot to love about life. Surprisingly though, this question had never crossed my mind before that day.
Because I was too confused, I decided to throw the ball on his side of the field. To refrain from answering, I asked him the same question. He answered. Then, I gave him an answer merely for the purpose of not neglecting his question, but lacking the necessary thought it deserves.
I know that I feel, that I love, and that there are things I am very passionate about. For this, I have promised myself to answer the question, with the thought it deserves.
(To be continued)
(written on March 21, 2010)
To further promote the books and their authors, Rakha is currently in the process of searching for donors who can sponsor the books and their authors.
(written on December 23, 2009)
In the past few years, issues surrounding the niqab have escalated. Governments and their leaders worldwide have expressed their condemnation of the niqab. To further amplify such criticism, Sheikh al-Azhar Mohamed Tantawi has expressed the illegitimacy of the niqab in the Islamic faith. His comments on the necessity of a niqab ban in schools have ignited a controversy that had been relatively static in previous years. Sheikh Tantawi’s recent comments, however, crossed out the “Islamophobic” factor of the debate. As the Grand Sheikh of Egypt’s and the Arab world’s leading Islamic institution and an influential actor in Middle Eastern affairs, Sheikh Tantawi justifies his position by stating that the niqab is under no circumstances part of Islamic doctrine.
How can one expect a nation founded on liberal and democratic ideals to suppress a form of religious expression is a question that yet remains, but scholars and religious figures are attempting to answer.
(written on December 10, 2009)
On one university campus in the Canadian capital, Ottawa, Algerian fans cheered their players on toward victory against Egypt in an intense rendezvous that eventually qualified Algeria to compete in the World Cup 2010, next year in South Africa. It was a display of patriotism rarely seen by Canada’s Arabs publicly.
On November 18, Egyptian university students in Ottawa mourned the loss, or rather the dream that is yet to be achieved. With powerful chants strong enough to vibrate walls, the Egyptians could not help but continue chanting their chants and raising their flags even following the national team’s 1-0 loss to Algeria in Sudan. The plan was to celebrate and to chant, win or lose, the students said.
Elsewhere on the university, a group of Egyptian students decided to join the Algerian students in their celebrations. Words of congratulations were exchanged. New chants, referring to both Egypt and Algeria were sounded out by the fans, which were accompanied by the traditional tabla drum rhythms. Joining together in what was arguably the most ironic moment, considering the rumors of Egyptians being attacked in Sudan following the match and Egyptian demonstrations that led to violence in Cairo.
In Canada, this seemed not of concern for both Egyptian and Algerian fans, who sang together: “Masr! Jazayer” or “Egypt, Algeria!”
Yasmin Abdulgawad, an Egyptian student in Ottawa, said that the motive behind joining the Algerian celebrations was “to show them that we are civilized and have a big heart.”
Sarra Chalabi, President of the Maghrebian Association at the university, was “impressed” with the joint support. She stated that she “really appreciated it as it was proving it was just a game.”
In the joint celebration, hope for better relations between Egypt and Algeria was partly restored. However, the question that yet remains is will this restoration resonate over lands and seas, reaching North Africa?
When asked about future relations between Egypt and Algeria, both Egyptian and Algerian students are concerned about the violence that has surrounded the qualifying matches. Abdulgawad loses her optimism. saying that these violent events are “going to be the trigger for realizing that the Arab dream is gone.” She expressed her disdain towards dragging international relations into the sport.
On a similar note, Chalabi condemned the violence surrounding the matches. In acknowledging that Egyptian-Algerian diplomatic relations have been threatened, she acknowledges that “Algerians do not want any Egyptian or Egyptian company in Algeria anymore” and believes Egyptians feel the same way towards their Algerian counterparts.
Both students admit, however, that Ottawa has not been impacted by the violence, although all have been emotionally influenced by the events. Relatively peaceful relations between Egyptian and Algerian university students in Ottawa are expected to continue despite the violent protests in North Africa.
(Written on November 22, 2009)
Long before the birth of the Berliner Mauer, Robert Frost, English poet and writer, wrote of walls in 1914, which may have been forshadowing what the world was bound to witness. In his poem titled “Mending Wall”, he writes:
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out
And to whom I would like to give offense.
The Berliner Mauer existed to serve the purpose of any other wall, to wall something in and/ or to wall something out. Families and friends had been walled away from each other. Communism was walling out democracy, and democracy was walling out communism.
Almost exactly 10 years before the Berliner Mauer‘s death, Roger Waters (of Pink Floyd) wrote of walls, sang of walls, and composed music of walls. And, who knows?! Perhaps he was in fact referring to the Berilner Mauer. While his focus in his musical film (and soundtrack), “The Wall”, was centered around a rock musician’s construction of a wall that isolated him from society and his destruction of all his interactions with his world, Waters’s perspective remains valid and can be applied to any such structure. The character goes through an isolation phase, as was experienced by many Germans and the world-at-large following the contstruction of the Berliner Mauer. Yet, following a myriad of internal conflicts, hysterias, etc, the character eventually tears down his own creation. He breaks free from the chains the wall has bounded him to. He is now free!
Unlike many obituaries, this one may seem ironic in that it may seem to speak more of the negatives of the Berliner Mauer than its good qualities. However, there was a purpose behind its very existence that is much more humanitarian that political. It showed us the true strengths and weaknesses of human civilizations. It showed us how it is for a country to be united, and for the world to finally be united. It showed us the end of “global conflict” (and we’re forgetting this as we are on the brink of a new global conflict). It showed us, humanity as a whole, the true essence of living: We are beings created to live together, peacefully and harmoniously. With the death of the Berliner Mauer on November 9, 1989, we must remember what we are here for. I pray that the world wouldn’t need another wall’s rise and fall to remind us of the lessons we have learned or should have learned from past mistakes.
On an ending note, I leave with the words of Roger Waters in his song “Outside the Wall”:
All alone, or in two’s,
The ones who really love you
Walk up and down outside the wall.
Some hand in hand
And some gathered together in bands.
The bleeding hearts and artists
Make their stand.
And when they’ve given you their all
Some stagger and fall, after all it’s not easy
Banging your heart against some mad bugger’s wall.
In memory of the wall that divided Germany for 28 years and of the destruction of the wall that divided the world.
(written on November 9, 2009)