Thursday, June 30, 2011

Things that Transnational Civil Society Could do to Support Egypt

Well, we had an interesting class discussion yesterday evening.

I was with Dr. Jerry Leach, Dr. Jennifer Bremer in my department (Public Policy and Administration Department), as well as an Egyptian director of an organization at the Kennedy School, Ashraf Hegazy. There were about 10 Egyptian masters students present. (I teach a leadership course)

Here are some of the ideas we had regarding how international civil society organizations could support Egypt in its transition to democracy.
1) Egyptian citizens need a lot of work on dialoguing about issues. Due to the 30 years of dictatorship, Egyptians have little experience with actually discussing politics in a civil way.

2) Civil society could provide technical support in helping new parties to prepare for the upcoming elections.

3) Clearly, there needs to be significant support for women's participation in Egyptian politics.

4) Elections should be held on time in the fall, so that the military is replaced with a civilian government. Even if the NDP and the MB are elected, if it is a fair election, it is likely preferable to an unelected military regime.

5) There needs to be research on how other African countries have rewritten their constitutions. In the recent past, Kenya, Ghana and South Africa have undergone successful efforts at redeveloping constitutions. Egypt is Arab, but it is also African. It could learn from its neighbors to the South.

6) Writing the constitution is a long term process. The current constitution is flawed, but it works. It would be advisable to take a long term view. There need to be procedural safeguards so that the process is somewhat representative, at least regionally. In addition, in my view, it would be desirable to have special attention paid to the needs of minorities like the Nubians, and Christians. Furthermore, attention should be paid to the role of women in the Egyptian state.  

7) Focus needs to be placed on strengthening parties, organizations and institutions so that Egypt can have substantive democracy. There need to be institutions, such as the judiciary and a parliament, that place a check on the President. Egypt had formal, paper institutions under Mubarak, but they were weak. How do we strengthen them, so that people have a real voice, and that another dictatorship does not emerge?

8) As Professor Jerry Leach pointed out, the way the elections are currently structured, Egypt may be inadvertently backing itself into a presidential system, and crippling future efforts to have a possible parliamentary system.

Thanks to AnnaMaria Shaker of Human Rights First for making me put my thoughts down in an organized way.

Salam, WMB

Violence in Tahrir Square in late June

Photo Credits, Al Masry Al Youm Newspaper, English Edition, June 29, 2011

Dear readers

I have been very busy with work. I just finished teaching an accelerated class on leadership. However, I got some worrisome emails from the office of the Vice President for Planning at AUC yesterday.

Dear AUC Community,

Please note that because of recent security environment changes in Down Town, all bus pick-ups will start from Al Zahraa bus station instead of Mohamed Mahmoud stop.

Thank you.

Well, that was a bit worrisome, but I just went about my routine. Then yesterday, I got an even scarier message.

Due to the continuing violence on the streets surrounding the Tahrir Campus (including Falaki Building); students, faculty and staff are not to come to the Tahrir Campus until further advised.

We are monitoring the situation on an ongoing basis and will update the AUC community as new information becomes available.

Thank you.

At this point, I decided that it might be advisable to get my head out of my guzitza and to actually read the newspaper.

Al Masry Al Youm reports that protesters threw rocks and molotov cocktails, and that the CSF fired multiple rounds of tear gas. The causes of the clash were unclear.

From speaking to colleagues and staff at the university yesterday, people told me that the clashes began because some families had raised money for the martyrs of the revolution. When the families went to collect the money, other families showed up, and also demanded money. By the way, the money was not being given out by the government. The money had been raised by well-meaning citizens. So, the legitimate families were standing in line, waiting to collect their money, and other families, who were allegedly not legitimate, started a fight. There was some sense that the "other families" were thugs.

Okay, back to the news reports.

Fifteen people were arrested as the relatives protested at the Balloon Theater in the Agouza district, after which the group decided to march on the Interior Ministry, close to Tahrir Square, where a further 20 were arrested.

Again, based on conversations, there was a sense that the group were actually thugs. People who I spoke to said that of 50 people treated for wounds, only one was a civilian. The others were all police.

According to Abdel Rahman Hussein, writing in Al Masry, (June 29, 2011)

As these later arrests were made, protesters clashed with security forces, and the confrontation spread to Qasr al-Aini Street, a main Cairo thoroughfare, and Mohamed Mahmoud Street, which borders the American University in Cairo’s downtown campus.

At least 25 civilians have been injured in the clashes so far.

Some protesters said they feared this was a continuation of the fallen regime's tactics. "It's the same thing happening again, nothing has changed," said Mohamed Abdel Raouf, a protester. Central Security Forces used tear gas extensively, as well as beatings and water cannons, during the early days of the 25 January revolution.

At least 44 people have been arrested in conjunction with the violence. Dalia Othman writes, that the cases have been referred to the military prosecutor. By the end of the day, writes Heba Hasham on the 29th, at least 655 people had been treated for injuries.

The impact on the economy has been negative. According to the AP wire

The Egyptian stock exchange's benchmark index has tumbled over two percent amid fresh clashes between security forces and protesters in central Cairo.

The benchmark EGX30 index closed at 5,283 points, shedding 2.03 percent from its previous day's settlement, as overnight fighting between security forces and hundreds of protesters in the capital's iconic Tahrir Square stretched into Wednesday.

The protesters were demanding the acceleration of the prosecution of police officers accused of brutality in during the uprising in five months earlier that ended with former President Hosni Mubarak's ouster.

The violence underscored the continued tension in the country as it struggles to rebuild its economy and push forward on democratic reforms.

As usual in Cairo, it is very difficult to figure out what is going on. As of this morning, reports are that 1036 persons have been injured.  My colleague in the law department tells me that the Egyptian people are becoming very disenchanted with the military. They are wondering if it is not time to have a revolution against the military.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Palms [Arecaceae]

Egypt is a desert. It defines the edge of the Sahara. Without the River Nile, Egypt would be barren. However, where the Nile flows, or where the a spring bubbles to the surface, some beautiful plants grow. The most majestic of these are palms.

There are many different kinds of palms. Palms are evergreen, mostly tropical plants. Palms are "morphologically diverse," which means they have many different shapes. Palms can inhabit many habitats, from rain forests to deserts

 There are date palms (Phoenix dactylifera). The date palm is not only beautiful, it provides food and shade. During Ramadan, which is coming up, most Muslims break fast with a date, and some milk. Coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) provide oil, milk and food (which I know from Mombasa), King palms (Archontophoenix alexandrae) (from my El Paso days). I love the Doum palm (Hyphaene thebaica), which I affectionately call the Dr. Seuss tree. I have seen the Doum palm in Samburu.  I think I mentioned in a previous post, that there are fake metal palms in Rehab, where I live, which a reader tells me are actually cell phone towers. Apparently, there are more than 2500 palm species world wide. I think we take palms for granted. They are very important to our ecosystem in the desert.

According to El Masry El Youm some palms are endangered. "Egyptian environmentalists and botanists are calling for the preservation of the millennia-old argun palm, a species of palm tree present in Egypt since the time of the Pharaohs. This rare desert oasis palm, whose population does not exceed 30 wild individuals in Egypt and a few hundred in Sudan, is on the verge of extinction. Located in remote, arid and very sparsely-populated oases in southern Egypt and northern Sudan, these ancient palm trees are exposed to two kinds of threats: human overuse and climate change. Haitham Ibrahim, a conservation researcher for the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), explains that both factors cause stress to the argun palm community."

According to the sacred places website, "in Egypt, the evergreen date palm was a sacred tree, and a palm branch was the symbol of the god Heh, the personification of eternity. For later cultures, the palm branch also served as an emblem of fecundity and victory. For Christians, the palm branch is a symbol of Christ's victory over death. It also signified immortality and divine blessings and is often seen as an attribute of Christian martyrs. It also denotes particular Christian saints such Paul the Hermit and Christopher, as well as the Archangel Michael. The palm tree is also a symbol of the garden of paradise."

During my recent travels in Egypt, I saw images of the palms engraved in Pharaonic temples.
I think these are coconut palms. Look closely.

These photos are from the temple of Queen Hatsheput.
I love the beautiful stylized fronds

For now, in the midst of your busy work day, enjoy some more beautiful palm pictures. This photo was taken boat-side, on the Nile, from the deck of my boat, the Nile Festival.

 The top two photos were taken from a felucca, near the temple of Philae. 
This last photo was taken during a sandstorm, during the late winter, in El Rehab. These palms look so fragile.Compare their spare foliage to the lush foliage of the palms by the Nile. If you look very closely, in the background of this picture, you can see a tank . . . .

Monday, June 20, 2011

Violence against women and harassment against women in Egypt

Dear readers

I mentioned in my last post that my nanny was assaulted on Friday for being Sudanese or dark skinned. However, I told this story to my class, and again on the bus, and now I am beginning to wonder if gender is a factor as well. As we say in the social sciences, perhaps there is an interaction effect between race and gender.

First of all, earlier this semester, a female student at the AUC campus was walking to her car at night. She was physically assaulted by a male assailant, and left with cuts and bruises, although she was able to fight him off. The guards did not come to her assistance, and when pressed, suggested that she had mental health problems.

In addition, an African American female student of mine who was veiled or covered, (i.e. she wore hijab) was also physically assaulted earlier this semester. At the time, I did not ask her the details, but we were concerned that it was due to her dark skin color. Then, last night, when I was telling my class this story, another brown skinned female student told me that she had been attacked in the metro. She defended herself, and had rocks thrown at her, and was left with cuts on her cheeks. Not only did the men and women around her not assist her, but the men around actually joined in on the attack like a mob.

So, at this point in the narrative, i.e. last night, I thought that perhaps dark skinned women are vulnerable to attack in Egypt. However, I got in the bus this morning, and a colleague, an archeologist, very blonde, very pretty, and very white, was recounting how she was physically assaulted by security in Cairo Airport. A male colleague was with her and confirmed her story. I told her that I had a female student attacked in the metro. She told me that she herself had been attacked in the metro, and that she had also had rocks thrown at her. She says that she has seen Egyptian women harassed as well.

Okay, so now I have several stories 1) an Egyptian student, veiled, 2) a Sudanese nanny unveiled, 3) an African-American student veiled, 4) an African-American student unveiled, 5) a white professor unveiled. When I read these stories together, I see that the only thing these people had in common is that they were women, and that they were violently attacked, and that no one helped them.

This makes me think that the Laura Logan assault, and the "virginity testing" incident are not matters of oppression of journalists, or violence by the SCAF. Rather, perhaps there is a real problem of violence and harassment of women in Egypt. This is by no means a representative sample, yet apparently other people have done quite a bit of research on this.

Please see the following links I found on this topic.

Egyptian Center for Women's Rights Report on Violence Against Women in Egypt. 

Nadeem Center: Women Speak Out

National Council on Women Study: Egypt Violence Against Women 

Your thoughts are welcome. WMB

Post script. (1:44 p.m.) Dear readers, I am seriously not making this up. I just checked twitter, and look what I found.

International Blogging Day Against Sexual Harassment ignites in Egypt.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

An African in Egypt

Photo Credit. Historical photo of a Nubian. 
Egyptians range in skin color from the palest European to the darkest African, and every shade in between.

A bad thing happened on Friday. My Sudanese nanny, Suzy, was the victim of a pretty serious racist incident. Suzy is south Sudanese, of the Dinka people. She was on the bus to Rehab to come to work on Friday morning. It being Egypt, only one side of the bus had curtains. The older Egyptian lady in the seat in front of her told her to give her the whole curtain. Suzy said no, she would prefer to share the curtain.

The older Egyptian lady told her that she did not need the curtain "because she was black." Suzy asked her why she was being so rude. The lady replied "F#$^ your black mother. You Sudanese have no right to be in Egypt. I can make your day blacker than your face."

Suzy had the self restraint to just ask her why she was being so outrageous. The lady responded by hitting her in the face. Suzy, to her credit, did not hit back. Only one person on the bus came to her defense. A man behind her offered her his curtain. The rest did nothing.

Then, after suffering these ridiculous indignities, Suzy was detained by the Rehab security guards, who demanded to see her passport. She did not have it on her, so they held her for 45 minutes. She came to my house, apologizing for being late. I heard her story and was furious. I packed all the kids and her into a taxi. I went to the security location at the bus stop in Rehab.

As a woman of color, an African-American woman, a woman of African descent, I have been in Suzy's position many times. I have been called n*&%(%& and mulatto. I have had fist fights many times. Some times I won, and sometimes I lost, but I always fought back. 

As I have mentioned, Egypt is very very hierarchical. I am not. I do not like hierarchy, and it makes me feel sick to benefit from it. But, this particular time, it came in handy. I wore my American University in Cairo ID. I asked Suzy, and my fabulous Egyptian taxi driver (who only speaks Arabic) to translate for me.

I said. "I am a professor at American University in Cairo. This is my employee. She has been mistreated. An Egyptian lady hit her in the face, but you detained my employee, not the aggressor. That is racist, and I will not put up with it. President Sadat's mother was Sudanese. There is no reason to treat the Sudanese badly. They are our neighbors, and our brothers and our sisters."

The guards replied that they knew I was a professor. They also pointed to their skin, and said how could they discriminate, they are dark too. I said, "That is fine, and perhaps it is not your fault. But my employee was called racist names, and she was treated badly because she is Sudanese. You did not help her. Instead, you gave her a hard time. I never want to have a problem like this again, and if I have one, I am pressing charges against everyone involved." The security guards were duly chastened. Suzy told me that they did not ask her or her sister for their IDs in the following days. If only I could ensure that she and her sister would not face discrimination in Egypt again.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Update on Libyan Crisis: Week of June 12, 2011

The National, an Abu Dhabi Newspaper, reports that Libyan rebels are on the move, and are pushing deeper into government held territory. Strains are beginning to emerge, writes the paper, in the Western held alliance trying to topple Qadaffi. One rebel stronghold is in the Western mountains, reports the paper. The Western mountains are to the south-west of Tripoli. Government troops are better armed than the rebels. Qadaffi is describing the rebels as criminals and Al-Qaeda militants. In the words of The National,

"Though under attack from Nato warplanes and rebel fighters, Col Qaddafi's troops have showed they are still a potent force." June 16, 2011.
According to the New York Times — "Germany, which declined to participate in the NATO air campaign against Libya, on Monday recognized the opposition National Transitional Council as the legitimate representative of Libya, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said during a visit to the rebel capital of Benghazi."(June 13, 2011) 

According to the New York Times, Loyalist forces are still clashing with rebels in the oil city of Zawiya. This town is the Qadaffi government's last remaining site of fuel. Moussa Ibrahim, Libyan government spokesman, denounced NATO. Qadaffi Government Defiant.  Qadaffi has told the Russian government that he has no intention of leaving. Ibrahim claims the rebels are rolling back under heavy pressure, and that they are Yemeni, Egyptian and Algerian.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Labor Issues in Egypt seen through the lens of the revolution

These represent partial notes taken by me at a conference. The conference was called From Tahrir: Revolution or Democratic Transition? June 4-6, 2011. Oriental Hall, AUC Tahrir Square.

These notes were from a 12:00 a.m. panel called How to Understand the Current Uprisings: The Role of Labor and the Subaltern. The panel was in both English and Arabic. The speakers were Rabab El-Mahdi, the American University in Cairo, Saber Barakat, Labor Organizers-Land Center, May AbdelRazik, Popular Defense Committees.

Videos are available at, but many of the comments are in Arabic, so if you do not speak Arabic, you will have to rely on my notes regarding the translation, until you get someone to translate for you. 

Saber Barakat: Land Center

Until the 25th of January, the call came. It was a banking holiday, a police holiday, and a full paid leave day. Many workers came to Tahrir just to see what would happen. There is a tradition of labor organizers going into the streets with flowers and sweets. The riot police would chase us and kick us badly, and close off downtown Cairo.

We saw dissension in the ranks of the unions, particularly those affiliated with Al ikhwan. They would not go to Tahrir.

The hooligans, ultras [author's note: fanatic, somewhat violent football fans] came, unionist workers decided to strike back. The government made a fatal error of closing all its plants. The workers went to Tahrir en masse. The factories were closed from January 28th to February 6th.From the 6th of February to the 10th of February 280 locations of factories were on strike. Teachers, engineers, doctors were all on strike. This was the breaking point. On the 11th of February, the SCAF convinced the president to step down. SCAF asked the workers to stop striking, but the workers kept striking.

May AbdelRazik: Peoples' Defense Councils (Lagaan Shabaaya)

People started protecting their buildings. People thought people from poorer districts would invade them. This was a misconception. The risk was the bandits. People started to distribute walkie talkies. Some used knives or swords. Some people had firearms. It had a spontaneous beginning. It was a tactic to respond to lawlessness. From Saturday to Tuesday. The popular committees were sympathetic to the revolution. After Mubarak;s address, things took off. Another turn [occurred] after the Camel Raids.

So we did not have a standard behavior, The most common characteristic of this phase was common protection. Judge's were shoulder to shoulder with mechanics. The goal was to stop lawlessness. The old regime wanted to prevent the Revolution by unleashing lawlessness.

The people wanted to plug the gap and interpret the slogans from the Square. Live with integrity. People gathered to clean the square. Governing civil society. In the post Revolution period, the councils have tried to deal with the individualizing problems of each district. The lack of LNP gas pipes. Flour is stolen from community bakeries and re-channeled to make sweets and pastries. The social committees in some districts have stolen flour. People's behavior changes according to the district.

The Butane gas pipes. Some of the social committees were able to contract services from butane gas pipes. The social committees started to distribute the canisters. Also, social committees, there was an effort to coordinate the efforts of such committees. It is a nationwide request. We do not know about the continuity or future of such kinds of committees. We have to polarize and galvanize. We do not know if they will discontinue their contributions to their committees. Funding is a problem. Some committees are against any funding. Some want to publish bulletins. That publishing may take a little money.

The tails of the regime are fighting the committees. Municipalities and the NDP are fighting committees both tooth and nail. The municipalities file a report against those working in committees. Service can be hijacked by NDP members. The NDP has a lot of financial resources. Political experience is lacking in committees. How can they control the work of municipalities. However, the lack of experience can be a plus because there are no ties to the old regime.

End formal talk. [Question and Answer session to follow]

Questions from the Audience 

1) What is the future of defense committees? By the way, they cannot substitute for police.
2) It is not about economic incentives. The Egyptian people went to the street for a dream. It is not about labor strikes. The strike started with the Tunisian suicide of an unemployed university graduate.
3) You said something interesting in your speech. You said that the Palestinian uprising and Iraqi invasion could incite you to go to the street. What about your own life and local interests? Did they not incite you? Also, what is the role of the trade unions.
4) I am really happy with the community committees. In summer vacation, the youth could work in the community committees (lagaan shabaaya). As a worker, my main conviction is working. Why don't the tails of the former regime withdraw themselves?

Answers to Audience Questions


Well, before trade union membership was obligatory. It was mandated by the government. Not all members of trade unions were there voluntarily. The subscription to trade unions were used by Egypt for their membership in the ILP. Why did the workers demonstrate? Some big protests occurred. There were more than 6000 protests by labor unions. Some protests were made about the rigged parliamentary elections. In addition, the public budget was usually followed by worker demonstrations. I remember there were several aviation stikes. The strike about the Iraqi invasion had a large contingent of workers. During the revolution, one motto was "freedom, integrity and social justice." Social justice was for the workers.

May Abdel Razik

We are not trying to come up with alternatives for the police. When the community committees were formed, it was force majeure. [What we want is inspection. The community committees should help enhance the accountability of the police] We need a police force, but we also need supervision. Concerning the students, we are trying to expand our services.

Question: How was the proletariat affected by the closure of the plants. On facebook, there is not enough public coverage of the people's defense counsels. People need to know how to join in and join the PDC.
Question: It is easy to play a positive role when there is consensus. There have always been community committees in rural areas. What about the informal workers?
Question:  The other problem is the establishment of independent trade unions.

Rabab El-Mahdi: 

Lumpen, are those who have access to the center of the empire. Does not include all workers.


What is the labor movement and the syndicates? In the last few months, labor has been in good heath. Trade unions since the 1950s were formulated at gunpoint by the regime. I have been prevented for 12 years from joining a labor union. They say I am instigating laborers to ask for their rights! I have filed many lawsuits. I was running against one of the candidates closely connected to the Prime Minister. He was able to disqualify me 12 times. I went to prison for running against regime candidates. This is autocracy. The people are like a baby who has not been weaned.

Maya AbdelRazik: 

The mandate of the PDC is not an anomoly of residential areas. Legitimacy comes from the neighborhood. We do not want institutionalization. We do not want to be supervised by the government. We do not have bureaucratic procedures. PDC is trying to go against the hierarchical structures. This is a teamwork task force. This is a kind of democratic procedure trying as much as possible to make committees a supervisory or regulatory force. You can be illiterate, but have high political awareness. It is your right. 

[End Panel]

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Samer Soliman of Egyptian Social Democratic Party: Background and Influences

Interview with Dr. Samer Soliman, June 6, 2011. Interview conducted by Dr. Warigia Bowman, Assistant Professor, American University, School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

Samer Soliman is a Professor of Political Science at the American University in Cairo. He is also a founding member, and a member of the facilitating committee of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. He is currently being encouraged by close advisors to consider a run for the Egyptian Parliament, but has not made up his mind.

W: Where are you from in Egypt?

S: I am from a middle class family. Both of my parents were teachers. I am from a neighborhood called EEbaasir. (sp?) which is a neighborhood near downtown Cairo located near the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral. I attended the Egyptian French School. I did my undergraduate studies in the Faculty of Economics at Cairo University, my masters in Sociology at American University in Cairo, and earned my doctorate in Paris at the Sciences Po.

I grew up in a politicized family. Many people in my family were interested in or engaged in politics. I was raised in a secular family. My family was Christian, but secular. My mother is religious. My father was a communist.

W: Is there a difference in the way which Christians and Muslims view politics in Egypt?

S: They may view politics slightly differently. At the time of the July Regime, in 1952 most people in Egypt were apolitical. Egyptians were encouraged to support parties, but never to participate. Lately, a sectarian spirit is increasing in Egyptian society. I was never raised as a Copt. I was raised as a nationalist, in a secular home, that was somehow leftist.

It was not until university that I began to discover my Christian identity. I fell in love with a Muslim girl. It was leading nowhere. Your options in Egypt, if you are a Christian man are to convert to Islam or to emigrate. The society does not accept for Christian men to marry Muslim women.

Until university, I had never experienced discrimination as a Christian. In time, I understood the intensity of the sectarian issue in Egypt. My mother had told me there is discrimination, but I had not personally experienced it [until the time of my romance] In the army, I understood the sectarian issue. It is a corrupt institution based on wasta. They ask you when you come in, do you have wasta? It was astonishing.

W: Tell me about your experiences in the Army.

S: I served in the Air Force in the early 1990s, 1991/2. The Army, like armies all over the world, is very paternalistic. Discrimination is very strong against the poor and uneducated. More than anything else, upper Egyptians are discriminated against especially. People would make fun of them, tease them, harass them about their accent. [If you are Upper Egyptian and wealthy and have wasta you are okay. ] The worst thing is if you are Upper Egyptian and are also poor.

The Army was a rich experience for me. I got in deep touch with the peasants, uneducated peasants from deep in the Egyptian countryside. [It was an amazing social education.] There is strong solidarity among soldiers with regard to the big monster, the institution of the military. We were not given any deep lessons about national security. The enemy here is Israel. Also, you learned to shoot. . . .

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Dear readers

Do you ever have those days at work where you just feel like, "WOW, this is really where I want to be. I am doing the right thing with my life, and I am making a difference." Well, Ilhamdullilah, I am having one of those days.I read Paolo Freire's book Pedagogy of the Oppressed when I was in college, and it changed my life. Today, I saw someone teach it on the streets.

I went to a faculty conference about the Community-Based Learning Program at the John D. Gerhart Center  for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement at AUC today. A group of faculty sat around and thought of ways through which we could improve interaction between students and the community in Cairo and in Egypt through our classes.

One faculty member really impressed me. His name is Yahia Shawkat. He is an architect. He is teaching a class in the Performing and Visual arts department entitled Architecture: Art or Engineering? As part of this class, he asks the students to go find a "client," who the students can assist with their design skills. The students picked clients who were street vendors, security guards, tea salesman, and others at the bottom of Egypt's elaborate, and punishing social hierarchy.

So, Dr. Yahia's students then offered their design skills to these vendors. They helped them redesign their guard booths, their tea stands, their food trucks. The students worked on everything from raising the tea tables off the ground with cleverly made triangular shaped rests, to getting pillows for lumbar support, to enhancing the shade around the stand.

Dr. Yahia instructed them that the cost must be proportionate to the business cost, i.e. less than 100 pounds, or 20 dollars. He also instructed the students not to give the money themselves, they are not in the charity business, they are in the empowerment through design business. The students got feedback from the vendors themselves about what they needed, and often the vendors knew exactly what they needed, but not exactly how to do it. Finally, the students' were instructed to make the designs such that it optimized the work conditions, and helped the vendors to maximize their economic productivity of their business.

I could not believe it. Dr. Yahia perfectly integrated community action, teaching design, sustainability, and empowering the poor all at the same time! His work is radical, it is righteous, and it is revolutionary. Sign me up!

Now that is teaching with a purpose! Kudos! Bravo! Somebody give this guy tenure!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Khan El Khallili : Cairo's Great Souk

Article first published as Khan El Khalili in May: Cairo's Great Souk is Open for Business on Blogcritics.

My husband left Egypt to Kenya a few days ago. The day that he left, we went to Khan El Khallili together for several hours.

According to my tourist book on Cairo,

"Khan el-Khalili (Arabic: خان الخليلي‎) is a major souk in the Islamic district of Cairo. The bazaar district is one of Cairo's main attractions for tourists and Egyptians alike."

Well, when Hamadi and I went, it was fun, and romantic. We started our day by getting dropped off at the gate by a taxi. We then sat down at the nearest cafe. I had my favorite drink, lemon with ice. I also had a tasty chicken shawarma. My husband had roasted lamb chops. They were small, so looked like lamb lollipops. Then, we both shared a delicious small salad, or what we call kachumbari in Kenya. Tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, cilantro. There was also some nice tahini in the middle of the plate to dunk the pita bread in.

The waiters were amused by my valiant attempts to speak Arabic, and they laughed and smiled, and for the most part, we understood each other. Then, my husband and I wandered into the true Khan El Khallili. You walks into the narrowest of alleys. Above you are the balconies of building built exactly next to each other, right out of a book by Naguib Mahfouz. On either side is shop after tiny shop, with cloths and wares hanging out of the windows. Every possible good, shirts, embroidery, boxes of mother of pearl, silver earrings, spices, can be found in Khan El Khallili. It is a veritable cornucopia of the best Egypt and the Middle East has to offer, all to be had at the best price you can negotiate.

The tragic part is that the drop in tourism caused by the Revolution means fewer customers. Each vendor was more anxious than the next. Each one was desperate to convince you to sample his or her wares. There were very few customers that day, perhaps a few dozen. I was dizzied and thrilled by the selection. I bought a gorgeous embroidered blue shirt, some stunning silver braid earrings, several spices, and many beautiful boxes. But I became exhausted by the persistence of the vendors. I was relieved I was with my husband. Remember that in a normal year 11 million tourists come through Egypt, and the great majority of them pass through Khan El Khallili. The vendors must really be suffering right now.

According to Frederick Kunkle writing on April 19, in the Washington Post, The drop in tourism after the Revolution has hurt Egypt's economy.

In February, tourism was off 80 percent compared with last year, and it was down 60 percent in March, []. That is a crippling blow for a sector that accounts for one of every seven Egyptian jobs and makes up about 11 percent of the nation's economy.

Egypt is perfectly safe now. There are so many opportunities for people to shop, and view this land of amazing contrasts.  Come see the New Egypt. Save Khan El Khallili.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Setting Up Systems

Just a quick, somewhat humorous, post on some things that need to be fixed in Egypt. I know I am a khawaga (foreigner) but I am also half African and married to an African, so I think my comments are fair, and really, my goal is to be helpful. 

Okay, while Egypt is busy democratizing, they should consider improving accountability, increasing transparency, and reducing bureaucracy. A good dose of the "buck stops here," would work wonders for this country. Mind you, I have lived in Kenya, which has caused me to grease some palms to get some "do or die" paperwork, like a birth certificate. (I can say, however, that with the correct bribe, things happen fast in Kenya.)  And, I grew up in New Mexico, which has its own case of the "mananas" and some corruption, to boot. But seriously, in order to democratize Egypt, people need to make sure things work, and work on time!

Non-scientific sample, but I would LOVE IT if readers could contribute their own Egyptian examples.

First example: Okay, the university I work at runs okay, I guess. It is supposedly American, but nowhere close to American in efficiency. Well, I gave the university my daughter's tuition invoice on May 2, 2011 or thereabouts, about one day after I got it. Her tuition is a benefit of my expatriate pay package. Today is June 5th. So one month, many emails, and a few visits to payroll later, they finally paid my daughter's tuition. Meanwhile, all the other cute kids are going to school in a lovely turqouise uniform, while she wears street clothes. I will buy her uniform tomorrow.

When I arrived, my boss told me that the university "specializes in needless bureaucracy." Look,in my opinion, bureaucracy is not all bad, as long as it works. Hey, I am a former bureaucrat myself, and a fan of Weber. Bureaucracy can have its upsides, as it forces people to get organized, and keep files. The trick is to reduce the red tape, and make the systems function smoothly.

Second example: I wrote an opinion piece for a well respected Egyptian daily newspaper. Very good shop, they do great work. But apparently, they could use a little bureaucracy. I wrote the op-ed two months ago. It was published April 4th. Meanwhile, it is now June 5th, and I have not been paid. I went to Garden City today to try to pick up my check, which I was told by the editor should be ready. One hour was spent haggling in Arabic with the guy at the front desk. I haggled, my student got on the phone and haggled, my taxi driver haggled. One hot, sweaty and smoky hour later, I had no check. I finally left, because, amazingly, I have work to do, and I actually try to meet my deadlines. Imagine that!

I spoke to my student and asked him if the people at the newspaper were embarrassed? He said no, because in Egypt, people always try to say that whatever happens is not their fault, it is someone else's fault. Well, gee folks, a little more accountability and transparency, and  Mubarak would not have been able to steal 70 billion dollars. And FYI, I did not make up that figure. See article on Mubarak's riches. Needless to say, if things are this bad in the two private sector examples I have given, I do not even want to deal with the public sector here.

So in the first case, we have too much red tape. In the second case, there is no red tape, but there is also no tape, as it were. Creating a sense of accountability with management systems that function efficiently is a good area to focus on for capacity building in Egypt. This is an area that is ripe for investment by well meaning NGOs and development organizations such as USAID and DFID.

Postscript: June 7, 2011 with regard to my daughter's tuition, things got worse before they got better.  The finance officer at her posh private school failed to communicate with the registrar's office, and the principal sent me a letter asking me for payment, after I had already paid. I was both embarassed, and irate.

Post, post script: June 8, 2011. The principal of the posh private school, who is from New Zealand, did exactly what I asked for in the article. He called me. He apologized for the confusion, and he sent a driver over to my office with original receipts. Kudos!!!

Post, post post script. June 9, 2011. I still have not been paid by the paper. Sigh . . .

Friday, June 3, 2011

Update on Libyan Crisis Week of June 1, 2011

Libyan Refugee Camp. Photo Credit, AP. From Business Insider.

250,000 workers have fled Libya since the start of the civil unrest and have temporarily relocated to a refugee camp. Here a man looks for his belongings scattered by a sandstorm

Read more:

Dear readers

I apologize I have been remiss in updating this page. I went on a much needed family vacation. Anyway, I will do my best to get back on top of the Libyan situation.

Last updated, 5:33 p.m. June 6, 2011

According to the NYT "As NATO airplanes and attack helicopters struck fresh targets in Tripoli and the oil port of Brega on Sunday, senior British and American officials said there was no way of knowing how long it might take for the rebellion against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi — already in its fourth month, and the third month of NATO airstrikes — to drive him from power"
According to Democracy Now, NATO continues to bomb Tripoli, and carried out at least 10 airstrikes on June 3, 2011 alone. Rape victim, Oman OBeidi stunned the world and brought approbation against the Qaddafi regime by reporting her rape by Libyan forces to western reporters gathered in a tourist hotel in Tripoli. She had fled to Qatar, but has been deported by the Qatari government to the rebel held east of Libya.

Refugees attempting to flee Libya were injured when their boat capsized off of the Tunisian Coast. 850 passengers were crowded onto a 100 foot fishing vessel. The fishing vessel, the Wave, set off from Tripoli, Libya, around noon last Friday, Colonel Baili said, and was carrying migrants from the African nations of Mali, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Morocco as well as from Pakistan and Bangladesh. (NYT June 2, 2011). 

In talks with South African President Jacob Zuma, Qadaffi emphasized he has no intention of leaving Libya. [Note, to his credit, Qadaffi was a steadfast supporter of the anti-apartheid movement, hence the friendly relations with SA] The meeting was held in Tripoli. Qadaffi says that NATO bombing has claimed the lives of his son and granchildren, although these reports cannot be independently verified.

Mr. Zuma also had visited with Colonel Qaddafi in early April, trying to present an African “roadmap” for an end to the conflict between Qaddafi loyalists and the antigovernment opposition based in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. The plan calls for an immediate cease fire, a halt to the NATO bombings, and negotiations between the Qaddafi government and the rebels. (NYT May 31, 2011)

NATO suspended bombing for 72 hours to allow the talks with Zuma to proceed. NATO resumed its airstrikes on Tripoli after dusk on Tuesday. Qadaffi's spokesperson, Moussa Ibrahim, has bluntly stated "We will never give in." [I think it is interesting that Qadaffi is willing to let his country be bombed into oblivion rather than surrender. What does this tell us about culture, politics, or Qadaffi's mental health?]

The increasingly shrill words appeared to reflect a darkening sense of isolation, brought on by 10 weeks of NATO bombing, rebel advances in the east, Western leaders’ recent reaffirmation of demands for Colonel Qaddafi to quit, and the fact that Russia, an old ally of Libya, joined those demands last week. Also, prosecutors at the International Criminal Court announced two weeks ago that they would seek war crimes indictments against Colonel Qaddafi and a son, Seif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, narrowing the destinations the Libyan leader might choose if forced into exile. (NYT, May 31, 2011)

More soon. Prayers for the Libyan people. WMB

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Virginity Testing" by Egyptian Army

On March 23, 2011, Amnesty International issued a report that there were forced 'virginity tests' inflicted by the Egyptian Army upon women protesters arrested in Tahrir Square during a March 9 protest. This protest turned violent when plainclothes men attacked protesters, and the Army forcefully cleared the square.

Allegedly, at least 18 women were held in military detention, beaten, given electric shocks, strip searched, photographed by male soldiers and the subjected to virginity tests, all followed by being charged with prostitution. This apparently took place in a Cairo Museum annex, where some of the women were beaten with sticks and hoses. For more details, and both articles on this, see Amnesty International Egypt Reports

My colleague SO reminds me that  Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (my favorite document) is the cornerstone provision of any discussion of torture. According to Article 5 of the UNDH,

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Yet, this is exactly what happened to these women.

On May 30th, 2011, Shahira Amin writing for CNN broke the story that a senior Egyptian general admits that 'virginity checks' were performed on women arrested at a demonstration this spring. At the time of the Amnesty International report, Major Amr Imran of the Egyptian Army denied that virginity tests had been conducted. But an anonymous senior general admitted that such tests were conducted and defended the practice.

I quote from the CNN article Egyptian general admits 'virginity checks' conducted on protesters.

"The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine," the general said. These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and drugs. The general said the virginity checks were done so that the women wouldn't later claim they had been raped by Egyptian authorities."  

According to the Daily Star of Lebanon, SCAF spokesman  General Ismail Etman reiterated the judgement of the women, stating that "there were girls with young men in one tent. Is this rational? There were drugs; pay attention!"

I do not even know how to respond to these comments, as they upset me at so many different and visceral levels. Encouragingly, the response to this outrageous line of reasoning has been dramatic. In heartening news, Egyptian activists have called for demonstrations to condemn the incident. A day of online protest is planned today, Wednesday, to voice outrage against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Ironically, when this issue first surfaced and I raised it to my class, the students, who were mostly women, believed that the women who spoke out were lying. This is a society where women's right to speak out and be heard in political matters is fragile, and emerging, and needs vigilant protection.  Indeed, according to an Egyptian newspaper, Al Masry Al Youm, the Egyptian military had the audacity to dismiss the CNN report. Yet, they have "vowed to investigate the matter," whatever that means . . . .

In addition, this morning a report by Rana Khazbak indicated  that Egypt's military prosecutors questioned journalists and a blogger for criticizing the SCAF with regard to this matter of torturing protests. Television anchor Reem Maged, journalist Nabil Sharaf al-Din and blogger Hossam el-Hamalawy were called in for questioning on Monday for "allegedly criticizing the military." Sharaf al-Din had alleged that the SCAF is involved in a secret deal with the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamalawy accused the head of the military police of violating human rights. Maged characterized the interrogation as "intimidation for journalists." Military questions journalists

Given that the SCAF has already sentenced at least one blogger to prison for his critiques, and has been actively detaining activists and subjecting them to illegal military trials, these interviews with journalists must be viewed as a type of muzzling of the press.

With regard to the virginity testing matter, the United Nations Convention Against Torture was adopted by the General Assembly on December 9, 1975. Article 1 of that document defines torture as follows

For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions. 

It seems clear from this definition that the 18 women protesters were subjected to an act of severe pain and suffering, both physical and mental at the hands of a public official, namely the Egyptian military. Further, the convention indicates that

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

Accordingly, on the face of the matter, the Generals' comments that the women were "sharing a tent with men" do not justify this act of torture.  According to the Convention, all acts of torture are offenses under criminal law. The officers involved in this act should be tried accordingly. The convention was written in Arabic in its original text. As a result, all officials in the Arab world should be familiar with its contents. Further,  Egypt is a signatory of the Convention against Torture, and is therefore bound by the same.

According to New York lawyer SO,  one distinction can be made: i.e not all acts of "virginity testing" can be classified as acts of torture. Instead, under the same ambit of the Convention Against Torture -- vide Article 16, some of these acts could constitute "cruel [and/or] inhuman [and/or] degrading treatment or punishment." 

He notes that "The lynch pin for the definition of torture is the "severity" of the intentional infliction of physical or mental pain or suffering towards obtaining information from someone. In some cases, the acts of virginity testing could be considered torture. In others, depending on the facts, the acts could constitute "cruel and inhuman... treatment." Yet in others -- perhaps the majority -- said acts more acutely can be defined as "degrading treatment or punishment" under the convention. Articles 11, 12 and 13 as read with Article 16 (begin with Article 16 first), provide color on potential legal redress these ladies can obtain." 
Turning to the matter of the implicit oppression of women implied by these acts, it is a matter of fundamental human rights that women may participate in public gatherings and express their opinions. Under Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,  "Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association." The word everyone is usually understood to include women.

I do not even want to grace the General's ignorant and deeply offensive comment that the women were in the same tent as men with a response, but here are a few thoughts. Even accounting for cultural differences in gender relations, this may easily be explained by the fact that it was night, and it was cold. Second, it does not imply that the women were engaged in any inappropriate behavior. Third, even if the women were engaged in so called "inappropriate behavior," however one may choose to define that, that still does not justify torture.

I also want to point out that testing the hymen for penetration is an absurdity. Vigorous exercise or even horse riding can break the hymen, so a young woman who has never had sexual intercourse or any interaction with men whatsoever could have a hymen that does not look "virgin." Furthermore, if the idea was to prevent later allegations of rape, then the police could have simply taken a statement from each woman regarding whether they had been raped or molested by any person in the course of the protest. In addition, we do not know what means these so called tests were conducted, but they sound quite physically painful, and they were clearly meant to humiliate as men and women both watched them be conducted, and the women were photographed by male soldiers during the event. Actually, this situation is beginning to sound like Abu Ghraib to me. Finally, as Amnesty International points out, when determining a case of rape, it is irrelevant whether or not the victim is a virgin.

Dan Murphy, writing in the Christian Science Monitor on June 1, 2011, points out that male protesters have been raped by state officials and that journalist Lara Logan was assaulted by pro-Mubarak operatives on February 13th. These actions remind us that rape and acts of sexual violence are crimes of power, not passion. As the elections in Kenya in 2007, and the violence in the Congo, Darfur and the Balkans have shown us, rape is a commonly used act of war and aggression.

I agree with Murphy, that the goal of this aggression is in part to prevent women from speaking their minds. But I think there is more at stake here. To use an economic lens, this approach "increases the cost" to protesters, both male and female, of opposing government actions. The physical abuse of both women and men by the Egyptian Military makes it more hazardous for women to participate in public assemblies, therefore reducing the number of people who can oppose the current military regime. I think Murphy over simplifies the case a bit, as the independent press in Egypt has in fact been outspoken about these atrocities.

Women in Egypt, the Middle East, and the entire world MUST have the right to protest, to write, to speak, and to express their political opinions. These female protesters have been subjected to torture, and an outrageous violation of the civil and human rights. The Generals' justifications of these actions are of the garden variety "Blame the Victim" style.

These actions by the SCAF to intimidate journalists, and detain and torture women (and men) are part of a pattern and practice of press intimidation, restrictive laws, military trials of civilians and physical abuse of protesters broadly calculated to reduce and control protests and public dissent. We must not tolerate this shocking suppression of the freedom to peaceably assemble.