the Tahrir square story is unbeleivable. Today, already thousands of people are there and more and more are flooding the streets, all my friends and relatives are either in the square or on the way to go. These are people whose relation to politics and activism used to be to read the story in the newspaper and discuss it over lunch or dinner. Everybody is there right now including my 70 years old aunt. despite the attacks and the fear we all feel safe and happy.Yesterday, I spent the day there, late at night I went back home. Behind the safe doors of my house, suddenly it was a vaccume of fear. We had to watch the Egyptian media’s false propaganda. They told Egyptians that the protestors in the the Tahrir square are causing serious damage to the economy and endangering the safety of the country. In other, allegdly, more independant Egyptian media channels, some of the most influential writers and analysts were trying to sell to the people the idea that it is time to go home, you made it people, just give the current government enough time to make it right again. Actually among the Egyptians there are those who just want their lives back to normal and beleive that the present achievements, Mubarack’s promise to leave office, is good enough.
Angry and worried I shifted to the news flowing from other International media channels. As usual, their intense focus is on the fights, the bloodshed and the terror, they ask questions about who is leading, what about the Muslim brotherhood, and the other opposition leaders, they speak to irrelevant people, who do not make part of the event , but just like the media they are observers. sunddenly in my safe warm home, I am worried, afraid and unsure.
Than again today back to the square to find the that the number of those who support the uprising is increasing tremendously. The charm of the Tahrir square is attracting more and more people, some flew all the way from the United States, Canada, Germany, London and even South Africa to be there in the square at this very moment of ultimate hope. Others are coming from different Egyptian governorates, simple people who came a long way because they beleive that this is a true revolution fighting for their rights and they were determined to give it all their support.
One very simple lady from the rural Fayoum governorate told me,” I am here to support the youth.” she posed and added,” when Mubarak’s grand son died we all felt for him , we dressed in black and cried for the innocent child, why on earth is he now doing this to our sons? How many mothers are now crying for a child who is dead or lost. ”
Many analysts in the media speak of Egypt’s economy, they say that the economic growth did not trickle down to the poor and this is why this is happening. This is too simplistic. This revolution is not about poverty or need. The people in the streets from all walks of life , rich and poor are their because they want freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom.
In the square amazingly there is no anger and no violence, People are singing and clapping their hands. they form circles and forums and indulge in heated discussions that usually ends with laughter or songs. The pro- Mubarak camel riding thugs, on the oher hand, are poor ignorant people paid, reportedly, by wealthy busnissmen, to fight for the man and for his gang’s short sighted business interests, this is poverty and hunger at work, people are selling their souls and swords for the highest price. But the freedom fighters in the freedom square (Tahrir means freedom) are truely, innocently happy souls whose aim is to get their Egypt back from the hands of a regime that abused and exploited the country and the people for over 30 years.
It is a revolution lead by young intellectuals. It started as a virtual idea in the social media. They did not at the time, just ten days ago, think that it could lead to such an astounding uprising. One young blogger told me that they did not think that one can simply set a date and a time for a revolution, “we used to joke about it saying let us meet tomrrow at cilantro after the revolution, or we better do this or that thing ahead of the revolution.” Although it started and was fed by the connectivity of the internet, once it started rolling, people already were connected even in the absence of the internet and the mobile phones. Awreness and beleive is a super network that connected people.
In the media they speak of an international community afraid of a power vaccum, they speak of a fear from Islamic radicalism, others speak of the absence of the building blocks of democracy. This is exactly because they do not undrestand the nature of this revolution, the people, literally for the first time in history, are taking the lead and deciding for themselves, the government will continue to make its concessions and offers, and the street is the judge. It is a different process where the voting is a continuous process, as the street reacts to the government announcements and measures
The absence of a person or a group of persons as a recognizable leadership group or figures is intentional. The intellectual young people who started all this are actually leading by spreading awareness among the people in the square, rather than by giving orders and this is making the pressure of the street crowds even more forceful. Simply because it is the people rather than this or that specific name who is reacting and deciding.
The media should make a drastic shift and start asking the right questions, they should discuss the needed, on the ground, garantees that will make sure that the present regime including the new vice president and prime minister, at the end of an interim period will effectively let the Egyptians choose a new Egyptian administration. The people need a guarantee that whoever rules will at the end of the day month, yera go back to his home knowing that his initial identity is an Egyptian citizen and not an everlasting ruler. uptill now the Egyptian government failed the transparency exam, trying hard to hide what is happening in the square from the eyes of the world. They continue to speak a language that is not reflected in actual measures such as the announcement of new parliamentary election in three or six months with guarantees of international and judiciary monitoring.
The story of the tahrir squre is not about who is with Mubarak and who is against, it is about a truely civilized, very peoceful people who decided to regain control of their destiny. This is a total super change. It means that they have given up their let go attitude, they have broken the seal of fear that has been stamped allover their bodies and soul. they will for ever be responsible and work to rebuild the whole country.
Craig, in Shaa Allah, in ayear time you should come for a vist I beleive and hope you will find avery very different Egypt. See you then
CROSSING EGYPT BY TRAIN—On a rack above me in a crowded train hurtling through the night, someone has stuffed luggage – a box of carefully tied twigs holding belongings.
This is poverty, I tell myself.
Because of this poverty, there are families in Egypt who sell their young daughters to rich men.
Someone with a local community organization that knows of such things, tells me of a small village in Upper Egypt where most of the young girls have been married off to wealthy men so that their families could have money.
I hear from her, and others, about brokers who allegedly arrange these marriages, and who find ways to get around the government law that bars anyone under 18 from marrying.
These community organization workers talk also about so-called pleasure marriages arranged by brokers. It is a business deal where wealthy tourists marry village girls for the weekend or for the summer. And then the men dump the girls.
The teen brides another young woman regularly meets as part of her job a community organization in Cairo deeply upsets her. The woman, whose name in Arabic has the same meaning as prayer, has thrown herself into the work, telling herself this is what she must do.
Young women 14- or 15-years-old are married to men 20 or 30 years older than them for money for their families, she explains with a sad shrug.
The community activist cannot think of someone being sold that way. Nor can she bear to hear another story of a young bride who went off to a world of wealth and came back months later, discarded by the husband, and dumped back into poverty.
Because of poverty there are people here who turn to selling their body parts, mostly kidneys. I can’t tell how widespread the problem is, but there is much talk of it in the newspapers and among local organizations who tell of poor people who have sold their kidneys to dealers, who scout the slums for sellers.
They say the sellers sometimes don’t even get the money they are promised and often they are left sick and damaged permanently from the surgery. They talk of gangs who operate these scams across the Middle East. There’s a story in the Cairo newspapers about arrests of one such gang that operated between Jordan and Egypt.
Because of poverty, there are street children who are victimized in countless ways. Some of them have been scooped up in the smaller towns, and shifted to the big cities where the abuse only magnifies; prostitution, drug dealing, thievery. They have to beg for themselves, for their families, or for whoever manipulates them.
Because of poverty, underage children work in factories and the fields in violation of Egyptian laws that mostly bar them from working if they are under 14 years old, journalists in the country’s smaller cities tell me.
But because the families are poor there are no complaints from them. There seem to be countless community groups struggling to deal with this problem that does not vanish.
Because of poverty, people seek out smugglers who promise to take them to jobs in Europe. But more often the voyages are fatal death trips in boats that barely get beyond the Egyptian coast.
I talk with the head of a community organization in a mid-sized Egyptian city who boils all of these problems down to poverty, and that helps me understand the child brides and the trafficking and child labor and the people who say it isn’t an issue because there is nothing to be done about it and it is a custom, not a social plight.
He doesn’t think you can do much unless you understand the root causes.
So, I understand why on the train that pulled out just before mine from a town in central Egypt there was a group of young men clinging for their lives to a door on the outside of the last car. They couldn’t afford a ticket so they were willing to risk their lives on the railroad on this dark night.
And I understand why some of people mulling around in the dirty, decades-old train have a look of unease. It is because they are headed for Cairo, looking for a job and better life. But decent-paying jobs are rare in a country where many earn no more than $2 per day and in a city where swelling crowds are doing the same as them.
And so I understood too the luggage of twigs.
from the Columbia Journalism Review
Egypt’s bloggers want to be journalists
Sandmonkey was determined to quit his blog. Sniping away at life and politics in Egypt had become too risky, he said, even under the cover of his anonymous online moniker. Too much of a chance the government thugs would hurt him or someone close to him, or smash his computer equipment. He wasn’t alone in his worry. The dozen or so bloggers who had gathered in the offices of a fledgling Cairo newspaper were freaked out by the four-year prison term given to a twenty-two-year-old former law school student for criticizing President Hosni Mubarak and for “religious incitement.” The blogger had called Mubarak “the symbol of tyranny” and said Muslims who attacked a Coptic Christian church had “revealed their true ugly face.” He had blasted Al-Azhar University, a revered center of Islamic learning, as “the other face of the coin of al Qaeda.” Some of the bloggers in the room disagreed with what he had written, but they didn’t expect a prison term. The muscular guy in a black T-shirt sitting beside me said that the authorities had already done all they can do to him, so he wasn’t worried. He said he would keep blogging, writing what he wants, showing up at dissident rallies. I was tempted to ask for specifics about what he had endured, but decided it was best that I didn’t.
I was in Cairo on a Knight fellowship from the International Center for Journalists, on leave from the Chicago Tribune, where I cover labor after years of roaming back and forth to the Middle East. I earned my first Middle Eastern credentials covering the Lebanon war in 1982, and my Arabic is still pretty good. The Washington-based center sends people like me around the world to help independent-minded journalists make a difference in their countries. But shortly after I arrived in Cairo in late February 2007, the two main projects that I had planned to work with were swept aside in a swirl of dead-handed bureaucracy and delayed decisions. No surprise; it’s the Middle East. But with just over four months remaining in my fellowship, I needed to find another way to contribute. It felt like I was back forty years in the Peace Corps in Turkey—things don’t work out, so you move on.
I began calling newspaper friends who suggested people and organizations I might be able to assist, and right away an Egyptian reporter who was struggling to establish an independent news network connected me with the bloggers. I found them at an existential moment. They are testing the limits of their freedom in a time of great intellectual, economic, and political ferment in Egypt. Some Egyptian journalists told me with absolute certainty that change is coming for their news media, and that it can’t be stopped. It is true that small newspapers are bubbling up to challenge the state-run media; satellite TV from the wider Arab world has forced Egyptian TV to get real and copy Al Jazeera’s model; Egyptian journalists are talking to other Arab journalists about what binds them and about strategies for the future; government newspapers, in the face of declining circulation, finally seem to realize that they must compete; and the Internet—as it has in repressive societies everywhere—has opened the world to Egyptians and given them the power to speak out.
“It was here,” he says in the warm growl of a long-time smoker.
Then he flashes the beatific smile that he sometimes turns on after a long discussion about the pains and joys of being a writer, and especially in Egypt where the financial rewards are few, and taboos many.
Here, he says at the corner of Polk and Wood Streets in the heart of the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, his understanding of Americans’ kindness was confirmed on a cold, blustery day over 20 years ago.
He was rushing across campus with a freshly typed master’s thesis, a work summing up one and a half years of graduate study at UIC’s College of Dentistry, when the papers just floated up and away.
“People got out of their cars and stopped and they and everyone else collected the papers,” he recalls. “But I wasn’t surprised,” he adds matter of factly. “I already knew that the American people are kind.”
But his return to Chicago earlier this year, his first since graduation, was more than a nostalgic rendezous with his past. It was in advance of the October publication of the English-language translation of “Chicago,” a novel that Arab readers have grabbed up in even greater numbers than his first record-breaking hit, “The Yacoubian Building.”
So much so, his publishers say it’s one of the best selling books in the Arab world.
“Chicago” is as calming a read as standing in the heart of a thunder storm.
There’s American decadence and racism, the soul-crushing loneliness of being an Egyptian immigrant in this strange outpost of outwardly friendly folks and the backward tug of Saudi-inspired Islamic conservatism on Egyptians here and at home. And there’s one of his favorite themes – his deep disdain for Egypt’s rulers and what he and others consider their disregard for democracy.
One reason for the emotional surge that erupts in almost every chapter is that the book appeared several years ago as a weekly serial in the Egyptian left-of-center al Destour (the Constitution) newspaper.
Though the book is called “Chicago,” the city and its residents largely form the backdrop for what happens to a group of Egyptians studying or working at UIC’s Medical School after the 9/11 tragedy.
A successful Egyptian professor, who disdains fellow Arabs, has his American dream shattered. Another Egyptian-born professor sinks into deep remorse over his decision years ago to forsake his homeland. A deeply religious graduate student has a relationship outside of marriage with an Egyptian student.
Another Egyptian student, who won a government scholarship only because he is a mole for Egyptian Intelligence, pimps his wife to a Chicago-based intelligence official who pulls incredible strings in the U.S. In turn, the agent sets up a young Egyptian leftist for arrest by U.S. anti-terrorism police.
Before his arrest, the student wrongly suspects his newly found Jewish girlfriend of setting him up.
Al Aswany, who writes a newspaper column in Cairo and belongs to Kefaya, (Enough) <cq> a struggling opposition party, disowns the notion that the novel is overly negative, or is a sociological examination of Egyptians at home and aboard.
“Literature is not a tourist guide,” he says. “I’ve been criticized for giving a negative image of Egypt. But I’m not a novelist working for the Ministry of Tourism. I don’t write novels to convince people to come to Sharm al Sheikh.”
What inspires him, he says, is human suffering.
As for the ambient sex in his writings, sex, he explains, is a “human language” that needs to told and explored.
The lure of al Aswany’s writing for Arab readers, suggests Farouk Mustafa, <cq> who translated “Chicago,” is that “he enlarges things in such a way as to bring them closer to the reader.” Al Aswany “has created a new class of novel readers,” says Mustafa, a professor of Arabic at the University of Chicago, who goes by the pen name Farouk Abdel Wahab.
As if to refute complaints that his novels revolve around trite formulas, al Aswany says he only creates his characters. After that they lead their own lives on his computer screen, and, he adds, often make the wrong decisions.
For example, he disapproves of the way the young Egyptian radical student in “Chicago” dumped his Jewish girl-friend. “I wouldn’t have done that,” he says with a frown.
Al Aswany’s own life, including his Chicago days, reads like one of his stories.
He arrived here, a relatively poor young Egyptian lured by the good reputation of the city and dental school. It was supposed to be a brief stay, but with dental faculty’s help he became a master’s degree student. When his money ran out, they helped him find a campus job, too.
Dr. A.E. Zaki, a professor emeritus at the dental school, recalls al Aswany’s “deep love of literature.” But he also was struck by al Aswany’s appetite for experiencing Chicago. “He lived it to the fullest,” he says.
Armed with the Reader’s weekly list of events, but little spending money, al Aswany roamed widely and frugally. He took in a Puerto Rican liberation movement meeting. He attended a church where, to his surprise, the parishoners were gay. He visited experimental theaters. He made friends with blacks, Jews, and a priest, who regularly invited him to services.
When he left for Egypt, he vowed to one day write a novel about Chicago.
He ached to be a writer, but heeded his father’s advice that since writers starve in Egypt he needed a steady paying job. His father, Abbas al Aswany, was a famous who earned a living as a lawyer.
He opened a dental office in Cairo, started writing on the side, and after years of frustration, his novel “the Yacoubian Building, published in 2002, exploded across the Arab world. It was a tale of political corruption, sexual abuse, religious fanaticism, homosexuality and the despair of the poor.
Just as that novel became a movie and runaway hit, there are plans to turn “Chicago” into a movie.
Translated into 20 languages, “The Yacoubian Building” has sold over 1 million copies, a half of that number in Arabic, according to Mark Linz, head of publications for American University in Cairo, which published “The Yacoubian Building” in English.
“Imagine, after 20 years you come back to this city, and you are one of the best selling authors in the Arab world,” he says, poised in front of the UIC dormitory where he discovered a new life so many years ago.
It is like reading notes handed from one to another with pictures and videos. The notes becomes the news and the news becomes the mirror of life of things today in Egypt: take a look at what the bloggers are doing these days.
Here’s a video
from al Ahram,
By Salama A Salama
The press is in crisis. There is no denying that. A balance between freedom and responsibility is badly needed. But this has to take place as part of a larger effort. Taken hostage by outdated laws and forces of the past, caught in an entangled web of hapless politics, our press is staring into the mirror of despair.Modern media is taking over. Television and the Internet are making inroads into a territory that once belonged exclusively to the print press. The press is fighting for dear life with its hands tied behind its back. It is hounded by powers that wish to keep it in its place, and even push it back to where they think it belongs. The press is being pushed back into the era of mass mobilisation, the time when its main function was to praise the powers that be.
Faced by such threats, journalists are making things worse. They fight among themselves. They fight over imagined material or moral gains. And they don’t seem to see the abyss lying ahead. The future has no place for a press devoid of credibility. The future has no place for journalists who curry favour with rulers. If things keep going this way, journalists will end up being mere clerks, or informers, working for a pittance in impoverished private newspapers. Or they’ll go looking for piecemeal work at Arab press offices and television stations.
If the clash between the nationalist and independent press continues, both will lose. Our newspapers need to turn into financially viable and politically independent institutions. They need to modernise their management, introduce transparent financing, embrace the latest technology and train their reporters. We cannot allow the press to disintegrate into the dark recesses of a professional vacuum. We cannot allow the name-calling and the grovelling — all of which was evident in the Press Syndicate’s elections — to go on. Otherwise, we will end up with worthless newspapers that no one wants to read, and this goes for both the national and independent press.
Mass mobilisation can no longer be the mission of the press. The restricted freedoms of the 1960s and 1970s cannot come back. These are new times. We cannot embrace the market economy and freedom one day and eat our words the next. The nature of our political system is going to change, and so will the press. We cannot waste time on half measures. We need to overhaul the entire media system, laws and all. Let me give you one example. According to current laws, you can set up a newspaper with LE250,000 — less than the price of an apartment. How can you expect a newspaper to pay salaries, insurance and taxes on such meagre assets? How do you expect such a paper to resist corruption?
There are people in the media who still do business the old way. They wait for orders from the information minister, the Policies Committee, or the Interior Ministry, and carry them out. This cannot last for long. Also, the current professional standards of our journalists leave much to be desired. What happened to accurate reporting, to balanced writing, to objective views, to refined language?
This country is thinking about the economy all the time. Perhaps it is time we think a little about the press. We’re no longer competitive. We have fallen behind other media in the region. This can change, but only when we start moving in the right direction.
We need an independent press. And we need a financially viable press.
- October 28, 2007
ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT-As the old hotel elevator rumbles upward, its antiquarian wood and brass cage carries me backward.
Back to the 1930s when the Cecil Hotel — staring out at an ancient harbor, a busy square and chic European-style patisseries — was the gathering place for aspiring (and already world-famous) writers, for social climbers and for curious foreigners caught up in Egypt’s mystique. Back to a breezy, Mediterranean city on the edge of Africa that once felt like Marseilles and London and Naples and Istanbul, and a mixture of everything from the Middle East thrown into an exotic urban stew.
You pick up the newspaper and hopefullly you can feel life. This is when a newspaper rises up and becomes a diary of our daily lives. Here, Jeffrey Fleischman of the Los Angeles Times writes beautifully of a bridge in Cairo.
CAIRO — The lovers and the fishermen, the street kids and the cops, the veiled girls and the flower sellers, they all come at dusk to the bridge over the Nile, stealing kisses and tugging their lines, escaping the heat and hoping for magic, the boys whispering promises bigger than their pockets as moonlit boats glide beneath them.
Hotel lights glow along the corniche in the distance and somehow Cairo’s grit and poverty are gone; night makes everything pure. That’s when dreams and memories unfold on the bridge.
Ibrahim Adel, a waiter, tells his fiancee, yes, he will one day own a restaurant. Yehia Helmi, a barber, lifts his grandson to the railing and points to a sail flickering in the darkness. Samir Shawki skitters with his buddies through the traffic. And Ali Mohammed Hussein, a sturdy man with a bent nose, sells wilted roses in cellophane.
The Qasr el Nil Bridge carries tens of thousands of cars a day, but at night its wide sidewalks are shoulder to shoulder with Egyptians. There is no sweeter spot for a cheap date, a refuge from big families and crowded apartments. A brush of the hand, a smile, all the subtle rituals of Muslim romance play out in tiny dramas amid the call to prayer and the river breeze.
When the news media doesn’t see and doesn’t hear, nobody hears. Nothing matters. Nobody cares. Nobody knows.
But when there is news, and when the news media pays attention, the equation comes together. And this may be what is happening today in Egypt.
Baheyya looks at how the news media has begun to cover civil protests in Egypt.
“Street action by groups of ordinary people isn’t new, but it’s far less documented and celebrated than similar action by workers, tradesmen, students, and other organised social sectors. Unlike these groups, ordinary people rarely distribute pamphlets or carry placards that survive as records of their action. Its sporadic character and focus on basic needs (food, water, housing) is often taken to mean that ordinary people’s protest is somehow less significant, less political than ‘real’ protest. By contrast, the press is currently portraying ordinary peoples’ protests as portending an impending national revolt and regime breakdown. Notwithstanding their excellent coverage, al-Masry al-Youm’s editors have inexplicably christened the water protests in Kafr al-Shaykh, Gharbiyya, Daqahliyya, and Giza as the “Revolt of the Thirsty,” implying that widespread popular wrath will inevitably translate into political upheaval and ‘chaos’.http://www.baheyya.blogpsot.com
Before a long day of e-mails from all over the Arab world, before an unremitting flood of calls –Yes, okay, five minutes, okay, let’s talk, okay, good, okay –and before scanning piles of newspapers, he opens his computer first thing in the morning and searches the websites of Al Jazeera and the BBC.
Then he goes through four or five of his favorite Egyptian bloggers’ sites. If he has more time, he will read more blogs. Then he will read al Destour and then al Masry al Youm and then al Ahram and maybe a few more Egyptian newspapers. If there is time.
Gamal Eid is busy. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information in Cairo is one of several human rights groups in the Arab world. But it is the only one that focuses on the freedom of expression and defending that freedom. So, Eid, an attorney, has different interests when he picks up the newspapers, or punches keys on his portable computer.
He wants to know about the law, about human rights, about civil society, about bloggers and anyone else who may become entangled when they speak out. The newspapers may give him some of the news.
“But the blogs give you the real life.”
Salama Ahmed Salama throws words like darts. They sting. They are carefully aimed. And they don’t miss. The veteran al Ahram editor and columnist speaks eloquently in the latest issue (May 2007) of Egypt Today about what Egypt’s news media needs to do. Read his words about the prisons of the mind. So, too, columnists Makram Mohamed Ahmed and Magdy Mehanna tell what drives their work. It’s a stunning presentation of talent and grit. It is a compelling reminder of why a good media can make a difference. Read the article:http://www.egypttoday.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=7371