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Thursday, March 1, 2007

Egypt: The People vs The Country

Do people make the country? Or, does the country make the people?
I - a very proud Egyptian - have seen a lot of the country and enough of the people and here are my thoughts:

  • If the people do not have manners; the country is rude.
  • If the people spit in the street; the country is disgusting.
  • If the people do not shower; the country stinks.
  • If the people touch their privates in the street; the country is perverted.
  • If the people throw garbage in the street; the country is dirty.
  • If the people do not brush their teeth; the country is full of yellow/brown smiles.
  • If the people have a loud pitch; the country sounds like a hen den.
  • If the people are frustrated; the country is reputed for harassment.
  • If the people do not stop at red lights; the country is always congested.
  • If the people do not drive safely; the country has a high accident rate.
  • If the people do not fix their cars; the country is hazed out with pollution.
  • If the people do not put road-signs; the country is a maze.
  • If the people do not know how to drive; the country has the worst roads.
  • If the people abhor rules; the country is in chaos.
  • If the people do not respect schooling; the country is illiterate.
  • If the people do not like to read; the country is ignorant.
  • If the people insist on talking bad English; the country stutters.
  • If the people do not keep their promise; the country is never taken seriously.
  • If the people lie; the country is known for liars.
  • If the people cheat; the country is known for fraud.
  • If the people are dishonest; the country has no answers.
  • If the people are not tolerant; the country is intolerable.
  • If the people do not practice what they preach; the country is double-faced.
  • If the people envy one another; the country is sick with jaundice.
  • If the people step on one another’s toes; the country is full of swollen toes.
  • If the people stab each other in the back; the country is sore with deadly wounds.
  • If the people are lazy; the country is stagnant.
  • If the people are artificial; the country is a disgrace.
  • If the people are stoned; the country is numb.
  • If the people are confused; the country loses direction.
  • If the people do not know the truth; the country is misled.
  • If the people are poor; the country is naked.
  • If the people have no dreams; the country is dead.
  • If the people do not have a present; the country will not have a future.
  • If the people do not think of the future; the country will live in the past.
  • If the people do not change themselves; the country will not change them.
  • If I could get rid of such people; I might save the country.
  • I just hate the people; but I am in love with the country.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Hail thee Ostrich Land!

I had a horrible nightmare! No! I live in a horrible nightmare! I want to wake up but it is the reality that I am living.

Today, I am not a writer; I am just a girl who is seeing red with anger and I need to vent - again.

My mom is not talking to me! Why? Because I said in my relationships segment on OTV that I "interviewed some young folks that I met when I was smoking a shisha." - Yes, that's all I said.

You might think that she did not know that I smoked shisha until I shamelessly announced it on air. Wrong! She knows and she sat with me a few times as I hubbled and bubbled.

You might think that no one else knows about my disgraceful pass-temps. No! I smoke with my brother, my male cousins, my female cousins, my colleagues, my friends, and my students - I have a shisha at home that she has seen a million times!

What is her point then? It is the same lame sentence that I have been hearing all my life: "What will people say?"

This is the same logic that is used to build the fake social facades that I abhor so much.

I am quite limited when it comes to understanding such statements. Those "people", along with ghosts, demons, and spirits, are in the same category in my head - they are there but we have our separate lives and our paths don't cross. I don't fetch them and they don't come after me - end of story.

Before my mom hung up, I promised her to announce on the coming episode, that her shame of a girl moved out a few years ago because she dared grow up!

This society is made up of male and female ostriches and I will make a fortune selling their meat - for some reason that sounds familiar in a deja vu sense.

I am not defending shisha smokers ... it is a ridiculous habit; but - excuse my metaphor - I am marking my territory from people who, undeservedly, happen to have a say in my life by peeing all over them every chance I get.

The B-Word

Did you ever disagree with a political icon, but you chose silence for obvious reasons? Do you feel trapped in mazes of invisible laser beams that strike with every breath you take? Were you ever raging with pain and anger to the point of screaming out loud, then you held back because it was not socially acceptable? Do you have things to share with the world but fear harsh judgment? Do you feel like spilling your guts out with no inhibitions whatsoever? How about taboo talk? Do you have your own opinions and experiences but you cannot risk having them discovered or uncovered? What about uncensored news? Do you seek the truth no matter how shocking or how ugly? Do you want to write until there are no thoughts left in your head? Do you want to be in control of what you write; how long, how often, and what about? Do you not keep a diary lest it falls in the wrong hands? Do you long for your very own personal impersonal online journal? Do you want to become a tiny particle of typing on the World Wide Web? Have you ever wished to become literally invisible, yet heard?

The magical B-word made it all possible; no credit card number is required, no identification is needed, no personal information is obligatory, and no one asks any questions when you create your own blog. Wikipedia defines a blog as a contraction of 'web log'; it refers to a website where entries are made in journal style and are displayed in a reverse chronological order. The term "weblog" was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997. The short form, "blog," was coined by Peter Merholz in 1999, when he jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase we blog. This was quickly adopted as both a noun and verb ("to blog," meaning "to edit one's weblog or to post to one's weblog"). Gartner Group forecasts that blogging will peak in 2007, levelling off when the number of writers who maintain a personal website reaches 100 million.

Jenny – The Genius of Messed-up Relationships was my first blog. Jenny was a figment of my imagination; I created her and hired her to be my spokesperson three years ago. I was too hurt to talk and way too broken to write, so I decided to let Jenny express my anger, my pain, my love, my hope, and my worst fears. Just as much as any female in our society, I needed her strength and determination. With her foreign name, daring views, transparency, openness, and sarcasm Jenny stole my spot under the sun and turned me – reality – into a pale shadow of herself. She received love letters, job offers, compliments, and I had nothing. I have crossed the line between fact and fiction many a time and I have always managed to find my way back. I reached a point when I realized that unless I have the courage to speak up for myself, I will always need to be Jenny and I will always be kept in the dark. This was when I created my second blog Egyptian Fe-mail, which has my name, email, and picture. Then I created my third blog Experienced Innocence, where I posted my personal quotes. Blogging is such a liberating experience that helped me pour my brains, document my passion, and make great intellectual friends.

I have to admit that the quality of Arab bogs and the opinions of Arab bloggers are beyond impressive. Our very own young men and women are knowledgeable, expressive, cultured, and above all, they care. The Big Pharaoh* is a great writer, excellent analyst of current political events, and his arguments are bulletproof. “This blog is a way for me to voice my opinions as well as vent off my emotions.” He is a true patriot who wonders “When will Egypt return the way it was? This country once appointed a Jewish finance minister in the 30s at a time when Jews were marked with a yellow star in Germany and blacks were kicked out of “whites-only” restaurants in the US. My guess is that we need to go back to where we were 50 years ago and we have to pass through every stage medieval Europe passed through.” The Big Pharaoh comes across as an enlightened Egyptian who talks rationally about taboos that involve inter-religious conflicts, politics, and controversial books; “Most of my female friends, especially those who cover their hair, do not have a problem shaking my hand. These educated upper class girls were foolish enough to be convinced that God would punish them if they didn't cover their hair, yet fortunately they were not foolish enough to believe he'll do the same thing if they shook my hand.”

Thumbs up for the Egyptian Sandmonkey* who, on one of his posts, asked us if we knew what we wanted from the west. The result of his poll had mainly two groups “One group is angry at what they view as foreign interference in our affairs; the other group is dismayed at what they view as fake or not enough pressure exerted on our countries to reform. I can't personally decide which group confuses me more. The people that are angry at the US and the EU for exerting pressure on us to reform confuse me because they are protesting against a generally good thing that is in their benefit. They remind me of the battered wives that go bail out the husbands that are in jail for beating them … Then you have the second group and they confuse me even more; they are the ones that are mad at the US and Bush for not exerting more pressure in favor of reform, yet they never actually specify what the US is supposed to do. …The people have become so complacent, docile, afraid and apathetic that it seems that they have lost the will to move, think or act. It seems like everyone wants some change to happen, but they want someone else to do the actual work.”

Strawberry* is an Egyptian female blogger who writes about the “life of an egyptian girl with an open mind, a huge set of dreams and not enough space to realize them. Consider this a ventilation spot for me and other amazing, yet frustrated, egyptain women of my generation.” On one of her posts she wrote: “I want to avenge every woman who has been mistreated in any shape or form but I cannot do that on my own. I am on the verge of creating a memorial day for all the women who sacrificed, or have been sacrificed, to keep our society intact (something that hasn’t worked so far). So please spread the word and help me make a small difference.” Isis* is another remarkable young lady who wrote in her introduction “When we were young they taught us to stand up and speak out. Now, when we're all grown up and big they turn their words around; they tell us not to talk & want us to sit down. I won't sit in silence, I will not be ignored. I will not be invisible or quiet anymore!! I don't care about profanity; I'm a big girl and can handle big people saying nasty things.”

Mechanical Crowds* dared discuss the existence of God in one of his posts; “The Creator created the year old puzzle. Before the puzzle, the Creator was not a creator. So in a way, the puzzle created the Creator just as the Creator created the puzzle. You obviously can think of a few possible solutions to the puzzle, but none of them seem to answer all the questions to your satisfaction. You always reach a point where you’re left with a missing piece, or an extra piece. Something is wrong.” He also brought up the issue of censorship on blogs in Egypt in a brave post titled But Someone's Listening In; “There’s an Egyptian blogger who is being accused of “insulting the president”, “inciting sedition”, “disrespect of religions”, and "harming national unity". I’m sure this news makes Egyptian bloggers a little uneasy. That’s the whole point isn’t it? To make bloggers think twice before hitting that publish button. It does make me a little uneasy. It makes me sad knowing that Egypt is still that far behind on human rights. We have no choice but to voice our opinions anyway, regardless of whether or not it is well received. If this news makes us bloggers resort to self-censorship then there is no point in writing … Fortunately, you don’t have to pay such a high price for saying your opinion; publishing your opinions on an anonymous blog should be safe.”

Ghawayesh* is a female blogger who is living in Europe but her heart stayed back home. “Ghawayesh means bracelets. In my context it symbolizes the cuffs of my culture. I don't know if I like them or hate them.” She is more concerned with the impact of our culture and tradition on our women; “Since childhood we can only play with dolls and kitchen appliances. Results: We are programmed to realize that we should be good house-keepers and baby-carers. I bought my son a mini-washing machine, mini-vacuum cleaner, mini-iron and ironing board, mini-kitchen, and a baby doll (and they are all among his favorite toys), and when my (Egypt-based and Egypt-minded) sister saw that, she was stunned, and said: "Your son will become a homo". As we grew up, we constantly heard: "You're a girl, you can't do that. Only boys can do that". "That" can be anything adventurous; demanding physical strength; technical thinking or action; or freedom of movement. Result: We are cripples! Hey! We are women and we need a man to save us, right? A girl's main goal in life should be to hunt down a man. No matter how high we reach, we are *nothing* without a man.”

A study done by Maktoob.com*, covering over 40,000 blogs, showed a clear stand towards politics, with a percentage of 40% bloggers voicing their concerns on recent issues. Cultural topics were the second with 25 %; however literature, entertainment and internet issues followed closely. The blog phenomenon enabled many journalists & writers to reach out to a wider audience outside of their own home countries. Prime examples are Yasser Abu Hilalah, the Jordan-based President of Al Jazeera TV & Ahmad Mofaq Zidan, The Afghanistan-based President of Al Jazeera T.V. Both are political journalists' bloggers in Maktoobblog.com who have evoked a strong response from the Internet browsing community. Blogs have revolutionized the way aspiring writers can communicate with their audiences, while gaining their readers' feedback instantly through the use of interactive comments.

Jeeran.com* – neighbors – is another example of the blogging outburst. Since launching its blogging service in November 2005, Jeeran's bloggers’ community has grown tremendously reaching a count of 35,000 blogs and 110,000 posts to date. Laith Zraikat, Co-founder, and Director of Innovation of Jeeran says that "Being the largest bloggers community in the Arab World, Jeeran can closely monitor topics presented and discussed in the Arab blogosphere.” Omar Koudsi, Co-founder and president of Jeeran adds “Many of the Arab bloggers do not like to be classified under one category; 24% of the total choose to categorize their blogs under Personal; this allows them to state their opinions in many issues including, but not limited to, politics and social issues. In addition, many of our members are tech savvy, leading to 14% of our bloggers classified under Computer & Technology. Surprisingly, other categories follow with very close percentages shedding light on bloggers dedicating their writings to topics like arts, education & culture, religion & spirituality, and sports.” Jeeran attracted some prominent journalists and politicians in the Arab world like Rashid Al Mudawwer (Moroccan Parliament Member), Mohammed Lachayeb (Moroccan Parliament Media Consultant), Tawfiq Al Rayyash (Bahraini Journalist), Batir Wardam (Jordanian Journalist and Environmental Activist) and that is just to name a few.

Out of sheer curiosity, I looked into Saudi blogs by women. 24-year old Jo is a Saudi female who posts regularly on A Thought in the Kingdom of Lunacy*. She is peeling layers and layers of the smelly onion of social hypocrisy. Having lived in London, Jo is still finding it hard to adjust. “Now that I am not allowed a life … From midnight till about 3 AM you’ll find me on the rooftop smoking and thinking … I usually have my phone to keep me company during that time – thank God for mobile phones here … It’s difficult to have any time to yourself when you’re living in a city like London. You have so many distractions … I think that if it weren’t for having to spend so much time by myself then it would have taken me a lot longer to grow up. I can remember getting so agitated at the small things and … But now I could care less about getting my way … One other major change in me is my lack of ambition now. I’ve lost interest in so many things. For one thing I was quite fanatical about politics … I have lost complete interest in whatever is going on in the world … All I want right now is to just head back home – London, working a 9-5 job that pays me just enough to pay my bills and maybe have some cash left over at the end of each month for a teeny bit of fun … I think I’ve grown up enough and it’s time to go home.”

Saudi Eve* touched my heart when she wondered “What would happen if today, instead of having my chauffeur drive my car, I drive it myself? No, not with twenty other women in a parade ... just plain ol' me going to work. What would happen if today, instead of saying God bless you to any person who recites (that) a perfumed woman being adulterous, I sue for slander and emotional trauma? What would happen if today, instead of saying "oops", smiling, then passing the spoon to my right hand, I say "I am a ****** lefty you ****** imbecile!. I can't eat with my ****** right hand even if it meant that the ****** devil will get a ****** bite of my ****** kabsa. So unless you'd ****** feed me yourself – with your ****** right hand of course – say bon ****** appétit Mr. Devil.” I never thought I would live to read a Saudi “erotic” story. Mystique, the blogger posting to The Emancipation of Mystical Thoughts*, writes about romantic escapades and her girlish dreams and desires of love and warmth. Her last post was on November 20th and it was a letter to her readers: “Mystique created history and she's history. I'll miss you … Mahmoud Darwish once wrote: One day I shall become what I want; one day I shall become a Thought, a Bird, a Poet.”