Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Women are crazy

I've admitted before that men are idiots. But now its time to confront the truth. Women are crazy (yes even crazier than someone like me!). I know atleast 7 crazy women so far. I'm sure all the rest of the women I know are crazy too, they just didn't have the chance to demonstrate it yet.

Jebril the reciter

Last night I prayed the Isha'a prayer behind Mohammed Jebril. He is my all-time favorite Quran reciter (I already said that before). A friend of mine was dragging me with him around the city, and we finally landed in the club for him to buy something. Upon the call for Isha'a prayer, I told him I'll go in and pray. I was pleasantly surprised to find Jebril leading the prayers.

Now all the issues that people may claim about him aside. I really don't care about all that (I've argued that before). All I care about is that he's a talented reciter with a superb voice, who can make you visualize the meaning of the verses, and feel the words with his tone of voice. The Quran has many beautiful aspects, the message and the meaning being the most important. But that's not all, the beautiful language, and the beautiful rhythm that it can be recited with is just awesome.

I love reading out loud, and I tend to do so when I read from the Quran (which was discouraged by al-Ghazali as mentioned here). My recitation is not perfect by any means, but I still enjoy my recitation of it.

Jebril's voice has a special place in my heart. The first time I went to a Taraweeh prayer was a long time ago in one of those laylatul kadr 'masses'. I was a kid then, and went to witness the awe that I heard his recitation creates!

The reasons for that first time might've been the wrong ones, but it picked up with me. I enjoyed it so much, I kept going every year. Only laylatul kadr (or the night of the 27th, since we're not sure when it is), then laylatul kadr and khatm alQuran, then the last 10 days, and now, almost every night of the month.

I think its actually preferrable to pray Taraweeh at your house, not in the mosque, but I just enjoy a good taraweeh prayer at the mosque behind a good imam, that I probably don't do it for the thawab, but mainly for my enjoyment.

I used to never be able to tear in a prayer. Your Amens following his supplications makes your heart feel inches away from God, yet it was hard for me to shed a tear. It felt bad actually, that one could be so hard and fearless! Most of my friends who would go with me were like that as well actually.

Its something with growing up and with age I suppose that makes you fear Allah more, and realize how vulnerable you are. Its something with age I suppose that makes you see your sins more clearly, and wonder if God the most Merciful would ever forgive you, and if you'll ever be able to reduce your sins. The older you get, the more time you've spent sinning, the less time you have to repent, the more tears you've accumulated to shed in your prayers.

At this time of my life, I don't need a sensational reciter to put me to tears. I'll prefer a less crowded mosque with a mediocre reciter over Jebril in an unpleasantly crowded street with people weeping and wailing that it hurts your ears.

After mending my reasons abit for going to Taraweeh, I'd still try to go pray them behind Jebril to get the benefit of both, the pleasure and the thawab. But I stopped going to his taraweeh prayers a while back after it turned into a mass idol worshipping party. Literally, surrounded by hunderds of thousands of people who seem to be partying. It takes Jebril half an hour to get from the mosques door to the imamah area because people want to touch him and take a peek at that 'saint'!

But I still love his recitation, and it was wonderful to pray behind him in a respectful setting like yesterday's.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Black Wednesday

I pointed out in my previous post to an example of a woman who was assaulted in last Wednesday's protest. I also published the statement (English translation here) that is announcing the plans to have a mourning day this Wednesday in protest against how Egyptian women were assaulted by the regime thugs under the watch of the Police. The statement is encouraging people to wear black and go about their normal day, and the single demand of that day is for the Minister of Interior to resign.

I am very supportive of such action, because it is a direct reaction to a new low by the regime, assaulting women in public, and it also has a direct attainable goal. A goal, that if achieved would cause quite a shock to the system. Direct action of the people causing a resignation of a high ranking government official would be a shocker to the political life here, and will make people believe in themselves again and in what they can do.

So, I've been day dreaming about that coming Wednesday, and imagining in my mind what could make it an effective event (some ideas taken from these comments):

  1. Have one or more gathering place (as the statement didn't indicate there would be one, but said to go about our normal day!).
  2. International media should be aware of the event ahead of time and
    encouraged to cover it.
  3. Having the protest completely silent. Not a single word said, even if people are provoked.
  4. People having a single focused message (as already planned)
    communicated through banners and press releases. The message being that the Minister of Interior must resign.
  5. No signs of Kefaya (or any other group) visible. This one is not about Kefaya.
  6. Wearing black is a great idea (although makes it easy to identify people when they are getting away from the event). People wrapping their mouths in tape to indicate that they are not allowed to speak.
  7. Women holding signs saying "I was assaulted for speaking".
  8. Men holding signs saying "Minister of Interior: Resign Now".
  9. Having the gathering on 6th of October bridge, as well as Kasr ElNile bridge. The problem with the bridges is that people can be easily cornered, but they are very visible locations and very hard for the security forces to block them. International media can have backup cameras on high rises, such as Ramses Hilton, Nile Hilton, Semiramis, Cairo Tower. People can flock into the bridges using taxis, since its not easy for the security to block cars on those two bridges, and if they do, all the country will hear about it.
  10. From the bridges, March to the locations of last week's assaults.
  11. Daily marches until the Minister resigns.
As I said.. day dreaming...

Sometimes getting beaten doesn't matter, and it proves that your opponent is weak and is losing. Is that the best you can do.. beat us! Physical pain is sometimes worth it. My friends keep mocking me for something I once said when I was in a non-political confrontation with the thugs of an NDP member during the '95 parliamentary elections. I was surrounded by about 30 thugs, and my two friends were stuck (so they claim) in the car. Taking a slap on my face from behind, I shouted out loud, "You wanna beat me, beat me" (3ayzeen tedraboony edraboony), is that the best you can do.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Brave woman

I emailed my 'friend' who was in the Kefaya protest on Wednesday anonymously to check on her. She replied:

I don't know who you are or where you got my email. But as an Egyptian I want you to know, I want all Egyptians to kknow: I was violated....I was sexually assaulted...stripped of my clothes....badly beaten up twice. It wasn't only me but many other Egyptian women of different age and backgrounds. This is what this regime does to peaceful dissent.
And some women are planning to come out next Wednesday wearing black in protest and mourning against what happened last week (I might actually join if they decide to gather in someplace):

دعوة من

رابطة الأمهات المصريات
مصر كلها سترتدي السواد الأربعاء 1 يونيو 2005

أيها المواطنون الشرفاء أبناء مصر

يوم 25 مايو -يوم الاستفتاء - تعرضت النساء والفتيات المشاركات في مظاهرات سلمية تطالب بالديمقراطية في القاهرة أمام نقابة الصحفيين في القاهرة للتحرش والانتهاك الجنسي في الشارع وعلى الملأ على يد بسطاء مأجورين من بلطجية الحزب الوطني وتحت إشراف من لواءات وزارة الداخلية. وقد قررنا نحن الأمهات المصريات اللاتي يحلمن بمستقبل أفضل للوطن وحياة أفضل لأولادنا أن ندعو الشعب المصري كله يوم الأربعاء القادم ا يونيو إلى الخروج من منازلهم كالمعتاد لكن وهم يلبسون السواد، في طريقهم مثل كل يوم إلى مصالحهم وأماكن عملهم أو قضاء حوائجهم اليومية، كل مواطن يستنكر ما حدث ولا يقبله مسئول أمام الله حتى لو لم يكن ناشط سياسي أو لا يهتم بالعمل العام، ندعوه فقط للخروج في هذا اليوم من بيته ليوم عادي لكن مرتدياً اللون الأسود.. وأن يخبر من حوله ويدعوهم ويشرح لهم أهمية هذا الاحتجاج العام الرمزي، وأما النشطاء فندعوهم في كل محافظة من محافظات مصر إلى تنسيق التجمع السلمي الصامت أمام نقاباتهم أو في حرم جامعاتهم أو في الأماكن العامة التي يتفقون عليها- صامتين في وجوم تام في ملابسهم السوداء.

الأمهات المصريات ليست حركة سياسية، إنها صوت الأغلبية الصامتة من النساء ربات البيوت والعاملات، لكنهن يدركن اليوم أن الداخلية قد تجاوزت كل الخطوط الحمراء، وأن الصمت اليوم جريمة ولا بد من وقفة صفاً واحداً وشعباً واحداً للدفاع عن المرأة والبنت المصرية.

مطلبنا واضح وهو مطلب واحد: استقالة وزير الداخلية.

مصر كلها سترتدي السواد في صمت وهدوء يوم 1 يونيو من أقصى بحري لأقصى الصعيد، رجالها ونساءها شبابها وكهولها، في شوارعها حزن وفي قلبها جرح، والمطلب الشعبي هو ببساطة استقالة وزير الداخلية، لقد وقفنا نشاهد ما يجري فترة طويلة لكننا قررنا أن نخرج الأربعاء القادم، لأول مرة، وبقوة، دفاعاً عن أعراض المواطنات المصريات من بنات وسيدات في أقسام الشرطة وفي الشارع وفي المظاهرات.

يوم 1 يونيو مصر كلها ستتشح بالسواد من أجل بناتنا اللاتي تم الاعتداء عليهن وتقطيع ملابسهن في الشارع لأنهن جرؤن على أن يقلن كفاية بدلاً من الصمت، سنخرج هذه المرة -ونحن لسنا من حركة كفاية- لنقول للداخلية التي كان دورها حمايتنا: اللعبة انتهت.

يوم حداد شعبي صامت ومطلب وحيد: استقالة وزير الداخلية.

إما أن نعود بعدها لبيوتنا وحياتنا اليومية في هدوء المصريات ونضالهن المعتاد من أجل لقمة العيش والأسرة والأولاد كما سارت الحياة منذ فجر هذه الحضارة وطوال تاريخ هذا الوطن المسالم الذي ينشد أهله الأمن، أو نفكر في خطوة تالية إذا لم يتحقق مطلبنا هذا.

إننا نؤكد أننا لسنا من حركة كفاية ولا ننتمي لأية قوة سياسية شرعية أو محجوبة، لكن حين تدفع المرأة المصرية ثمن مشاركتها السياسية حرمة جسدها وعرضها فإن كل أم مصرية بل مصر كلها ستخرج وهي ترتدي ملابس الحداد لتقول لوزير الداخلية:

نريد استقالتك..اليوم..الآن.

موعدنا جميعاً الأربعاء 1 يونيو.. يوم عادي.. لون ملابسنا أسود..في هدوء..وصمت مر..من أجل مستقبل حر..

al-Ghazali on reading the Quran

The respected Persian Islamic scholar, al-Ghazali (1058-1111, born and died in Iran), wrote a prominent book series called the Revival of Religious Sciences (Ihya'a 'ulum al-din). In the book, al-Ghazali integrates the principles of Sufism into the Islamic teachings and Shari'a. In one of this series' books, he talks about the etiquette for reading the Quran. Here's an extra brief point summary based on the book (provided by Sunni Path):

  1. One should understand the magnificent nature of the Qur'an. This is a divine gift from Allah, and a tremendous favor. One should bring to mind the favor of Allah and be thankful.
  2. Magnification of the Speaker. Bring to mind the magnification of the One who is addressing us. The reciter will then remain conscious of the fact that this Book is the speech of Allah. So when one recites, it is not like reading any book, rather the very speech of Allah. Allah is speaking to the reciter through his recitation.
  3. Paying attention to the Qur'an: One may avoid whisperings of the self. "Oh Yahya, take the book firmly," which may be understood as ... take the words contained in it with seriousness and sincerity.
  4. Pondering over the verses. How? Recite it according to the Sunna with tarteel, a slow, measured, distinct manner. Tajweed helps in inward reflection. There's a hadith from Nasai and ibn Majah that the Prophet, peace be upon him, prayed at night reciting one ayah repeatedly: "in tuaddhibhum fa 'innahum 'ibaaduk." If You punish them, then they are Your servants, and if You forgive them, surely You are the Mighty, the Wise. (5:118)
  5. Seek to understand the meanings. 1) in the linguistic sense - study a translation if you do not know Arabic, 2) and the deeper meanings found in tafsirs, 3) and with reflection. Studying 'aqida helps, for example, reading verses about the power of Allah, and about His qadr. Don't interpret it with your own opinion; go look it up in a tafsir.
  6. Remove obstacles to understanding the Qur'an. There are four veils according to Imam Ghazali:
    • Being overly concerned with outward recitation (this is one of the tricks of Shaytan to turn you away from reflecting on meanings). Find a middle path.
    • Superimposing one's ideas/perspectives/beliefs on the guidance of the Qur'an (ex: someone is a feminist, socialist, economist - reading the Qur'an according to his or her own perspective - preventing true spiritual benefit from the Qur'an.) Take guidance from the Qur'an itself with an open mind.
    • Sin, both outward and inward. Sin creates darkness in the soul and clouds the mirror of the heart, so it doesn't reflect the light of Divine guidance. How to polish the heart? With sincere and consistent repentance, and leaving sin. Keep doing this and striving until you leave those sins. This is a process: cleaning the heart and approaching Allah Most High.
    • One finds sufficiency on finding how meanings relate to you from tafsir. However, this is an interpretation; these tafsirs shouldn't take the place of personal reflection and application.

  7. Take everything in the Qur'an as guidance for yourself because it is for all creation. When it talks about the oppressors, sinners, etc. look at your life, act on what's implied relative to your life. "Fastaqim kama umirta," be steadfast as you were commanded. Imagine how the Prophet, peace be upon him, applied the Qur'an to his life - his hair turned gray! His companions asked why his hair had turned white. He, peace be upon him, said, "Sura Hud and its sisters made my hair white." He was upright and truthful in following the Qur'an. He took every address to apply to himself personally.
  8. Feel the Qur'an when talking about Paradise, Hell, or anything, put yourself in tune with the Qur'an.
  9. Rise in degrees of recitation. There are three grades of recitation. Any recitation is a tremendous grade.
    • The lowest grade: one supposes one is reading the Qur'an to Allah, as if one is standing before Allah, in His Divine Presence, and Allah is listening to one's recitation. This is an inward state of begging, entreating, and supplicating.
    • The middle grade: When one beholds Allah and sees for themself that Allah is addressing us with His favor. He is bestowing His gifts, His mercy through the Qur'an. There is a sense of shame, modesty (haya) and magnification (ta'dhim). One seeks to understand and be more serious. Now it is from Allah to you! There's also a feeling of ecstasy, thankfulness, and joy! One piece of dust like you is being addressed by the Lord of every speck of dust!
    • The highest grade: When one beholds the Speaker Himself and His Attributes. One does not see his own actions, but completely engrosses himself in beholding Allah Most High Himself. Then next, he sees the address of Allah Most High, then sees his own recitation.

  10. Recite the Qur'an while knowing that there is no might or power except with Allah. Qul bifaDlillahi wa biraHmatihi... say by the Grace of Allah and His Mercy; in that let them rejoice - better than what they amass - whether (worldly or spiritual amassing). Thank Allah upon good deeds. In addition, one always beholds one's shortcoming in reciting it. And reminding ourselves that we are not being thankful enough, look even the Prophet's hair turned gray...The soul is what turns to Allah.the body is just dust. We have infinite fear, and infinite hope in Allah... so turn to Allah and hope for His Pleasure.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Look, listen and learn II

In case anyone forgot. This is the famous picture of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

Care to compare to yesterday's demonstration that was violently repressed by the regime, assaulting women in the process. Here are some facts from the Tiananmen Square protests for those who forgot:
  • 100,000 student and worker protestors
  • Daily marches and hunger strike
  • Martial law declared, yet demonstrations continued
  • The people advanced towards the army troops (talk about courage)
  • Red Cross reported 2,600 people were killed, and 30,000 injured (talk about violence)
  • And from this article: "the student leaders at Tiananmen were unable to produce a coherent movement or ideology that would last past the mid-1990s. Many of the student leaders came from relatively well off sectors of society and were seen as out of touch with common people."
  1. The world can stand by with its hands tied, and regimes can get away with stuff like that.
  2. Where will Egyptian-style demonstrations alone take us?

Did I ever mention that I admire the Chinese. Oh, never mind :)

There was a look, listen and learn I.

Egypt's traffic and culture

If Egypt's traffic problems are solved, all of Egypt's problems will be solved.

I very much believe that. Egypt's traffic is a replica of our society, a big mess --and for the same reasons. Every problem in our society is reflected in our traffic. So if we are capable of fixing our traffic problems, it means that we were able to fix our societal and cultural problems.

Our traffic problem is a contribution of everyone in our society. The government has a big role, the drivers (and pedestrians) have a role, traffic officers have a role, and the law and its skewed enforcement has a role.

The government is totally incapable of devising a proper traffic system, building a safe road infrastructure (which is not about asphalt, but about road signs, traffic lights, lane markers, sidewalks), cannot set a usable traffic law, and is full of corrupt and inept officers. The officers in the street are enfocring a haphazard law that is not well defined. They are enforcing their own whims on drivers who don't know what the law today is, and have to guess if its illegal to park on this side of the road (when there's no sign), or if its illegal to take a left turn (when there's no sign) only to find an officer waiting for them at the end of the street with a violations book. You have to wait for hours if Hosni's parade is passing by, you have to give the right of way to any high ranking official (or foreign visitor) with a Jeep Cherokee entourage pointing machine guns at you.

To survive Egypt's traffic you either have to be powerful with the right connections, be filthy rich, be a thug, or mind your own business avoiding trouble. I end up being a mix of the four, but I try to mind my own business.

The powerful with the right connections will do as they please in our lawless streets, and never pay a fine. The rich, are powerful, they pay bribes, but never pay a fine. The thugs, will do as they please, never questioned, except if the government is short in money and needs some extra revenue. The peaceful and powerless have no business driving in those streets, they're just causing a traffic jam. If you want to save yourself from going insane, or from being one of the above four types of people, then your best mean of interaction with the traffic system (or any other system in Egypt) is through a proxy. Get a driver.

Those U-turns which they replaced every major traffic light intersection with, enforces an uncivilized culture of 'survival of the fittest', where you don't wait for your turn, but you take a steep left from the extreme right lane to the extreme left lane, take a U-turn, then another steep right from the extreme left lane to the extreme right lane. No yielding allowed, and there is no right of way in this situation. Force will give you your right of way, and that's the way the government wants it, and the only way our society functions.

The reckless goon drivers of the microbusses are a demonstration of the lawlessness in the streets, of the corruption that is supported by the retired police officers who own those microbusses. Human defect is exemplified in those drivers.

The decades old, unsafe and pollution friendly cars filling the streets are a reflection of the way we function and think as a society. The contrast of those old crumbled cars along side of fancy German cars and donkey carts, is a real contrast of our society.

Egyptians in fact do not know how to drive. They keep gloating that they are the best drivers in the world, and that if you drive in Cairo's streets then you can drive anywhere else. But that's not true. Knowing how to push the gas pedal and maneuvering your automobile in between other vehicles and people is not the definition of good driving. Its knowing the traffic rules, and respecting them, its knowing who has the right of way and giving it to them, checking your blind spot, and waiting for a pedestrian to cross, and so forth.

The people are certainly contributing to the mess. The government, lack of proper laws, and proper law enforcement encourages that behavior of ours. But we take it too far however, and enjoy the lawlessness. Typical Egyptian traits can be vividly seen in Egypt's streets. Traits such as always wanting to outsmart the law, taking short cuts and extreme negligence are a daily routine that we can't live without, but which are ruining our lives.

People driving in the opposite direction directly facing other moving cars, has nothing to do with lack/ignorance of laws or their enforcement. It has to do with greed and disrespect for other people's rights and for human lives.

The lack of traffic laws, law enforcement and driver education cannot be excuses for the the Egyptian drivers' attitude of extreme negligence and lack of respect for the other and for the other's rights.

What's amazing is that people somehow manage, cars get moving, people reach their destinations, traffic jams are much less than other countries, accidents are much more which people choose to ignore that fact. It works, in a very screwed up definition of the word "works", but it does.

Just like traffic. What's amazing is that life doesn't stop in Egypt, the country doesn't exactly fall into shambles, we're stagnant as a society and not developing, but we survive. A very screwed up definition of the word "survive", but we do. Is that enough though? just to survive!

Egyptian traits, cultural and societal ills are reflected in our streets. The inept government, traffic officers, drivers, and laws constitute our society, are part of it and result from it. The attitude of all these in the streets is our attitude in our daily lives, in our dealing with each other, in how Egypt is 'developed'.

If our traffic problem is ever solved, then its an indication that the rest of our problems have been solved.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Meditation through participation

I voted, and I feel good because of it.

I've been pretty vocal against the call to boycott today's referundum, but I never dared to call on people to go and vote. Because although I'm strongly against the boycott, I know that the result of today's referundum is well known in advance, and tomorrow's headline news in the local papers were already written yesterday.

Ofcourse its useless to go vote as long as only a minority --whom are mostly pro the regime (for all the different reasons)-- are the only ones to go, regardless if the referundum environment is fair and clean or not. So today, those who boycotted the referundum lost, and those who went and said No to the new constitution amendment text lost.

I've been feeling very silly all day for my insistence to go vote, until I actually voted.

In the morning, most of my colleagues at work were making jokes about the referundum. During a conference call, there was a disagreement and someone suggested that we should make our own referundum to come up with a decision. Another one responded that Ahmed is boycotting the referundum, so its not a good idea.

During a rare conversation I was having with my religious colleague, I asked him why he's boycotting the elections. "Is it because you just don't care, like most of us, or are you following the boycott of one of the opposition movements? You know Mahdy Akef [the Muslim Brotherhood leader] called on the Muslim Brothers to go and vote No." He responded with the usual boycott argument and that the Muslim Brotherhood provided conflicting statements regarding the boycott.

My company had decided that all employees would have a shorter day today to be able to go participate in the referundum (you can sure tell that our senior executives are not Egyptian). Most employees took off early to enjoy the rest of the day with their families. A few line managers however decided that there is work to do, and no one questioned what the priorities are (working or voting). I however, decided to leave at 4.30 instead of 3.30, and I still got that look, "you're not seriuos are you, you're not leaving us here and leaving!". Well, I still left, and avoided an argument of whether 'going to vote' (not the referundum itself) was more important than delaying the work, or not.

I went to a school in my area, asked them if they had a polling station, and they directed me to another near by school. While I was asking, I was wondering what they must be thinking of this stupid guy who's going to vote. They were however very helpful in directing me to the other school. I went to the other school, which had a small sign indicating that there is a polling station inside, and a big sign supporting the amendment text to the constitution, with a big Yes, to it, and to President Mubarak as well. Inside, a bunch of folks/administrators who belong to the school and to the Ministry of Interior were hanging around, and some were in uniform. Feeling that I'm doing something wrong, I shyly asked where the poll station was, and they kindly directed me to the third floor. "Do you have an election card?", "No" I said, "Just my National ID". "No problem, just tell them upstairs to use the daftar elwafedeen".

Upstairs, two government employees (didn't look like judges) handed me the ballot card, and I handed them my National ID. I asked them if many people came to vote today. They said, "Yeah, sure. Some said Yes, some said No, and some invalidated their vote to prove their existance. You can do whatever you want." I thought this was a secret ballot, but never mind. They were nice, and their answer was confident. They didn't have executive orders to act in a certain way, because the executives are confident enough in the results.

I asked them how to mark my ballot card, marked the card, thanked them, and left. On my way out, four classy persons were going in the school, so I nodded to them in support.

I was feeling silly all day for wanting to go vote and for insisting to go. I kept having that inner voice telling me, "you shouldn't leave your colleagues at work for that silly vote. You probably have to be registered and have an election card to be able to vote, so better go home. If you don't find the polling station in this school, then just go home and enjoy the rest of the day. The school seems to be closed, just go home." But for some silly reason, I was stubborn until I marked that useless ballot card, and boy did I feel good about it.

Of the few people I talked to today about the referundum, only one person went to vote. Most don't care, some were boycotting, some were busy with more important stuff. I called a couple of friends on my way there, one said "cool I'll come, but pick me up and let's go together", but I was short in time, so I unfortunately dropped him. The other said "I'll take a nap, and let's go out tonight". I called a friend involved with Kefaya after I finished voting to confirm his boycott, and to tell me that today's demonstration by Kefaya turned violent, protestors were beaten and girls were sexually harrased (I hope the two girls I know there weren't violated by those thugs). I talked to my dad who hasn't voted in years to tell him that I just voted, and he was astonished wondering where did I do it and if I needed an election card.

I was feeling so fine until right this moment after writing that last paragraph. Shit. There's no hope in this country.

UPDATE: A friend of mine just told me he saw one of the girls I know in the Kefaya demonstration on TV holding a banner and shouting slogans.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Call (not) to boycott

Glad to find Egyptians being politically active. I'm getting bombarded by emails now calling on me and my fellow email recipients to boycott tomorrow's referundum. I'm also getting emails to join Kefaya in their demonstration tomorrow at 2pm (instead of voting ofcourse).

For the Kefaya email, I responded nicely, because these people don't take no for an answer. They'll bite you if you do, and one previous clash with that friend who sent the email is enough.

For the boycott email, I didn't know the guy and he included around 40 people in the email, so I had to say my thing against the boycott. The guy responded back to my email reply with some arguments that we can read everywhere, so I'm not reproducing his arguments here. But I want to highlight a few of his words that I found amusing.

This, didn't make any sense to me:

As an Egyptian that loves his country i urge everyone in this message to BOYCOTT the referendum on the 25th of MAY , and to pass this message on everyone he knows , hopefully by acting together we can change our future and the future of the coming generations from this corrupt and evil regime and change egypt into a real democratic civilized society where everyones voice is heard.

the road is long and hard , but if we never act , nothing will ever change.....and we bear the resonsibilty infront of our sons and future grandsons to fight for a better Egypt in which they can live and have the right to choose who represents them.

So, are we being asked to act, or not. I'm confused now!

Now this, was plain stupid (emphasis on "real" mine):
again and again .....i urge every real Egyptian to boycott the 25th of may referendum in an act of civil disobedience.

As for Kefaya's demonstration tomorrow, I think anyone who plans to boycott the referundum should atleast join them. I won't be able to join, as I'll be at the polling station.

Also, no election cards are required for this referundum. If you don't have one, you can only vote in your district's polling station. (My guess is you can vote anywhere any number of times!).

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Kefaya's momentum for change

[This piece is cross-posted at the Egyptian Bloggers Forum]

How can an unconventional movement such as the Egyptian Movement for Change (Kefaya) gain momentum to achieve its goals in improving the political life in Egypt? A question that I've been thinking about for a while.

Kefaya might not be interested in the answers to this question provided by myself (as well as others). But I suppose they should be interested however, since they are working hard to garner support from the people and the regular Egyptian layman, and since they are assuming that they represent the majority of the population (which they could very well be). They have been receiving advise from a number of very respected political gurus, such as Tarek AlBishry and Mohammad Hassanein Heikal. The movement itself is full of keen intellectuals, whom are very much capable of making sound judgements. That said, here's what I think.

Subjectively, I think highly of Kefaya and what those people are trying to do, and I applaud their efforts. They are courageous people by all means, and they are patriots who want the best for the country. However, I disagree with their means to acheiving their goals, and with the way they are presenting themselves and communicating with others (which seems to me that you have to go to a demonstration to talk to them).

Objectively, I've tried to figure out what Kefaya is, and what its about, which I'll try to present below in brief and to the point. Then, I'll attempt to give my answers to the main question of this post.

What is Kefaya?

Kefaya is by all means a novel movement that is unprecedented in modern Egypt, and what they are doing was probably unimaginable by many.

Kefaya does look like a political rainbow with its various political ideologies mingled together for a common goal, regardless of those ideologies and of any political ambitions.

Kefaya has no ideology, but rather incorporates all ideologies. Kefaya has socialists, communists and Islamists (some say liberals too) involved in its activities. Kefaya has a minority of politically and ideologically unaffiliated people as well.

Kefaya does not have a single leader nor a single spokesperson, but rather is led by the collectiveness of the people involved and their collective decisions.

Kefaya is not a political party, a think tank, a NGO, or an organizatin of any sort.

Kefaya does not provide an alternative.

Kefaya is not a movement that resembles the 1919 uprising because there is no obvious leader like Saad Zaghloul who was able to motivate and mobilize the public, and because Kefaya insists that they are not a political entity, which is contrary to what Saad Zaghloul's uprising has become.

Kefaya's existence is temporary (its an interim movement), and once its goals are achieved, the movement shall dissolve.

What is Kefaya's goal?

Regime change is the only goal that is clear to me, with the slogans "No 5th term (extension to Hosni), and no inheritence to Gamal". However, political change all together and end to corruption and inequality are other stated goals. To end the era of stagnation that we're living which is led by President Hosni Mubarak's regime. To end the political stagnation that is leading to all sorts of economical and societal deterioration.

While I find such a goal noble and very reasonable, I believe its not enough. Asking to make such a change at the top of the pyramid, with no alternative and no social structure in place to support the transition and what follows, raises much skepticism in my mind. Nevertheless, that is a huge goal on its own.

How is Kefaya achieving its goals?

The most obvious method they are using to achieve their goal is demonstrations. Tiny and frequent demonstrations with loud speakers and vocal banners. Contrary to what Kefaya might say that the size of the demonstrations don't matter, I think it very much does matter to them, and indeed it should matter. It does matter to them because they keep advertising about their upcoming demonstrations calling on people to join them. They are creating a channel to voice their rejection to the regime through street demonstrations and press releases, and making the world hear about it, trying to demonstrate that there is massive rejection to the regime.

There are also other means that they've pursued to achieve their goals, but none of that is obvious to me, except their signed petition to Parliament --which they probably know the fate of that. They're also planning to sue President Mubarak for calling them "paid agents".

How can Kefaya gain momentum for real change?

If we agree that Kefaya is a public movement, and not just a movement for select intellectuals, and since Kefaya is not a political party or a power center that is seeking power nor providing an alternative, then Kefaya has to interact with the public in an effective manner.

If Kefaya's intellectuals continue their demonstrations in their current form till kingdom come, that would probably still not achieve their goals. Can we imagine for a second if the constitution is changed to our liking, by allowing a non-restrictive fair elections, and if the Judges' demands are met and they have full control over the monitoring of the elections. I'm afraid that without the public's active particpation, nothing would change still, and the Mubaraks would still win the election and rule Egypt.

In Friday's Akhbar newspaper there is a one page story of how 11 million workers and farmers will vote in the referundum (and eventually vote for Mubarak). I think 11 million workers could very well vote for Mubarak. They are packed in busses and driven to poll stations every referundum to mark the Yes box, and that is a clean vote.

I would think that Kefaya should work with those workers, as well as with the rest of the public, to educate them about their rights, about the importance of their vote, about the importance of the political change we're seeking, about how that change will better improve their daily lives, about how their participation would put an end to corruption and allow them a fair chance, about how freedom is important, about how God will not change a nation unless they change themselves.

Maybe then, when those workers get a free bus ride to the poll stations by the regime, they will think twice before they make that mark in the ballot card.

Why does Kefaya insist that they are not affiliated with any existing political or civil movement, but only represent most of them, when they can better channel their efforts through those parties and existing civil movements. Those NGOs and parties already have channels of communication and potential funds (however constrained) that can funnel to the people. Doesn't a movement for change needs channels of communication and need funds to operate. It is a very wise decision to reject any foreign funds, not because its wrong, but because it would tarnish the movement and turn them into an easy target by the regime. But what about domestic funds? There are lots of money in this country, and there should be efforts to attract domestic funds into our political life, into our desire to change. Kefaya can't raise funds because its not an official organization and can't go through that bureaucratic process, so maybe the Kefaya intellectuals can think of ways to utilize the existing parties and NGOs for that purpose.

The means to achieving the goals should be by building a stronger society, whereby massive amount of people participating in the elections, and in political activities become a shocker to the regime and to anyone thinking lightly of the Egyptian public. The regime can easily quell demonstrations, by the brutal state security forces, but how can they quell massive political and social activism and participation, how can it quell a nation of activists? A regime that realizes that the public with their various political leanings and ideologies have become active and involved, that the public care as to who rules them and how they are governed, such a regime will think twice before repressing the people, and before limiting their freedoms and ignoring their demands.

What do you think?

Egyptian Bloggers Forum

We've started something. The Egyptian Bloggers Forum is a new initiative that requires your contribution. What follows is the description of the forum:

This is an attempt to build an arena for Egyptian bloggers to host their collective ideas and thoughts, and nurture constructive discussions and debates. This is not necessarily a virtual community, as it does not have to be simply virtual dialogues between virtual people. Something real may develop out of this, since real people are discussing real issues --but its not a necessary outcome.

A few people are starting out by maintaining this forum, by raising the issues objectively. Other people can then pitch in, exchange ideas, communicate, discuss, debate, and potentially follow through on some actions that some might decide to take.

People who will be maintaining this site would initially be Egyptian bloggers, whom are non-experts on most of the topics here. However, a goalof this site is to attract experts on the topics, have them atleast contribute in the discussions, as well as post their thoughts here to engage the participants.

The bloggers maintaining this site would typically keep their personal blogs running, but not necessarily separate from the discussions ongoing here (possibly double posting here what's relevent from their blogs). However, as their personal blogs may be more personal, this forum should be less so.

To start with, here is the first cut of list of the topics for discussion:

  • Politics
  • Economy
  • Culture and Society
  • Religion
  • Technology Development
  • Arts

I would add that having just the maintainers of this site write posts and raise issues that only get read with no participation would not achieve the goal of this forum. Unlike blogs, its not about speaking your mind (or the different other reasons for personal blogs). Constructive discussions is the main goal here.

There are no written rules for discussions here, everyone knows what a civil discussion means. Its as simple as this, no discussion is allowed to turn into a personal attack on individuals or into a racist attack on a group of people. That sums up the rules.

This forum is an ongoing project that is always in development, always open to feedback and ideas from the participants to better imporve it.

Thanks to Alaa and Manal for hosting this forum for free.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

What about Egyptian bloggers?

Never mind the question. I'm not really looking for answers. Here's a disconnected post however.

Did I ever mention that I admire Iranians. Well, I do, regardless of how many of them hate Islam. I admire those smart and strong-willed people. I have to better formulate my reasons for thinking highly of Iranians --but that's not the topic of this post. An Iranian friend of mine sent me an email with pictures of today's Tehran. Check them out here (most of them don't show the beauty of the mountains surrounding Tehran). Yes, those are pictures from the Islamic Republic of Iran! Now, my friend is one that hates the Mullah's regime, dislikes (to use a lighter word than hate) Islam and the prophet, and is not fond of the Arab invasion of Persia, so she left Iran and lives elsewhere. Yet, she sent me those pictures, missing Iran and longing for its beauty. I'm a fan of Iranian movies, although they're usually very depressing, exposing all their social problems and focusing on the poorer segments of their society, so those pictures were a change for me (as well as others I saw of a ski resort there).

Anyway, that's not the topic of this post. I just want to point to an interesting presentation (ppt) about Iranian blogging by Hoder (some call him the godfather of the Iranian blogs) which I find inspiring:

Weblogestan: How weblogs are affecting Iran

Some Facts

  • Total Population: 70 millions
  • Population Under thirty: 70%
  • Internet users: 4-5 millions
  • Media: State monopoly and control
  • Active weblogs: over 75,000

How weblogs affecting Iranian society and politics?


  • Windows (culture, information)
  • Bridges (society, activism)
  • Cafes (politics)

Blogs as Windows

  • Social changes: new values
    • Self expression
    • Tolerance
    • Individualism
  • Free information
    • Example: Female journalist banned from parliament turned to blogging (Massih Alinejad)

Blogs as Bridges

  • Divided society, social islands:
    • Genders
    • Immigrants ~ Non-immigrants
    • Politicians ~ citizens
      • Reformist candidate (Mostafa Moeen)
      • Former vice-president (Mohammad Abtahi)
      • Religious/secular community

Blogs as Cafes

  • Public Sphere (Jurgen Habermas):
    "a discursive arena that is home to citizen debate, deliberation, agreement and action.“
  • Ideal speech situation: Equal power for everyone to question, express, and introduce

Blogs as Cafes

  • Weblogs vs. State-controlled media
    Unique space out of the state monopoly for crucial political debate

  • Examples:
    • Iran’s Nuclear program
    • Journalism in the U.S. (Objectivity, factuality)

Election 2005 (Due on 17 June)

  • Windows:
    • Candidate buying publicity
  • Bridges:
    • Advisory session with top reformist strategists
    • Candidate’s website’s server problem
  • Cafes:
    • Debate on political advertising
    • Debate on voting/boycott

One of the Iranian presidential candidates is a blogger, Mostafa Moeen (reformist presidential candidate). See this account of the bloggers meeting with him.

Incomparable really, but Joshua Landis briefly mentioned the sudden growth of the Syrian blogosphere and a meeting between them.

Bahraini bloggers seem to be doing a good job turning their blogs into media outlets for their tiny island out in the Persian gulf.

And if being more anonymous will make you a better blogger, Global Voices have created a guide to Anonymous blogging wiki.

Off-topic: The email below was sent out at my company. There are also Radio ads (on FM 105.8) encouraging people to participate in the constitution amendment referundum. I like that.

Dear Colleagues,

As you all know, the president has invited all Egyptians who have the right to vote to a referendum on 25th May 2005 whereby they can express their opinion by approving/disapproving the proposed changes in the Egyptian constitution.

In order for the company employees to have the chance to exercise their constitutional right, the company management team has decided that on that day (25th May 2005), the working hours will be until 3:30 PM.

* Many of the above links are via Global Voices Online.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Tarek AlBishry on the Judges

Last night's lecture by Tarek AlBishry (following his previous - lectures about Egypt in the last two centuries) focused on the history of the Judiciary and its role as a balancing force between the Executive and the Parliament branches. Imagine Baheyya's article about the Judiciary described and narrated first hand by the wonderful AlBishry (who was once head of Magles el-Dawla). Lucky me.

AlBishry started out by explaining that the Judiciary is formed of atomic units (of independant Judges), unlike the hierarchical structure of the Executive government (power flows top down), or the flat representation of the people in Parliament (power flows bottom up). The Judiciary have no material power in hand, except their word - emblematic power (kowa ma3naweyya). They take no initiatives as issues and problems are brought to them to interpret the law (defined by Parliament) to make judgements (to be executed by the Government).

The history of their independance, first law to explicitly state the Judiciary independance by Sabry Abu Alam in 1943, and sidelining them by Nasser, then the various attempts of interference and control by the government including the "Judges Massacre" is very interesting. Baheyya wrote about that history here.

I asked him that the Judges stand these days is turning them from independant atomic units balancing the executive and parliamentary powers, into a mostly cohesive power that is confronting the government directly --which is not their traditional role. He was quickly dismissive of such notion, the notion that the Judges are taking a political stand. They are not, he said. They are simply refusing to do an incomplete job. They can't do their job if they're denied the tools to perform it properly, and so they're asking to have the adequate tools needed to do their jobs. A judge can't rule in a case without the proper facts and papers of the case infront of him, a surgeon can't operate without the proper tools in the operating room. Can't send a surgeon into an operating room bare handed. I thought it was a bit of a defensive and diplomatic answer, but apparently the Judges who are taking this stand will be coming under intense pressures and attacks in the coming period --which will be hard to survive.

When asked on how he foresees the Judges stand progressing, the probabilities of how things can turn out, and if it is likely that another "Judges Massacre" can occur, he wouldn't answer, claiming that he can't read the future.

UPDATE: Tarek AlBishry analyses the constitution amendment, elections, and reform in an article he wrote this week here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

RFID in your toilet

Very interesting technologies coming to your neighborhood in the not so distant future, RFID and Smart Dust. But RFID in my toilet is not the kind of application I was expecting out of this technology! A company is developing a RFID system that can wirelessly detect leakage and overflow, send alerts and shut off the water supply in your toilet!

From the RFID Journal: "Radio frequency identification, or RFID, is a generic term for technologies that use radio waves to automatically identify people or objects. There are several methods of identification, but the most common is to store a serial number that identifies a person or object, and perhaps other information, on a microchip that is attached to an antenna (the chip and the antenna together are called an RFID transponder or an RFID tag). The antenna enables the chip to transmit the identification information to a reader. The reader converts the radio waves reflected back from the RFID tag into digital information that can then be passed on to computers that can make use of it."

Here's how RFID is currently being used. Wal Mart and the US DoD have been pushing hard to use it for their inventory control, and they've been the key motivators to getting this technology out commercially.

Smart Dust technology is more intelligent, and makes use of tiny intelligent sensor nodes that communicate with each other wirelessly, and senses anything in their surrounding environment, such as motion, light, temperature, etc.

So RFID is essentially a subset of the Wireless Sensor Networks (Smart Dust) technology, and so the range of Smart Dust applications are wider and pretty interesting. Military applications to track troop movements and to detect Chemical and Biological weapons, to traffic monitoring and management applications, to better lighting and heating in office buildings, to tracking of agricultural crop conditions, to potentially flowing in a patient's body to detect diseases and monitor the patient's condition.

Wondering how far Egypt is from such technologies? Interestingly enough, one company is getting a project to develop a RFID solution for one of Wal Mart's suppliers. And another startup had attempted earlier to build a Smart Dust-based solution to monitor oil pipelines.

Monday, May 16, 2005

How do they find this blog?

Most people who bump into this blog through search engines find it by searching for the following terms:

1) sex on/at beach + cairo hookers + food
2) Fishawy
3) Cidade de Deus
4) Kefaya
5) sabakeen OR kataket

Its been fun having those people around, but who are these people? and did they really find what they were looking for? I doubt it. What a waste.

This thing is getting really boring.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Ordinaries in action

Late Thursday night (2am), my friends and I are cruising in the streets of Heliopolis in search of a famous sha'aby Kebab place. Have you noticed how all the gas stations have the Grade 90 gas back in the pumps again? Are you following what's happening with Air Traffic Control officers? Questions that popped up while we were cruising, lost in the streets of Heliopolis.

A couple of months back, the government started to reduce the Grade 90 gas from gas stations, limiting it to only a few gas stations that service this popular grade of gas. I complained back then as to the way the government was doing this. Officially lying about it, saying that gas prices are not increasing, while they are gradually replacing Grade 90 gas (for 1 pound) with Grade 92 which costs 1.4 as much.

Today, oil service companies are doing it the right way. They are placing ads in newspapers about the benefits of the higher grade gas, ecnouraging people to use it instead of the lower grade. Today, all gas stations are serving Grade 90 gas again, along side with the higher grades. Aha, what happened?

Ordinary people might've actually caused the shift back. I don't know the numbers, but it could've been around 1 in 5 gas stations that was serving Grade 90 a couple of months back. That one-in-five gas station had long lineups of cars patiently waiting to get their cheap gas. I for one would go into a gas station and ask, do you have 90. If the answer is no, I'd drive away. A guy I know drove into a gas station, asked for 90, got a No answer, so he asked the attendant to pump 1 Litre only! The attendant was astonished, "why just one litre?!". The driver responded, "so that I can drive to the next gas station and fill it up with grade 90"!

Foreign companies extracting oil from Egyptian soil have an agreement with the State that the government takes 50% of the extracted oil, and the other 50% is sold by the companies to the government represented by the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC). EGPC has been giving those oil companies a hard time paying them for the 50% they buy (as in not paying at all), causing those companies to sell our valuable natural resources abroad, and the government doesn't seem to care. Maybe EGPC should bring its funds from abroad where its being invested in other countries and pay those oil companies, and maybe the government should reduce its spending and cut down on its theft. But no, the most logical solution is to raise the gas prices and have the ordinaries take the burden.

There are many arguments as to why gas grades as well as prices should increase, and I would tend to agree with most. Yet, I was pissed at the way the government was doing it, and as long as I have an alternative, I will go for it. And apparently, so did everyone else.

So, that was the drivers in the street. What about those managing our air space, Air Traffic Control officers? They went on a semi-strike again. This one lasted for a few days which costed Egypt nearly 30 million USD in flight delays and cancellations.

AlAhram Weekly has the story. A couple of months back, Air Traffic Control officers took action, by organizing a sit-in and slowing down air traffic, in demand of higher wages and better working conditions. They requested to meet with Mubarak (the kind-hearted president) to satisfy their requests, which their incompetent beauracratic superiors are incapable of meeting or making any untraditional decisions (in a story I heard, they sent a memo to the President while he was in his Presidential plane via the air traffic channels requesting to meet him). None of their demands were met back then, and instead disciplinary actions were taken against eight of the strikers.

Last week, the air controllers went back on strike in support of their colleagues, slowing down air traffic in a number of airports, causing pilots to stay in the air for extra hours, risking shortage of fuel, potentially resulting in disasters. Many airlines have cancelled flights as a result of the chaos. The air controllers strike has cost Egypt millions of dollars, but the government would not listen nor negotiate a few extra pounds increase in their salaries. They'd rather hire foreign workers with atleast 10 times the locals' salaries than listen to the demands of ordinary Egyptians.

The Minister of Aviation threatened to hire foreign air controllers, and has already fired some of the strikers (he even called for them to be 'legally executed' in that Ahram piece). AlAhram newspaper (Arabic version) has portrayed the air controllers as reckless and irresponsible (which one must admit is kind of true, but must ask why they would go that far), and disloyal to the country.

There you go, ordinary Egyptians in action! Now, back to follow the real deal --the Judges in action.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Opposition withdrawal

Kefaya and the opposition are urging Egyptians to boycott the Constitution amendment referendum. Shame on you. Is that all you could do. Ask me to be more passive and apathetic!

Khaled MohyElDin, the Tagammu party presidential candidate already withdrew from the elections. Too bad, if I had a chance to vote in that election, I would've actually voted for him. I'm not a leftist (I don't like them actually), and I'm not a member of Tagammu, but I'd vote for him as an individual --not for his party. I believe that he is the best candidate out there, although its too late for him, and he's too old. But looking at it differently, and in a rational state, he'd be a good candidate to lead Egypt for a 1-2 year democractic transitional period, openning up more freedoms and starting to institutionalize real democracy.

So Khaled MohyElDin is withdrawing from the elections, Ayman Nour is thinking about it, the Muslim Brotherhood are sucking up to the regime, and AlWafd party and Kefaya are calling for boycotting the referundum. What a sick political scene.

I really can't believe that they're already calling for a referundum boycott by the people. What kind of an opposition and a national movement is this! The battle is just starting, and you're already asking us to withdraw! They call us to withdraw, and then they go back to the street to demonstrate. I don't get it. Are you just enjoying the media coverage, issuing press releases and hanging out in the streets and getting beaten? and as soon as there's action required by the people, you ask them to withdraw.. withdraw even more.

I've written before against boycotting elections and those who do it, questioning the benefit reaped from that. I think its the losers strategy. Calling for a boycott from now tells me that they're already throwing the towel, in round one!

I figure that the reason for boycotting elections is to render it invalid (by not being representative), and to weaken the vote-garnered strength of the winner. And since a win by Mubarak under the new election laws --competing against a number of other candidates-- would legitimize his presidency and strenghten it, there might be an argument to eventually boycott the elections I guess. But its way too early to call now.

Calling on people to boycott the referundum (and eventually the elections) is not a card that you have which you can play with. You either mobilize the people to participate, be active, and go vote, or you shut up and stop calling yourself a real opposition or a national movement.

As apathetic as I may be, I'm planning to go vote in the referendum coming up on May 25. Not for any reason, except for fun, and to go against the will of the withdrawn opposition.

Today, I'll be watching the general assembly of the Judges Club who have a meeting and will be issuing a statement afterwards. That should be something worth watching.

Update: Just bought this week's issue of AlAhaly (Tagammu party) newspaper, which says that the party has not decided yet whether to withdraw from the elections or not. Well, they'd better not pull out.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Dogs in Islam

I started reading an excellent book when I was in Alexandria last week. The Sad Muslim's Guide, by Hussein Amin (brother of Galal Amin the Economist), is a book by a real progressive Muslim with rich and deep knowledge of Islam and history. I've strongly connected with almost all of what I've read of it so far, and for some reason I found myself tearing at some of the genuine progressive thoughts of this guy.

I've been abit lazy in finishing the book since I came back from Alex, but after meeting with someone who has a dog earlier this week, I decided to jump right into the chapter about dogs --which is equally as interesting as all the other chapters. She told me that after asking a Sheikh, he told her that she can only keep a guard or a shepherd dog, otherwise her clothes would be impure as a result of touching the dog's nose and she can't pray with those cloths unless washed 7 times.

I've always believed that dogs are impure (their nose and saliva), and all you need to do is wash up before a prayer if you touch a dog. But that doesn't demean their status as fine and beloved animals. I've even argued before that dogs are highly regarded and beloved animals in Islam, referencing the story of Ahl AlKahf in suret AlKahf in the Quran, and how God praised them and their dog. I've also claimed in that discussion that creating that barrier between humans (Muslims) and dogs was part of the self-control approach in Islam, and because dogs are such fine animals. So it was a mean to prevent humans from getting too attached to dogs possibly replacing human companionship in the process.

Hussein Amin starts his chapter on dogs by dedicating it to his daughter who loves dogs and who was annoyed that her religion teacher said that the prophet ordered the killing of all dogs and said that no Angels enter a house that has a dog in it (I hope he didn't make up that chapter just to please her!).

Amin says that the order of killing the dogs was a temporary order that served a certain timely need. Dogs at the time were encouraged to eat from the garbage to rid the people of it, and thus they developed a disease (alKalab), that resulted in an epidemic. The disease appeared again after the time of the prophet, and Amin thinks that some of the scholars at the time decided that the only way to get rid of the epidemic as well as dogs was by making up Hadiths, claiming that the prophet said that dogs are impure. Amin says that this in fact contradicts with the proper Hadith in AlBokhary which tells us that dogs used to walk freely in the prophet's mosque.

Amin then draws stories of how Muslims thought highly of dogs, praising their qualitites --stories from AlGahez and Dameiry. He also mentions how Imam Malek, Hassan AlBasry, Orwa IbnalZobair find dogs pure (except for washing dishes from their saliva).

Hussein Amin concludes the chapter by telling his daughter that this is what he can say about the topic, which she can use to refute the religion teacher's claim. And if the teacher insists that angels won't enter your house, then ask her if angels enter her house.

Another topic that I'm sure is interesting to many, which Amin discusses in his book, is the veil. And as I expected, I connected with him on this topic too. My logic that I described in a previous post of mine is actually not far off from what he says in explaining all (not just one like I did) versus about hijab in the Quran, adding a historical and cultural perspective to the matter.

Kingdom of Heaven

'al Heaven 'al! Just saw the movie. Its long, boring and disturbing.

So I suppose we Muslims should be happy with this movie. Couldn't help but ask myself, is it supposed to be portraying us fairly, and so I should be happily surprised? Who is this Belya guy in the movie? Why is he the hero. So they got the Syrian guy to act the role why? To have an Arabic accent, and insist on calling himself Salahul Din, Salahul Din (reform of religion). I don't know, I didn't like it, or maybe I just wasn't in the mood. I'm glad they censored that sex scene. If they hadn't I would've probably developed a psychotic problem with sex all together, watching it done in the midst of so much blood and violence.

Can we just burn Jerusalem and get it over with? I'm glad we have Mecca for ourselves. But even there, Muslims fight among themselves to touch and kiss the black stone, and to pray over at elrawda alshareefa. We'll turn anything into idols, won't we!

The best part of it, was walking home from the movie theatre, right next to the Nile with my to-be-divorced friend.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

From startup to corporate: Egyptian style

Business Today is an interesting magazine. They usually present a rosy image in most of their stories about the business sector in Egypt. If you're depressed and think there's no hope in the economy or the business community in Egypt, then start reading this magazine. If you live here, you'll find it too rosy and extra positive (that's why I kinda stopped reading it!), if you live abroad, it might encourage you to come back!

They have a story about a favorite company of mine, which I must say is turning into a real success story. This month's cover story is about ITWorx. One of the very rare successful technology companies in Egypt. I'm measuring the success mostly by growth and fit management. Their management seems to have finally pulled their act together after years of struggle and fooling around, and they've finally built a strong base for real growth.

The company started out with a group of geniuses (in my view) back in 1994, but that is never enough to have a start-up take off and mature. Its not just building the product that's important, its how you build it that counts. For years they struggled to manage the company, and manage the few extra number of employees they keep hiring. One of their downturns was in 2002 when they laid-off 40 of their 140 staff (I was dissapointed to see them call this a 'restructuring exercise'). Their biggest asset in my view, which has been there since their start, is their technical savvynes and willingness to get into any endeavor (this does count against a company though).

Even a group of geniuses can turn a good thing into a big mess --but not for too long apparently (if 5 years is not long). Things seem to be turning around big time for them. Still mostly serving big name companies in the US and Europe, but they've established a good name for themselves now, becoming more trusted for the services they provide, and they're finally starting to get a grasp on the importance of quality. They've hired back most of the people they laid-off before, and are hiring more people in an exponential rate (relative to Egypt). They've gone from about 200 to 350 employess in the last year alone, and they're not only doing silly services and sales tasks. Some of what they do is real work.

They're becoming one of the few local companies that believe in their employees, empower them and invest in them, believing that they are their core competency.

They had moved their headquarters earlier to Boston, USA to serve their logistic and sales needs better, but it is a local Egyptian company still. They're the first Cairo-based software company to go open a branch in Alexandria in order to attract the strong graduates from Alex Univeristy who don't want to move to Cairo. They're openning new offices in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. Their 3-story building in Nasr City Free Zone is packed with engineers, they're looking for a second location in Cairo. They're finally in a position were they can handle such enormous growth. Only 3 people from those who started the company are still present there today, but they've managed to keep their same spirit which they started with.

I've only heard once before about the other company mentioned in the Business Today article, Open Craft, but I'm very curious as to how it will progress. Some of the other tech start-up companies I'm looking forward to seeing where they're heading are Mentor Graphics Egypt (I consider it a startup) and SysDSoft. One of them is having an extremely messy start management-wise, but if they're able to overcome that like ITWorx did, I'd love to watch the outcome. The other has a typical Egyptian rigid management, which you wonder how long it'll take them to overcome it (if they ever do). But both are visionary and doing very interesting work --real work.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Humans and other creatures

What is the difference between humans and other creatures? Anyone has thoughts about this? I'm interested in how different people draw the difference and think about this. How are humans different from other Earthly creatures? Do you have an answer? Don't expect any from me.


I've compiled the answers that people provided below. I was thinking of saying what I think of each answer, but I'll pass on that. I'll provide someone else's answer however.

So the reason I brought this question up, is I was thinking of Ali Izetbegovic's answer. The one he provides in his book, Islam Between East and West. He provides and answer which I like, so here's an excerpt:
Generally speaking, there is nothing in man that does not also exist in higher stages of animals, vertebrates, and insects. There is the desire to satisfy needs and join in societies, and some form of economy. Looking from this side, man may appear to have some thing in common with the animal world(11). However, there is nothing in the animal kingdom which resembles -- even in a rudimentary form -- religion, magic, drama, taboo, art, moral prohibitions, and so forth, with which the life of prehistoric as well as civilized man is surrounded. The evolution of animals may appear to be logical, gradual, and easily understood, compared to the evolution of primitive man, who is possessed by strange taboos and beliefs. When an animal goes hunting, it behaves very logically and rationally. No animal will let an opportunity pass. There is no superstition or the like here. Bees treat their useless members in a most cruel way: they are simply thrown out of the beehive. Bees are the best example of a well-organized social life which completely lacks what we usually call humanism: protection of the weak and disabled, the right to life, appreciation, recognition, and so forth.

For animals, things are what they seem to be. For man, things have also an imaginary meaning which is sometimes more important for him than the real one. It is easy to understand the logic of an animal struggling to survive. [...]

As such, the animal was an excellent hunter. Primitive man was the same, but he was at the same time the tireless creator and "producer" of cults, myths, superstitions, dances, and idols. Man always looked for another world -- authentic or imaginary. This is not a difference in developmental stages but in essence.

(11) In a very revealing passage (6:38), the Qur'an talks about the animal creations in terms of communities with a plan: "All of the animals walking on the earth, and the beings flying with their wings, are communities like you."
On describing Humanism, Begovic says later in the same chapter:
Humanism is not charity, forgiveness, and tolerance, although that is the necessary result of it. Humanism is primarily the affirmation of man and his freedom, namely, of his value as a man.

Everything that debases man's personality, that brings him down to a thing, is inhuman. For instance, it is human to state that man is responsible for his deeds and to punish him. It is not human to ask him to regret, to change his mind, to "improve", and to be pardoned. It is more human to prosecute a man for his beliefs than to force him to renouce them, [...]

To reduce a man to the function of a producer and a consumer, even if every man is given his place in production and consumption, does not signal humanism but dehumanization.

To drill people to produce correct and disciplined citizens is likewise inhuman.

Education, too, can be inhuman: if it is one-sided, directed, and indoctrined; if it does not teach one to think independently, if it only gives ready-made answers; if it prepares people only for different functions instead of broadening their horizons and thereby their freedom.

Every manipulation of people, even if it is done in their own interest, is inhuman. To think for them and to free them from their responsibilities and obligations is also inhuman. Our quality of man obliges us. When God gave man the ability to choose and threatened him with severe punishments, He confirmed in the highest way the value of man as a man (59). We have to follow the example set by God: let us leave man to struggle for himself, instead of doing it for him.

(59) Verily, We have created man into toil and struggle... Have we not made for him a pair of eyes? And a tongue and a pair of lips? And shown him the two highways? But he has made no haste on the path that is steep. And what will explain to you the path that is steep? It is freeing the bondman; or the giving of food in a day of privation to the orphan with claims of relationship; or to the indigent down in the dust. Then will he be of those who believe and enjoin patience and constancy and self-restraint and enjoin deeds of kindness and compassion (The Qur'an 90:8-17).

------ Answers compiled from the comments section ------

ANSWER 1: Knowing God.
They are just animals, angels or whatever... They have no choices, no pleasure of 'knowing and tasting' as we human do. Isn't this 'knowing' is the amana that god spoke of, and all the others things refused. Plus, didnt we all attest that 'there is GOd', answering 'alastou berabikoum'?
ANSWER 2: Humans are f*cked up. Everything else isn't.
ANSWER 3: it's a bit harder to see the similarities between humans, but from a grasshopper to another grasshopper possibly there's not so much variance. u think?
ANSWER 4: self-awareness ... the ability to make and use tools ... complex linguistical ability.
ANSWER 5: Animals don't care about safe sex and birth control!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

What a woman

Since I'm only blogging here, and I'm almost anonymous, I'll admit that I'd easily fall in love with Carly Fiorina, former CEO of HP. What a woman. I won't praise the qualities that I find in her, but let me state some facts about her.

A medieval-history and philosophy major, she dropped out of law school, taught English in Italy, worked as a receptionist, and is one hell of a saleswoman (although I hate sales people). She is a woman with vision. She successfully led Lucent's spinoff in the 90's, and spearheaded the largest merger in history between Hewlett Packard and Compaq (making HP sway away from its core business competency), against the will of the Hewlett family who filed a law suit against the merger. The completion of the merger in itself was a winning battle.

Never mind how that HP-Compaq merger turned out, but no large tech merger have worked out as fine as this one. HP's board have asked her to step down recently. But even if that Fiorina-orchestrated-merger is considered a failure, I don't mind a woman with a failure in her life. She is one visionary and successful woman nevertheless.

Lastly, I have to point out this part of a speech she gave two weeks after 9/11 [Carly says]:

I’ll end by telling a story.

There was once a civilization that was the greatest in the world.

It was able to create a continental super-state that stretched from ocean to ocean, and from northern climes to tropics and deserts. Within its dominion lived hundreds of millions of people, of different creeds and ethnic origins.

One of its languages became the universal language of much of the world, the bridge between the peoples of a hundred lands. Its armies were made up of people of many nationalities, and its military protection allowed a degree of peace and prosperity that had never been known. The reach of this civilization’s commerce extended from Latin America to China, and everywhere in between.

And this civilization was driven more than anything, by invention. Its architects designed buildings that defied gravity. Its mathematicians created the algebra and algorithms that would enable the building of computers, and the creation of encryption. Its doctors examined the human body, and found new cures for disease. Its astronomers looked into the heavens, named the stars, and paved the way for space travel and exploration.

Its writers created thousands of stories. Stories of courage, romance and magic. Its poets wrote of love, when others before them were too steeped in fear to think of such things.

When other nations were afraid of ideas, this civilization thrived on them, and kept them alive. When censors threatened to wipe out knowledge from past civilizations, this civilization kept the knowledge alive, and passed it on to others.

While modern Western civilization shares many of these traits, the civilization I’m talking about was the Islamic world from the year 800 to 1600, which included the Ottoman Empire and the courts of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, and enlightened rulers like Suleiman the Magnificent.

Although we are often unaware of our indebtedness to this other civilization, its gifts are very much a part of our heritage. The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Arab mathematicians. Sufi poet-philosophers like Rumi challenged our notions of self and truth. Leaders like Suleiman contributed to our notions of tolerance and civic leadership.

And perhaps we can learn a lesson from his example: It was leadership based on meritocracy, not inheritance. It was leadership that harnessed the full capabilities of a very diverse population–that included Christianity, Islamic, and Jewish traditions.

This kind of enlightened leadership — leadership that nurtured culture, sustainability, diversity and courage — led to 800 years of invention and prosperity.

In dark and serious times like this, we must affirm our commitment to building societies and institutions that aspire to this kind of greatness. More than ever, we must focus on the importance of leadership– bold acts of leadership and decidedly personal acts of leadership.

Thank you Carly.

Speaking of good women. I had a very nice date today. I won't talk about it (nor her) in case I decide to tell her about my blog. But JW Marriott is just wonderful. It was kind of awkward that I'd take her to the steak house. I knew this couldn't be good, and she could have all the wrong thoughts about me taking her to such an expensive place so soon. But I needed to go there --on a date, and that's what I told her! "You're an excuse for me to come here". I think (hope) she took it as a joke, a joke that should've reduced the awkwardness of taking such a bold step so soon. Anyways, the meat was good (not as good as that awesome Texan steak), the service was exceptionally perfect, the company was nice and sweet, and it lasted for 4 hours.

What I found interesting in that Marriott is how many tourists are staying there. The hotel is out in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Ok, they're enjoying the lavishly luxurious stay there, but you can have that back home tourists! Those are not even tourists who look at Egypt from behind a glass window, they look at it from inside a space shuttle this way. And those latest bombings have apparently not affected tourism one bit, and have not deterred tourists whatsoever. Amazing!

On my way back, one of my best friends calls me and asks me how it went, and then tells me that he had a constructive (destructive actually) conversation with his wife and mother-in-law deciding that they should start the divorce procedures tomorrow. Damn. I think you guys should've divorced long ago, but this is just the wrong time. So I go to the 'ahwa to meet him, after boycotting the place for over a year (or two) to give him my valuable advice. Couldn't stay for longer than half an hour, hoping that my message got through. And from tourists in JW Marriott, to my surprise, I find tourists sitting on one of those shitty 'ahwa tables. Unbelievable, even this 'ahwa!

What is it today anyway. I receive an sms warning in the morning that Carrefeur will be bombed, and at night a fire burns parts of alSagha in alAzhar for a few hours. Bad day for all, except for me.

Oh, and I think I love you Carly.

Friday, May 06, 2005

5 Kilos

That's how much weight I gained in the last month or so, 5 Kgs. Amazing (shitty) how a few kilos deteriorates your fitness so bad. Just a short while back I used to be able to smoothly run a good 10-12 Kms. Today, I was hardly able to finish a 6K run, and in a lousy timing too. Just hate it.

After that weight I gained, my run is like a very tough struggle. I'm fighting my weak body, and its not fun. When I want to push harder, I start feeling my heavy muscles (body fat actually) pulling me down strongly, and my lungs are so wide open, they're ready to explode. Damn those 5 kilos.

I don't know how can people claim that being slim is a false image that is being sold by celebrities, and is not what we should look up to. Slim (not too slim) is good, its definetely healthy, and that's what everyone should work towards. Can you imagine having big butts and trying to reach deep down for that killer Squash drop shot. Impossible. Being slim is good for your health, and it also looks good on you. A tiny bit of chubbiness is only better in bed.

I like writing about this stuff. No one is ever interested in listening to my jogging experiences. My friends for sure would never want to listen to me analyzing the details of a run, so its great to write about it and just throw it out there.

Good to Great

How come I didn't write about this book yet! I read this book a few years ago, and it was by far the best Business book I've read. Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap... and others don't is simply a great book.

Jim Collins, the author of the book assembled a team of 20 researchers that worked for 5 years researching the factors that make some select companies great. The definition of great used in the book is when a company consistently outperforms the market by atleast 4 times for a continuous period of 15 years. Only 11 companies made the cut from a total of 1,435 companies in the initial list. The companies that made the cut to be the subject of the research fit a criteria set by the research team, a good-to-great criteria. The research team have also selected direct comparison companies for each of the good-to-great companies in order to conduct direct comparative analysis to be able to identify the distinguishing variables that account for the transition from good to great.

So what are the distinguishing factors that resulted in the 11 companies making the leap from good to great, in comparison to those companies that remained just good?

1. Level 5 Leadership

We all learn about the importance of good leadership, but what constitutes great leadership that transitions a company from good to great? The great companies had leaders who displayed compelling modesty, were self-effacing and understated. The comparison companies had a very I-centric style, while the good-to-great leaders had compelling modesty and didn't talk about themselves.

It is not just about humility and modesty however, but its equally about ferocious resolve and diligent determination to do whatever needs to be done to make the company great. Level 5 leaders attribute success to factors other than themselves, and when thing go poorly, they look in the mirror and blame themselves, taking full responsibility.

The book notes a great irony, where "the animus and personal ambition that often drives people to positions of power stand at odds with the humility required for Level 5 leadership. When you combine that irony with the fact that boards of directors frequently operate under the false belief that they need to hire a larger-than-life, egocentric leader to make an organization great, you can quickly see why Level 5 leaders rarely appear at the top of our institutions."

2. First Who...Then What

Its not just getting the right people on board, "Its getting the right people on the bus, and the wrong people off the bus before you figure out where to drive it." None of the great companies used the 'genius with a thousand helpers' model.

In determining 'the right people', the good-to-great companies placed great weight on character attributes than on specific educational background, specialized knowledge, or work experience. They viewed these traits as more learnable. They find out who the people they're hiring are by asking them why they made decisions in their life. The best people don't need to be managed. Guided, taught, led --yes. But not tightly managed.

3. Confronting the Brutal Facts

Exerting honest and diligent efforts to determine the truth of your situation, results in having the right decisions self-evident. Giving people the opportunity to be heard, and, ultimately, allowing the truth to be heard is crucial for good decisions. Charisma can be as much a liability as an asset, as the strength of the leadership personality can deter people from bringing that leader the facts.

Every good-to-great company faced significant adversity along the way to greatness, of one sort or another, and in every case, management responded with a powerful psychological duality. They stoically accepted the brutal facts of reality, and at the same time maintained an unwavering faith in the endgame, and a commitment to prevail as a great company despite the brutal facts.

4. The Hedgehog Concept

Simple strategies win. But its not just any random simple idea. A Hedgehog concept is a "simple, crystalline concept that flows from deep understanding" about the intersection of three circles; 1) what you can be the best in the world at, 2) what drives your economic engine (how to most effectively generate sustained and robust cash flow and profitability), and 3) what are you deeply passionate about. Recognizing a Hedgehog conept is an inherently iterative process, not an event.

The key is to understand what an organization can be the best in the world at, as well as what it cannot be the best at --not what it wants to be the best at. The Hedgehog concept is an understanding, not a goal or strategy.

5. A Culture of Discipline

Having the right people reduces the need for bureaucracy, since the purpose of bureaucracy is to compensate for incompetence and lack of discipline. A culture of discipline involves the following:
o Building a culture around the idea of freedom and responsibility.
o Filling that cutlure with self-disciplined people who are willing to go to extreme lengths to fulfill their responsibilites.
o Not confusing a culture of discipline with a tyrannical disciplinarian.
o Creating a "stop doing list" and systematically unplugging anything extraneous.

6. Technology Accelerators

The key to benefiting from technology is using technology as an accelerator of momentum, not a creator of it. Only needed technology that fulfills the need of the Hedgehog concept should be adopted.

Thoughtless reliance on technology is a liability, not an asset. When used right, by having it linked to a simple, clear, and coherent concept rooted in deep understanding --technology is an essential driver in accelerating forward momentum. However, when used wrong and grasped as an easy solution, technology simply accelerates your own self-created demise.

Why Greatness

Collins then concludes his book by answering the question of why go for greatness and not just settle with good? Collins provides two answers, the second one is more interesting to me, and that is, "the search for meaning, or more precisely, the search for meaningful work". "If you're doing something you care that much about, and you believe in its purpose deeply enough, then it is impossible to imagine not trying to make it great. It is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. Indeed, you might even gain the deepest of all satisfaction knowing that your short time here on this earth has been well spent, and that it mattered."

The question that follows I guess is what makes a life meaningful?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Can blogging be any good?

I received an email today from an academic researcher asking about my thoughts of blogging and political reform. He quoted me in one of my posts when I said before about the blogging role in reform that "I didn't think it was of much importance, and I still don't actually". I actually think that thinking of blogging as a mean to political reform is absurd. Here is part of my reply that I emailed back, and then follows some positive thoughts about blogging:

I think the Internet is great, its a great medium of communication and propagating information, but not in reform or democratization. Real freedoms and democracy are built on the ground, not in virtual spaces. That would be asking too much from the Internet.

Blogging is even worse than the Internet. Its great that I can say whatever I want, but how will that democratize Egypt! Someone out there, in a different continent, will get to know how an Egyptian in a completely different culture and political sphere is thinking. That's nice, but nice, is as far as it gets.

Blogging, or the Internet, could be useful if the people doing actual work on the ground use it as a medium for communication, organization, and discussions --as a forum. But it cannot replace real forums, and real work for freedom and democracy. It facilitates, and that's all it does.

I personally love blogging, and I've personally always wanted to contribute to the development of Egypt. Would be great if I can do it through blogging/the Internet, but the only way I see such medias helping is through organizing the thoughts of activists. That's all. And so far, its not even close to being that.

The reasons why I started blogging are obvious, since I wrote them down. What triggered me to start this blog is what I wrote in my second post, because I was bit pissed at that person who contacted me regarding that demonstration, and couldn't let it out so elaborately elsewhere. I didn't think I'd keep blogging for that long, and I didn't think it'd turn into that. It kind of turned into an 'ahwa chat. A bunch of my friends still go to the real 'ahwa every night to play cards, and sometimes chat, and I've quit joining them long ago. But this is acting like a substitute now.

Soon after I wrote those first two posts, I was getting abit excited about blogging. I am a very goal-oriented person, which usually is the reason why I end up doing nothing, convincing myself that it doesn't lead to anything, and achieves nothing, so I'd better stop doing it! Anyway, so I thought this blogging media can be really useful, and if intellectually active people start getting into blogging, this might be pretty beneficial. So I started anonymously emailing the interesting people I know refering to a few blogs that I knew at the time to hopefully get them interested and have them hop on. I think they thought my email was spam and deleted it.

Just having such people blogging was not interesting enough though. But what I was hoping for is to have some kind of forum. Blogging blogging blogging, discussions discussions discussions, converging into actions is what I was thinking of. Some kind of a common place, where everyone may have their own blog to raise the issues, expose their thoughts, discuss, and potentially reach some common grounds for action plans.

A couple of years after I graduated from University, an email exchange with college friends turned into a forum between ourselves, discussing the future of our industry in Egypt, why its so screwed up, and how it may be reformed. We categorized the disucssions into topics, and tried to steer the discussions. I thought it was going pretty well, started inviting more people, but it just faded away so quickly, it was very dissapointing. I got so carried away (as I sometimes do) with the potential of that forum at the time, that I realized later how naive I was, and how most people didn't really give a damn about reform, or development or whatever. All they cared about was their daily job and getting paid well. Living in Egypt does that sometimes I guess.

In my little naive mind, I sometimes miss that discussion forum back then, and wish it had kept going for longer. In my little naive mind, I was hoping for something similar those first few days I started blogging, and I still think it could be interesting and maybe beneficial. I am however just satisfied by dumping my thoughts out, even if without a goal. Just wish this 'ahwa serves better drinks.
More thoughts communicated between the academic researcher that triggered this post and myself below (I hope you don't mind quoting part of your email here, which are pretty reasonable thoughts I may add).

Academic says:

As you can imagine, Americans love to think that a freer press and more widespread information and communication technologies lead to political reform and democracy, it´s their traditional liberal view of things: if it worked for us, why wouldn´t it work elsewhere? And there´s all this talk and blablabla now on the ways to democratize the region...just like a group of surgeons around the operating table, looking at the patient discussing how to cut the leg or implant a new kidney!!
So I say that we should look at the impact of the new media (satellite television, internet, blogs, cell phones ...) with a different angle, look at their impact in the establisment -probably for the first time in modern Arab history- of an Arab "imagined community" with the nascence of a vibrant and diverse Arab public sphere, or Arab mass audience...

More than to the link with political reform -which I don´t deny there is-, I am more interested in the individual and sociological impact, how they broaden the scope of the pulic sphere, how they allow for the emergence of new actors (pluralism and diversity were already there, but now it´s more visible, it´s even visible for a esterner like me who doesn´t even speak Arabic or Farsi!), how they fragment political authority and religious authority (www.islamonline.net !)... and all this, somehow, will have a political impact, yes, but we´ll see how. And here is where I would link this to what you said!

And my response:

No one can claim that there is full free press in Egypt, but the press here is quite free if you ask me. The opposition newspapers and others, have been criticizing everything that walks, and some of those criticizim's are without any basis too. It used to be that they can criticize/attack everything except the President and his family, but even that is changing now. He's been directly attacked lately, and in a constant manner.

Our press and journalists are corrupt in their own way too ofcourse, but I do believe that such openness in the press (to some extent), and especially a media channel such AlJazeera are doing alot in the way of change (reform or not I'm not sure) of the political givens.

But then when we come to new medias such as Blogging specifically, I find it totally incomparable to those traditional medias, atleast for the short term. You must've been monitoring the Egyptian blogging activities for example. No way can that be in any way leading to reform in Egypt! I'm not sure about Iran, there are alot of Iranian bloggers, and they seem to be quite organized, and that is kind of what I was talking about in my last post [up top] regarding that topic. What I'm saying is, it can be used in a productive manner for that reform direction, to facilitate the organization of thoughts, propagation of ideas and coordination, and passing all that to the outside world. But there has to exist 'reform' activists first, and they are the ones that should be using the new media to serve their needs better. Technologies (including new media) should be serving an existing need, not create a need of its own to serve. What I mean is, reform is a need that exists ofcourse, but if real reform activists do not exist, then the need does not exist.

The 'imagined community' is interesting, but its very scary. The Egyptian bloggers have kind of formed this 'virtual community' and its becoming very weird. But since we're talking political, it takes me to the main point, is that there has to be a real community first, or a real community that reflects that online presence.

The Islamic websites and forums are actually a very interesting phenomenan, and you are right in looking at that closely. They've been so opressed, and most of their channels have been shut out, that they have been able to successfully use the new medias to serve their needs. And it is in fact serving their needs well, especially those who's goal is a better Islamic education of other Muslims.

Like you, I am more interested in the individual and sociological impact, which I think is enormous, and I'm already feeling it, but I haven't figured out yet what to make of it.