Saturday, April 30, 2005

A character in a very famous Egyptian comedy was a man who thinks that he has the first and the final say in his house. The truth was that his wife was the master of the house and not him. So a common conversation between the husband (who was named Hanafi) and his wife in the movie went as follows:

Hanafi: I decided to do this.

Wife (disagreeing): Hanafi!

Hanafi: No Hanafi, I am the man and my word will not fall on the ground (or get annulled) at all.

Wife shouts: HANAFI!!!

Hanafi: OK, my word will fall this time, but next time, it will never fall on the ground!

Now Condi Rice in the above cartoon is shouting “HANAFI!” and the guy who we cannot see is saying “OK, my word will fall this time, but next time, it will never fall on the ground!”

The caption under the cartoon reads: Amending Article 76 of the constitution after a lot of denials of any constitutional amendments and considering this as void.

Pop Quiz: changing article 76 of the Egyptian constitution will allow multiple candidates to run in the coming presidential elections, so who is playing the character of Hanafi in the above cartoon??
Posted by Hello

  Posted by BP at 1:07 am Comments (1)
Thursday, April 28, 2005

ragtag_the_3rd, an Egyptian, posted a very thought provoking and serious comment to my April 27 post. below is my feedback to what he told me:

Before giving you my feedback, I would like to state what I mean when I mention the words “liberal” and “Islamic or Islamist”.

By liberal, I mean someone who believes in total freedom of speech, of expression, of movement, of becoming religious, of becoming a sinner, of changing his/her religion, etc. I simply don’t know what other word to use when describing this person who believes in the above principles. In Egypt, we use the word “librally” and this is why I am using the word “liberal”. I suspect you will agree with me that all decent countries (the US, Sweden, Norway, South Korea, New Zealand, Japan, etc, etc) around the world reached the conclusion that the above principles constitute the best values that a country should adopt. Countries that do not adopt those values are clearly “behind” those that do.

Now we turn to the word “Islamist”. When I say “Islamist”, I do not mean someone who is merely religious, but someone who thinks that his version of Islam (i.e religion) is the best way of life not just for himself and his family but for his neighbor as well. He is like the church in the past that forced its interpretation of Christianity on the people and ruled the people using this interpretation. To me, an Islamist is not compatible with the principles I listed above.

Now let us turn to your comment. You said:

Great Blog GM,I happen to disagree with much (not most) of what you say. One
being that you’d accept a democracy in egypt only if liberals are in power. More
like “my way or the highway”. I also don’t like you’re support for Mubarak. I
surely didn’t expect this from a liberal GM. It follows the age long rhetoric in
egypt “That whome you know is better than whome you don’t know”.The people we
know keep getting worse and worse. Mubarak is not a pharoh and he it’s about
time he should go. Personally I think the egyptian people should be given a
chance to pick the form of government they see fit. Be it Islamic, Liberal or
whatever. This democracy thing is trial and error, no one gets it 100% right the
first time.If whatever government they picked doesn’t (and it most possibly
wouldn’t) work out the way it should, they’ll have to take it down again and
start at square one. This is how democracies are built GM.

“One being that you’d accept a democracy in egypt only if liberals are in power. More like “my way or the highway”.

You are treating “liberalism” as if it is a dogma, an ideology, or a creed. The principles above are the essence of life and the building blocks of any functioning state. You can believe in communism as the best economic way of life and still believe in the principles above and you can be a Muslim cleric and still believe in those principles. However, Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood do not believe in the above principles even if they are pretending to believe in them today. Once they become powerful, they will ban my writings after calling it “unislamic”, they will bother me in the park because I am holding my girlfriend’s hand, they might close my favorite pub because they consider alcohol consumption as “unislamic”, they might arrest me if they didn’t like how I behaved, anyway, the sky is the limit to what they might do.

“I also don’t like you’re support for Mubarak. I surely didn’t expect this from a liberal GM.”

Read my previous posts and you will find one common thought. I am against Mubarak’s dictatorship and the corruption we are suffering from; however, I believe that Egypt today is not ready to rush towards a fair ballot box. All what I am hoping for is this: Mubarak gets his fifth term then he lifts his hands off liberals so that they appear on Egypt’ political scene. We will then hold free fair elections once they appear and become strong enough to compete with the Islamists. If the Egyptian people (who are becoming alarmingly religious) chose a mixture of Islamists and liberals, then I could tolerate it. However, if the Islamist turned out to be invincible, then I will respect the people’s choice and find myself another country to live in. I will only return when the Egyptian people discover that the Islamists do not follow the above principles and vote them out of office (provided that the Islamists would give them a chance to vote them out!!!!!!!!!) Currently, I unfortunately believe that, given the current state of the political arena of Egypt, only Mubarak is fit to rule Egypt. Democracy is like a medicine, you take it gradually. If you took it all at once, you die.

“Personally I think the egyptian people should be given a chance to pick the form of government they see fit. Be it Islamic, Liberal or whatever. This democracy thing is trial and error, no one gets it 100% right the first time.”

You are putting the word “liberal” beside and word “islamist” as if they are too competing thoughts or ideologies. Again I say, you can be a Muslim cleric and still believe in the principles of liberalism. Two of my favorite liberal muslim clerics are Sheikh Iyad Jamal Al Deen of Iraq and Sheikh Hussein Khomenei (Ayatollah Khomenei’s son!) of Iran. My favorite Egyptian Islamic think is the Jamal al Banna (the Muslim Brotherhood founder’s brother!!) who faces immense persecution from the religious establishment here.

What you are saying above is what the “book” says. The “book” says “people should choose”, period. I do not object to that, I long for the day when Egyptians get the chance to choose their own future; however, we need to look at realities on the ground. Egypt’s dictatorship literally wiped all liberals out of the political scene; it would lead to an utter disaster if we simply kicked Mubarak out and allowed a free ballot box in such an unfair political arena.

“If whatever government they picked doesn’t (and it most possibly wouldn’t) work out the way it should, they’ll have to take it down again and start at square one. This is how democracies are built GM.”

What you are saying indicates that there will be a second chance. Can you guarantee that there will be this second chance? Was there a second chance in Iran? What if, and I mean if, the Egyptian population liked the system in which the Islamists are powerful (something I doubt really), will you succumb to the will of the people and live in this system? I will succumb and declare my respect for the people’s choice, but I personally cannot continue living in the country. Something tells me that you too will accompany me abroad.

UPDATE: ragtag_the_3rd provides his feedback to what I wrote in his blog. I am really enjoying this discourse. I believe this is the type of civilized discourse we should be having here. Tomorrow I’ll give my own feedback to what he had to say.

  Posted by BP at 8:12 pm Comments (1)
Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Mubarak’s Surprise: Lessa!

I am not sure if you heard about President Mubarak 3 parts interview that started to air last Sunday. In a Barbara walters type of interview, Mubarak shared his personal story from the day he met President Nasser until he became president. The show was unusually very informal and casual. The aim was to paint Mubarak as the “warrior� who fought for Egypt and the president who is “close to the people�. I felt that the tremendous emphasis on his military career as compared to his record in the presidency was meant to send a single message: Egypt needs a military guy to keep the country intact. Unfortunately, I tend to believe that this is very true!

72 million Egyptians were glued to their TV screens waiting to hear the “Mubarak surprise� in part 3 of the interview. Speculations were flying everywhere yesterday morning. Will Mubarak declare his intent to seek a fifth term in office? Will he appoint a vice president (an indication of who will succeed Mubarak)? Who will this vice president be? Will it be Omar Solieman (chief of intelligence agency)? Will Mubarak end the emergency laws that were installed 25 years ago right after Sadat’s assassination? All those questions raced through our minds as we waiting for the interview at night. The government owned newspaper, Al Ahram, only fueled to our game of speculations by printing this headline on the front page: President Mubarak will reveal today whether he will run for presidency or not.

So, like millions of Egyptians, I stayed glued in front of the TV. I didn’t watch part 1 and part 2 because I knew that all the “juicy lucy� stuff will be in part 3. The interviewer kept asking questions about the economy, political parties, blah blah. Then the final question came and the guy asked Mubarak about whether he decided to seek another term or not. Mubarak answered with a single word that threw an ice bucket on the faces of millions (not to mention the millions of cuss words that were uttered by the people when the show ended). The word was “lessa�! It literally means “still�. Or “I didn’t decide yet�. The show ended after that.

Ummmm, nice try Mr. President. I loved the way he played it. It showed that up till now, only Mubarak and Mubarak alone can rule Egypt.

Here is my 5 cents to what might happen: Mubarak will run for a fifth term but this time he will appoint a vice president prior or after winning the elections. Mubarak will stay for a year or two in office and then step down from power and then his vice will become the new president.

  Posted by BP at 4:00 pm Comments (1)
Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Elections Saudi Style

Saudi had its first municipal elections. Wow that’s awesome, that’s great news! Well, hold on a little, Islamists won every seat available! Those guys are more radical than the royal family itself. What, the royals are not radical? Nah, those guys are hardcore, they were endorsed by Saudi’s Wahabi clerics and won by a landslide.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think these elections were a step forward but the results should force us to pause and ponder a little.

What made those radicals win? Are Saudi’s radical in nature? I simply don’t know. There are no independent and fair opinion polls in Saudi to gauge how Saudi voters think. However, the results may shed light on three factors.

One, no woman was allowed to vote in these elections. Who knows, may be if women voted, the results wouldn’t have turned out to be that radical.

Second, just as the case in Egypt, the Islamists in Saudi are very organized as compared to their progressive counterparts. They have the backing of the country’s hardcore clerics and they simply dominate Saudi’s civil society (or the shreds of civil society that Saudi has). Progressives and other liberals were shut up by the royals (does Ayman Noor ring a bell?) and they simply have no experience in mobilizing the grassroots.

Third, the elections had a very low turnout. Many Saudis thought that such elections were useless and pointless given the fact that the royal family appointed half of the council members. In addition, others were simply not interested and didn’t want to bother themselves with standing in long queues and getting squashed between a group of angry campaigners. May be if the turnout was high, a number of liberals or progressives could have got elected

The last 2 factors have serious implication on the Egyptian scenario. The Islamists here are very organized and they appeal to a huge segment of the Egyptian conservative population (again no accurate figures here). In addition, I presume that the coming elections will witness a very low turnout due to the huge antipathy that the average Egyptian feels towards politicians as a whole. If you couple those factors together and you rush towards a fair ballot box in Egypt, you will end up with a disaster that could surpass what happened in Iran in 1979.

So the way forward is this: Mubarak should have another term in office but this time he has to allow liberals and progressives to start mobilizing and reaching out to people. Once liberals appear on Egypt’s political scene and the average Egyptian starts to believe in political participation, we will just have to hope and pray that the Egyptian people will elect enough progressives to counter the influence of Islamists and other radicals. If the Egyptian people let me down, you will find me running towards foreign embassies screaming “ASYLUM�. I hope that won’t be the case.

  Posted by BP at 11:12 am Comments (0)
Saturday, April 23, 2005

Mariam George, Miss Egypt 2005

She will be representing Egypt in the coming Miss Universe competition
Posted by Hello

  Posted by BP at 11:44 pm Comments (0)

Another Afghani blog from Kabul.

  Posted by BP at 3:11 am Comments (16)
Friday, April 22, 2005

Back to Iraq

Violence is escalating one more time and I am afraid we are heading towards a disaster or a positive breakthrough. This is how I see the current situation.

Let us be realistic. Nobody can lead such a well planned terror network without the support of at least a segment of the Iraqi population, and I am sure we all know them by now. They are the ones who lost the privileges when Saddam was in power and they mostly belong to the Sunni sect of Iraq. I am not sure about the percentage of support that the terrorists enjoy within the Sunni population, but it seems that they have the backing of powerful Sunni tribes who don’t like what is happening in the new Iraq.

We all hoped that Former Prime Minister Allawi would try to woo Saddamists into the political process. He wanted to create a rift between the Baathists who lost their privileges when Saddam regime crumbled and the Salafi/Wahabists whom nobody can negotiate with. It seems that he failed to do so for one reason or another.

The future looks a little bit scary. The prominent Shia figures who are now ruling Iraq believe that Allawi’s plan of wooing Saddamists backfired by allowing bad apples to infiltrate into the defenses and interior ministry. They are determined now to “clean” those ministries and install their own guys there.

The US is against such plan. Donald Rumsfeld flew to Baghdad and warned PM Jaffari against total de-Baathification that might literally destroy what the coalition has been building over the last year as well as fuel the insurgency with more recruits.

I really have no idea about what should happen in the future. Will Jaffari’s new plan work? Will it backfire? How much de-baathification will he do?

I wrote before that Iraq has a Sunni problem. And it seems that this Sunni problem was not solved because the disgruntled Sunnis just want to return to their previous status or because the Shias are simply greedy.

I still believe the glass is half full. Our score in Iraq is 5/10, 5 good and 5 bad. I am sure that all this will end someday. World War 2 ended and the brutal Algerian terrorist campaign subsided tremendously, however, I am wondering about how many families will have to suffer until we see peace in Iraq.

Good news from Lebanon: A new Shia National Meeting was organized. It is very obvious that they are against the stand that Hezbollah and the other Shia group Amal took. I think they want to break the monopoly that Hezbollah and Amal have over the Shia population of Lebanon.

  Posted by BP at 3:45 pm Comments (0)
Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Why I might leave this country if democracy came knocking at my door.
Please read it all.

Malaysia is a beautiful country. It’s political and economic situation is better than many Arab and Muslim countries. Malaysia still didn’t reach the freedom or the economic advancement of its South Korean neighbor, but we in Egypt tend to look up to it. Many Egyptian commentators praised its former prime minister when he willfully stepped down from power. Several opposition figures wish that President Mubarak would imitate him.

Nevertheless, something awful happened in Malaysia last January. The country’s government-sanctioned moral police, commonly known as “jawi�, raided a nightclub in Kuala Lumpur at midnight and ordered the clientele to separate into groups of Muslims and non-Muslims (Malaysia has a sizable non-Muslim minority). Aiming to “protect� their fellow Muslims and punish them for their “un-Islamic� behavior, the jawi arrested the Muslims and humiliated the females.

This incident sent shock waves throughout Malaysia’s political spectrum. Many denounced the raid and the prime minister said that the power of the jawi must curbed, not by banning it but by forcing it to seek permission from the police before launching raids to catch Muslims alleged to be committing immoral acts!! Liberal* Malaysians, both Muslim and non-Muslim, expressed their concern that their country would be threatened by Taliban-like mobs that have government authorization to correct people’s behavior.

It is not only liberal Malaysians who are shocked, it is me as well! I am shocked and damn scared for two reasons. One, Malaysia DOES actually have a “moral policeâ€? that can storm any pub, arrest any writer, and ruin the love scene of any young couple cuddling in a park. Two, from what I’ve read so far, many Malays if not the majority DO support the existence of this “religious policeâ€? department in the government even if they are against it adopting the harsh tactics of the Taliban (I hope that is the case!)

If Malaysia, a country that is more democratic and economically better than Egypt, can have a moral police then imagine what can happen in Egypt if full democracy and freedom were unleashed in my country. If many Malays were becoming more religious and do not oppose the existence of the government-sanctioned moral police, imagine what would happen if the majority of Egyptians got a free hand in determining their future and how “religious� they want Egypt to become. Again I repeat, I do not expect the majority of Egyptians to transform Egypt into another Iran, but I cannot rule out the fact that radicals would definitely be empowered as a result of the “Arab spring� that everyone wants Egypt to bask into. Just look what happened last month, the world was talking about the demonstrations in Cairo and how awesome they were, and me and my liberal friends were talking about how suddenly the Muslim Brotherhood found their voice and how threatened we are feeling right now.

I fully understand why the US wants Egypt to bask in the current “Arab spring�. I fully understand why Washington cannot maintain the status quo in Egypt and treat Mubarak according to pre-911 rules. However, I just have a word for Miss Rice: You continue pressuring Mubarak to open up and allow democracy, you continue your rhetoric that you are not afraid if Islamists ruled Egypt or at least got empowered, but please Miss, open up your state department because you will find me running towards you screaming “ASYLUM�. It is not a cool feeling when you get arrested from a nightclub, believe me Miss., it is not a cool feeling at all.

* By liberal I don’t mean Ted Kennedy or Hillary Clinton, but someone who believes in freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of expression, freedom to become a saint, freedom to sin, etc, etc. In other words, someone who believes in the stuff that all liberals and conservatives in America take for granted.

  Posted by BP at 2:32 pm Comments (0)
Monday, April 18, 2005

Egyptian Sandmonkey is telling us about a new way the police here is trying to combat drugs: arrest anyone with a T-shirt sporting weed leaves!

Nadz is telling us 10 reasons why Saudi women cannot vote. If laughting is bad for you then don’t go there.

  Posted by BP at 11:25 am Comments (0)
Sunday, April 17, 2005

Snatching Hens

Hundreds of Egyptian Christians demonstrated in a monastery demanding the return of a young lady whom they say was kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. While not claiming that forced or coercive conversions of Christians girls did not happen in the past, I still believed that the girl’s story would be similar to other stories we heard before about Christian girls who converted to Islam for one reason or another.

Upon checking Arabic news websites, I discovered that the young lady was married and had a child. She ran away from home with a Muslim guy she fell in love with and then converted to Islam in order to marry him. She presented her conversion papers to court which ordered that she be divorced from her Christian husband. According to Egyptian civil law that is based on elements derived from Islamic law, a Muslim woman cannot marry or stay married to a Christian man and hence the young lady got a divorce by a court order.

This incident has 2 important angles: a Christian angle and another angle that has to do with Egyptian law or simply the Islamic law that our courts follow in civil affairs. Before presenting the 2 angles, it is worth mentioning that in Egypt the religious establishment has a huge legal say in civil affairs such as marriages.

First the Christian angle. Here the majority of Christians belong to the Coptic Orthodox church that bans divorce. The only cases that can result in divorce are when a partner commits adultery or changes his/her denomination or converts to another religion. For example, I know several orthodox Christians who had to become protestants in order to be granted a divorce. The ban on divorce has caused tremendous problems and heartaches for many people, especially women.

I believe Pope Shenouda, the leader of the Egyptian orthodox church, can do his people a huge favor by allowing divorce. Many anguished women who discovered that they can’t live with their husbands any longer will be saved from depression or running away with Muslim men and causing huge sectarian problems! The orthodox church insists that divorce in banned in Christianity. This is pure nonsense because such an issue is open for debate and the Biblical verses on marriages are open for various interpretations and re-interpretations. After all, the protestant church allows divorce and they are the ones who take the Bible so literally.

The second angle has to do with the unjustness of the Egyptian civil law or Islamic law towards the Christians. Here in Egypt, a Christian who converts to Islam is welcomed by police protection but a Muslim who converts to Christianity is welcomed by police brutality. Therefore, a Muslim man can “snatch� a Christian woman from the Christian herd but a Christian man cannot “snatch� a Muslim woman from the Muslim herd. Why aren’t the rules of the game equal, many Christians ask.

Pope Shenouda’s divorce law is not the Bible and Islamic law is not the Quran, both are open for debate even if both parties claim that their laws are based upon the two sacred books. We can’t depend upon laws that were instituted thousands of years ago and apply them today while others in NASA are thinking about invading Mars.

  Posted by BP at 12:37 pm Comments (0)