Sunday, February 27, 2005

Hosni aims to please

Wow. Congratulations to the relentless people of Kefaya for achieving their first goal. I hope they were prepared for this. Hopefully, I can congratulate the rest of the Egyptians soon as well.

One more thing to add.. but later tonight..
Here's more.

Regardless of all the skepticism floating about this move, which is certainly well deserved, I still think its a great step (and I'm not an optimist when it comes to this stuff). One, we can't expect to get everything in one day, and two, there's still alot of room to maneuver. I'm sorry to sing along with all the state media on this one, but this is a historic event. Throughout history, when where Egyptians ever able to directly vote for their president/king/khedive/waly/pharaoh? Never, as far as I know.

I think Mubarak is basically trying to shut everyone who's "barking", by throwing a piece of bone to them, but I guess this could lead to more than just a snack (sorry for the analogy, but I'm sure that's how he thinks of it). Seems to me that smart politicians and sincere constitutional law makers can create a big gain out of this new hole that just opened up. Just stay the course, keep the pressure, and keep the sincerity.

No one agrees with me on this, but I think that Mubarak was very smart to take this step. He acted preemptively before things heat up too much against him and he fended off any pressure about reforms for some time to come. He will use this step for his propaganda for a long time, and he'll now be Bush's best friend (even Bush/Republicans will use this for his own propaganda). And at the end of the day, he is sure to have enough gaurantees for himself to secure a safe re-election, resulting in protecting his firm grip on the presidential seat, and by the time Bush is out office, Gamal will be well groomed for his dad's seat. To some extent I'm indifferent if he's re-elected or not for a 5th term. I'd like a change, but I strongly question any alternative president --without enough solid gaurantees to limit his powers and authority-- who would come to screw us up for the fourth time.

I'm not sure if the local demonstrations had much to do with Mubarak's decision, but I'm sure he started to sense the overwhelming pressure heading his way from across the Atlantic. As I said earlier, Hosni aims to please, and no Egyptian authority figure ever aims to please Egyptians. However, my salute still goes to the select Egyptians and the credit I will give is only to those Egyptians who fought for this, not to America. Sorry Bush, you'll have to do much more than just that to get my blessings.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

The famous Yacoubian building

Everyone I know has read or is reading Alaa ElAswany's "Umaret Yacoubian". Its a good novel, but its very interesting why everyone would have that urge to read it, even people who haven't been reading novels in a long time. The publicity of making the novel into a movie has certainly helped, and made alot of people curious about that novel that combined Adel Imam, Nour AlSherif and a group of other hard to get actors in one movie.

I feel that people are really getting obsessed with this novel. I'm not sure why, but maybe because it is so realistic reflecting the current state of the Egyptian society, with its different societal classes integrated and interacting at different levels. It is so realistic that some of the characters resemble real Egyptian figures. Kamal ElFooly, Hatem the homosexual French magazine editor, Hagg Azzam the womanizer who wants to buy his way to the parliament. One-to-one mapping of known Egyptian figures.

People really love talking and reading about taboo subjects, and this novel is full of it. Lots of sex, homosexuality, corrupt politics and sheikhs, police brutality and all with a strong sense of reality and non-fictitious characters. Beats sitting at the cafe and chatting about all that stuff, and making up rumours about people. And now, there's even a common background and vocabulary established too, like "borghol" and "codian".

Interesting too is how its been endorsed even though it views the society through a very negative lense. I was really surprised that they are making a movie out of this novel. Its one thing to let an author criticize and write elaborately about all the tabooed subjects in a book, which is usually read by a relative few (although not in this case), and another thing to make a movie out of it that has a much higher rate of penetration and reaches a much wider audience.

I would really like to see how such a movie would turn out, and how the censor would handle it, and how much of the original novel would remain. Ofcourse, Adel Imam has alot of weight and influence, and can have much of the movie go his way subduing the censor. But already, Wahid Hamid is excluding the character of Taha, the porter son. I was wondering for a while how such a character would be played out in the movie. A character which embodies a very harsh criticism of social injustice, but more importantly (to the authorities), of the police. Whether when he was trying to get admitted to the Police Academy, or when he was detained and subjected to torture and inhumane treatment, which may lead some to be empathetic to some of the Islamist movements.

How will they play the gay characters, and who will play those roles is beyond me. Can they really play out the Parliament corruption on film? However, with the current sexual state of the entertainment industry, I think they will play the sex parts of the novel very accurately.

Overall, I really doubt that the movie will be anything like the novel. It will be a box office hit, that's for sure. All those actors in one movie, and having the same title as the novel, I think will do wonders to the tickets sales.

On another note. I was reading an earlier novel of ElAswany, "Neeran Sadeeka", and I really connected with the main character's views about Egypt and Egyptians. To my dismay, the guy ended up in the mental hospital! So maybe its justifiable after all when my friends call me crazy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

blog blog

Its 11:50pm and I'm at work for that silly task. This whole job is really very silly, or so I believe. They think they're doing rocket science here, but I'm just not interested. Seriously considering quitting. Not really a sane option, considering that its my third time in two years. I really think its me, not her (i mean it) this time. Contemplating whether to leave Egypt all together. Can't wait to see how my departure attempt works out. The problem is I'm starting to like my life here again. My career here looks really screwed up though, so this looks like the best option --risky, but certainly the kind of work I wanna do now.

Have to retreat from blogging and complaining abit, and figure out what the hell I'll be doing with my life.

Why am I writing this here! To fend off anyone who thought this was gonna be a political blog I guess.

Monday, February 21, 2005

On strike!

Since a big part of this blog will be rambling and complaining about Egypt and Egyptians (out of dissapointment not animosity), I figured I should balance my blog a bit, and find a new country and different people to complain about for a change. No, I won't complain about America, that's an easy target, and the trouble with America is so obvious to everyone. I'll pick on some of the kindest people around, Canadians.

I really admire Canada in many different ways (one just wishes they could be less dependant on the U.S.). In many ways, Canada is what Egypt is not (I should talk more about that in another post). What I really find amusing over there is the amount of strikes they have. Can you imagine the power the labor unions have there. So many unions have gone on strike --sometimes for months--, its just crazy. Here's a count of some of the important strikes I know of; Garbage collectors go on strike for a couple of weeks that cities start to stink. Mailmen go on strike across Canada for two weeks disturbing a valuable communication medium over there. Numerous Teaching Assistant strikes putting university life to a halt causing delays in classes and exams, pushing semesters and wasting the students money. Nurses going on strike for weeks, leaving hospitals vacant of "mercy angels". Bus drivers going on strike for 4 months, leaving people with no alternatives but buying cars or taking cabs 20 times the cost of a bus ride. And now, the hockey season is cancelled because of a labor dispute (why are Hockey players called labor?!).

Really amusing. Hockey players who get paid millions go on strike (or are locked out) because they don't want the NHL to put a team salary cap of $42.5 million! resulting in the cancellation of the season all together. And we say that football in Egypt is screwed up!

I might be looking at this very superficially, but this sounds really silly to me. What's not silly however, and sounds very serious are all those other critical laborers going on strike for weeks. What's with nurses going on strike, bus drivers, TAs shutting down universities! Is that really reasonable. Ok, they are granted a power that they are utilizing, but I think unreasonably so. That's too much power to be granted. Can you imagine a city functioning without public transportation for 4 months, or without nurses, or with the trash left in the streets. Shouldn't there be a better way to handle those labor disputes? I think those labor unions become pretty unreasonable knowing that they mostly have the upper hand. In some provinces, the employer can't even replace the workers on strike.

In Egypt, it is against the law to go on strike. If a bunch of factory workers go on strike they are all arrested for threatening the state security. That's another extreme (but we're not talking about Egypt here ;)

I won't even try to compare the Egyptian worker to the Canadian worker. That's so extreme a comparison, but I'll just say this: I'm sad at the state of the Egyptian worker. The Egyptian worker is probably the least productive in the world, but still, I'm sad at the state of the Egyptian worker.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Happy birthday Sakia

Today marks the second anniversary for Sakiet ElSawy. Here's a guy that made a difference with a place that stands out in the middle of Cairo's insanity and deteriorating culture.

This place, beneath the Zamalek bridge overpass, was literally a trash dump and a spot for junkies to hang out. Mohamed AbdelMoneim ElSawy convinvced the Cairo Governor to make use of this spot for cultural activities, and successfully so, he managed to transform it into what it is today.

In less than a year, this place has become rich with activities and diverse events. Lectures (from religious to literary to tech-related), modern and classical bands, western style and arabic style (and more), poetry and art work, workshops and reading rooms. A place that nurtures new talent and avails great ones. It even facilitated for someone like me to start taking Oud lessons. All for a negligible price.

Four halls, two indoor and two outdoor, one of them by the Nile (all non-smoking). I never imagined that there was so much room under that bridge, and so much culture to breed there.

This is surely a place that is making a difference. Thanks ElSawy, and happy birthday Sakia.

Friday, February 18, 2005

The Software Industry’s Growth

I published this article a few years back in a local publication in Egypt. It didn't take me long after that to realize how extremely naive I was at the time (so please no comments about how naive this article is, I've already said it). Yet still, I wish things were that simple and easy, so I'll share my thoughts then again here. Oh, and I really hated myself then when I reread it and counted the number of "should's". Who am I to give myself such authority. Anyways, this is the unedited version of the published piece (so its alittle long):

Strong industries result in strong economies. One of the strongest industries now a days is the technology industry, because of its impact on human lives. The industrial revolution has passed; we are now in the high tech revolution, which could be passing us by soon. Venture capital is of essential importance to the existence and growth of a high-tech industry. High-technology startups are the trend in economic development. Venture capitalists can incubate many of those startups and help in the growth of many small companies, creating a strong industry which would eventually benefit the overall economy.

There are some differences between Venture Capital (VC) firms and Incubators. VC firms provide capital only to start-up companies, whether seed capital, at the initial stage of starting a company, or at later stages of the start-up's growth. VC firms typically select the start-ups to fund based on the experience of their management team, the competitiveness of their idea, and the need of the market for such an idea. The VC firm will typically own part of the company, aiming at a high return on their investment through an Initial Public Offering (IPO) in the stock market, or by selling out the start-up or merging with a larger company.

Like VC firms, Incubators provide capital to start-up companies, however, they also provide a multitude of other services such as office space, financial resources, tools, equipment, professional guidance, administrative assistance and management expertise. Those services are intended to turn a vague idea into a product that can prove itself in the global marketplace.

In a developed country such as the United States, there would typically be far more VCs than Incubators, while in a developing country, such as the case in Egypt, more Incubators would be required.

Start-up companies funded by Incubators do not necessarily have to be started by recent graduates as it is commonly perceived. On the contrary, experienced people, technically and business wise, have a higher potential of success than inexperienced graduates. Typical start-up scenarios in other countries is when highly experienced engineers, who have been working for many years in large multinational companies start their own companies, building on their strong technical experience and aiming to satisfy a market need (which has been realized from their involvement in the market), through a new competitive idea that can be evolved into a product.

Another form of start-up companies that can be encouraged, is spin-offs from existing IT companies. Existing IT companies that want to get into new technology areas and develop products in different fields than their current domain of expertise can spin-off start-up companies that would benefit from the management and business experience of the existing parent organization.

In an emerging Information Technology industry such as the Egyptian one, strong support needs to be provided by the government, probably represented by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MCIT), which is considered quite a progressive and forward thinking Ministry by many in the IT community, and is thus capable of contributing a great deal to the growth of that industry.

There are four components that are important for a successful start-up; capital, market need, competitive idea with solid technical capability, and good management.

For the Incubators and VC firms to be successful in funding a start-up to maturity, all the other three components have to be satisfied, and then capital would be their supporting axis. The following is a snapshot of each component mentioned above, except for the management component which is an issue that is being addressed by all industries. In the following discussion, some of the missing aspects in each component will be mentioned, as well as some of the work that needs to be done, by the IT community and government entities, to fill such gaps.

Creating the Market Need

What is missing

Start-ups that don’t understand the market need and are not capable of serving it well, are doomed to fail. Understanding the market needs is an essential factor in determining whether a product will be successful in penetrating a market or not. A start-up company that is starting by developing one or two products has to make sure its product is catering for a market need, otherwise failure of its initial products in the market means failure of the whole company. Therefore, the target market – whether local or global, which is the main playing field with other competitors – has to be well understood before embarking on starting up a company to serve that market. While studying the market, future trends, and the changing needs of that market has to be considered as well, because as the product is developed and by the time it is available in the market, the needs might shift, or change all together.

What can be done

More efforts need to be put in gaining a deeper understanding of the technological part of the local industries, and to disseminate that knowledge to interested parties in the software industry.

Technologies that are imported and used as components in locally developed products, or are used to develop those products should be studied for potential creation of local development opportunities of those components. An example, is embedded software, which is software that controls all kind of equipments, from wrist watches, to mobile phones, to elevators and traffic lights. Software that runs machineries of factories in Egypt, or that is part of an automobile assembled in Egypt could potentially be developed locally. Understanding such technologies which is already in use could lead to the creation of start-up companies that would capitalize on such needs, developing part of such technologies, as well as updating, maintaining and supporting them.

Start-ups targeting such markets can then identify possible outsourcing and off-shore-development opportunities to foreign companies that initially provided those technologies to local factories and companies.

Creating the Competitive Idea

What is missing

Having a unique idea that can be evolved into a proven product in the local and global markets is key to the success of a start-up. That idea has to be backed by people with strong technical capabilities who can achieve results and deliver competitive products.

As there is no better place that breeds ideas and innovation than universities and research institutions, the need for a strong cooperation between academia and the industry becomes eminent. That cooperation should lead to incorporating research done by academia into development done by the industry.

While a good idea alone will not make a company, its uniqueness and applicability to the market will help kick it off the ground. Numbers from VC sources show that only one out of a thousand business plan makes it into a successful company that goes public.

What can be done

Collaboration between the IT industry, universities and research institutions for conducting research in specific technology areas should be encouraged. Such collaboration should lead to the software companies adopting leading edge research and technology which would help it become competitive in the market. In order to promote such collaboration, visibility to the research work conducted at universities and research institutions should increase, directing that work more towards the needs of the software industry and the market, with a focus on the global market trends. Efforts should be put to commercialize market-oriented research with the aid of Incubators and existing large IT companies.

The knowledge of the people behind that research and those working on developing high technology products are the industry’s main asset. Therefore, the capability of our human resources reflects directly on our capacity in generating ideas and evolving those ideas into proven products. Without capable people there would be no IT industry. Hence, it becomes critical to evaluate the capability of our human resources to effectively build on that strength, and strengthen any weak parts. Some of the questions that need to be answered:

  • What technical strengths do recent graduates have?
  • Where are the experienced technical people in the industry?
  • What is the level of expertise, and depth of knowledge of the experienced engineers in the industry? How high is the technical ladder in the Egyptian industry?
  • What gaps of knowledge need to be filled, for which people, and to satisfy the needs of which new area that we are penetrating in the industry?
  • Can Egyptians abroad with strong experience in missing areas in Egypt be recruited to fill the gaps?

Obtaining the Capital

What is missing

Start-ups are looking for one service from venture capitalists; capital. Hence, capital and funds –local and foreign– need to be directed towards creating venture capital firms that can support and invest in creating start-up companies and the growth of existing ones. Along with the abundance in capital, there should be strong business expertise that can evaluate management teams tapping them for funds, financial analysis capabilities to be able to valuate companies and their potential generated returns, and of course, technical knowledge that can understand ideas presented and assess their potential success in the market. VCs provide the capital and are looking for high returns on their investment, so the success of the start-ups funded is the success of the VC firm. As a result, Venture Capitalists become part of the company, sitting on boards, and keeping a close eye on management, and they become working partners in the business, possibly consolidating two or more businesses in the process.

What can be done

The IT community should take the lead, encouraging investors, banks, funds management firms to create a pool of capital and invest it through Incubators and VC firms in high growth IT companies and start-ups. The support of the government would be essential to encourage and back such an effort of massive mobilization of capital and investments towards a solid and rapidly growing IT industry.

Case studies and examples can be drawn from previous experiences of countries which have maintained solid growth in the high technology industry, such as China, Ireland, India and Israel. Learning from the experiences of others could help in creating our own ideas for investment and creation of start-ups. One of the existing interesting examples is a government that assumes the risk by funding the first stage of a start-up company. Whereby, a successful start-up will repay the loan, but one that never makes it off the ground will not pay back anything.

While the traditional venture capital firm is a solid model for funding early stage companies, it is not necessarily the only model. There are other common successful models, which ought not be undermined. Successful start-ups in the past have acquired funding from personal savings of friends and relatives, wealthy founders, suppliers, business partners, customers and large corporations.

Industry Dynamics

The figure below shows what the IT industry can evolve into, and the dynamics of that market as a result of such development. The provision of venture capital is an important success factor for the growth and creation of many start-ups. Specialized VC firms in the field of IT can boost the growth of that industry.

There are some examples of venture capital providers in Egypt, but such examples are both limited in quantity and in scale of operations. Of those examples are, the Commercial International Investment Co. (CIIC), which has injected funds in a few IT companies, and we are yet to see those companies mature, and the high return on investment realized. There is also a technology incubator, Ideavelopers, created jointly by MCIT and CIIC which is in its early stage itself. And then there’s the well established governmental Social Fund for Development. While it does not provide venture capital, with some focus on funding high technology start-ups, it could be a good model for financing such start-ups.

Successful examples of Egyptian start-ups are probably numerous, most of them working in an independent manner to fulfill their success factors. However, a collective effort needs to be exerted to achieve the rapid growth desired for that industry.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

la porte du soleil

This is far from being anything related to a movie review ofcourse.

I was anxiously awaiting the release of Bab ElShams in Egypt for a while now. I love to watch something different, and this one is certainly categorized as such, compared to most other Egyptian movies atleast.

Gladly, I found more people watching the movie than I had expected. I thought that those kind of movies last less than a week at the movie theatres because there's such low publicity and demand, but apparently not this time.

I got to see the two parts (and I'm glad they divided it, otherwise, 4 hours are just too much of anything), plus, the two parts are really very different.

I have nothing but praise for part 1. Loved the acting, the directing, the visual scenes, Nahila, the blind, telling to most Arabs, that no, Palestinians didn't sell their land, and most of all, showing the struggle and refuge with such a human perspective.

I just loved the ending of that part, when the Israeli officer was interrogating Nahila as to the whereabouts of her fida'e husband, and she denies that she knows. Then he asks her how come she's getting pregnant so frequently, and she tells him, "I am a WHORE, don't you have whores in your respectable country!". Saying (or pretending to be) that, got her off the hook in their respectable country.

A conservative/Islamist-leaning friend of mine came along to the movie, and he was pretty annoyed from all the love scenes, arguing that the movie diminished the Palestinian cause to just that. I thought my friend diminished the movie to just the love scenes. He couldn't make it to the second part.

As for part 2, I didn't swallow it very well. It was more like a documentary to me (which there are certainly better ones around). I can't figure out until now where the role of Shams relates to anything. She acts well, but I think her role was just superfluous and removing her role all together would not have affected the movie at all.

It seemed to me that the second part was catering westerners more than the first (both are really), but it was very obvious in the second part, especially with all the unnecessary English and French dialogues.

For some reason I found part 2 portraying all arab women encountered in the film as promiscuous (except for the adoring Nahila ofcourse)! I'm not sure why that was so, maybe that's supposed to be more appealing to the western viewer (I hope that wasn't the reason).

Also, part 2, which was named "The return" didn't really exemplify any return, since no one is really returning or even close to it, as opposed to part 1 portraying "The departure".

Overall, I think it was a great film. Shows that we still have good movie makers in Egypt after all.

The title of this post is in French because a friend of mine kept referring to the movie in French, and I liked the sound of it!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Government gas

So, ofcourse the rumors are right, and the unleaded 90 and 80 are fast dissapearing from all gas stations. What's pissing me here is not the sudden increase in gas prices (by having to buy the higher quality fuels, thanks God I can afford it), or the eventual increase of all commodities (again), I think 1 pound per litre was a pretty low price for fuel (though barely affordable by many), and unleaded 92 & 95 are a good break for the environment.

What really pisses me, is how the government was so devious and deceptive about all of this! Whom are they fooling?! Well, I think they know they're not fooling anyone, but doing it that way (denying, denying, and denying any change in fuel policy, even though an official memo was sent to Misr Petroleum, a friend of mine in the petroleum sector tells me) not to have a shocking effect, with an unpredicted public reaction. Reading a frontpage headline that fuel prices will increase by 40%, has a very different effect than spreading rumors about unleaded 90 dissapearing, and then gradually replacing all gas pumps with 92 & 95 grades. Treating Egyptians like children is certainly a common practice around here (and even if they are fostering us, I'm sure that's the wrong way to raise your kids, so, one more reason why Egyptians become what they are).

So for those who were so optimistic with the new "youth government" and Nazif as prime minister; they ARE ALL THE SAME. As long as he accepted the position, he must be the same. Nazif just didn't spend long enough in government to speak the same language. Ebeid was a very nice person, hardworking, smart, and clean. But something about Egyptians being in government (and authority over other Egyptians), especially for long, that turns them into screwups.

Yet again, to those who were optimistic with Nazif as prime minister, its not a slightly better government official here or there that will make the difference we're looking for. We get a break maybe, but that's about it.

Yes, what triggered me to write this is I couldn't find unleaded 90 this morning on my way to work!

Monday, February 14, 2005


I spent the time reading through Life as a Dervish blog. Willow is quite an eloquent writer, providing an interesting view on Egypt from an American Cairene, Sufi Muslim, voting Democrat perpsective, as she describes herself. She describes in one of her posts a trip to Sinai, encountering Israelis there, and reflects on the Palestinian problem:

A funny thing has happened to me, living in Egypt—what governments say and what countries are called matters less and less to me, and individual human lives matter more. You’d think it’d be the opposite—that, living in an Arab country, I would find ample fodder for my essentially pro-Palestinian political standpoint, but that hasn’t been the case. Part of this arises from an inevitable disillusionment about the nature of the conflict itself—one side may be in the right, on a basic ‘you were here first’ level, but sadly nothing is that simple. Too many people have been born in the years following ’48 who have nowhere but ‘Israel’ to call home. You can’t blame an Israeli kid for being born in Israel. It’s not his fault his country was never supposed to exist. Beyond that—and perhaps I’m a snob—the endless anti-Jewish rhetoric one hears (Last Temptation of Christ was a blockbuster here), coupled to the zeal with which the Arab world enters into any of its hatreds, makes a passionate defense of their position a little unstomachable. I am now convinced that, were Palestine returned to the Arabs by way of force, the conflict would simply degenerate into a war between Arab nations over who got custodianship of Palestine until the Palestinians were able to run the place. In the end, it would become a protectorate of Egypt or Syria or Lebanon or Jordan. ‘Palestine’ as it was will never exist again, no matter how much we’d like to believe in happy endings.

And, perhaps more ominously, the energy poured into the hatred of Israel, the sensual mindlessness with which the average Arab is willing to indulge his hatred, makes me certain of one thing above all others: were the Arab nations to annex Israel, every Israeli man, woman and child unlucky enough not to escape would be dead within six months.

In other words, we’d be trading a fanatical, racist Zionist regime for a fanatical, racist Arab Nationalist regime.

I couldn't agree more, hence I couldn't have found a better introduction. Growing up as an Egyptian, I've been educated on the history of Palestine, how Palestinians own that land, and were driven out by massacres and autrocities, and how the Jews who live there now are not related to the orignial Jewish semites of that land. I still believe all that, and I respect Palestinians for enduring what they have, and for growing stronger and more determined after 50 years of occuptation and destruction. So, regarding the analysis of the problem and its causes, I'm more or less in line with the common views of most Arabs.

When it comes to the proposed solution however, I find none of the marketed solutions to be realistic, because none of them are just, and an unjust solution will create more problems, providing ample ammo for the pessimists (me among them).

So what are the solutions proposed. The popular ones I know of are two for each side. The Arabs, either want to destroy Israel and get every Israeli out of all of the Palestinian land (whether via tombs or planes), or, they are willing to give in, accept the weak state we're in, and succumb to most of the unjust demands being imposed on them. Though I respect the resistance of the Palestinians (both armed and unarmed), sometimes I question the end goal, and if only such resistance will get them what they want --to own back all of the land, and get rid of all Israelis. If the goal was just abit more realistic, I might've been able to embrace such resistance almost blindly. The other side of the coin, those surrendering Arabs, I believe are giving away a right that's not theirs, a history of evil and pain that isn't healed by what's being offered, and are ensuring a future of continued pain.

On the other hand, the Israelis seem to be offering two solutions as well. One, is to secure a few isolated land plots, and give them a name, Palestine, throw the 4 million Palestinians there, disarm them, isolate them as much as possible, prevent any Palestinian refugees from living there, and have the people there dependant on Israel. This is what the succumbing Arabs are negotiating. On the other extreme of the Israeli spectrum, they want to take over all of the land (Nile to Eufrates, I'm not sure), and enslave all of the Arab bastards.

Apparently, the main problem is mistrust between the two people, and well deserved it is. Putting that aside (if at all possible), and looking for a just solution for all, considering the owners of the land, who came first, and who came before them, who killed who, who raped whose land from under whose feets and destroyed the homes ontop of them, and also who was born there, who had no say in it, and who ended having this land as their home, by fate, not choice. Considering all that, why does the "one-state for all" solution sounds so absurd --except for a handful?!

The only public figures I know of who called for such a solution were Edward Said, and --unfortunately-- Qadhafi (and that speaks volumes for how absurd the idea could be actually). Otherwise, that solution is never proposed, never on the table, and never marketed by anyone (anyone important enough that I've heard of atleast).

Apparently, the reason is very simple. Neither party wants such a solution. The Israeli reason is obvious, they will be out-numbered by Arabs in such a state, and in a democracy (which such state should have), the Arabs would be the majority in any parliament or government representation, hence negating the Jewish entity of such a state. But isn't this just fair, to atleast share the land and the governance with its owners.

The Arabs on the other hand, do not want to share the land either, and completely dehumanize the Israelis, by clinging to their absolute rights of "all or nothing". The negotiating Arabs however, wouldn't dare propose such a solution, because they know the Israeli's are not kidding when it comes to such a solution that risks their existance as "God's chosen people".

But if such a state was to be created, with enough gaurantees for democarcy, secularism, ensuring equality between all its citizens and the rule of fair law, wouldn't this be fair enough? Wouldn't this put an end to all the violence, and the endless negotiations? Wouldn't this be reasonable compromise from both sides? Apparently, everyone thinks not.

In my dreams, you say. Probably so. But so is reaching a viable solution through impotent negotiations, or through plain violence. In your dreams.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Just another game

I just came back from the Ahly and Zamalek football match. I have no idea why I went. I had stopped going to stadiums many years ago, and I'm not even following soccer anymore. I was even making sure to avoid such crowded public events for the last 2 or so years. So, for some reason I decided to go with my friends today. Atleast they had some invitations to the first class section of the stadium. Not sure what was first class about it though.

It was actually exciting, especially that Ahly kicked Zamalek's butt 3 nil. But still, pretty uncomfortable, and I almost suffocated from the cigarettes smoke (and mind you, this is an open air stadium!) that I had to smoke a cigarette myself to adapt to the whole thing!

The amount of cussing is unbelievable. The opposing fans cussing each other, the fans cussing the other team's players, and even their own players. Poor players, what has their mother's got to do with all this. I guess they are to be blamed for bringing those lousy players to life!

I think sports is an excellent example of how fanatics are everywhere, in Egypt and elsewhere. If there are such fanatics for such lousy teams, how come everyone's wondering why there are moslem radicals, or any other radical, for that matter.

And to those secularists, who want to separate religion from politics in Egypt, try separating religion from sports first. And good luck with that. People are literaly praying for their team to win, literally asking God to help them kick the other team's ass! I guess, as long as there's an enemy involved, God has to be brought in for support.

There were thousands of security police, just like every game, and I got hand searched 3 times. I'm sure that if an outside observer sees this, he would start making all kind of conclusions of how the regime is taking extra precautions so that no political unrest occurs because of the large crowds, etc., etc. The last thing on those guys minds is politics. This reminds me of the story that when Ahly won in the 70's and the streets were full of fans carrying red flags. An American diplomat was on alert that this is a communist revolution!! No idea how true that story is.

Oh, and there were about 5 girls in the section we were sitting in (good looking too). So much for anyone accusing Egypt of being a patriarchal society that suppresses women! ;)

I took some cool pictures of the game and the crowd, but I'm not gonna publish them so no one accuses me of defaming Egypt!

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Human beings

We are so different, yet we are so much alike!

Isn't this typical of a great creator.

An Arab on skis

I wrote this back in 1998, after my first ever skiing experience. A sport that I really love doing now (whenever I can), and at the time never imagined that me, being from Egypt and all, would be able to do. I like to bring those thoughts back to life here (I think I'll be doing that everynow and then; bring back some of my old thoughts from the dead).

When they told me to go skiing with them, I said, I think I should give it a try. I thought to myself, let the spirit of the old days come back again. The days when I used to go caving, hunting, windsurfing and ice skating. Ice skating was the worst of them all. It turns out that skiing is even more difficult to learn, but its falls are softer (except when you're fast ofcourse). I was very excited about it, but I thought it would be a mess just like ice skating. I thought I would just try moving around for half an hour or so, and then just sit there watching everyone doing it. Read on.

The worst part of the day was waking up at 5am in the morning. We had to get there early to make use of the whole day. The day started out sunny and chili. It was actually sunny most of the day, even up there, except for a couple of hours of snowing. I even got abit tanned! Fortunately, I was able to get about an hour of sleep in the car. You can notice the expressions of amazement on my face as we were getting closer to the ski resort we were heading to. The view was great, and the skiers looked really good.

I reserved a ``Discover Skiing'' lesson. I had two hours to try it on my own until the lesson starts. My Italian friend, tried to teach me a bit. I tried walking with the skies, slowly sliding, standing, and stopping, but I was completely out of control. I was slipping in every direction.

Here comes Ron, my ski instructor, preparing for my lesson. The guy seemed to be a real local from the area who has never been out of it. He was a pleasant guy, and a good instructor. He asked where I was from, and I told him I was from Egypt. It seems that he never heard about that place before, so I had to do some explanation. I was the only one in the lesson, so I ended up having a private tutor. The keys to skiing are; most important is to snowplow well, to move your feet correctly and to apply the pressure on the right spots. Most of all, you must enjoy it, that's how you really continue on. One important advise, don't ski with jeans, they gave me a hell of a time.

It was amazing seeing those kids skiing right by you and having all that great time. I must teach my kids to ski. "A sport that they will enjoy for the rest of their lives", says Ron. The problem is when they live in a hot country, they'll want to go skiing often. Anyways, I started out in the flat area, got the basics, then slowly applied that to a small slope. Then I went through the whole slope and took the lift up again. Taking the lift is not that obvious. Not with your skies on atleast. Its amazing how you gain control and confidence so fast with more practice. The first time I'd go down the slope, I'd lose control and fall, the second time I'd just lose control but make it, and the third time, I'm a skier.

Finally, I'm on my own. Ron isn't there to teach me anymore, but I gotta remember what he taught me. Each time I go down the slope I decide that its the last time because I'm too tired, but I get on that lift, sit on the chair, get some rest, and decide that its too enjoyable and I just gotta go one more time. Nothing stopped me except the lifts' closing and us having to leave. Ofcourse, my companions were astonished at the skier I became.

The results of this experience? First, I became a skier, a novice, but nonetheless a skier. Second, tomorrow will be a day of sore arms and legs. But last and not least, I'm up to another ski trip next winter, and it must be more than just a one-day trip. Let's have some more fun.

Friday, February 11, 2005

The blogging effect

First of all, thanks to all those who have been commenting on my postings. Its good to be able to have a dialogue, where one's thoughts are constantly questioned. So naturally, I have feedback regarding each comment posted, but for some reason I'm doing everything else but providing it.

My blogging experience so far has been pretty much addictive! I started out thinking that I'll barely write something every now and then. What's happening is that everytime I have a thought, I want to log it down. I'm not sure if that was really my initial intention of when I started this whole thing, but the intentions are certainly evolving.

Because of me getting into weblogging, I've discovered a whole lot of other interesting blogs, which lead to others, creating one massive web of weblogs. And its really different to read a piece of news, opinion, or thought on a weblog than on a 'traditional' news site. The difference I guess is that they mostly reflect personal opinions, provide lots of freedom for everyone to voice their opinion, and to hear opinions and news those are not channeled through mainstream media. They also allow for contribution where everyone is actually contributing to the news delivery, and ofcourse a main difference is unaccountability. So alot of reasons not to take what's written on weblogs for granted, and yet they're pretty damn interesting.

Until I've become an active weblogger, I couldn't realize what was so drastically different than the familiar homepages, news and infromational sites. Just now I'm starting to figure it out, and its starting to take a toll on my 'real' life. During that last week, since I've started blogging, I've spent too much time posting blogs, reading blogs, reading and writing comments on different postings, as well as trying to improve the appearance and features of my weblog! I spent probably over 6 hours last night looking for better blog hosts than what I'm using now, fiddeling around with style sheets and templates, looking into how I can add TrackBack, categories, etc., etc. I actually found a great blog host using WordPress (which is apparently packed with features, and is Free software). So I spent some time there trying to setup a good blog page, until I read their Terms of Service which had a clause that indicated to me that they can stop hosting my blog anytime based on personal judgments of what I say in by blog. I asked them how they would interpret what is "offensive, racist, abusive, harmful, hateful", etc. (they had lots of words there), and I got no reply. I don't really want to be accountable for what I say on my blog, and I don't like that clause allowing a group of people who think different than I do to decide what is offensive in my content. Blogger/Google can certainly decide to kick me out anytime for my content too, I know. Well, its not that I'm saying anything that's of any value that could hurt someone that much, but, eh.. whatever.

I think the real reason I didn't switch to Blogsome, is I spent a very long time fiddling around with the blog template, and the thing still didn't look good. I like this template that I'm using here. I'm not a fan of the color black, but for some reason I feel that this color marks it as a real personal blog. It also lets you fade in if you stare too much and keep reading for long. Pulls you in kinda. Suits my taste for now atleast.

I still wanna dump a few more thoughts about blogging, but I'd better not be late to my friends who are waiting on me to go out. I've already missed going to the gym and jogging twice this week 'cause I'm spending too much time blogging.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

More on the Egyptian demonstrations

I attended a lecture by Tarek AlBishry yesterday about the 1919 uprising. That guy is just amazing, and so decent. Listening to that lecture felt like I was back in the 1920's in the midst of all the political action going on then! So the lecture was certainly interesting, and it made me think more about what I wrote earlier about the recent presidential demonstrations.

What was awesome about that uprising is that it eventually achieved its goal, by getting rid of the British and the King with the events of 1952. The immediate results of the uprising was that a strong third political power surfaced on the scene, representing the general population, resulting in the 1923 constitution, and 30 years of institutionalizing the uprising. Saad Zaghloul was certainly an exceptional leader, and a very smart politician.

Interestingly enough, for the last 20 years, the only demonstrations that were close enough to being 'real' demonstrations were all about external issues, mainly the Palestinian problem. Countless demonstrations have erupted over the last few years, mostly led by Univeristy students, and some by opposition leaders, sometimes coming out from AlAzhar. I guess its the nature of any demonstration to be over emotional, and not to know how things will turn out. But it seems to me that all of those demonstrations were just that; too emotional and very symbolic. They usually have demands, like "kick out the Israeli ambassador, "khaybar khaybar ya yahood, gaysha Muhammad sawfa ya3ood, "belroo7 beldamm nafdeek ya Islam", but none are really met (except when the Egyptian ambassador to Israel was withdrawn (to go back this week)). The emotional aspect is clearly the most important motive to take the streets and demonstrate, and thus it is the core of any such activity. Too often those demonstrations become a mean for people to vent their anger, and show their solidarity, more than anything else. For some reasons, our leaders seem to be too strong and well supported, that they are never pressured to take any action. Maybe its because they managed to create the void between the general public and the political leadership (what business people would call Middle Management), that there is no one present to steer and manage the demonstrations, and negotiate with the leadership the public's demands, which are blatantly ignored through the ineffective parliament.

I think the people have done more than enough of their share of responsibility regarding those demonstrations. After all, there is so much that their will can do when it comes to non-domestic problems, when the domestic scene is in such chaos.

Then comes those latest demonstrations (if we can call them that). That middle management gap is still there (actually those demonstrators are all middle managers, who have no one to manage!). They are also emotional, yet they have clear demands, but with no means to enforce them or to exert any pressure. I think the most they can hope for, is some embaressment to the President (that's if he's like the rest of us).

I find it abit ironic, that the huge emotional demonstrations, that will never solve the Palestinian problem or save the Iraqi people, achieve more (because they are more of symbolic gestures) than the demonstrations against major domestic problems. And its interesting to me that many more people are highly emotional and are involved in the non-domestic demonstrations --which they can't really solve--, while their domestic problems (which are personal) don't seem to cause the same urge to demonstrate.

The 1919 uprising was quite a unique mark in our history then. Combining enough urge and passion by the people to take the street in demonstrations, along with smart leadership that can capitalize on that power is certainly something exceptional in Egypt.

On a side note, I find it very interesting how the AUC has transformed over the last few years alone. The cost of education there has hit the sky, yet there are more rich people going there every year. You would think that the more expensive the university gets, the richer the students who attend it, the less active those students are in public issues. It seems to be the contrary however! I remember in Ramadan of 1994, the country was boiling with demonstrations every day, because of the Hebron massacre by Goldstein, and at AUC, just a handful of students were barely able to organize a one hour 'sit-in'. Four years ago with the start of the second Intifada, the AUC has become a hotbed for demonstrations. For the first time the security police soldiers aren't sure what to do confronting hot AUCian chicks! I was stunned to see the American flag no where in sight on the main AUC building, and instead a huge Palestinian flag covering the entire building facing Tahrir square. You can clearly see how AUC has transformed.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Tourism in Egypt

I'll start off by saying that I'm not a believer of tourism in Egypt. Not that I don't welcome tourists in Egypt, or wouldn't encourage them to spend time here. But I'm just against relying on tourism as one of three main sources of income for Egypt (all being services). Besides the fact that this is an industry that does not allow people to be productive, develop, progress and hence improve the general standard of living. Its one of the main industries in Egypt because its a gold mine that generates revenue without doing any effort from our side. Investors build hotels and resorts, locals tour the toursits around the historical sites, and let them have their fun on the beaches. We're simply making money out of being good hosts, showing off our history and beaches.

Well, we certainly brag about being such great hosts too much. How Egyptians are so kind, and nice, warm and welcoming! At some point in time, I'm sure we were, but do we really still believe that now. I've had an interesting experience regarding that a few months back when a couple of Canadian friends were visiting Egypt. Overall they had a great time, enjoyed the adventure, the history, the sights, the food, and ofcourse, the company;) An adventure it was for them ofcourse, on many levels. Just crossing the street is not a trivial activity here for the unacquainted. But what is it with Egyptians when they see people with white skin and blonde hair?! They attempt to squeeze every penny out of them in any possible way, from over-pricing to trying to fool them to begging to harrassing to being smart-asses, just short of plain theft.

I'll understand the excuse that people are really having it tough around here, and making a living is a hell of a struggle, but I can't accept that excuse.

I couldn't imagine the amounts of harrassement and foul games that we've experienced during their visit, especially in touristic sights. I've been cursed myself by a street seller when I was bargaining with him for a low-quality fake sun glasses that he wanted to sell for 50 pounds. "Why the hell are you bargaining for them, they can afford it"! They came back from Luxor & Aswan telling stories of the great monuments there ofcourse, as well as of stories of people doing their best to rip them off. People trying to sell them a Galabeyya for 500 pounds, eventually going down to 50. A guy who kept throwing himself infront of their camera shot, asking for 'baksheesh'. A guy telling them an item was for 5 pounds only, which sounded really cheap, they go in, try it on, and then when they're about to buy it he says, its for 5 Nubian Pounds, and that amounts to 500 Egyptian Pounds.. what!! I was ashamed listening to those stories, and just couldn't defend those actions, not with the typical excuse of how tough life is, and you guys are a gold mine to them.

We are apparently so isolated into ourselves that when we see a tourist, looking different, carrying a different currency, we treat them like they're aliens coming from outer space. Have a little dignity and decency for God's sake.

I thus find the statement that the Egyptian people are the main asset of tourism in Egypt utter nonesense.

And on the subject of tourism, what is it with those foreign women moving to somewhere like Hurghada, marrying (or not) local men, and settling there. I haven't been able to figure that out yet, and none of the explanations I've heard make sense to me.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Elections boycotting

What's with that elections boycotting business?! I can't imagine how a group of people can get a chance to participate in elections, have their voice heard, and have a chance in participating in governing their lives, and boycott that chance.

I'm certainly not politically sophisticated, so I just don't get it. Why did Hamas boycott the Palestinian elections?! Why did
Sunni Iraqis boycott the Iraqi elections?! Why did the Egyptian opposition parties boycott the parliamentry election in 1990? What could they have possibly gained by that?

So what if they have issues with the election process, if it is too early for elections and they're not ready yet, or whatever other reason. Shouldn't they try to work on the issues they have instead. Inevitably reaching nowhere, and the upper hands will have the elections their way, yes. But then, if there is one thing about the election process that is right, then it is worth participating. If they participate in the elections, and get 20% of the votes instead of say 40%, because of the issues they had. Isn't that still much better than getting 0%, and having no voice, and having zero representation.

What if the Sunnis had participated in the Iraqi elections. Wouldn't they have had atleast some representation in the new Iraqi parliament, giving them a legal and credible voice. Yes, their goal is much higher, they've been ruling the country for ages. Its all or nothing, eh. Boycotting the election leaves only one option to be heard and to have things their way. Through guns and blood?! Do we always have to limit our options to this! Why are we always so fond of that option!

Violent resistance is certainly important, and sometimes necessary, and is definetely a mean to an end. But I'm afraid that its becoming the only mean, and worst yet, the end itself. You've resisted the occupation with enough violence that is killing more Iraqis than occupiers. Does this violence have to be endless? Become martyrs, or life is not worth living! Can't we have smart martyrs, who know when to fight, when to stand for their beliefs, when to peacefully participate, and when to embrace others.

Didn't Hamas do awesomely well in the municipal elections. Wouldn't they have been able to make a stronger statement of their overwhelming support and better impose their negotiations standards with Israel if they had participated in the national elections -- even if their candidate didn't win.

Aren't the Egyptian opposition members of parliament making a difference. There are around 12 opposition members or so, out of over 400 in total, and they've already banned so many books!

Won't Iraqi Sunnis regret it, when they end up not participating in their future, not having a better mean to voice their issues, exert pressure, and having however members of parliament that they could've had elected strongly request the occupation armies to withdraw.

Let's take a look at the other extreme on the other end of the globe. Ralph Nader has been participating in the US presidential elections for 3 times now, knowing that he will lose everytime. He's been attacked for running in the elections, being blamed for costing the democrats the presidency. He can't participate in the presidential debates, can't go on the ballots in many states, his campaign is poorly funded, and yet he doesn't back down. Why does he do it? Not to get famous, and not to get everything and be president, but to win enough votes to have a viable third party. An alternative to the two parties, which he believes are two of the same thing. He didn't boycott the elections and whine about it.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Presidency demonstrations

What's with all the fuss about Mubarak's 5th term in office? Do these people really believe they will change the fact that he will rule Egypt for a fifth term. How will a few demonstrations (which Amn Eldawla will make sure that they are less than a few even) change the outcome of the constitutional and fair elections coming up this year? Those demonstrators know that their actions won't result in any change. I actually respect and applaud that. Taking action that you know will lead to nothing takes alot of motivation and belief. Yet, those who demonstrate believe that this is their only means to prove that they're not a herd being driven by a group of people that they feel inferior to them. The group of people involved in such demonstrations, are apparently of a different breed than those involved in the typical Egyptian demonstration attempts. They are intellectuals, and a highly educated bunch, which in itself adds value to such events, and partly explains the very poor turnout in the two demonstrations they organized. For those demonstrators among them whom are closer to God (or who like to think so of themselves), they believe that they will be rewarded for their action regardless of the outcome. They look at their comrades in the demonstration and wonder, we're here because we believe we'll be rewarded by God, even though we're sure this won't lead to any change, why are those leftists here? Well, have you ever thought that they have a conscious too.

I've been invited to participate in those demonstrations, and it was implied that I was unpatriotic and passive because I was not interested. Am I really? Probably yes, or probably that's what I've turned into. I think I would really be passive when I see a change to the better that I can make, and yet I don't. When there's a fight for a good cause and yet I withdraw. I like to pick my fights (which is probably why I end up in such few ones, if any!), and this is certainly not one of them.

The argument ofcourse could be drawn that following that logic, everyone would stop fighting their losing battles, and no freedom's would be won, and no justice would be done. However, I'm not against a hard fight, but am for a better fight, and an effective one. The Palestinian cause is probably better off because of the endless non-effective intifada. Well, sometimes I wonder if it is really, or if the people (more importantly) are really better off. Their voice and cause is certainly better heard (well, is it really, or is it just louder!?). Well, atleast they're fighting, and what makes their fighting even more noble is the conviction that their fighting won't lead to their freedom or earn their land back.

Getting back to the main idea here. I would really love to see a statistics of the demonstrations in the last 20 years, and what they've led to. I believe there are two types of effective demonstrations: 1) one that leads to a revolution. We can be sure that this will absolutely never happen in Egypt. Not in a million years will Egyptian's be capable of doing that. Simply not in the Egyptian character. And those revolutionists and emotional leaders who organize or lead demonstrations are really channeling their efforts to a void. 2) A demonstration that demonstrates a consensus among a fairly large group of people regarding a major issue. However, the demonstration is a mean to support actions being taken. A mean that demonstrates the overwhelming support for such actions. But demonstrations in void leads to void (or to getting beaten and tear gased).

But then, most importantly, I even disagree with the basic premise that those latest demonstrations make. No 5th term for the president, or 1st term for his son. The idea is great. He's been there for too long, that's for sure. But is that really the problem? Is this really the first step to the solutions of all our problems? I happen to think not. I happen to think that with Egyptians, being how they are, if our president is to leave, we are bound to be ruled by an equal, and things are bound to remain as bad as they are, because that is simply not even the first step of the solution.

About this blog

Why this blog? Though I don't have to answer that traditional question, but I like to feed the curious mind.

Admitting that this is a self-centered answer, this blog is about me. Its a mean to express my thoughts and reflections, without caring how I'm being judged or perceived --because I don't really know who the hell is judging me, or who is reading this thing in the first place. And because what I write here doesn't really matter.

Have you ever had the experience of talking to people who are not interested in what you're saying. I don't like talking to someone who's not interested, neither do I like listening to someone who's not interesting. So if you're reading this blog, you must be interested. Otherwise, don't blame me.

Another reason, is that during the last two years, I have almost totally lost interest in public activities related to politics or the Egyptian society at-large. This is causing me to be de-motivated in alot more issues, which is a turn that I do not like to happen to me. This blog however allows me to talk, even when nobody's listening, and if I'm motivated to talk, act could follow.

Since this is about me, and myself, and you haven't paid or been forced to read it, I am tempted to disallow any comments about any of my blog posts. However, because I like to think of myself as an open-minded person, who embraces other opinions, I will try to display my belief in freedom and free expression. So, the harsher, yet objective the comment, the better.

I expect this blog to contain material that is not newspaper/magazines publishable, and is not personal diaries material. As simple as, my personal views on different aspects of life. I expect the frequency of my postings to be very low, and I hope I keep on posting for a while (although this is partly an experiment to experience blogging).

Why am I anonymous? I'm not, but only revealing what might be necessary to communicate clearly. Like my first name.