Saturday, May 23, 2015
Born in an affluent and noble family. Her father was a popular reciter of the Quran who died when she was 14. She and her sisters deserted their mother when the latter married another man. Little Bamba Kashar later met a Turkish belly dancing master who placed her foot on the first steps towards stardom.
Bamba Kashar became Egypt’s number one belly dancer. She performed at the mansions of princes and pashas. Egyptians used to nickname her “set el kol”, the literal translation is “everyone’s mistress”. And the word mistress here refers to the feminine of “master”. Bamba Kashar became so rich to the extent that she used to dance while carrying a tray full of money or jewelry on her head.
Queens such as Tahia Karioka and Samia Gamal were graduates of Masabny’s dancing school. They all performed with Masabny, before they themselves become queens of course. Her nightclub, located where the Cairo Sheraton stands now, was considered to be the Moulin Rouge of the East. Masabny’s contribution to Egyptian entertainment was tremendous. She was married to the beloved Egyptian/Iraqi comedian Naguib El Rehany.
Belly dancer and actress. Karioka was made in Badia Masabny’s nightclub. Her family rejected her desire to perform as a belly dancer. Karioka left them and later became Egypt’s top belly dancer. As she grew older, Tahia Karioka concentrated on movies and on getting married. She purportedly married 14 times, among her husbands were actor Rushdy Abaza, the heartthrob of Egyptian girls back then.
Egypt had several queens, Tahia Karioka probably tops the lost in terms of recognition and fame. She is my favorite. She used to sing with her dancing moves.
Reign: 1940s- 1950s
Another product of Badia Masabny’s nightclub. Samia Gamal was a symbol of beauty, sexiness, and elegance who performed in front of Egypt’s King Farouk.
Samia Gamal invented her own style of dancing. She incorporated Latin and ballet dancing moves. Being the elegant woman that she was, Samia Gamal was the first to dance while wearing high heels. Samia just grabs my heart.
Samia went to New York and performed in Latin Quarter nightclub. She was also photographed by the renowned photographer Gjon Mili.
Just like her colleague Tahia Karioka, Samia Gamal had to marry the Don Juan, Roshdy Abaza. Yes, beautiful women had to marry Roshdy. That was the rule back then. Their marriage was very brief though.
Reign: 1960s- mid 19702.
Late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat called her “the Um Kalthoum of dance, Sohair Zaki was known for her musical ear. ٍShe was the first belly dancer to dance on Um Kalthoum’s songs. Sohair Zaki performed in front of world leaders such as former Egyptian presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat, former US president Richard Nixon and the Shah of Iran.
Before becoming a professional belly dancer, Sohair Zaki tried to be a television presenter. She failed in the audition. The judges should be thanked for turning her down!
Nationality: Egyptian / Palestinian
Reign: 1960s – early 1980s.
Just as the 40s witnessed the rise of Tahia Karioka and Samia Gamal, the 1960s witnessed the arrival of two new queens: Sohair Zaki and Nagwa Fouad.
Nagwa Fouad was both a belly dancer and movie actress. She was the first and only belly dancer to dance on a piece of music composed by the legendary Mohamed Abdel Wahab. The music was composed specifically for her! That was unprecedented.
Nagwa Fouad became a queen by a mere coincidence. After moving to Cairo from her hometown Alexandria, she took up a job as a telephone operator at an agency of several Egyptian movie stars. The owner of the agency saw Nagwa dance. He advised her to rent a belly dancing costume and try her luck. That was the best advise given to Nagwa. She went from a poor Alexandrian girl to a millionaire.
Reign: 1980s- mid 1990s.
From the 40s till the early 1980s, Egypt had two queens share the throne in a specific era. Fifi Abdou ended this trend, she became the uncontested queen till she was pushed aside by Dina (see below).
Fifi Abdou was both a belly dancer and actress. Currently she hosts her own TV show and has over 518 thousand followers on her Instagram account. That number is humongous on Egypt’s Instagram.
The daughter of a policeman, Fifi Abdou started her career in the nightclubs of Haram Street. She was the highest paid belly dancer in Egypt and the world. It is reputed that she owns over 5000 belly dancing costumes. Fifi’s dancing fees and movies made her one of the richest women in Egypt. She is known for her charitable work including including hosting a huge “street banquet” to feed the poor during Iftar in Ramadan.
Reign: mid 1990s – 2013.
Egypt’s uncontested belly dancing queen for over 15 years. She was born in Rome and has a master’s degree in philosophy. Her dancing career started with the famous Reda Dance Troupe where she became the solo dancer. Dina then started dancing in 5 stars hotels where she shocked her audience by abandoning the traditional belly dancing costume for more revealing bikinis and shorts. Her career hit a rock bottom when a leaked video allegedly showed her having sex with Egyptian businessman Hossam Aboul Fotouh. Dina said that she and Abul Fotouh were married in secret and she had no idea he was videotaping her. The ordeal forced her to stop dancing for sometime.
Dina returned back to dancing and her acting, she remained to be the queen until mainstream movies producer El Sobki unleashed Safinaz in 2013.
Nationality: Armenian / Russian
Safinaz blessed the land of Egypt a few years ago when she came from Russia to work as a belly dancer. She first appeared in sensational belly dancing satellite TV channels such as El Tet. Safinaz became popular but only to the viewers of these channels until mainstream movies producer El Sobki chose her to dance in one of his films. Millions watched her dance in movie theaters and on YouTube and, voila, a new queen was born.
Safinaz is very famous in Egypt. Her name was among the most googled words in 2014. If you typed the Arabic letter “saad”, the first google reference will be her name which starts by this letter.
Safinaz’s fame drew the attention of the Egyptian government and third class lawyers seeking fame. A lawsuit was filed against her for dancing while wearing a costume that symbolized the Egyptian flag. ٍShe was sentenced to 6 months in jail and a 10,000 Egyptian pounds bail to stop the sentence. Safinaz was once briefly detained for dancing in a wedding without a work permit. A few days later her lawyer announced that she married an Egyptian. It was apparent she did that for the permanent residence and the work permit.
I was blessed and honored to shake the hand of Safinaz. I should have kept my hand in a glove and not wash it ever
Saturday, January 17, 2015
The vast majority of terrorists’ victims are Muslims. One poll after the other reassures that citizens of Arab/Muslim countries are against what the jihad-inspired terrorists do. But why is there so little public reaction against terrorists especially if most of the victims are Muslims? The answer is threefold: denial, sense of victimhood and lack of religious reformation.
Many in the Arab/Muslim world would rather keep their eyes shut towards certain realities that they don’t like, including the fact that there are psychopathic bloodthirsty maniacs who call themselves Muslims. Denial mixed with chauvinism is huge in the Arab/Muslim world: we follow the best religion, we don’t have any homosexuals, we don’t have kids having premarital sex and definitely we don’t have terrorists. Denial is a river that runs across the Arab/Muslim world and not just in Egypt.
Sense of victimhood:
It is more comfortable to be confined in your sense of victimhood than look in the mirror and admit that something is wrong with you. This is how the Arab/Muslim world is reacting. It is so cocooned in the impression that the entire world is conspiring against it and it would rather indulge in that feeling than embrace the painful admission that there is something wrong, something rotten, within it. This is the reason why massive demonstrations would erupt when Israel attacks Gaza and kills Palestinians or when some Danish cartoonist draws the Prophet yet the massacre of school kids in Peshawar by the Taliban would trigger a much feebler response. Following the Peshawar massacre, moments of silence were held across schools in India; it was business as usual in Egyptian schools.
Lack of religious reformation:
Every religion believes that it is the best; however, what differentiates Islam from its fellow Abrahamic faiths is the lack of any critical thinking at the present moment. Christianity, after years of corrupt church rule, entered the furnace of critical thinking resulting in the Reformation. Jewish scholars produced various interpretations of their faith, ranging from the sane to the crazy. When a Jewish Orthodox magazine removed female politicians from the Paris March photo, the world did not freak out because the rest of the Jews made fun of that magazine. Islam does not have that at the moment because critical thinkers are killed, flogged or tarnished.
Islam that was once rich in scholarship and analysis got reduced to one puritanical line of thought that dominates the current religious discourse. This line of thought cannot revolt against terrorists because it shares many of the things that terrorists do and believe in. Take stoning the adulterer as an example. It is not practiced anywhere outside areas that are under the control of hardline extremists such as ISIS and the Taliban. Very few in the Arab/Muslim world would welcome the legislation of such a cruel punishment; however, very few would actually confidently say that it is not sanctioned by religion as a punishment for adultery. This is the problem. Stoning is mentioned in Islam’s religious texts just as it is mentioned in the Christian and Jewish holy books. Christians and Jews managed to find an interpretation that makes stoning an unacceptable behavior in today’s world, however, the Islamic religious discourse is still mired in the outdated interpretations of the ancient religious texts because critical thinkers, such as the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, get flogged.
There won’t be a million man march in the Arab/Muslim world against terrorists because there is no strong religious counter argument to refute these terrorists.
Monday, December 1, 2014
“Everyone was acquitted, everyone. Not a single person was convicted,” shouted a man standing in front of the bakery shop near my house. It was one of the very rare times where I knew breaking news from a source other than Twitter. “It’s a country of pimps,” replied the young man working in the bakery.
I continued walking to my destination: Heliopolis Club. I overheard the same comment from a shop employee meters away from the bakery. “They were all acquitted,” he said. Inside Heliopolis Club, a bastion of Sisi support, I overheard 3 men discussing the breaking news of the day. Two agreed that Mubarak should have been acquitted; “Not the police chiefs though,” reiterated one of these men.
The shock that followed the Mubarak verdict was not a result of his own acquittal. In fact, many believe Mubarak when he assured several times that he never ordered the killing of protesters. The shock is mainly emanating from the fact that all convicts, including the hated former Minister of Interior Habib El Adly, were acquitted of any wrongdoing.
“I am happy Mubarak was found innocent. He did not do a thing,” said our housekeeper. “El Adly should have been sentenced though,” she continued.
Besides pro-revolution sentiments, this verdict upset many average apolitical Egyptians for a reason that might not be connected to politics. The verdict was yet another reminder that, in Egypt, you can be off the hook if you have the right connections and status.
While it is true that evidence of killing protesters was manipulated and corrupted, the initial verdict in 2012 was life in prison for Mubarak and El Adly. You don’t go from life in prison to acquittal unless you are living in a banana republic.
So, did the judge get a phone call from someone high up to issue this verdict? Is the whole Egyptian judicial system so politicized to this degree? It is easy to assume that this is the case. Unfortunately, reality is far more complex. There are several cases where judges ruled against the government and issued verdicts that don’t necessarily coincide with the benefits of the ruling regime in Egypt. For example, Mubarak used to send Muslim Brotherhood leaders to military courts to avoid the maze of the civilian courts. MB strongman Khairat El Shater was sent to a military court to be tried in a case which he was cleared from in the civilian court. The answer to this question is not easy and needs extensive research to understand what really drives some of Egypt’s judges to make such bizarre decisions.
This verdict will not yield any significant ramifications in the time being. Today, anything is sacrificed on the “altar of stability”. The desire of millions of Egyptian to maintain stability and return back to their normal lives will consume anything. However, this verdict and the other blunders of the Egyptian regime are like small ignited pieces of coal under this altar. If Egyptians did not feel any improvement in their daily lives in the near future, these pieces of coal will create a massive fire that will burn the entire country and not just the altar.
Thursday, August 21, 2014
One year has passed since the Egyptian government violently cracked down on the sit-ins held by supporters of former president Muhammad Morsi in Rabaa al-Adawiyya and al-Nahda Squares in Cairo. What happened last August, particularly in Rabaa, demonstrated how far the new Egyptian regime was willing to go to solidify its rule and that it would not tolerate any dissidence. Equally horrific was the premeditated nature of the crackdown, as policeman shot into the crowd at random and without any fear of retribution.
Rabaa was….read the rest of the piece on Fikra Forum
Saturday, March 22, 2014
If you follow me on Twitter or you’re a frequent reader of my blog, you will realize by now that I am a critic of Egypt’s current regime that took power following the popularly backed coup of last July. The repression and police brutality we’re witnessing now far exceeds what occurred during Mubarak’s 30 years in power. These abuses culminated in the biggest single day massacre of civilians in the history of modern Egypt. The military backed regime’s excesses make us ask the question: was the Muslim Brotherhood a better regime?
My answer is a no. I firmly believe that if the MB leadership were in total, 100%, control of the state, they would have not relented in doing to their opponents exactly what the military backed government is doing to them right now.
A few days before the anti-MB massive demonstration on June 30, 2013, Nader Bakkar, a senior leader in the Salafi Nour Party, said something very profound during an interview with Financial Times. “If June 30 failed, the Brotherhood will turn into an unstoppable beast,” he said. I am not a fan of Bakkar’s religious ideologies, but I do applaud his longsighted political view.
While it’s true that the MB did not fully control institutions such as the police – though it did manage to fire the interior minister and replace him with one of its choosing – and the army, it was slowly but surely extending its tentacles to control Egypt’s other institutions and it was doing pretty well. The entire state media empire for example came under its command to the extent that a literature periodical praised MB strongman Khairat el Shater and placed his picture on its cover page (I have no clue what Shater had to do with literature!). The MB surely had the strongest media arsenal, that included all religious channels and thousands of mosques, yet it still complained about 4 or 5 privately owned channels which it was intimidating and most probably trying to shut down (the MB government did shut down Al Farayeen channel and MB affiliated Prosecutor General summoned Basem Yousef).
From the onset of its victory in the parliament elections, it was clear that the MB had only one aim: to consolidate and monopolize power. That goal was evident when Morsi issued his dictatorial constitutional decree in November 2012 granting himself sweeping powers. What the MB did back in 2012 does not differ that much from what the current leadership is doing now. Both want to consolidate power and exclude their opponents. Take the position of the Prosecutor General for example. During Brotherhood rule, the appointed Prosecutor General was an MB loyalist who served the interests of the ruling political organization. The current Prosecutor General is not that different; he too serves his masters and oppresses their opponents, who are now the MB and its supporters.
The MB also used violence against opposing protesters. The most cited incident took place in December 2012 at the Presidential Palace. The Brotherhood leadership decided to send their cadres to violently break up a sit-in at the Presidential Palace. I saw with my own eyes the MB cadres while they were firing birdshots and throwing rocks at protesters from behind police vans (Ironically, these are the same police vans that are now used to break up MB demonstrations and marches). Scores of protesters were tortured right at the Presidential Palace gates. One man did not disclose his Christian name lest they torture him even more.
Another incident took place near the MB headquarters in Muqattam. The cadres captured tens of protesters and kept them inside the nearby Bilal mosque where they were tortured. Again, Christian protesters inside the mosque received a “special treatment”, courtesy of the Brotherhood.
Would a Brotherhood-led government have committed a massacre such as Rabaa? Judging from how the MB reacted after the “mini-Rabaa” that happened during its rule; the answer is yes it would have committed a similar crime against its opponents if it had full control over the state and its guns. The “mini-Rabaa” I am referring to is the Port Said prison massacre that happened in January 2013. 52 people were gunned down by the police in a few minutes when families of convicts tried to storm the prison to protest a court verdict. The MB cadres on social media were fully supportive of what the police did citing various justifications such as “the families were armed” and “they tried to storm a prison”. These justifications are similar to what pro-army folks say to justify the Rabaa massacre that happened after the MB lost power. The Port Said prison massacre triggered the first mass revolt against MB rule since they reached power.
Even though Rabaa was by far bloodier than Port Said, the reaction of both parties in both instances proves that there is no profound different between supporters of the Brotherhood and supporters of military fascism. Both incidents had a tiny minority of armed protesters that killed policemen. One policeman was killed in Port Said, 8 were killed in Rabaa. The Brotherhood supporters blamed the armed minority after Port Said just as the military supporters blamed the armed minority after Rabaa. Nobody blamed the police officers for their brutality and reiterated that the presence of an armed tiny minority does not justify a massacre, except a few revolutionaries and human rights activists.
Lastly, what happened at the Presidential Palace during Morsi’s tenure is another indication that, if they saw the need, nothing would have hindered a Brotherhood-led government from killing its opponents. As mentioned above, the MB cadres tortured people at the presidential palace gates and in a mosque and he who tortures at the presidential palace gates and in mosques can do anything else.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Even though he hasn’t officially announced his presidential bid yet, all indications point to the fact that Field Marshal El-Sisi will run for president. Everything that is now happening in Egypt is viewed from only one prism: El-Sisi’s nomination. When the Biblawy cabinet was sacked, observers immediately jumped into the conclusion that the move was aimed at releasing El-Sisi from his job as defense minister so he can announce his candidacy. When it turned out that El-Sisi will remain defense ministers in the new cabinet, observers changed their theory: unable to stop the increasing labor strikes, Biblawy was sacked in the hope that the new Prime Minister will succeed, even if by a small degree, in solving some of the country’s problems – such as labor strikes and power shortages- and eventually smoothen El-Sisi’s passage to the presidential palace.
Just like everything which is going on right now in Egypt, we cannot know for sure why the Biblawy government resigned. We can only speculate. However, when it comes to El-Sisi’s nomination for president, we do have enough evidence and events to indicate that his nomination is the most likely scenario. Now the question is: what will happen if, just like his predecessors, President El-Sisi failed to meet the ever rising expectations of Egyptians? And what will Egypt look like if by some miracle El-Sisi managed to pull the country out of the abyss it is in now?
What can happen if El-Sisi failed?
If El-Sisi failed to save Egypt’s economy and improve the lives of millions who have been suffering during the past three years, the masses could react in two ways. First, they could do what they did best during Mubarak’s 30 years era: do nothing. Second, the masses could start taking to the streets against the same person whom they glorify today. Judging from the past three years, it is hard to believe that Egyptians, especially the young generation, will settle down again. The genie is out of the bottle.
I touched upon that question in a previous post. I argued that if El-Sisi failed to save Egypt’s economy and if the current repression continued, I won’t be surprised if another mass revolt happened. If the current rate of killing and imprisoning young people continued, a new generation of non-Isalmist revolutionaries might rise in the future who, in light of the absence of an alternative opposition, might not mind joining forces with the Muslim Brotherhood to fight the oppressing state. These revolutionaries will be too young to remember the Brotherhood’s betrayal of the revolution in 2011 or their dreadful one year in power. If the economy becomes worse by then, the poor might join these forces and usher in another uprising. However, this time it will not be peaceful. The “violence bar” is already very high now; imagine how higher it could get three or four years from now. Unfortunately, any new uprising will not do the country any good since Egypt cannot withstand another revolution. The state will collapse.
One of the reasons why I don’t want El-Sisi to run is what I mentioned above. Whether we like it or not, the army is the only institution left standing in Egypt which is barely holding the country together. It is the only entity that Egyptians trust. By endorsing El-Sisi’s presidential bid, the army generals acted like members of a civilian political party and have pinned the future popularity of the military institution to El-Sisi’s performance as president. This is a very dangerous gamble, and a very serious mistake that El-Sisi and his colleagues have done.
It seems that Egypt’s patrons in the Gulf also share my viewpoint. A month ago, Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohamed Bin Rashid expressed his hope that El-Sisi does not run for president. “I hope he remains in the military, and that another person [runs] for the presidency,” he said. The editor in chief of Al Sharq Al Sawsat newspaper and the General Manager of Al Arabiya news channel, Abdul Rahman Al Rashid, wrote an op-ed advising El-Sisi not to run for president. It is widely believed that Al Rashid is close to the Saudi royal family.
What can happen if El-Sisi succeeded?
If El-Sisi miraculously managed to save the economy and improved the lives of the masses, he will truely be the next Gamal Abdul Nasser to the masses and an Erdogan – a more despotic version though- to democracy and revolution advocates. Erdogan’s autocracy started to surface when he concluded that the majority will still vote for him because he improved the economy and there is no other viable alternative to his party’s rule. We still have to see whether Erdogan’s conclusion is correct when Turks go to the polls this March and later in June, but it seems that this is what he believes right now.
El-Sisi, an already sole ruler in Egypt, will most likely continue exhibiting every characteristic of a despotic ruler if he succeeded as president. Even if he tried to show goodwill at the onset of his presidency, as Nathan Brown suggests here, he will most likely return back to business as usual especially if the people continued endorsing him as the country’s sole leader who managed to save it.
So yes, Egypt, an Arab Spring nation, will not fare well if El-Sisi failed or if he succeeded. Two things can spare us this fate. First, El-Sisi, whether willingly or not, decided to be different and adopt a more conciliatory and democratic approach. Judging from the past months, this looks unlikely. Second, a third alternative to the military and the Islamists emerged on the long run. This is exactly what Egypt needs, a truly democratic political force that will save us from the military-Islamist seesaw.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Ahmed Hossam, better known as Mido, is the manager of the Zamalek soccer team, the second most popular club in Egypt. At 32 years old, Mido is the youngest manager in the Egyptian premier league. A few days ago he was interviewed on a popular talk show where he openly expressed his admiration of Field Marshal El-Sisi and lambasted the Muslim Brotherhood. His comments were followed by immense criticism on Egyptian social media. Zamalek fans and others, all young Egyptians, criticized Mido for talking about politics instead of focusing on his job. That was ironic because Egypt, since 3 years ago, had nothing to talk about except politics. Mido got the message, he promised his followers on Twitter that he will refrain from talking about politics again.
This incident is a small indication of the behavioral change we’re witnessing in Egypt’s youth, especially the urban young, vis-a-vis politics and the current events that are unfolding in a country that seems to have turned its back to the youth-triggered revolution of 2011. The question of why the younger generation of Egyptians are feeling alienated from the current political discourse arose when they were virtually absent at the last constitution referendum. When I went to cast my ballot, I looked around and found that I was the youngest voter in the entire polling station. I am 34 years old.
The change in attitude and behavior of the younger generation is emanating from a mixture of both apathy and disgust at how the country is moving forward especially after the July 3rd popularly backed coup which was supported by millions including large segments of the youth.
It seems that many young people are now feeling apathetic towards the current political events in Egypt. This is the result of the return of many of Mubarak’s era way of doing things. Take the last referendum for example. Even though the ballots were not forged, the process was not fair. “No” campaigners were arrested and the media, both private and public, unleashed a hysterical campaign to encourage people to vote yes. “Why would I bother and tire myself to vote?” a colleague told me. “We all knew the result would be a yes”. My colleague is not pro-Brotherhood; in fact she is a Christian in her late twenties.
Many youth, especially, those who participated in the January 2011 revolution, feel disgusted at the how events have turned after the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, specifically in regards to the abuses and excesses of the period that followed. The current police brutality and crimes we’re witnessing are unprecedented; they did not even happen during Mubarak. Many of the victims are young people including university students who were killed inside their university campuses. The crackdown has even reached young people who were supportive of the July 3 political order. Two young men who signed the Tamarod petition were gunned down during anti-government protests in Suez and Cairo. . “Even those who did June 30 (the mass demonstration that preceded Morsi’s ouster) are in jail,” I heard a Cairo downtown young street vendor tell his colleague. “Aren’t April 6 members in jail now?” he continued.
These state sanctioned, and unfortunately public condoned, measures did not shift the majority of the youth towards the pro-Morsi camp but I’ve noted before in a previous post that I noticed a rise in the number of young people who decided to join the pro-Morsi demonstrations. The current regime is losing the young generation especially those living in urban areas. These are the ones who triggered the last two mass revolts in Egypt, which toppled two presidents. I hope whomever wants to become president of this country is paying enough attention to this development.
Saturday, February 8, 2014
A few months ago I tweeted that I didn’t think Major General – now Field Marshal – Abdel Fatah El Sisi would run for president. “God does not become a prophet,” I said. Why would he run for such a difficult – and cursed – job and compromise his popularity? It looks like I was wrong. It seems Egypt’s throne is too enticing for many people.
In this post, I won’t discuss why I think it is wrong for El-Sisi to run for president. Many articles and op-eds touched on that topic when it became clear that El-Sisi wants to become Egypt’s next president. I will discuss, as a pragmatist, what I think is one of the army’s most dangerous gambles and why the institution as a whole is compromising its status in Egypt by fulfilling El-Sisi’s 35 years old dream of becoming “Egypt’s leader”.
Whether we like it or not, the Egyptian army is the only entity holding Egypt together at the moment. My pro-revolution friends often laugh at the saying that “the army is the last pole holding the tent up.” This saying is true, it is a fact. The reason why many people are crazy about El-Sisi is not because they’re in love with his persona per se as much as they see in him the only remaining strongman who can save them and bring the country back to normal. They know that the army is the last standing institution that can bring some stability after 3 years of chaos and insecurity. El-Sisi is adored by million because he is the army chief and not because he is El-Sisi.
By agreeing to nominate a president, the army acted like a political party and entered the fray of Egypt’s politics. That fray ranges from fighting jihadists in North Sinai to getting blamed for the increasing price of tomatoes. By stepping in into the Egyptian political quagmire, the army agreed to be on the front line of Egypt’s current war with things like gas prices, power cuts, the price of cooking oil, and the austerity measures that will most likely happen if the country is to depend on itself and not just on aid from the Gulf countries – the Saudis and Emiratis can’t go on feeding 90 million people forever.
The question now is this: what if the army’s candidate failed? What if President El-Sisi failed to meet the already soaring expectations of the people? What if after three or four years people discovered that El-Sisi – the army’s candidate – is as incompetent as his predecessors and ended up losing trust in the only institution still standing in Egypt?
My pro-revolution friends would love that to happen. “Let the army fails so people can learn that military rule is not the answer,” a pro-revolution friend told me. I would have agreed with him if we had alternatives to both the Islamists and the army. Unfortunately, till now, we don’t have any third option. If the army candidate failed and people lost trust in the institution that nominated him, anything could happen including a second revolutionary wave that the country will not withstand.
I would have preferred if the army stayed away from politics. It is better for Egypt and better for the army itself. However, it seems that the army sees the issue from a different perspective. Either the army is afraid to relinquish the rule of Egypt one more time or it’s just that the throne is too sweet in the eyes of its chief, or both.
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
A few months ago I went to check out a pro-Morsi demonstration. I have seen almost every pro-Brotherhood demonstration since 2011, this one had something different: a lot of youth participants. I saw young men who appeared to be university students and “ultras looking” teens marching in the demonstration while beating drums and flashing the Rabaa sign. While the majority of the demonstrators looked “Islamist”, I don’t recall seeing that number of young people in the Brotherhood demonstrations in 2011 and 2012 who were mostly middle aged men and women shipped in buses from the Delta and Upper Egypt.
It is unclear what caused the increase in youth participation in pro-Morsi demonstrations but one of the very possible reasons could be the number of young people who were either killed by the police or unjustly sent to jail since the army ousted Mohamed Morsi following the massive anti-Brotherhood protests on June 30, 2013. Four Cairo University students were killed on campus so far; that never happened since the day Princess Fatma Ismael decided to donate her jewelry pieces to fund the foundation of Cairo University around 100 years ago. Three other students were killed in Al Azhar University, also on campus. These eight students are just a fraction of the number of young people who were killed during demonstrations; a few of them were not even supporters of the Brotherhood. Sayed Weza, 19, a member of the Tamarod movement that was pivotal in ousting Morsi from power, chose to demonstrate against the current regime during the third anniversary of the January 25th revolution. He was gunned down by a police officer in downtown Cairo. Kill or imprison a young person, and his/her Facebook friends will take to the streets against you.
While the number of youth in the pro-Morsi demonstration is an interesting development worth of analysis, I’m not claiming that Egypt’s youth have shifted to the pro-Morsi or the pro-Brotherhood camp. In spite of the Brotherhood’s popularity loss due to their dreadful year in power, pro-Morsi are still violently doing things like preventing other students from taking exams, storming exam classrooms and instigating clashes with the police forcing them to enter the university campuses. The majority of youth are not becoming pro-Morsi, they’re becoming pro-apathy. That was evident in the latest referendum that a considerable portion of youth – especially in the urban areas – have boycotted.
It seems that Egypt’s urban youth -the ones who triggered the revolution – are mostly becoming politically apathetic; a smaller minority is joining the pro-Morsi camp. What could such a development yield in the future, let’s say after three or four years?
If the coming president, no matter who he might turn out to be, continues the current repression and police brutality, there will most probably be another generation of young revolutionaries who might be willing to join the Brotherhood in its demonstrations and clashes with the state. I am talking about 18 and 19 year olds who will not remember the Brotherhood’s betrayal of the January 2011 revolution. These young revolutionaries will not be Brotherhood members or even Islamists, they will be like Sayed Weza, young independent activists who will not mind joining forces with the Brotherhood, the only opposition till now, to fight the existing regime. However, the activists and the Brotherhood will still not be sufficient to tilt the balance; they will need another force with them, namely the poor. If the next president did not fix the economy, if he did not meet today’s high expentations, the poor might join whatever the new revolutionaries and the Brotherhood will trigger and we might end up with the third mass revolt in Egypt in 6 or 7 years. However, if that scenario happened, Egypt will officially become a failed state and decent into a far darker abyss. The country cannot withstand another revolution. Only fixing the economy and keeping the poor away from the streets can save the next president from the fate of his two predecessors.
Friday, January 24, 2014
During the 2012 parliament elections, Delta and Upper Egypt, Egypt’s largest voting blocks, voted overwhelmingly for the Islamist parties whether the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis. Observers back then concluded the obvious: Islamist power is concentrated in the underdeveloped poor regions of Egypt.
During the presidential elections, when we started to notice shifts away from the Islamists due to their dreadful performance in parliament, Delta surprised us all by voting for Shafik and Hamdeen Sabahy in stage one, it voted for Shafik in stage two. While the rural areas in Delta voted for the MB candidate, the cumulative vote of Delta was in favor of Shafik. Morsi won in Upper Egypt by a landslide. In fact, without Upper Egypt, Morsi would have lost the popular vote in all of Egypt.
In the 2014 referedum, the turnout in Delta was very high compared to other regions in Egypt. Turnout in 2014 increased by a whopping 13.5 percentage points versus the 2012 referendum.
Why Delta, which is as poor and illiterate as Upper Egypt, votes differently now? Why did the majority there turn against the Islamists? I believe a big part of the reason lies in the sectarianism in Upper Egypt; it has the highest concentration of Christians in Egypt. The Delta voter is not concerned so much with “the other”, he or she is relaxed and can freely turn against the Islamists without caring about siding with the neighboring “enemy”. The neighbor there is Muslim. Sectarianism is rampant in Upper Egypt, most sectarian conflicts happen there and the “Muslim vs Christian” conflict constitute a huge part of the voters’ psyche.