Friday, August 31, 2007

Egyptian photoblogger first to win journalism award

Wael Abbas, Egypt’s number one photoblogger, won the the 2007 Knight International Journalism Award.

Abbas was named, along with a Myanmarese investigative reporter, as the 2007 Knight International Journalism Award winners – an award which recognises individuals who have raised the standards of media excellence in their countries.

“I was surprised, but at the same time, don’t know how to describe my feelings, (at the time of receiving the news of the award),” he says in a telephone interview with Gulf News in Cairo. “I had mixed feelings. I have met with appreciation and honour from strangers and foreigners, which I don’t get from my compatriots.”

Abbas blog, Misr digital, “regularly breaks stories on subjects generally avoided by local media, such as protests, corruption and police brutality. His vivid first-hand reports, videos and photographs have attracted thousands of readers and the attention of mainstream news outlets, which have begun to pick up his hard-hitting stories,” said the announcement of the award.

Abbas’s blog, Misr Digital, is one of the major blogs that covers political events in Egypt. It broke all boundaries. Congrats Wael!

(h/t The Arabist)

  Posted by BP at 9:00 pm Comments (2)

From Chancellor to Chancellor

I am amazed at how the world changes. However, I am more amazed at how quickly civilized countries bury the past and march forward. Over 60 years ago Germany’s leader ordered the death of 6 millions Jews. Today’s German leader was named recipient of highest German Jewry honor.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was Friday named the recipient of a top award of German Jewry, the Leo Baeck Prize.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany singled out Merkel for her “continuous and credible commitment in the area of rapprochement between Jews and non-Jews as well as between Germany and Israel.”

The chancellor, who was this week named the world’s most powerful woman by the U.S. magazine Forbes, will receive the award at a ceremony in Berlin on November 6.

The award is named after Rabbi Leo Baeck, a former concentration camp inmate who later became chairman of the World Union of Progressive Judaism. He died in 1956.

Progressive Judaism. Me is praying for Progressive Islam.

  Posted by BP at 6:56 pm Comments (12)

Bad Apples

Grrrrrrrrr. Now the actions of 2 bad apples will make it even harder for those Egyptians who want to travel to the US either to study or to visit. Two Egyptian students at the University of South Florida were indicted Friday on charges of carrying explosive materials across states lines and one was accused of teaching the other how to use them for violent reasons.

Ahmed Abdellatif Sherif Mohamed, 24, an engineering graduate student and teaching assistant at the Tampa-based university, faces terrorism charges for teaching and demonstrating how to use the explosives.

He and Youssef Samir Megahed, 21, an engineering student, were stopped for speeding Aug. 4 in Goose Creek, S.C., where they have been held on state charges.

I just feel like punching Ahmed and Youssed right in the nose until it bleeds.

  Posted by BP at 6:48 pm Comments (0)

Thousands march in anti-Hamas rallies in Gaza

Very good news from Gaza. Thousands of Palestinians defied a ban on public gathering to stage anti-Hamas rallies in Gaza.

Prayers were organised which turned into marches through main towns. Some people were injured in clashes.

Protesters accuse the Islamist Hamas of violating civil liberties and using mosques to spread political propaganda.

Muslim Friday prayers became the focal point for anti-Hamas protests, our reporter says.

If I was a Hamas member I would be pretty concerned from the fact that today’s rallies eminated from Gaza’s mosques. Very refreshing news indeed.

  Posted by BP at 6:21 pm Comments (11)

Luxor and Aswan, from Christie till today

He said: “Do you really like Majorca, Mother?”
“Well,” Mrs Allerton considered, “It’s cheap.”
“And cold,” said Tim with a slight shiver.
…….
“I was thinking of Egypt.”
“Egypt?” Mrs Allerton sounded doubtful.
“Real warmth, darling. Lazy golden sands. The Nile. I’d like to go up the Nile, wouldn’t you?”
“Oh, I’d like it.” Her tone was dry. “But Egypt’s expensive, my dear. Not for those who have to count the pennies.”

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie; page 21

I’m currently reading this famous novel by the queen of crime Agatha Christie. I can’t be living in Luxor without having read this particular novel. Christie wrote part of it while staying at the famous high end Cataract Hotel in Aswan.

One of the things I’m really enjoying while reading Death on the Nile is having a climse into how this region looked like 70 years ago and then see the change that occured throughout this period. Agatha wrote this novel in the late 30s.

What really changed are the tourists themselves. From the novel I learned that only rich aristocratic Europeans and Americans could have afforded to come to Luxor and take a Nile cruise along the Nile to Aswan or to the Sudan. Today, a garbage collector in Paris can afford to come to Egypt. The value of the Egyptian pound got degraded throughout this period and poverty in Egypt is increasing every year. Today any European who manages to postpone the shoe and T-shirt he/she was planning to buy can book a ticket to Egypt.

“If there were only any peace in Egypt, I should like it better,” said Mrs Allerton. “But you can never be alone anywhere. Someone is always pestering you for money, or offering you donkeys, or beads, or expeditions to native villages, or duck shooting.”

Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie; page 67

Now, that is what didn’t change. The bazar owners, the sellers, the horse-drawn carriages drivers, the felluca captains, who run after the pocket of any foreigner who decended on Luxor or Aswan. Ask anyone who visited Luxor and Aswan and he/she’ll probably tell you that these people were the only annoyance. And from the book, it seems that was also the case 70 years ago.

It’s worth mentioning though that such a problem is not so apparent in the Sinai or Hurghada. I really can’t think of a single reason why this is so. Probably because Luxor and Aswan are actual towns with inhabitants whose sole income depends on the tourists who visit them. The Sinai and Hurghada were never really towns with large populations. They are newly created tourist resorts that are well controlled.

Believe it or not I’m also a victim of these people. Because of my relatively fair skin and the features I got from my half Italian half Syrian mother, they think I’m a tourist (especially if I was carrying my omnipresent bottled water) and so sprint towards me as soon as they see me coming from afar. When I talk to them in Arabic they all melt away. No business comes from an Egyptian!

Lastly, if you ever decided to visit Luxor and Aswan then you need to know how to deal with them: say the word “shoukran” or thank you with a smile. Keep repeating it politely. If he didn’t quit, then ignore him and keep on walking.

  Posted by BP at 12:26 pm Comments (2)
Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pigs Flying Pigs Flying Pigs Flying Pigs Pigs Oh My God Pigs

Human Rights Watch has criticized Hezbullah. I can see pigs flying over the Karnak Temple!

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report due for release on Thursday focuses on the extent “Hezbollah targeted or indiscriminately fired its rockets toward civilians and civilian objects” during the 34-day war, according to a statement by the New York-based group.

But even before the release of the report, Hezbollah and Prime Minister Fuad Siniora were scathing in their criticism, forcing a planned HRW press conference in Beirut to be cancelled.

  Posted by BP at 7:49 pm Comments (14)

Australian Christians Offended, Peace Reigns

Australian Christians are offended from artworks depicting Bin Laden in a Christ-like pose and the Virgin Mary covered in a burqa.

Australia’s 20 million population is overwhelmingly Christian and the print was condemned by the Australian Christian Lobby.

“It’s really unfortunate people take liberties with the Christian faith they wouldn’t take with other religions,” Lobby spokeswoman Glynis Quinlan told reporters.

Australian Christians condemned the artwork. That’s all what they did. No violent riots, no embassy bombings, no threats. Why? Because the Western Christian world grew up. If these artworks were made a 500 years ago, the artist would have been toast.

Me is praying for the Muslim world to grow up as well. Life would be beautiful.

  Posted by BP at 7:40 pm Comments (3)

Mubarak is Dead!

That’s the latest rumor spreading throughout Egypt like wild fire. I had people in Luxor come up to me to tell me: haven’t you heard, Mubarak died clinically like King Hussein and they’re currently keeping the news from the public until they find a replacement.

I am not sure of what instigated the rumor but it sure covered Egypt in no time. Anyway, Mubarak had to dispense the rumor by suddenly visiting burj al-Arab yesterday.

  Posted by BP at 11:04 am Comments (1)
Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Moulid Abul Hagag

In Egypt we have a special occasion called Moulids or birthdays. During these days people in certain areas around Egypt celebrate the birthday of a local Muslim or Christian saint. For example, one of the largest moulids is of Sayed el Badawi, a Sufi Muslim saint, in the town of Tanta. Hundreds of thousands flock to Tanta each year to celebrate his birthday. One of the largest Christian Moulids is of Miri Girgis or Saint Georges and it takes place in the town of Rezegat just south of Luxor.

Just like Christmas in the west, Moulids are periods of joy, partying, and extending goodwill to friends and loved ones.

Two days ago I attended the Moulid of Abul Hagag in Luxor. Abul Hagag was an Iraqi Muslim holy man who emigrated from his native country to Luxor over 800 years ago. Luxor has a number of moulids celebrating the birth of local saints, Abul Hagag is the largest though. All Luxorians were on the streets on that day and I was told that people come from all over the country, even from Sudan, to attend the moulid.

The celebrations starts 2 or 3 days before the climax of the event which is the street parades or “dora”. During these days people invite each other to lunch or dinner and the rich distribute food to people on the street. I was invited to lunch by my landlord. At night I ate at a neighbour’s house. The night before the dora people visit Abul Hagag’s mosque mosque built on the Luxor temple. They then pray beside his tomb which is also located inside the mosque.

The street parades or dora is the big event. Throngs of people, trucks, horses, camels, and donkeys parade in the streets going around all Luxor. I was there and I took a few pics. I chose these:

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Dancing with sticks or “tahtib”. Tahtib is very popular in southern Egypt. Men dance on the rhythm of music while hitting each other’s stick.

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The throng. You can see the entrance of Luxor’s temple at the back.

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The street parade

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Dancing with sticks.

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Ronald McDonald in the midst of Moulid Abul Hagag! Talking about Americanized globalization!!!! hehehehe

Update: About the women. Since the street parades are mostly full of men dancing and stuff, women tend to stay either on the sideline or watch from the balconies and shower the participants with candy, peanut, and bottles of water. I was walking in the parade and suddenly had candy thrown all over me from the women in the balconies.

  Posted by BP at 2:18 pm Comments (0)

Islamist? So What!

I really don’t know why there is so much fuss over the election of Abdullah Gul as Turkey’s new president. Turkish Islamists are quite different from their Arab/Asian counterparts. The country’s long established secular and democratic system has transformed Turkey’s religious right making them almost harmless.

I don’t think we will witness any drastic change in Turkey that might compromise its system of government or way of life. Turkey will remain to be a democratic state and much more free and much more secular than its Arab Muslim counterparts. The reason for this is quite simple: most Turks believe in their system even if they went to a mosque on Friday or believe that the hair cover should not be banned in universities. And we shouldn’t expect much from the country’s new rulers. They will calculate every move they make lest they trigger the army that overthrew two governments before. So the maximum they can do is things like allowing the hair cover in government institutions or adding a few religious nonsense to some laws. Pretty harmless I guess.

To conclude, I’ll be a very happy man if our Islamists became like Turkey’s. I’ll pop the most expensive champaign bottle if that happened.

  Posted by BP at 1:23 pm Comments (0)