Saturday, September 30, 2006

Urban planning in Cairo goes Stuttgart

The new issue of the german magazine Qantara is out. Many interesting artices on ¨Papa Ratzinger¨ and islam, A conference on German muslims, a article by Fred Halliday on the issue of Islamism and the left, but what caught my eye the most was the article on urban planning in Cairo(any article who uses the term Um ad Dunya in the first paragraph is looked upon extremely favourably by me!). Ahmed-Abdul Rashid has written the article as part of an exhibition in Stuttgart, Germany, ¨building and planning in Cairo for the day after tomorrow¨ by the Institut fur Auslandbeziehungen(IFA) from early September-late October, culminating with a seminar¨Cairo - Between the legacy of world Culture and Global City on Oct 26-27.

The article itself starts of with saying that 50% of the world population lives in cities, 15 percent in megacities, where the writer states that only four of them is situated in the affluent industrialized world, New York, Los Angeles London and Paris and the bulk lives in megacities in Africa and Asia, altough Tokyo is indeed situated in Asia, it is a megacity, in the industrialized world in my view, a slight lapsus, by the author.

Speaking of Cairo he Quotes Ain Shams urban planning professor, Tamer El Khorazaty (and perhaps a pupil of Milad Hana) saying:
¨"Cairo has 28,000 inhabitants per square kilometre. The city is completely chock-a-block. We need a completely new strategy to allow the city to breathe again."

I would love to see the exhibition and join the seminar - anyone living in the proximity of Stuttgart, enjoy it!

Amarát Yacoubian once again

I´l look for any excuse just to be able to write a few more lines on the best selling book, turned blockbuster movie, Yacoubian building. The very good AP reporter Nadia Abou el-Magd wrote a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle yesterday. Nothing new really for the hardcore Yaqoubian fans, but the people of the Bay area, can look forward to an interesting article on a modern Cairo landmark, who´s rapidly is becoming as cherished to the cairenes, as the lovely Golden gate is to the people of the Bay(perhaps a slight exaggeration on my part). The writer also genourously gives us an extra treat with a link, that i didn´t see before on the movie. You can find it here.

My earlier postings on Yacoubiyan is here and here

It´s been a very busy week, and a very rewarding friday, with a lecture by a highly esteemed academic, who proved to be just as good, as a lecturer and in person, as he´s in writing(not always the case). My posting has been somewhat light in the last couple of days, hopefully this will change soon!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Ramadan Karim

Photo taken by Tara Todras-Whitehill(Reuters)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Private lessons, a necessary evil?

Gigi Douban has a good piece on private tutoring in the CSM today. Just a week after the school year began, and 15 million students entered the classroom after a long summer break, this article comes very timely indeed.

Education is not something that anyone takes easily, in any society, Egypt is not an exception to that rule, quite the opposite. It used to be the safest way of achieving social mobility, but nowadays, When students embark on their journey of endless private tutors at the age of nine, with all the amount of stress that follows with the years of preparing for a window of hope that will open for a month,(or two with the new system)years and years from the time you start taking private lessons , all your efforts as a student is aiming at that point in time, when you carry the hopes of yourself and your family alike on your shoulders. Aiming for the Thanawiá amma, the high school diploma, with enough grades to get you in to what you want to be, or want to study.

It´s perfectly true that visiting a household of any student during the year of his/her final high school exams is like going through a mine field, everything is done for the student, in order, not to fail his/her(or the dream of their parents), the private lessons is a must for most students if they want to pass the exams, and no stone is left untouched. The parents of poor students has to try and give their kid what they need, but ultimately there will be an imbalance in the system, to the benefit of students, with a somewhat more priviliaged background.

The teachers are just as trapped as the students, the low amount of salaries to teachers is of course the villian in this. Many of my friends and family live with this , teachers and students alike, what Yousry describes is unfortunately a very accurate picture of the state of things, teachers not teaching their student the complete courses does happen , but there are a few things more that complicate matters, the high figure of students in every class, and the old school of learning things by heart, dosen´t exactly help things either.

And if someone fails the exams, it´s like going to a funeral, and there are plenty of examples year in and year out of these tragical cases, with students not copeing with the pressure.

Frederik Richter wrote about this, two weeks ago, you can find it here

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Brian Whitaker on Bush´s mirage

A must read is Brian Whitaker´s latest article on baby Bush´s commitment toward democracy in the Middle East, latest manifested in his speech at the UN yesterday. Choosing Iraq as the test case for democracy in the region was indeeed unvise to say the least(what strikes me as a mindblower is how the closely knit group, who started propagating for this endaouvor more than 10 years ago, and assumingly put a lot of thinking in to this, failed to think about the post-Saddam era, in any other way than the Iraqi population welcomming the soldiers, by showering them with flowers, and the US army leaving Iraq in no time, while handing it over to the ¨extremly able, and much loved Chalabi¨ and the Iraqis living happy togheter ever after...).

That Mr Bush don´t have any wishes whatsoever for truly democratizing the region as a whole, and Egypt in particular has been vividly clear for quite some time now. The lack of consistency in critizing human and political rights violations in Egypt, bringing up the case of Aynman Nour time and time again(rightly so!), but failing to mention the Muslim Brotherhood high profile figures, and activists in prison, on as many occasions, and to a lesser extent Kifayya-activists, is only one of the cases where the administration failed misserably. The latest chapter in this sad story was the subtle endorsement of the¨reform oriented¨ group associated with Gamal Mubarak, perhaps this was only a way for President Bush of thanking him for the wedding invitation?

Brian Whitaker has written many a piece about the situation in Egypt, including the wawe of arrests against the Muslim Brotherhood and the Kifayya activists in jail for some time, i would like to take the opportunity to thank him for his support during difficult times.

EOHR launches it´s annual human rights report for 2005

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights will launch their 16th annual report on the state of human rights in Egypt tomorrow, September 21st. The report covers the organization´s activities for 2005. Their annual report is an institution in Egyptian human rights circles.

The EOHR is one of the oldest human rights organizations in Egypt, and the Arab World, established in 1985. It´s current Secretary General is the laywer Hafez Abu Sáeda and it´s President is Hisham Qassem.

The english press release can be found here, and the arabic equivalent here .

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Global Day for Darfur

Today, the 17th of September, over 50 cities will hold demonstrations and vigils for the people of Darfur. In Cairo there has been activities throughout the week, culminating today on AUC´s greek campus. The whole sequel of demos today started off in London at 11 A:M and continues with demos in Addis, Nairobi, Dakar New York, Montreal, Manama, Dubai,Berlin,Paris, Stockholm, Hague ,Bishkek, Seoul and Melbourne to name but a few.

About 200 000 people have died since 2004 and 2 million are displaced.

Please join in today, and please help in raising awareness in whatever way you can.

Here is the latest ICG report and likevise the latest press statement from Amnesty International on Darfur. Both of whom are among the organizers of this worldwide campaign.

This posting will be crosspublished at Diwan of Democracy.

Friday, September 15, 2006

article on impersonator of the President

So now it´s finally here, the first article in english about the impersonator of the President. Hannah Allam and Merit al Naggar has written a nice article, and the President look alike - well if you haven´t seen it yet, go and have a look at youtube.

Here is a small sample:

¨The sketch shows the impersonator boasting and babbling about his talks with Israeli officials. He invokes the same phrases - "many negotiations," "severe consequences," "international condemnation" - that Egyptians are accustomed to hearing in presidential speeches. But the delivery is everything. The cabbie scrunches up his face, jerks forward for emphasis and affects a self-righteous air.

"I talked to Sharon and warned him more than once," he says. "Hitting the Palestinians with bombs and guns, while they defend themselves with rocks, this is dangerous, and the whole international community will be very angry." ¨

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Boat sinking in the Suez Canal, one dead, three missing

An Egyptian boat sank in the Suez Canal, near Ismailia on wednesday morning. One man drowned, three others are missing, and six injured from the 40 man crew. The authourities have closed the canal, while conducting a search for the three crew members missing. The reason for the sinking of the boat is not known at this time.

This is the latest accident in a series, the latest month, starting with the Qalyoub train crashing that killed 58 people.

Last February about a thousand people died in a ferry accident en route from Duba in Saudi Arabia to Safaga in Egypt, carrying mainly Egyptians working in Saudi Arabia, the accident caused an uproar in Egyptian society, when the owner of the al Salam Boccacio 98, Mamduh Ismail, member of the Shura Council(Upper house of Parliament), first blamed the accident on the captain, who died with his ship, and the crew, and then managed to leave the country two weeks after, due to diplomatic immunity as memrber of the Upper house. The govrnment frooze his assets until he offered to pay 57 million USD into a compensation fund for the families of the victims. He will also be charged with manslaughter.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Journalist Summer Said harassed by state security

Reporters without borders issued a statement on Sep 8th, on Egyptian journalist´s ordeal. She is being harassed by state security according to RWB. She used to work for the one time best english newspaper in town,Cairo Times, now sadly no longer with us(Hisham Qassem is busy with al masry al youm and his party obligations in al Ghad). Summer Said is currently working for Reuters. You can find an interview and some info about her here, and a fine personal account from her colleague at the Cairo Times , Hossam el-Hamalawy.

And here is the RWB statement in full:

¨Egypt 8 September 2006

Reuters journalist harassed by state security

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about Summer Said, a young woman journalist working for the Reuters bureau in Cairo who is being harassed by the security services. Security agents went to her home yesterday, saying she would regret it if she did not report at once to their headquarters in the south Cairo district of Lazoghly.

The authorities have made it clear to her that they have detailed information about her, including her trips abroad. She suspects her phone is being tapped but refuses to bow to the intimidation. She plans to go abroad again soon and fears she could be banned from leaving the country, which would obstruct her work as a journalist.

“This harassment is unacceptable, especially as this is not the first time that Said has been targeted by the security forces,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We will monitor her situation closely in the coming weeks.”

In 2003, Said was subjected to several lengthy interrogations by state security agents, who suspected her of being a spy. She was working for the Cairo Times at the time, while finishing her studies.

Said thinks the latest harassment is linked to enquiries she recently conducted for Reuters into the arrests by state security of 95 people on suspicion of belonging to banned organisations.¨

Frederik Richter article on lack of development in Sinai

Arabist blogger, Frederik Richter has a piece on the lack of development in Sinai, in the new eddition of Qantara.

The most interesting part in my view is this:

¨Yet, in order to produce lucrative olive oil, a great deal of know-how and investment is necessary, and this is acquired only gradually. The government, in particular, has not succeeded in directing sufficient water to the Sinai to realize the region's enormous agricultural potential. A plan to extend the Salam Canal, which pumps water from the Nile under the Suez Canal, to the interior of the peninsula has existed for years, but only on paper.

One reason why Egyptian businessmen are afraid of investing in Sinai is that the peninsula is firmly in the grips of the security apparatus, consisting of the army, police, and secret services. An official with the Governorate of North Sinai says that over twenty tourism projects are waiting for authorization from the army to use land on the Mediterranean coast. Businessmen familiar with the Sinai security services report that even they regard the development of the peninsula as the best guarantee for security. This may be the case with respect to foreign enemies, who would only be able to advance slowly through thickly settled areas.

However, terrorism poses an internal threat that is difficult to control. In addition, the special permits needed to travel down many roads provides the security apparatus with welcome extra income, as has been frequently reported by visitors to the region. Since the Egyptian police are poorly trained and scantily equipped, they time and again resort to disproportional means, such as blocking whole roads to the transport of goods. After the attack on a hotel in Taba in October 2004, they indiscriminately arrested thousands all over the peninsula.¨

Monday, September 11, 2006

Remembering 9/11

Just a few minutes ago, the bells in New York tolled, at the exact time of the first aircraft hitting the first World Trade Center tower at 08:46 Eastern time. The names of the 2749 people who lost their lives at the World trade center is being read one after the other at ground Zero. We should all take a minute and think about them, and reflect and those onboard the four planes, and the people who lost their lives at Pentagon and in Pennsylvania and the consequenses of 9/11 worldwide that we live with everyday.

I remember that day, and how it effected me, I got a phone call from a friend after the first airplane smashed into WTC1, put on the televison set, just before the second airplane, it was unbelivable, i remained fixed to the tv set and the computer, but the feeling that came creaping was numbness, something that remained with me for almost two weeks, going on with your normal life, but living another in parallel, or rather trying to comprehend emotionally, what you somewhat grasped relatively soon intelectually. Fortunately i had no one near me, who was a victim of this mass slaughter, but not feeling and carying for the people who died, and those who would be permanently effected for life was impossible, and they all died in vain.

I have plenty to say about the political and military reactions to 9/11 and do so frequently on both of my blogs, but let´s leave that till tomorrow, today is a day of remembrence, mourning and reflection.

The photo is from today´s New York Times.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Another road accident kills at least 13 and injures 10 near Asyut

A new fatal road accident killed at least 13 people and injured 10. According to a police official speaking on condition of anonymity. The accident occured near the City of Asyut, about 300 Km south of Cairo. The accident involved four viechles. A truck and a minibus collided on a single lane highway, two additional trucks were caught in the accident. It´s still early days, and more information will become available in the comming hours.

This comes after a month full of major accidents, on the road(the two latest killing nine pilgrims en route to Saudi Arabia and another involving a british tourist, on the railways and houses comming down. It all boils down to one thing - lack of security for the citizens in their daily lives. Safer roads, tougher enforcement of safety belts on any minibuses , and housing, where the owner isn´t allowed to build an additional storey, without a permit under any circumstances, is really not much to ask for.

Does anybody have the figures for people killed in road related accidents/year? If so i would be very interested in those figures!

UPDATE: I´ve changed the numbers, originally i claimed 10 people dead and 13 injured, it was the other way around - wishful thinking on my behalf i´m afraid. Thanks to Hossam at 3arabawy!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Former MP Mukhtar Nouh´s first CD banned by censorship board

The former member of parliament for the Muslim Brotherhood, Mukhtar Nouh was planning on releasing his first CD with political songs, when reaching a dead end, in form of the entertainment cencorship committee.

The committee, refused to comment on why they decided not to give Nouh´s CD the license and the go ahead, but judging from this following qoute, the critical lyrics is behind the decision.

"One song in the album talks about a ruler who tours his country every year. In one province, one of the citizens stops the ruler to ask why food, medicines and jobs have become so scarce," recounts the bearded Nouh.

"The next year, another citizen asks the ruler the same question, but adds where has the first citizen gone!"

Nouh had created a production company, and expected to sell about a million copies, but now he´s thinking about putting it on his website for free, perhaps youtube or my space could offer an alternative for the Muslim Brother on a time out?

Mukhtar Nouh is part of the middle generation in the Ikhwan, gaining political experience in student politics, as tresurer in the lawyers syndicate and in parliament. Having spent time behind bars for three years between 1999-2002 and directly started to propagate for a better relationship between the brothers and the government, a relationship built on bricks of misstrust since the banning of the organisation in 1954. Somewhere along that path, signs of misstrust between the new supreme guide Mahdi Akef and him became evident, and Nouh has been out fishing ever since.

i´m wondering about his music, if Nouh is going to place himself somewhere between Sami Yousef and Shaában Abd al Rahim, but of course, the once very politically streetwise Shaában abd al Rahim, has become just another artist praising the President, instead of raising issues important to the man on the street.

Gihan Shahine piece on fatwa fights

Gihan Shahine has written a piece on the controversy created by the fatwa on killing Israelis by Safwat al Higazi, and the counter fatwa from the mufti Ali Gouma, against the background of the war in Lebanon and Gaza, a matter that i wrote about the other day. She omitts the part were Ali Gouma speaks about:

" Jews make matzo (unleavened bread) with human blood, describing the Israelis as "bloodsuckers" (al-Ahram, August 7).¨

She also mentions Shaikh Qardawi´s statement, while embracing Hassan Nasrallah as a hero for the Islamic cause, he also warns against shiísm in Egypt, under the disguise of Sufism.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Profile on judge Hesham al Bastawissi

This is old by now, but a profile on judge Bastawissi from the judges club, always makes interesting and worthwhile reading, he talks to Gamal Nkrumah from al Ahram Weekly. You can read it here

Tributes to Naguib Mahfouz

I first heard of Naguib Mahfouz when he was awarded the Nobel prize in the autumn of 1988, and a week later, i bought my first Mahfouz novel, adrift on the Nile, i couldn´t wait till i got home, and started reading in a café just minutes after picking it up at the bookstore. After that i had a love story with his novels for two years , reading everything i could get my hands on, and watching every film based on his novels as well, over and over, especially the Cairo trilogy. What i liked most was his ability to write about the ordinary life of the people of Cairo, against the background of it´s modern history. At that time i didn´t know that much about it, and in some sense, my appetite for seeking more knowledge about the history and politcs of the Egyptian society came in parallel with me discovering the Egypt of Mahfouz.

I also appreciate one of his core values, that followed him trueout his career, perhaps most vividly in the first part of the trilogy, the national unity, a theme that stayed with him to the end of his life. I remember that he had a piece in al Ahram, just days after the Kosheh incident in the opening week of the new millenium, where he once again stated, how, when he grew up, no one ever thought about if he´s friends where Muslims or Christians. I could very well see how he was influenced by Salama Musa, who unfortunately during the last decade lost his tolerance and openmindedness to some extent, something Naguib Mahfouz never did.

I found some good articles on the occasion of his passing, two in open Democracy, by Trevor Le Gassick and Roger Allen. Another by long time Cairo correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, Dan Murphy, and last but in no way the least, the special focus on the author in al Ahram Weekly, compiled by Hala Halim.

Jamestown foundation paper on Hizbullah support in Egypt

Jamestown foundation has published a paper on how support for Hizbullah in Egypt Threathens Mubarak´s Stability Apart from the fact that i don´t think this threatens the regime, more than any other issue in the long run, it´s a good roundup of the events relating to the war, and the massive, and for the President and the two kings, unexpected public support for Lebanon, Hizbullah and indeed it´s leader Hassan Nasrallah.

The most interesting part in my view, is the war of fatwas between the leading members of establishment Islam, and some less prestigous, but more popular clerics from within the establishment of al Azhar.

¨Popular Cairo imam Safwat al-Higazi took to satellite network al-Nas to issue a fatwa calling on Muslims to kill all Jewish Israelis with firearms, knives and poison. Al-Azhar responded by suspending al-Higazi from preaching at Friday prayers and issuing its own fatwa that visa-holding Israelis in Egypt could not be killed. As Egypt's government-appointed grand mufti 'Ali Guma'a explained, the visa amounted to an inviolable "safe-conduct" pass (al-Masri al-Yom, August 22). 'Ali Guma'a denounced descriptions of Hezbollah "terrorism," describing their role as simple defense of their country (MENA, July 28). The mufti praised Hezbollah for teaching the Arabs "how to fight honorably and fairly," but also aired the old canard that Jews make matzo (unleavened bread) with human blood, describing the Israelis as "bloodsuckers" (al-Ahram, August 7).¨

I can´t help but notice that al Higazi is denounced and suspended for what he said, but the mufti could air other words, that are antisemitic, while creating a special category of wisa-holding Israelis, which are not permissable to kill, when being in Egypt as a tourist. Ubelivable, does that mean that an Israeli is permissable to kill
after leaving Egypt.. Very pragmatic indeed.

Thank God for shaikh al Azhar al Tantawi , considering what he said, only yesterday

¨Tantawi: Jihad is Purely Defensive
Freedom of Religious Belief Intrinsic to Islam

Al-Sharq al-Awsat(Arabic) reports that the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar Seminary in Cairo, perhaps the foremost Sunni Arab authority, has issued a statement that jihad or "holy war" was legislated in Islam for the defense of the persons and honor of Muslims, and is not to be used as a threat or a form of aggression against the innocent.

Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi called for the correction of false Western ideas concerning Islam, especially the notion of "jihad."

The remarks came in a closing session of a joint Muslim-Christian Dialogue Committee between al-Azhar and the Anglican Church in the UK.

Grand Sheikh Tantawi denied that there is any clash of civilizations or religions, affirmed that members of the religions cooperate with one another, and mere difference in religion does not prevent that.

He quoted the Quran verse, "There is no compulsion in religion," saying that it demonstrates that freedom of belief is delegated (to human beings), and any practices that contradict that principle are considered departures from true Islam.¨

It still seems that he is battling it out with Ali Goma, in much the same way as he did with the late Shaikh al Azhar, Gad al Haq in the nineties during the UN Population conference in Cairo, and on the issue of female genital mutilation.

I also can´t help to think about the fact that Sheikh Yousef Qardawi and the President seem to share the same view on shiítes in general.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

New blog: 3arabawy

The very gifted Egyptian journalist and blogger, Hossam-el Hamalawy launched his own blog yesterday. It looks very promising! Go read and enjoy his blog!

1000 mabrouk ya Hossam!

You just have to check out the new Midan Ramsis

Don´t miss out on how the new Midan Ramsis looks like at the arabist.

I´m quite convinced, that both Ramsis II and the awakening of Egypt, the old masters of the square, looks at the new kid on the block in utter envy.

Thanks Issandr!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

two dead and 16 wounded in Yet another train crash in Shibin al Qanater

On monday, a passenger train and a freight train collided in Shibin al Qanater 30 Km north of Cairo according to security sources. two people died and at least 16 are are wounded.

This comes only two weeks after a traincrash that took 58 lifes, and a aftermath were the chief of the Egyptian railway authority had to step down, a secondary outcome was a minor change in the government were Osman Muhammed Osman, Minister of planninng had to relinguish power concerning local administration, after being critizised in the aftermath of the trainaccident in Qalyoub on August 21.


The death toll has reached five, and thirty people are injured. The driver of the train are among the dead.