Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nora Younis receives Human Rights First award

Nora Younis will receive the annual Human Rights award from the Human Rights First Organization when they celebrate their first 30 years as an organization in New York tomorrow. She will share the prize with Oleg Kozlovsky, a young democracy activist in a country that slides further from the straight path of democracy for each day it seems. Senator Ted Kennedy is also awarded for his long and distinguished career as a human rights defender.

Human Rights First have been very suportive of human rigths in Egypt, during the last years and Campaigned for Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who won the same award in 2002 Alaa and Kareem among others, and i would like to extend my greetings and humble thanks for your support on this happy occasion.

This is how they describe Nora:

... When Egyptian soldiers used water cannons and nightsticks to brutally evict Sudanese refugees from a public square in Cairo, Nora Younis was there, taking notes and shooting photos. Her blog of the incident drew international attention to the Egyptian government's abuses against these vulnerable refugees. Nora continues to raise awareness about rampant human rights abuses in Egypt through her compelling blog posts.

1000 Mabrouk ya Nora!!

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Kolena Laila

We are all Laila on October 19th and every day.

UPDATE: Nermeen Edrees at Global Voices has a nice round up on what the day entailed, and also from GV, Amira al Hussseini with a bit of background on Kolena Laila. For me the project is about sharing, dialougue and empowerment, and i really enjoyed the fact that it was cross-generational this time, with the piece from Manal´s mother and Maat´s piece about her grandmother´s University years in 1944-48, almost corresponding to Latifa Zayyat´s own time at the University during the early and mid 40´s. This opened up space to voices and added perspectives that would not be heard in the blogospere otherwise.

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

in solidarity with the people of Duweiqa

Today marks the end of the forty-day period of mourning since that fatal Saturday morning on Sertember 6th. I would like to express my solidarity with the people of Duweiqa on this day.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Collapsing building in Alexandria kills at least 12

A four-storey building collapsed in the Mustafa Kamel district in Alexandria this morning, claiming the lives of at least 11. Among the dead was a mother holding her baby tight. At least ten more were injured according to AFP. 35 people were living in the building that collapsed at 1 A:M in the morning. The rescue operation continues.

Salah Subhi, the Muslim Brotherhood MP for Alexandria was at the scene this moorning, and put the blame on the municipality.

"The building was known to need renovation work,"

Collapsed buildings are unfortunately far too common than one might have wished for. The city of Alexandria has been among the misfurtunate ones lately, on the eve of the new year, last December 35 people lost their lives in an equally tragic incident when a 12-storey building collapsed in the district of Loran. In 2005, 19 people died in another collapse in the City. It was less than three months ago, that i last had to write about it, then in the City of Mansoura , with an equally dreadful outcome, among the five victims at that time was two twins.
The building was from 1955, and a fifth floor was added in 1997 in violation of the law.

The residents had complained to the local authorities that the building was unsafe and the authorities had ordered the removal of the fifth floor and other structural changes, they added. But the orders were not implemented, they said.

New legislation was introduced in 1996 to counter the problem after a building collapsed in the upper Middle class area of Heliopolis in Cairo and took 64 lives, but little if any has changed.

UPDATE: A twelwth person has died according to newsreports.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Eissa pardoned by President Mubarak

Ibrahim Eissa, the editor in Chief of al Doustor, has been pardoned today, on the 35 anniversary of the Crossing of the canal(The first day of the October War 1973). President Husni Mubarak pardoned him as part of the President´s efforts to foster freedom of the press in Egypt according to the Egyptian official news agency MENA.

While i fully appreciate the gesture from the President today, an important first step to foster freedom of the press in Egypt would be to carry out the promise given to Galal Aref, then Chairman of the Press Syndicate , on February 23rd 2004, about changing legislation, to safeguard journalists from facing the possibility of being sentenced to jail for what they write. This was later incorporated into the Presidential election platform in 2005. Today some 1685 days later, this promise has yet to be fulfilled. This is something that the President surely intends to do, prior to the ending of his fifth term in office in October 2011, or will it become part of the reforms sugested in the presidential election platform in 2011?

Here is al Doustour´s own take on the pardoning of Eissa.

Here is Ibrahim Eissa´s press conference at the Journalists syndcate in Cairo after recieving the pardon.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Fire in Ghazl al Mahalla factories

According to reports, A fire broke out in three factory buildings in Egypt´s and probably the Arab World´s largest factory with some 24 000 employees. The fire began when the factory was restarted after Eid al Fitr holidays, at about 6 o Clock in the morning . The factory contains raw cotton, so the fire spread heavily. The Fire brigade fought the fire for hours and managed to control it. The material damages seems heavy, but no casualties in the workforce is reported. The news is still sketchy , and there also seems to be an attempt at hindering reporters from reaching the factories.

Karim al Beheiry points out that this is the second fire that hits the Ghazl al Mahalla company within a week(considering that the factory was closed for half of it, that should keep the responsible for fire security, sleepless at night).

The City of Mahalla is situated in the delta, the industrial heart of Egypt. The workers of the Ghazl al Mahalla company has been the focal point of labour activism since December 2006, and the call for a general strike proclaimed on facebook that gathered 64 000 names in two weeks, where made to support the workers in Mahalla on that particular day, as well as being a call to protest the increase in prices. In the following days Mahalla was the scene of riots, that took at least two lives, and led to mass arrests and police brutality. The city was totaly cordoned off from the outside world for a few days.

One might wonder when this string of fires will end.

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¨There is no such thing as a handicap¨

Heba Said , one of Egypt´s Paralympics gold medalists, and a Zagazig native is being profiled by Michael Slackman and Mona al Naggar in today´s New York Times. At the time i wrote about the early medalists in the Paralympics in Beijing,medals continued to come like magnets all through the games , and the final toll was 12 medals, four golds, four silver and four bronze medals, making Egypt the 29th in the overall standings of the games.

They returned to a heroes welcome, or so it would seem when recievied by the first Lady and Gamal Mubarak. In the long run, maybe their success will have an impact, but there are still very much to wish for, in terms of people´s attitudes, heroine or no heroine, she still has to live her daily life fighting ignorance and prejudice.

HEBA SAID AHMED pulled her car up to the curb. “No parking here,” a police officer shouted. “But it’s a handicap car,” she said softly, motioning to her wheelchair in the back seat. The officer insisted that she park down the block.

A few minutes later, she had made it from her car, hauled herself on crutches down a flight of steps into a largely empty park when a man tried to stop her. “Members only today,” he said, not even asking if she was a member. She was not, but, exasperated, she said, “I am Heba Said, champion for Egypt.”

The man had no idea what she was talking about, and kept telling her to leave.

She was not raised within the family as any other child, so the first reality check, came in school, were she was told by her teacher that if she couldn´t stand up, this was no place for her. She was placed in a class room on the fifth floor for the first four years, when her father first pleaded with the headmaster to let her be in a first floor classroom, when pleading to common sense ended in vain, he used to carry her to class every day.

and still she says:

“I think there has to be a bit of struggle in your life,” she said. “It strengthens you. It builds character.”

She was always encouraged to do well in school and graduated from Zagazig University with a degree in psychology, it was in her teens that she began with sports and soon the medals started coming, and they´ve never stopped since.

She´s most likely to end her sporting career, while she´s on top, being a double paralympics gold medalists and search for other challenges in life, like having a family, and bring her children up to become champions.

What really lingers on in my mind in reading about Heba is this simple sentence, that tells more about us and the restraints, limits and prejudice that exists, Heba is way ahead of us, and she´s a true role model for all of us.

“THERE is no such thing as a handicap,” she said. “A handicap is in your thinking, or in your heart.”

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Friday, October 03, 2008

Strings attached to Muhammed Refaát´s release

It seems that the Egyptian blogger Muhammed Refaát has been , or about to be released, subject to conditions from State Security that would restrict him from ever updating his blog or his facebook account. Taking his story to the media or to Human Rights organizations, this according to al Doustor( the fact that he talks with al Doustor would of course disqualify him from following the terms).

He has been in prison since July 21 st, though ordered released by the state security on August 17th, but he was not released, instead an order was issued for him to be held under the ever so flexible Emergency Law.

It´s of course absurd that State Security could even contemplate setting preconditions for his release, but then again this is the Kafkaesque state of Egypt 2008.

More on this later.

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al Jazeera English Cairo Special

(Via the Arabist)

During the last forthnight al Jazeera English inside story has been airing three instalments about Egypt focusing on Ramadan, Youth and Political reform.

The first installment focuses on the food banquets for the poor during Ramadan.


Part II of the first installment can be found here


Part II of the second installment can be found here

Political Reform

Part II of the third installment can be found here

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Thursday, October 02, 2008

Al Beit beitak ?

In the aftermath of Duweiqa, that cost 107 people their lives, the BBC offers us a glimpse at the same problem from another angle, were we get to follow two youngish couples, Hazem and Shaimaa and Ashraf and Rabab on their make or break day when they will compete against each other for the key to their future.

A serious social problem that changes society forever makes a good TV-game show?

This is Doqou el- Mazaher(Start the Bridal Music), the new show of Mahmoud Saad, famous TV-personality from al Beit Beitak. In a way it´s reality-TV, comming to Egypt, but the problem is that one of the couples will walk away with the keys to married life, a family and soon children , in short the Egyptian fairytale beginning of.... And they lived happily ever after...

The other couple will go back, not to their home, but to their parents constant nagging about why your fiancé is not doing so and so ,and their engagement is more likely to break up, than not.

On the other hand you have couples who never gets the chance to go on a TV-show, they live the reality day in day out, and it´s not bright.

What is needed is a sustainable plan that offers affordable housing in high numbers over 20 years , something that has been a scarcity since the late sixties. The problem should be solved by the government and private business in concert, not apartments thrown at people, desperate for an adult life and a family until network ratings, or another idea comes along, and closes down the show. TV´s role in society is not to do charity in the first place, TV should be about education and information and of course entertainment, but to dwell on others missery is not good television, some might argue that this is the ultimate infotainment, but trust me, the only ones who are not aware of the harsh reality on the ground in Egypt, are those who chose to look away, and they are not the ones who need an apartment, blinded by their lifestyle they already live in gated communities, like Qatemiyya Hights and set their eyes firmly on what to wear in Marina next summer.

al Beit beitak? Hard luck, don´t think so!

You can view the clip that goes with the article above, new policy from the BBC dosent alow me to embed the clip, so here is the link.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Happy Aid al Fitr and Rosh Hashannah 5769

I would like to wish a happy Eid al Fitr to my Muslim readers and Happy Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish new year to my Jewish readers, today it´s 2nd Tishri 5679.

Kol sanna wa antum tayyibin and Shana Tova Umetukah (A good and sweet year).

Kahk al Aid
There is something that´s practically obligatory on all tables in Egypt on Eid al Fitr, that is Kahk. This tradition of eating Kahk on Eid al Fitr goes back about 1000 years, during the Fatimid Dynasty in Egypt, according to legend the ruler al Aziz(975-996) used to distribute Kahk to the people of the newly established city of al Qahirah(Cairo), it was also about that time that al Azhar was created as a religious institution by the Fatimids.

I would like to send 1 Kg of virtual Kahk al Aid to Sheikh Youssef al qaradawi, the highly popular and influential religious scholar, whom himself was educated at the very same institution some 980 years later, if he were to take a walk down the Memory Lane of his formative al Azhar years he would find himself passing by al Kahkeen alley, were the Kahk makers used to create their culinary masterpieces in what seems to have been a cultural high point in the City´s history, when the City was governed by the Fatimids , whom ruled over a population, most of whom belonged to another Muslim Law school. Tolerance seem to have been the name of the game, for most of the Fatimid years(al Hakim´s rule differs sharply from that pattern).

Qaradawi has been acting rather cranky and grumpy, as of late and perhaps he needs the Kahk to recover from the feverish statements he gave during the latter part of Ramadan, he obviously had some Basbousa or Konafa that made it possible to see things in a slightly different light, but in my view the issue was totally uncalled for from the outset, just because it´s fashionable with that kind of rhetoric at this particular point in time, be it from so called statesmen or religious scholar, it dosent make it right.

Happy Aíd!

This will be cross-posted at Diwan of Democracy.

UPDATE: The BBC has some nice photos from around the Globe on Aíd celebrations and Global Voices on celebrations in Moscow among other places, the piece shows the good, bad and the ugly among attitudes and prejudices towards the Muslim minority in Russia, but is interesting, it´s written by Veronica Khokhlova, and is one of many articles on the celebrations by GV. just learned that Áid al Fitr is called Uraza Bayram, so Happy Uraza Bayram to all Muslims in Russia!

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