Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Uncle Sam’s Muslim Brotherhood

I couldn’t stop laughing when I read Time’s account of the Universal School in Bridgeview, Illinois. My fingers got swollen from typing the blog posts that foretold the changes I expect to occur in Egypt if the Muslim Brotherhood got powerful. Well, my torture is over now. If you want to know how a typical school will probably look like under a MB state, all what you need to do is visit Illinois! And in case you didn’t know, Illinois is a state in the USA and not a rural village in southern Egypt.

Frankly speaking, I shouldn’t be laughing really. I should be weeping because the Western mainstream media is telling the world that the only true faithful Muslims are those who wear the stupid cloth on their head (that was nonexistent 30 years ago) and separate boys and girls in schools. I should be weeping because Time magazine is showing us that only girls clad in black with no makeup on are the true Muslims who are struggling between their Islamic and their American identities. Meanwhile, those Muslims who disagree with the head veil, who think that Islam needs reform a la all major faiths, and who believe that we cannot live like our Muslim brethren did 1400 years ago are the “lesser Muslims” or the Muslims that are “out of the mainstream”.

Well, actually, I shouldn’t blame the western mainstream media. I should be blaming the fact that our Martin Luthers are persecuted and voiceless. They are so weak that their voices cannot be heard in the midst of the loud sound of Wahabism and MB ideology.

So, ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to a typical MB school in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia…Ops I mean Bridgeview, Illinois

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The girls remind me of schoolgirls in Tehran who have a similar uniform (which they resent). Girls at Universal School are required to wear the veil. Wow, making the veil compulsory in an Illinois school, ummmm, how interesting. Schools in EGYPT don’t have such an “Islamic dress code” and girls who wear the veil do so voluntarily. So, here is something that Egypt beat the US in, yeeepppi!

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Boys and girls are separated once they grow up a little bit. I am expecting mixed schools in Egypt to get banned if the Muslim Brotherhood got more influence politically. It seems they already realized their dream in the US.

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Now this is a picture that would definitely piss Nadz off. Nadz, if you’re reading this please shout out.

  Posted by BP at 1:31 am Comments (0)
Sunday, June 12, 2005

What do you really enjoy or are proud of about Egypt?

The thing I am really proud of is Egypt’s rich history. Besides the wonders of the ancient Egyptian civilization, Egypt was central during the Greek and the Roman era. The Egyptian church played a crucial rule during the early church history and the country’s significance was also apparent during the Islamic era. I don’t think there is any country that was so significant throughout the ages.
The thing I like the most about Egyptians is their ease of making friends with anyone. All what you have to do in order to get along well with us is to smile, its amazing what an Egyptian can do for you if he knew that you like and respect him/her.

I’ve heard that tourism is Egypt’s number one industry. With all the terrorism problems in the mid-east, has the number of tourists, especially American ones, decreased in Egypt?

Tourism in Egypt got two serious blows, the 1997 terrorist attack in Luxour and 911. However, I read that last year’s number of tourists was encouraging. Most tourists come Europe and the Arab world. Americans do visit Egypt but at lesser numbers. There is however a good American community living in Cairo. They are embassy employees, employees of American companies, and teachers at the American schools and the American University in Cairo.

Why the term ”secular”, i.e. separation of religion and politics, considered in some circles in Egypt an offensive term?

The word secular is always related to events in Turkey. The majority of Egyptians are against banning the veil in public schools and government institutions and very few will like to see a Turkish replica in Egypt. In addition, many understand that secularism means “eliminating religion� and this of course is not acceptable because of the belief that “Islam is a religion and a state�. Also, secularism is regarded as a way that leads to promiscuity and sin. Secularism bans religion, and when religion is eliminated, sin and vice prevails a la Europe and the West in general. You get the idea? Secularism might have been well received by the Egyptians of 1940 but not by the Egyptians of today.

What’s the opinion of Turks in Egypt? The Ottoman Empire?

We had a very bad experience with Ottoman and Turkish rule. This period is not viewed at positively.

What do you think about the role of Egypt in the arab world?

Strategic despite the attempts of several other Arab nations to take its place. It has always been said that Saudi is significant because of its religious clout and Egypt is important as a result of its political and cultural weight. This is the reason why the eyes of the world (especially the US) is on Egypt.

What kind of tree planting and/or ecological recovery programs are going on to reduce ‘Sahara-facation’?

I don’t know much about this subject.

When you first started your blog, you stated up front that you were Pro-US, but very few other Egyptians are. With elections/new Govt in Iraq, and far less violence in Palistine, has the image if the US improved at all?

No, but there is a small development I sensed and will write about it later. Events in Iraq nowadays receive very light media coverage and so the people do not care much anymore about what is going on there. Why doesn’t the media and “our intellectuals� care very much about Iraqis being killed daily in the most gruesome manners? Well, they are pathetic hypocrites, period.

Where do I find a good guide?

I love the Lonely Planet guides. Also try visiting websites like the Visit Egypt link on my blog.

You’ve said you don’t want quick democracy in Egypt for fear that the Muslim extremist groups would win decisively. … As I understand it, exactly this has happened in Palestine and in Lebanon. I guess it is too early to say what the result is. If it turns out that this is not so bad, would you back away and more strongly support totally free elections in Egypt?

Let us discuss the 2 countries you mentioned. Lebanon is a mosaic of different sects and political forces. It is far more open than Egypt despite the presence of the Syrian occupation. The only sect that is under the spell of the Islamists is the Shia sect. The Sunnis follow the relatively secular Hariri clan and the country has a sizable Christian population. So you can have free elections there while there is a smile on your face.

As for Palestine, the elections there were momentous and a good first step, but let us not give things more than what they deserve. Democracy is much more than a ballot box. Is there transparency in Palestine, civil society, reduction in honor killings, reduction in police covering these honor killings, reduction in the public assassination of “Israel’s collaborators� by anyone who owns a gun, etc, etc? And lets not forget that the elections caused panic in Israel and the Palestinian Authority due to the rise of Hamas in Gaza. There are talks now to postpone the coming elections.

Frankly speaking, I consider the situation in Palestine less serious than Egypt. In Palestine there are two main factions, the Islamists (Hamas and Jihad) and the relatively secular Fatah. Even if people are angry at Fatah’s corruption and dictatorship, they still esteem its history of struggle for the Palestinian cause.

Do you think the mood of the Egytian people will change as Iraq becomes more peaceful and they are allowed to enjoy their freedom?

I hope so.

Do Coptic and Muslim people in Egypt mingle easily or is there a deep devision appearing between the two groups?

Of course they mingle between each other. In America, whites, blacks, Asians, etc mingle with each other. However, the social harmony between the two groups is so bad and I believe is getting worse. I thought that wasn’t the case when I was cocooned in my university surrounded by upper class Muslim and Christian friends. When I came out to the real world, I discovered the harsh reality. Tensions and fear of the “other� exist between the two communities especially in the low middle and lower class strata. The Christians are very disenfranchised whether in government jobs or the soccer league. This is so strange for a country that had a Jewish finance minister back in the 30s. I blame 2 factors for this. One, the rise of political Islam in the 70s. When Muslims get radical, Christians get radical too and stick together in their flocks. Second, people are getting religious. Religion can fill you with love and tolerance, but it can also fill you with hate and intolerance. It depends really on who you rely upon for getting your “religious teachings�. I am not saying that civil war will start tomorrow, but I simply don’t like what I’m seeing.

I’m very curious of the political role that women will play in the coming elections. It seems unlikely women would vote for some of the more radical groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Who will the women vote for?

Actually, you cannot predict how the women vote will be because nobody votes in Egypt! The vast majority do not own a voting card and they’ve never seen a polling station. My guess is that traditional women will vote according to what their husbands will tell them. Ambitious women in the workforce might not like the MB that much.

Do you think most Muslims want to see Judaism, Christianity, and other religions destroyed, or do you think that the average Muslim feels that people of other religions can be tolerated without forcing them to pay a special tax? If this question is too broad, then just explain what you believe most Muslim Egyptians think regarding other religions.

No, Muslims do not want other religions destroyed. The special tax issue is long forgotten and nobody really thinks such a system can be applied anymore.

If you could take any possible vacation, as any possible tourist, speaking any possible language, and with unlimited time and money …. where would you go and what would you do?

California!! I would rent a car and travel all around it. I’d also go to Las Vegas in Nevada. I loved Cali when I visited it in 1999. I was staying in Anaheim right behind Disney Land. So if anyone is from Cali, please say a big “I love you� from me to Laguna Beach!

My second choice would be Paris. I adore this city. I’ve been there for 5 times and I can continue till I reach the 100.

What do you think of Ahmed Zuwail’s running for presidency?And would you vote for him? What are his chances?

This issue is not confirmed yet, but I believe Nobel prize winner Ahmed Zuwail would make an excellent candidate. I am not sure if he can win or that he has the credentials of a politician, but he would definitely rock some boats here. The reason I’d love to see him run is to show that you don’t have to be a crazy military dictator or a lunatic backward Islamist radical for you to become the president of Egypt. And I might think of voting for him.

How is the standard of living for the regular guy on the street? Does he have access to the internet? Does he have the ability to vote freely? Does he have the ability to be a canidate? Does he care about democracy?

There is a different between urban and rural areas as far as standard of living is concerned. Those in urban area tend to be richer. However, the majority of Egyptians would be considered as “poor� by international standards. Those with access to the internet live in main cities and their number is small when you take the entire population into consideration.

What do the citizens think of joint military exercises held for months, like Operation Bright Star? Does the average man on the street know these are going on?

It gets reported in the government media but nobody really pays attention.

do you know anything about The Muslim Association of Britain? I think it is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. Some people here say it is a moderate group, others that it is very conservative. I just wondered if you knew anything about it?

You are right. Unfortunately, many of the “Islamic� advocacy groups in the West were initiated by MB members who immigrated to the US and Europe to escape the persecution in their own countries. I once visited the books section of an American Muslim youth organization’s website and my mouth dropped when I saw the books they listed. Books by MB founder Hassan al-Banna and MB ideologue Sayyed Qutb were there. These are books that would make me feel very worried if I had a son who started sticking his nose into them. I remember saying “wow, Sayyed Qutb on an American website, very interesting!�. In addition to all that, Saudi Wahabi money goes to thousands of mosques and religious institutions across Europe and the US.

Fortunately, a number of Muslims in the west who do not adhere to the MB and/or the Wahabi ideology started to form their own groups. But their voices are so weak when compared to the other entities that were established long time ago.

  Posted by BP at 1:53 pm Comments (0)
Saturday, June 11, 2005

Here is a country that is in almost the same position as Egypt. A very weak secular opposition that does not have enough grassroots influence and a powerful Islamist opposition that has a big network of support across the country. The ruthless Syrian dictatorship, like its Egyptian counterpart, suppressed all forms of dissent and literally squashed the secularists. They also squashed the Islamists but those guys live and duplicate in thousands of mosques and religious based institutions. Secularists/progressives do not have the luxury of utilizing mosques and invoking religion in everything they do. This is the dilemma. My only hope is that in the coming years, secularists/progressives will begin to spread on a grassroots level to at least offer a counter to the Islamists or to simply water down their sh*t, to make it a little bit diluted like diarrhea and not bulky hard faeces. Do you guys know what I am talking about here?

  Posted by BP at 3:27 pm Comments (0)
Thursday, June 9, 2005

Sorry but I just can’t help but comment on this.

So let us see what we have here. Israeli soldier enters prison cell, he tears the Quran, and then the Palestinian prisoner tells him “excuse me Moshe, just lay the Quran down so that I can take pics of it with my cell phone and send them to Jihad headquarters so that we can creat another Quran into the Gitmo super toilet story” . And are prisoners allowed to have cell phones inside their cells? And if cell phones were available, do you think the Israeli guards will tear the Quran and leave it there inside the cell especially after the Newsweek thing.

Anyway, keep those questions coming.




Q& A

Let us have a Q&A session. We haven’t done that for a while. You are invited to send me your questions via email or the comments column. You can send any question related to politics, current events, Egypt, etc. I’ll answer as many as possible and I don’t promise that I’ll have all the answers. Please no very personal questions though! Also, if you decided to use email, please write the word “Question” in the subject of your mail.

Update: I got tens of very interesting questions. I stopped receiving questions. Thanks for all those who sent questions and I’ll post my answers as soon as possible.

  Posted by BP at 4:57 pm Comments (0)
Wednesday, June 8, 2005

The One Way Ticket

You’re a Christian, you just finished reading The Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Buddhism and you decided to become a Buddhist. You later join Richard Gere on a recreational tour in Tibet. After a while you become disillusioned with your new faith and decide to become a Christian again. Is this story possible? I believe the answer is yes. Well, it’ll be an impossibility if you’re an Egyptian in Egypt.

If you’re an Egyptian Christian who decided to become a Muslim for whatever reason, all what you have to do is inform the civil authorities and have your ID changed (our religions are mentioned in our ID). All good, all sound. A problem will arise if you decided to return to your former faith. The Egyptian constitution states that religious freedom is guaranteed and that Egypt is a signatory of the universal declaration of human rights that calls for the freedom to covert to any religion and the freedom to declare it publicly. However, Article 2 of the same constitution mentions that Islamic Law (unreformed Islamic law to be specific) is the main source of legislation in the country*. This entails that anyone who converts out of Islam should be subject to apostasy law that calls for his/her death.

I just read in a weekly newspaper that there are 42 known cases of former Christians who want to return to Christianity. The civil authorities refused to change their ID and so they sued the ministry of interior in court. The court issued a ruling in favor of a number of them asking the civil authorities to respect their choice and change their ID from “Muslim� to “Christian�. What made me laugh was that an attorney, probably a Muslim Brotherhood member, raised a case to annul the court’s decision! He cited that the decision contradicts with Article 2 of the constitution that should supersedes the other articles and the universal declaration of human rights. The government controlled religious establishment said that anyone who converts out of Islam is subject to apostasy law, however, nowadays the courts handle such issues! The weekly newspaper’s article lacked a lot of information as to what happened to the 42 persons or to those who had a favorable court ruling. This issue is very controversial here and I suspect that the paper didn’t want to get deeply involved into it.

So here the poor person is squashed between the civil authorities, the court that might or might not rule for his/her favor, and the attorney watchdogs who pop up and raise cases in higher courts to challenge any court decision they deem as unislamic. Here we’re talking about former Christians who want to return to Christianity. Muslims who were born as Muslim and wish to convert to Christianity are a completely different case! The whole point of this post is this: you cannot have full economic and political reform without religious reform. Reform that would make Islamic law compatible with the year 2005 and not 1005.

* President Anwar Sadat added this closure in the constitution in order to appease the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists so that he can use them in countering the communists and the remnants of the Nasser era.




My new name is BP, Big Pharaoh and not the oil company! GM is gone.


Chech out Egyptian Person, new Egyptian blogger writing in English.

  Posted by BP at 10:55 am Comments (0)
Monday, June 6, 2005

My friend just came from Iran

I bumped into an old friend yesterday. Well, I won’t call him a close friend because he leads such a lousy lifestyle. Anyway, he informed me that he just came back from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

“What the hell were you doing there man, you turned into a Shia?” I asked laughingly.

“No, I went there on a business trip. We had a meeting with a number of Iranian businessmen who are going to import our products. My American colleague John (not his real name) came with me. Man, I was scared to death before going there. I mean here I am an Egyptian guy accompanied by an American on a trip to Iran. You sure know that relations between Egypt and Iran are not so good, not to mention the US!! I was also afraid lest I break some religious rule and regret it! Or we get arrested because of John” he said.

“So, tell me about it” I asked.

“Well, I stayed there for 5 days. I got drunk in the first 3! Man, there ain’t a house or an office I entered that didn’t have a mini bar in it full of smuggled booze from Smirnoff vodka to Heineken beer! I was shocked. Everyone drinks there. Their private life is the complete opposite of what you see on the street. We went up a mountain with a group of Iranians and had all the fun there. When they knew that John was American, they were like flies around him. They took his email, phone number, and stuff” he said.

Axis of evil? What axis of evil? Get on your knees and pray that something happens in Iran guys.

  Posted by BP at 10:25 pm Comments (0)
Sunday, June 5, 2005

I didn’t want to write what you are going to read right now

I admit I thought countless times before writing today’s post. I signed in to Blogger twice only to sign off again. My hesitation was a result of me not wanting to “hang our very dirty clothes� in front of this blog readers. After much thought, I decided to post just to inform you of the humiliation many of us feel and what this “humiliation factor� can lead to.

Upon Laura Bush’s recent trip to Egypt, it was planned that she, along with her host Mrs. Mubarak, would visit a USAID funded school in Alexandria. One week before the scheduled visit, the tattered school was painted anew, tidied up, and the sewage system was fixed. The dirty roads around the school were cleaned up and trees were miraculously planted all around the area. A sign in English was written to welcome the 2 first ladies.

Nevertheless, the Alexandria education officials didn’t like how the Om el Qura school kids looked like! The girls were poor and wore dirty school uniforms. Instead of cleaning them out and distributing clean clothes that would have definitely drew a huge smile on their faces, the officials decided to replaced the kids with new kids brought from a language school! Not only that, they gave the entire school staff a one week leave! Can you imagine how humiliated the school kids and the teachers are feeling right now!

I believe that Mrs. Mubarak was not aware that she would take her guest to a fake school. I mean, the education officials would have done the same thing if it was only Mrs. Mubarak visiting the school. However, what happened highlights a very important issue which is the humiliation that our governments and leaders made so many of us feel.

Those who are poor and not well connected cannot escape humiliation in public hospitals, police stations, and the military establishment. When I went to check my military status at an army base, I saw firsthand how Egypt’s poor youth were being treated so harshly and without any atom of dignity by the army’s officials. I was spared from this treatment just because my former army general father was with me. This humiliation is one of the factors that make some so vulnerable to what a terrorist might preach to them. May be poverty and unemployment might not go away, but I don’t think it is that hard to teach government officials and employees that fellow citizens deserve to be treated humanely no matter how poor they are or how unclean and untidy their clothes might look.

Besides, I just don’t understand how a school that is funded by USAID can be so tattered and in such a bad shape. Does it really receive the funds or do they go into some pockets? And how come the US embassy here doesn’t check upon how Americans’ tax money is being spent? I have no clue!

Now, Mrs. Bush can do something that would turn the world upside down here. This might cause a huge diplomatic problem between the two countries but it will definitely help the US with some PR here. Mrs. Bush can say that she is not pleased with what happened and she demands that those who lied to her and Mrs. Mubarak be held accountable. She will then invite a delegation of 10 persons from the school, 5 teachers and 5 students, to go and visit the US in the summer. That would be something.

  Posted by BP at 12:17 pm Comments (1)
Friday, June 3, 2005

It seems that I got addicted to Flickr! I just want to post some pictures right now. Currently, I don’t have photos I personally took and so I just surfed the internet for various pictures about Egypt. I hope you like them.

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Largest Pyramid, Sphinx, and a camel. Note: I DO NOT ride a camel to work every morning! lol

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helloooo. Wanna smoke?

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The magnificent Red Sea.

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Ancient Egyptian temple. Statue of King Ramses II.

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“Hi, I’m an Egyptian mummy. How old are you? I am 5000 years old”

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Ancient Egyptian mummified dog! That’s great news, we can do what the ancient Egyptians did and have our pets with us forever.

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Cairo at night.

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Egypt’s number 1 belly dancer, Dina!

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King Farouk of Egypt (reigned 1937-1952). I always had this feeling that Egypt would have been in a much better position if he had stayed.

  Posted by BP at 3:02 am Comments (3)
Thursday, June 2, 2005

The H factor one more time

Let us review the events across the Arab/Muslim world during the past 3 days:

Pakistan

Suicide bomber slaughter Shittes in their mosque

Afghanistan

Suicide bomber slaughter Afghanis in a mosque who were attending the funeral of a moderate cleric who called for cooperation with the central government in Kabul.

Iraq

39 Iraqis slaughtered today by terrorists. Among the dead were 4 children, 2 of them were a brother and his sister.

Lebanon

Prominent Anti-Syria journalist assasinated when a bomb exploded in his car.

No outrage across the Arab/Muslim world? No
No condemnation from Al Azhar? No
Qaradawi didn’t go on Al Jazeerah to denounce suicide bombings whether they targetted Shittes in Iraq, Jews in Tel Aviv, or members of the Kambalo tribe in Kenya? No.
Islamist parties across the world didn’t organize demonstrations? No.
Why? because of the H factor.
What is the H factor? H.Y.P.O.C.R.I.S.Y
Why do I keep writing about this over and over again? because blogging helps me pass steam and not do something stupid like throwing bags of sh*t on demonstrators protesting against a Newsweek story that turned out to be untrue.

  Posted by BP at 11:55 pm Comments (0)

El Ghad’s New Website

Ayman Noor’s El Ghad Party has a new website. It is very appealing yet still has some technical problems. The interesting part is that now El Ghad has its own radio station that beams via the website. I heard that Ayman Noor approached the government in order to get a license to start an FM radio but they simply told him “see ya�.

All Egypt’s media is government owned and controlled. The only 2 private FM radio stations are Negoom FM and Nile FM. Both are entertainment stations that literally changed how Egyptians view the radio as a medium of communication. Before those 2 stations, the radio was dull and boring. Today, almost every car that has a radio tunes in to Negoom FM (in Arabic) or Nile FM (in English). Both stations are owned by the media tycoon Emad Eddin Adeeb (our Robert Murdoch). Emad was the guy who did the 3 parts interview with President Mubarak and he is very close to the ruling establishment. No wonder the government trusted him with 2 FM stations!!

Now I am glad El Ghad is becoming tech savvy while trying to use every venue possible in order to reach people. I still believe however that Ayman Noor should seriously think about why a number of high profile party members left El Ghad. I also believe that the most effective way of reaching out to people and winning them over is by satisfying their basic needs.

Groups such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Hezbollah rely on a huge network of civil services infrastructure that directly serve the people and replace the government when it is absent. For example, one of the MB’s smartest moves is how they reach out to the disenfranchised college students who left their rural villages to go into Cairo’s universities. They provide them with housing, educational support, and of course the all mighty religious peppered with politics rhetoric. The result is that they win over the student who notices how the government is not supporting him as well as the student’s extended family back home.

The logic of all this is very simple: you cannot talk about freedom and ballot boxes to people with empty stomachs, diseases in their bodies, and other far more serious problems. I hope and pray that progressive/secular political parties such as El Ghad will start copying what those groups are doing. In nearly all developing countries, basic needs is what people are striving for. Help them satisfy those needs and you are most probably going to win them over. The logic is very simple, even Muqtada al Sadr understands it.

  Posted by BP at 10:59 am Comments (0)