My life has been one temporary situation after another for the past year. We are trying to immigrate back to the USA. Well, he is and I am his sponsor, and the process has been fraught with difficulties.
It all started after my last post. Everything I witnessed in Egypt during the Morsi protests in 2013 was so violent. I experienced such raw anger I now realize I had a lot of difficulties processing. When my dad asked me to come home to help with the business back in Virginia I jumped at the chance. Partly because I love the family business of halal meat wholesale. But, mostly because I knew I was loosing myself in the craziness of Cairo.
At that point I knew that this was not my final immigrate back to the USA trip. Instead, I had a brief stay in the suburbs of Washington DC. In a little less than eight months I got my affairs in order, helped my dad with some systems and technology in the office, and bought my wedding dress. I arrived in Lorton, Virginia in January and the big day was in August, in Kuwait City of all places.
The wedding was beautiful, small and not at all what I had pictured as a little girl, but full of people that loved my husband and I and our families. Living in Kuwait hasn’t been quite as dandy though. I needed a little more freedom, a little more space, and a driver’s license. All things I have not been able to get in my four years here.
Now, things are about to change and go in one of two ways. Either my family and I get to immigrate back to the USA, or we stay here. At this point I just want to know where I’m going to be in the next couple months.
From West to East and back again
I left for the Middle East in my mid-twenties with the conviction that I would help ignite change in Egypt. I’m leaving in my mid-thirties with the realization that one person can make a difference, but it takes everyone together for real change to happen.
In Egypt, tens of thousands of youth, many who were actively involved in helping our current president take control, have disappeared. Some are sitting in jail cells awaiting trials that might never come, others have not been heard from since the day they vanished. The worst part? A lot of Egyptians think they deserve it, and it’s the only way to preserve the country’s “security.” In other words, we like the way things are, there’s no need for change.
In Kuwait, there are plenty of people just trying to make a living. Yet, we feel like unwanted house guests most of the time. It’s difficult to get paperwork done, a driver’s license is harder to get than Wonka’s golden ticket, and the conservative voice is gaining popularity, like the rest of the world. At least I can stand up to Trump and hold him accountable for what he is doing to my country. Here, as a guest, I have no say.
So, we wait. We’ll know in just a couple of weeks if this blog will focus on my move to the States. Or if i’m going to have to give in and start to love life in Kuwait.
(Feature photo by Ian Simmonds on Unsplash / Fireworks at Washington, D.C., USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The streets won a small battle last night. After a nine hour meeting between the government and some opposing parties, the constitutional decree was partially rescinded, meeting one of the demands on the street.
The draft constitution continues on its course, however, and will go to the polls on Saturday December 15, 2012. Morsi has said many times that he was elected by majority, 51% in fact, and it is that majority he is banking on right now.
The numbers in perspective
In Egypt, 51% is not the majority.
Lets go back to May of this year, when we had our first presidential elections, and everyone was pumped about a democratic Egypt. Based on a population of 92 million with a voter turnout of 28.7%, his initial 5.8 million votes was support from little more than 6% of the entire Egyptian population. Even among voters he only had 24.7% of votes. In the run-off his 13,230,131 total vote count was the voice of only 14% of the population, but it’s the 51% of voters that Morsi is banking on.
What it really means is that 86% of the people of Egypt, me being one of them, did not give their voice to our current president. Morsi came in to lead a country whose social, economic and political systems were in turmoil, and a people that didn’t really want or trust him or his band of brothers. It was a recipe for disaster.
President Mohamed Morsi only got 24% of eligible votes in the first round. 76% of the voter population either refused to vote for him, or were not encouraged enough to go to the polls and give their voice to anyone.
Could have Morsi done it differently?
Nasser Amin, General Director of The Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession and an anti-Mubarak activist since 1988, gave me the answer to that question on February 16, 2012. Amin focused his work on understanding transitional justice, preparing for the eventual removal of former President Hosni Mubarak in order to help ease Egypt into a democracy.
“Above anything else, transitional justice in any revolutionary country serves to calm the people and give them pride in the success of their fight and ease the pain of losing loved ones,” he said
Amin’s transitional justice plan was simple. Create an independent, government-funded and fully transparent truth and fact finding commission to work on fact-finding pertaining to cases that address the issues on which the revolution was ignited (corruption, police brutality, government embezzlement etc.). Use special courts to try crimes committed during and leading up to the revolution. Appease the families of the martyrs through concessions and by building a memorial for them. Create a comission And stop using force against protestors.
These steps intended to do one thing: clear out the past, and usher in a new phase in Egyptian history. They were simple , and did not require broad sweeping powers to the executive office. Their success would do more than promote a single political power, it would build trust between a government and its people.
The Supreme Council of Armed Forces had ignored Amin’s suggestions, and dealt with the situation as if they were still in Mubarak’s Egypt. The result was a divided country among enflamed parties. He had hope that the next president would be someone who was a true believer in human rights and democracy.
Our president has disappointed us. He’s dealt with political opposition in the same way as his predecessor, consolidated power to the executive office and broken most of his campaign promises (BBC: Egypt: President Morsi’s 100 days in power). More important, the Egyptian people are no closer to understanding the way our public institutions work, or what our specific rights and responsibilities are as citizens. Instead, he’s given us a constitution that uses the same ambiguity as its suspended version, and infringes on more rights. (BBC: Comparison of Egypt’s suspended and draft constitutions).
Nasser Amin put his final faith in the power of the streets:
“The revolutionary force is the base and it will be what changes Egypt. This is the first time in Egypt’s history, from the days fo the Pharaohs the decision is from the eyes of the street below, and not the eagle eye view of the high offices. What is new is that the decisions come from the square and the streets and that egypt has a new force to make decisions that is very different from its traditional means.
Revolutions are not done by 88 million, they are done by half a million. No one should worry, ever.”
Except maybe Morsi.
Nasser Amin on Ibrahim Eissa’s show Al-Tahrir titled: “What happens after a revolution?”
Social media went crazy, friends in various places around Cairo reported that once apathetic citizens were now up in arms. From my living room it all felt just way too familiar.
From a media standpoint, here’s what Morsi did wrong:
Feb. 2, 2011 Former President Hosni Mubarak attempts to regain the support of the people after deadly clashes break out in and around Tahrir Square.
Dec. 6, 2012 – President Mohamed Morsi, in his first address to the nation since deadly clashes broke out in front of the Heliopolis based Executive Palace.
Images stick with people. While they may not know how or why something looks familiar, their subconscious will trigger a very negative feeling. By only changing the backdrop from blue (tranquility and peace) to red (anger and authority), President Morsi seems to be showing more force than his predecessor.
Not to mention, body language says it all. The only hand gestures he used throughout his speech were choppy, indicating authority. When he made eye contact, he was frowning, with the right side of his face angled down. No reassurances there.
There seems to be an issue with the Arabic language in the Executive offices of the Middle East. During the first six months of the Arab uprising, i was working with the investigative unit at the ABC News offices in New York City. I was tasked with live translating all official speeches from Arab world , which was a serious challenge. Mubarak continuously ignored grammatical laws and made up words. At first, my insecurities allowed me to believe that it was my lack of language skills that made me unable to understand parts of the speech, but I quickly learned, it’s not me, it’s them.
Last night was no different. I sat on my couch with friends that were born and raised in Egypt, and had an extremely strong grasp of the Arabic language. I kept geting confused, but was reassured when I saw they were equally flabbergasted. Then, during the speech he spoke of article 6, and that his intention behind the article was to make clear and ” أعنون “… 2o3anwen….
Wait… that’s not Arabic.. that’s Arab dictator speak for: I’m so powerful I can make up my own language.
Authority and power that is wielded with a voice that shouts often is another common trait between Egyptian dictators. During his speech, just as with Mubarak’s last few addresses, his tone is a mix of angry baba when you come home late from curfew and angry professor when you forget to do your assignment.
This type of tone is noninclusive, and doesn’t open the mental door of participation and working together. But, it does galvanize supporters and polarize people.
Perhaps President Morsi should be given a pass on all the visuals and underlying tones of a speech. He didn’t have much to learn from and everyone is going through a learning process. However, his use of the same vocabulary as his predecessor, and ignoring the opposoition in the same way will only serve to destroy any support he may have.
Here’s a couple places where he went wrong:
1. Morsi: The violence started on Tuesday December 4. I attended the protests on that day. I was intimidated at first by the numbers I knew would be standing right behind my house. But, I got home from my office in Downtown in less than 20 minutes, parked my car in front of my house, attended almost two hours of the protest and came home without ever feeling frightened. I was not harassed, there was no violence and the people seemed to be in generally good spirits, positive about their ability to participate in political protests.
The next day, however, I could cut the tension with a knife. I couldn’t park in front of my building (which turned out to be a blessing in disguise), and feared for my safety in the 10 minute walk from my car to my building through MB territory. Over 6 hours I watched a battle rage under my house.
The same tactic of divide by spreading fear in the streets was used by Mubarak. It also serves to paint parts of the opposition as deserving of a swift and violent punishment, while allowing the dictator to appear open to the idea of dialogue.
3. Disregard protestors demands as incorrect, yet call for open dialogue. Perhaps Morsi is more guilty of this than Mubarak. Mubarak recognized that a force was against him, spoke about it and then called for dialogue. Morsi, on the other hand, disregarded all of the demands, reaffirmed the decisions that brought people out to the streets in the first place and then asked for an open dialogue.
Egypt is in dire need of a leader that can unite its different layers and people to work together for better social, political and economic systems. Last night’s speech was indicative of a president who is comfortable with his party’s approval, and apathetic about the country’s needs. It was Mors’s address to HIS nation, not the Egyptians.
1:30 pm yesterday I started to seriously worry. I came across a post by the official Freedom and Justice Party’s Facebook page calling for a protest after the late afternoon prayers at the executive palace in my neighborhood, Heliopolis.
The post was shared 3,646 times, liked by 1,774 people and got 786 comments. The force they are speaking of was a protest held by the opposition the night before. The people packed around the palace walls, chanting and spray painting the infamous words “2er7al.” That day the energy was intense, and the people were angry, but no one was scared.
But, now there were MB supporters headed to the couple hundred that had stayed overnight in tents. I was glued to my twitter and Facebook feeds for the next four hours. News reports said the Brotherhood supporters had broken up tents by force, and were beating up protestors. I wanted to get home, to make sure that my street was safe. The events were unfolding right around the corner from my house, and I didn’t want to be so late I wouldn’t be able to get into my neighborhood.
Finally, at 6 I headed out of the Downtown area to Roxy. As soon as I approached the vicenity of my house coming from Khalifa Ma’moun, I realized that this was worse than what I was seeing on my feeds and on live television. A young man was diverting traffic, forcing everyone to take a u-turn. Us residents were allowed through, but were warned that it was getting ugly.
December 4, 2012: The Battle of Ahmed Wafik St.
Within one block another young man stopped me, this time insisting that it would be impossible to get through. I tried to argue a bit, but realized that it would be best to park the car away from the house if the clashes were raging so close.
I maneuvered through back roads, in search of a parking space, and found myself at the corner of the Heliopolis Sporting Club across the street from my block, and the midst of tens of MB supporters. They all yelled at me to turn around, but I had found a parking space and I just wanted to go home.
As soon as I parked my car I had tense, jumpy MB supporters gathered around me, asking me what I was doing and where i was going. The energy was tense, distrusting and chaotic, all the makings of a really long and bloody night.
At the corner of my street, Ahmed Wafik and the main street of Khalifa Ma’moun the two sides were battling it out with stones, Molotov cocktails, firecrackers and laser beams. Yellow partitions that once shielded a two year government project to fix the neighborhoods water (were now protecting the heads of fighters on both sides.
Morsi supporters advance towards the opposition on Khalifa Ma’moun street throwing rocks and using anything that isn’t firmly planted on the ground as shields.
From my window I could hear a boom coming from behind the Brotherhood supporters. The first time it happened I stood confused, breathing heavily. Then the back of my throat started to burn, the intensity rising up to my nose, then my eyes. My sinuses were on fire, and I didn’t have vinegar or coke. I quickly shut the window and closed my eyes, waiting for the pain of the tear gas to die down.
Still, I stood transfixed at my window, watching the ebb and flow of a battle happening on my street. I learned to close my window when I heard the two booms, and worried that the clashes would move into my little neighborhood.
President Morsi’s supporters make a run for it when tear gas canisters fall short and land in the midst of the advancing human wall.
Just as the MB supporters were gaining ground, using a human wall protected by the yellow partitions, two of the tear gas canisters fell short. The wall went crashing down and men ran in every direction, including my street.
Halfway down, right in front of my house a group stopped and realized they were retreating. They started breaking up the sidewalk and searching for anything they could make a weapon.
I immediately realized that not all my neighbors were as lucky with parking as I was. I started shouting down “People’s cars!! You are ruining people’s cars!!”
Morsi supporters advance from the left side of my building, and start an ebb and flow that lasted for more than 4 hours.
At first they paused, looking up at the crazy lady who was more worried about cars then the fate of her country. Then I was ignored completely.
To my left supporters were coming in from the outside street with trash cans filled with rocks and carrying the yellow partitions.
Men young and old ran up to the front lines, and threw as hard as they could to the opposition, and retreated quickly. Every once in a while one man would snap back, the struck area pulling the rest of his body off balance. He would grab his wounds and quickly run.
Protestors defend their hold on the entrance of Ahmed Wafik, while fighting off opposition fighters on the main street of Khalifa Ma’moun.
The stand off continued for more than four hours. At one point brotherhood supporters were pushed to the very end of the street, but they made it back when the opposition eased its fire.
Despite the fall back, the protesters were able to build a wall out of the partitions. They hid under it and threw stones and firecrackers down Ahmed Wafik. Behind them their fellow fighters fought off the supporters coming in from Khalifa Ma’moun.
From my window, I watched for six hours, transfixed by what felt like the apocalypse unfolding in front of me. I had no access to a television from there, and my internet was choppy at best. So all I had to judge the situation on was what I saw in front of me.
Morsi supporters hide behind the kiosk to advance on protestors blocking the entrance to the main street of Khalifa Ma’moun.
At one point, I ran downstairs to check the security on my door, and to give water to anyone who needed it. I was exhausted from just watching and couldn’t imagine what they were going through. I opened the door to my building as supporters rushed the opposition. One man ran up to me screaming “What are you doing??” I calmly told him I was locking the door and bringing people water.
His eyes dashed back and forth so quickly I couldn’t tell if he could hear me. Suddenly he grabbed the water out of my hand, and ran down the street. I took a deep breath and was hit with the stench of sweat, burning tires and dust. I turned around to open my door, and a group of men came pleading to let me secure the street from my roof. “I can’t, I can’t” I said as I slipped in and shut the door quickly behind me and rushed back to my safe point at the window.
Clean up crews were quick to get rid of the stones covering my street the next morning. But some things, like the black stain of a Moltov cocktail, are not easily swept up.
I finally pried myself away from the window at half past midnight. It had been an intense six hours, and it was getting to me. I couldn’t imagine what life for Iraqis, Palestinians, Syrians and any other people in conflict was like. By 230 in the morning I had to force myself to shut off the television and try to get some sleep.
The next morning, I was met with a depressing site. I felt like I had woken up in a war zone. The streets were covered in broken stones, glass and dark marks where the Molotov cocktails had landed. The clean up crew was already sweeping the street, but you couldn’t escape all the broken windshields and dents in my neighbor’s cars.
My neighbors were livid. Political disagreements are a given in any country. Misunderstandings in times of transition are unavoidable, this they knew. But, while we don’t all agree on politics, we did come to one consensus: It is the basic responsibility of a president to keep his citizens safe, and President Mohamed Morsi did not do that.
I walked into Cairo Jazz Thursday just as the members of High on Body Fat were stringing the opening chords to their first song. It was distinctly familiar, a tune i had heard before, but couldn’t place. The duo Marwan and Safi, clad in their signature dark rimmed glasses and hats, opened with Arabic lyrics, confusing me even more. I liked the sound, but was trying so hard to figure out the song I wasn’t actually listening to what they were saying.
Suddenly, it came to me. Lady Gaga, Bad Romance. I focused just where she was supposed to sing, “I want your loving, I want your romance..” But instead I got: ‘”Mish 3aref 2a2af, Mish 3aref 2anam, yeb2a kalt bad betengan.” (I can’t stand, I can’t sleep, I must have eaten some bad eggplant) I cracked up, and they kept me laughing the rest of the show.
Politics, food, personal nuances, religion and fallen leaders. Nothing was off limits to Marwan and Safi. They even cracked themselves up while giving a stellar performance. According to an interview they did with the Daily News Egypt right before their Arabs Got Talent run to the final round, they admintted it was sugar, not any other drug that kept them going. “We stay up as late as we can, stuff our faces with Twinkies and the songs just write themselves. Most of them get done in three or four hours.” Safi told DNE.
I met Marwan four years ago at the American University in Cairo, and had the pleasure of working with him on the school paper, The Caravan published his popular comic strip Driving Home, a parody on his own life. He was immense fun to work with, always laughing and cracking a joke. The Caravan staff worked late night Wednesdays, scrambling to meet the noon deadline for Thursday. Marwan didn’t have to be there, his strip was usually in on time, but every Wednesday he came in to help. He took pictures, helped with graphics and illustrations or just chilled, exuding his awesome vibes.
That’s the stuff High on Body Fat is made of. Two guys who really just like to let loose and laugh about the world. They aren’t out to prove a point or make a statement. They’ve got so much positive energy, all it requires is a sugar rush, on a crazy night they might introduce caffeine to the mix.
Good luck guys, looking forward to seeing more from you soon.
Sunday April 6 was a gloomy day all around.I wore black like I said I would, and went with the full intention of participating in what I felt was a unified voice against corruption.I was happy to see the streets empty.To me it meant people were taking a stance.I got out at Tahrir Square on my way as usual.Yet it was dark, because of the coming sand storm, and it was quiet.
Naturally security forces were everywhere.Dressed in their riot gear, they were prepared to strike at anyone who crossed the line.As I walked by, an obvious protester, I got menacing looks from all of them.I was frightened.
Students in the American University in Cairo pretty much stayed home.A lot of the professors didn’t want to deal with whatever the strike was, and decided not to hold classes that day.Many didn’t want to stand in the way of their students speaking their minds.Yet there was a fear that day that someone was going to get hurt.Of course there’s always the government you have to worry about too.
Some kids didn’t stay home.Some came to school, and protested in their own ways.Students went to Tahrir Square in hopes of making their voices heard, but their voices echoed in the silence around them.
The protest was thwarted by threats of imprisonment from the Egyptian government.People were scared, and the few that weren’t were stopped almost immediately.While I applaud the efforts of the strikers of April 6, this is not the way.
The last thing the Egyptian people need is to loose their young educated minds to the system of corrupt governance.When students from the Universities are arrested for lone acts of emotional outbursts it doesn’t help the cause.Don’t get me wrong.I’m not saying University students are useless.The South Korean regime was overthrown by University and High School students.I’m saying, if we want to do this, we need to do it right.
The government may have a lot of power, but history has shown that mass numbers makes a difference.Yet millions mean nothing if they can’t mobilize.So when my usually 20-30 minute ride took 8 minutes on Sunday morning I felt hope.Egyptians are starting to agree they can’t take it anymore, and they are agreeing to say something about it.
Zamalek is not your typical spot in Egypt. There is Diwan (the Borders of Egypt), Drinkies (the ABC of Egypt), random joggers, and lots of trees. A lot of khawaga (non-Egyptians) walk around with their shorts and backpacks. On the outside it could be mistaken for pretty Americanized city.
When I get a couple hours break from school, I go there. A friend of mine showed me a quiet spot right on the Nile. You can go have lunch and a smoke before having to head back to class. It’s relaxing being away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
As is typical in Egypt, we were approached by beggars. They were children, but didn’t have that hardened look of Egyptian street kids. They asked for change and we said we had none. They were persistent, and stayed for a little, still begging. At one point I thought to myself, “I wish they would go away.” I really had no change and guilt was beginning to settle in. Finally my friend yelled at one of them. As the kid walked away away he turned around and snorted at my friend.
My friend chased after him, and left me with the other boy. I looked down and asked, in Arabic, what his name was. I figured if a smile is charity, then a good conversation must be worth something.
Their names are Abdel-Rahman and Seeka. They live in Agouza, a province not too far from Zamalek. They come to this bridge every day looking for whatever change they can find. At the end of the day they go home to their parents to divide up their earnings. Abdel-Rahman’s father is blind, and his mother works selling bread for a living. Seeka’s father died in prison and his mother works cleaning carpets, houses, and anything else you can imagine.
I know street kids aren’t a new thing in Egypt. Hell, Seeka and Abdel-Rahman have each other and at least one parent. I went back though a couple of weeks later, and I was really happy to see them. I think the most enthralling is these children are smiling. I keep hearing that in Egypt life is difficult and the woe is me stories. Even I’ve lost hope in the Egypt I once imagined. Life is hard here. It is for these kids. They’re smiling.
AH! In the words of Egyptians “Eh DAH!?” Usually a taxi ride from downtown Cairo to where I live is a difficult thing, but today was ridiculous. All for a soccer game? So it’s the African finals, so we are defending champions. But even the BASKIN ROBBINS was overflowing with people. Don’t get me wrong; I’m happy to see nationalism in my own country, kind of.
I empathize with my people. They really don’t have much to look forward to, so it’s a boost. Yet I’d like to see this kind of reaction to real issues that hold importance for them, and for their children. This is a soccer game, a game. Although it’s nice to beat out Cameroon for the African Cup of Nations, shouldn’t we start trying to get the masses together, in this same way, to stand up for important issues?
What about the border that is at the moment being pressured to change? What about unemployment in Egypt? What about the misrepresentation of Islam in Egypt? The treatment of minority people, and those that aren’t even classified as minorities? The dishonesty? The anger? The resentment you can see in a lot of people’s faces? Why can’t the Egyptian people get together and cheer a CHANGE on?
I’m not disillusioned as most of my friends would think I am. I’m actually pretty realistic when it comes to most aspects of life. So I don’t think that the people can just get up and scream change, and not worry about what is going to happen. Journalists get arrested and political demonstrators tortured by the government regularly in Egypt. It’s a fact, and we all know it.
I do know this though. If everyone who simply owned a car went out into the streets of Egypt, traffic would stop, for hours and hours. Now imagine they go out and stop traffic for the purpose of demonstrating just ONE of the grievances they have with this country. Will the government be able to stop them? What would be the outcome? I don’t know, I don’t work for the government, and I’ve never been a part of a demonstration in Egypt.
I do know that a ten-minute ride took me an hour and half today, and I was lucky.