Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Unpublished article on blogging

Egypt Today magazine had planned to publish an article for me about Egyptian blogging in its next issue, but considering that Cairo Magazine just did a feature cover story about the topic, my article naturally got killed. I haven't read Cairo Magazine's pieces, but I have to assume its good since those guys are bloggers themselves. So anyway, the goal of my piece was to encourage more people to discover the world of blogging, becoming bloggers themselves maybe. Now, since my article is not getting published, and I have no intention to work on it more, I'll just publish it here instead, for the pleasure of whoever. So here it goes:


Blogs are mushrooming all over the world, and Egypt is no exception. Web logs are websites that look like an online diary, a personal or a professional one. Blogs, short for web logs, capture the thoughts of their authors on any topic of their interest, allowing them to provide their insights, and availing those thoughts for the world to read and interact with.

There are millions of blogs from all over the world today, and the number is exponentially growing. The number of Egyptian blogs is also increasing rapidly. Regular people who have found a venue to express their thoughts freely, on any topic they choose, publishing them to the world to read with a click of a button. Everyone thinks and has their own thoughts, and everyone must want to express those thoughts somehow. Blogs are just an excellent mean to do that, presenting those written thoughts in a nice web format, without any required knowledge of web technologies. All what bloggers need to focus on is writing their thoughts down, and they need not worry about the underlying technologies that avails their thoughts to the world.

When the outside political observers and commentators look at the Egyptian blogs (aka blogosphere), they usually try to get a different perspective on political events and the shifting politics in Egypt through regular people who chose to share their unregulated and uncensored insights with the world. However, politics is not the main theme of blogging. Politics revolves around humans, and bloggers are humans and they usually blog about many different aspects of life which are more encompassing than just politics. Blogs are an excellent tool for communication and connection between different cultures, different generations, different thoughts and different people. There are those who write about faith, about love, about their field of work, about culture, about politics, about personal feelings, and there will be those who want to read such insights. Exposing the human within, by expressing feelings and interactions with other people on a blog at times looks like a short novel. That novel can be read by a person thousands of miles away, and may connect with its content and associate with its characters. On a blog, the blogger gets to express his or her mind and heart fully without restrictions.

In Iran, there are more than 75,000 blogs today, and it certainly has become an alternative mean of communication to traditional ones, and has become an alternative mean of disseminating information as opposed to the main stream media. Hoder, a guru Iranian blogger classified blogs into three types; Bridges, Windows and Cafes.

Blogs can build bridges between different cultures, genders, religions, and social classes. Those who typically don't connect can connect via blogs and get into the minds of others. In Iran, blogs built bridges between voters and politicians for example, as one of the presidential candidates was a blogger. Blogs as bridges also encourage tolerance where stereotypes can be broken.

Blogs can be windows into cultures, countries, and people. Blogs have been successful in providing an alternative stream of information to the main stream media. In Egypt for example, blogs have been able to capture the protests that have been happening in the streets, in details, with vivid personal accounts and associated with lots of pictures. Many blogs are opening a window into the Muslim mind which is drawing the curiosity of so many around the world who find it mysterious and opposing in values.

Blogs can also be cafes; "a discursive arena that is home to citizen debate, deliberation, agreement and action," where there's an equal power to everyone to express and question. The goal is not to win a debate, but to gain more by participating in a diverse discussion with different points of views, each expressing their own, and questioning others'.

Egyptian blogs are becoming a reflection of our society with its diverse and multi-dimensional aspects. Aspects which might not be easy to see otherwise are reflected through blogs; the more the blogs, the better the reflection of our society, and the better the insight into it. When it comes to major events affecting a large portion of the society, blogs become one of the best means to observe how the society reflects on and interacts with such events, bringing to the surface aspects which might be typically non-visible.

Egyptian blogs are slowly becoming a vital tool for communication and dissemination of thoughts. Similar to Email and SMS, blogs are being used to distribute information about events. People were able to know about organized protests and events through blogs. But the difference is that blogs are an open communication medium unlike SMS and Emails where messages are directed to specific people. Blogs are an open medium of communication where everyone is invited to attend, contribute ideas, and read different perspectives and analyses on the outcome of events.

This is partly what’s been happening on the Egyptian blogosphere for the last few months prior to the presidential elections. Some protests were organized and communicated via blogs, some discussions arose debating how to make such events more effective and how to contribute to the political process, and some bloggers are coming up with action plans for the upcoming parliamentary elections, all discussed and shared on the blogosphere. Those who participated in such events logged their intense experiences on their blogs, sharing their unique perspective and delivering the events to the readers. Unlike mass media, readers of blogs read an opinionated and deeper perspective into such events through bloggers, uncensored and unregulated, sometimes accompanied by pictures and linking to other resources and relevant experiences. Reading through the blogosphere at times seems like peeking into an activist meeting, a virtual one that is becoming a translation to what’s happening on the ground, and which might not be accessible to everyone. The reverse can also happen, where activists may read into seemingly passive bloggers and try to understand and analyze why the majority seem to be silent and inactive.

On the day of the elections stories started pouring on the blogs. Stories of people who voted, of people who tried to vote but couldn’t, of people who witnessed election irregularities, and of people who monitored the elections and participated in protests. Blogs contained detailed accounts, political analysis, emotions and pictures of pink voting fingers, by activists and non-activists alike, anti-Mubarak and pro-Mubarak, conservatives and liberals, Islamists and non-Islamists, each telling their story and their analysis of that day. A reader of such stories can’t help but want to be part of all this, to go vote, join a protest, or at least read more, observe and be informed. These bloggers are after all humans just like the readers. Some bloggers are now becoming more active on the ground and involved in meetings and debates to think of ways to better utilize blogging in order to add momentum to the thrust of change in Egypt, whether politically or culturally.

Blog readers may pick and choose the blogs they read to their liking. Interested in a different political perspective, interested in connecting with people and cultures at a deeper level, interested in getting inside information, interested in a different perspective on any issue, its all there. Those who want to have a stronger sense of identity will associate with and read blogs that reflect similar opinions as theirs. Those who want to be exposed to different thoughts and gain a different perspective will read blogs that they don't necessarily agree with, in order to see how the other think. Those who want to learn about different cultures and different people will be able to get it first hand from those people and cultures directly.

Blogs emphasize the individuality of the people whom are blogging, since bloggers get a chance to express their unique thoughts fully, and each thought and each voice gets a chance to stand out on its own without being consolidated with any other, or being counted as one of a collective many.

A quick run through some of the interesting blogs can provide a snapshot of how the Egyptian blogosphere looks like.

Alaa Abdel Fattah (http://www.manalaa.net), a political as well as a software open source activist has been using his blog in announcing opposition protests and events, describing how the activists go about organizing such events, how they confront police and NDP thugs, and how its all evolving like a political snowball gaining momentum through the youth and the massive energy of the opposition movements.

Baheyya of Egypt Analysis and Whimsy blog (http://baheyya.blogspot.com) provides superb political analysis with wealth of knowledge and an excellent writing style. She is a harsh critic of the regime and is full of trust in Egyptians and their ability to fight for democracy, in building and evolving it, while not expecting democracy to be handed to them on a silver plate. Hassanein Heikal praised Baheyya’s blog on alJazeera saying that he makes sure to follow her writings which outperform many of the well-established journalists. She has become a favorite for most political observers and commentators, and for those keen to get an in-depth political analysis of the shifting politics in Egypt which is well researched and backed up by historical evidence.

Mohammed of Digressing blog (http://digressing.blogspot.com) has an excellent blog written in Arabic, providing insightful articles in his usual literary and dramatic style about his experiences in protests, and other political events. In one of his posts, he writes an analysis of who is monitoring the elections and how he was involved in monitoring the elections, in another he writes a variety of observations about how social classes are being differentiated and discriminated, in another he talks about literary works, and in another post he writes about his favorite cartoon shows. Digressing never misses to comment on news worthy incidents like arresting those who were selling t-shirts with weed leaves displayed on them, and prosecuting Arab journalists and bloggers.

R of Beyond Normal blog (http://beyondnormal.blogspot.com) is sarcastic yet balanced and civilized in his observations. He posts a poll asking his readers what they think the reasons of the Katrina hurricane are; anger from God on America because of Iraq, anger from God because of Palestine, or a natural disaster, and provides a resourceful post about the hurricane, why they name them with male and female names, and the Arab reactions to it. In one post he predicts the state-owned and opposition newspapers headline news after the elections, and in another he criticizes Pope Shenouda for what he calls a shameful congratulatory memo that was sent to Mubarak upon his victory.

R and M (http://r-and-m.blogspot.com) have a very civilized blog discussing a very sensitive topic in Egypt; the relationship between Copts and Muslims. M a Muslim, and R a Christian, pose questions to each other, one asking and the other writing thoughtful answers with readers interjecting with their comments on the topics raised. Some of the topics were about the repercussions of the Church’s endorsement of Mubarak in the name of Egyptian Christians, the infamous conversion story of Wafaa Constantine, greeting Christians in their feasts, and about Muslims and Christians each donating to spread their religion.

Sandmonkey (http://egyptiansandmonkey.blogspot.com) and Big Pharaoh (http://bigpharaoh.blogspot.com) are two pro-American bloggers who have a large American readership. They are anti-Islamists who don’t shy from criticizing those who blame everything on America and Israel. Sandmonkey who is well connected in the regime circles because of his mother’s involvement with the NDP provides interesting inside stories about the inner workings of the regime, yet his many postings per day do not miss what’s going on in America and elsewhere in the world. Big Pharaoh writes about his rebuttals against those who wear the veil, and explains to his American readers the significance of the wedding night in our culture. His political views are pro-American from democracy building in Iraq, to supporting Mubarak for another term lest the Muslim Brotherhood take over if democracy was suddenly practiced.

Karim of One Arab World (http://onearabworld.blog.com), an Egyptian living in Boston has a blog that has a goal of building a different united Arab model. He constantly takes online initiatives as a result of current events; after the London terrorist bombings he created an online website called pray4peace, after the Sharm ElSheikh bombings he started an online charity fund to support the victims, and after the presidential elections he worked with other bloggers to start an initiative called Move It that motivates people to go vote in the Parliamentary elections.

The Arabist Network (http://arabist.net) are a group of expatriate journalists who have been living and working in Egypt for long enough to provide a very well informed blog on Egyptian political affairs.

Haal of A Message from Within (http://thewillto.blogspot.com), naming her blog after Nietzsche’s “the will to power”, is a historian working in finance who challenges traditional notions of faith and interpretation of history in our society, all with a taste of mystical philosophy.

Egyptian Sally (http://egyptiansally.blogspot.com) is an American expatriate with Egyptian origins who teaches at university and writes about different aspects of her experience living in Cairo, mixing it with English literature and poetry. Amy White (http://louiseinegypt.mindsay.com) just arrived in Egypt a few weeks ago to learn Arabic and to help inform the world about the often misunderstood Arab world. She is logging her experiences in Egypt as she is experiencing them day by day. Stacey of al-Hiwar (http://al-hiwar.blogspot.com) is a political science researcher living for a few years in Egypt, but traveling between Yemen and Lebanon for her comparative research between the two countries, yet not missing her pivot country in all of this, Egypt.

Eve (http://heliogossipcorner.blogspot.com) and MoonLightShadow (http://zeemoonlightshadow.blogspot.com) are female bloggers who mostly blog about their day-to-day life and observations. Eve is a university student who loves gossip (as she describes herself), and MoonLighShadow is a recent graduate searching for the best place for her to work and achieve. Ahmed of Defeat Yourself (http://ahmedbarakat83.blogspot.com) looks inside himself and talks about love, sadness and self struggle. Meshref (http://mmeshref.blogspot.com) writes about his experiences in going through the interview process for Microsoft Redmond in the US from start till hire and then what he’s going through to get prepared to relocate for his new work experience there. Wahda Masrya (http://wa7damasrya.blogspot.com) has the banner of Kefaya on her blog and uses it as an opposition outlet providing opposition articles and using it as one of the mouthpieces of the Kefaya movement.

Orientalism (http://orientalismegypt.blogspot.com) writes about his experiences living in Australia and contemplations about returning and settling back in Egypt after spending a few years there. On one of his vacations to Egypt he got excited about the political changes happening in the streets in Egypt and provided lots of pictures of the events he witnessed before he returned back Down Under to talk about shark attacks there.

Trees Owner (http://journal.gharbeia.net) writes about a variety of topics. In one post relating to Sayyed Qimni’s announcement repenting from his writings which were accused of being unIslamic by some, the blogger described a chain of emails he exchanged with Dar Al-Ifta demanding a definition of what constitutes apostasy in their view and asking them to provide a specific list of what is supposed to be well known facts in Islam that a Muslim should not deny to maintain his Muslim status. He never received a direct answer. In another post he describes the highways’ organization in England were he was spending a week, and how accurate the directions there are. In another post he translates and publishes a letter from Vincent van Gogh to his father Theo on his birthday describing his painting of the “Potato Eaters”.

Alif of Zamakan (http://zamakan.gharbeia.org) who demonstrates a wealth of knowledge in world religions writes in depth about a variety of unique topics that adds to the knowledge of the readers. In one post he describes the Burning Man event that happens annually in the US, in another he writes about imposing religious practices in the public sphere and exploiting free wasted time while in public transportation to worship God instead of being dedicated in our worshiping. In one of his posts related to the current political activism ongoing in Egypt, he provides a motivational picture of ants trying to move a piece of food crumb, each ant moving it into a different direction, yet they eventually are successful in reaching their destination.

Those are just a subset of the many interesting and ever growing Egyptian blogs. The Egyptian blogosphere has more than 400 blogs today and new blogs are constantly being created by Egyptians. Egyptians who want to have an individual voice reflecting their thoughts on politics, culture, religion, art, or any other human aspect of life, write their blogs in Arabic, English, bilingual, or any other language of their choice. Anyone who cares to share their thoughts, anyone who want to have a heard voice, to be a bridge or a window, will do that by creating a blog and reflecting their thoughts there.


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SIDEBAR CONTENT


A blog is an online journal that is published on the Internet’s World Wide Web. Blog articles or blog entries are usually called posts. Blog posts appear in reverse chronological order, the most recent appearing on top. Old posts can be accessed through sidebar links that categorize the posts by topic categories or by dates.

A blogosphere is a collection of related blogs. The term Egyptian blogosphere usually refers to blogs written by Egyptians or by non-Egyptians living in Egypt. A list of all the Egyptian blogs can be found at the website egybloggers.com.

Anyone can create a blog by following a few simple steps in any of the many free blog hosting services. Some of the popular hosting services are blogger.com and blogsome.com. Create an account there and follow the steps to customize your blog and you have a blog in a few minutes.

Writing and publishing a post requires no knowledge of Web technologies, just typing the article in any language and pressing the publish button on the online tool hosting your blog and it immediately appears on the Internet.

All new posts published on any of the Egyptian blogs are aggregated and an index that points to those posts along with an excerpt of them are displayed at the website manalaa.net/egblogs. This aggregator enables readers to follow any new posts on any of the Egyptian blogs a few minutes after the bloggers have published their posts instead of moving around all Egyptian blogs to check for new posts.

Each blog post has a comment section where blog readers can provide feedback on the post written, or provide alternative views. The comment section sometimes turns into an intensive discussion area related to the initial topic of the post.

Blog readers who are only interested in a select few blogs that they like to follow without having to jump from one blog to another can use RSS feeds (RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication) to read their favorite blogs along with any news website. To read your blogs and news via RSS an account needs to be created to use any of the freely available online blog and news feed syndicators such as Bloglines.com or kinja.com.

Wikipedia, the online collaborative encyclopedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weblog) has more details about the international phenomenon of blogging and explains more of its history and impact.

Reporters without Borders have released a handbook on blogging with detailed information on how to setup a blog, ethics of blogging, blogging anonymously, censorship, and personal accounts of bloggers from different countries (http://www.rsf.org/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=542).


Monday, October 10, 2005

Separation and love

Ramadan is bringing this thought to my mind. Controlled separation results in appreciation, which is part of love. Yes, the simple separation from food and water I'm performing these days is the reason for this thought. And no, I'm not thinking that we separate from food and water, so we appreciate them and love them more, so we eat more at night. Rather, I'm thinking we're separated from food and water and hence energy, we become weak, so we're separated from God's strength, and hence we appreciate Him more. Silly maybe. But I feel that when a weak person tries to get closer to God, its not out of being self-serving exploiter of God's mercy. I think its the separation from His strength which makes the weak appreciate it, and reseeks that connection with Him. A silly thought maybe. But during the weak moments of the human being its easier to appreciate God's mercy and strength, and those are the moments which we should build upon to remember God's greatness when we think we're strong.

In Ramadan, the best thing for me is reading Quran just before breaking the fast, when I'm most exhausted and I've reached the peak of my separation of my physical sources of energy. I'm tired and weak, but I try to keep reading and reading, and its simply joyful.

I can never imagine that awesome feeling a mother must have carrying that infant in her tommy, but I think it might be another kind of a controlled separation. Does she feel any separation from her baby while its right in her body? What happens when she delivers, isn't she dead tired, yet she seeks strength and love in her newly born. That must be so awesome, I wish to feel just a portion of it by being a father. And how do fathers actually get that attached and connected to part of them which is being bred in another body. Just amazing.

That sexual separation which happens for a few days each month between couples. I think it should reignite the sexual vigor between them after that short period of controlled separation. I suppose it never happens that way really. But I like to think that this is one of the goals of that periodic sexual separation; appreciation and longing. Recreating life.

...

Friday, October 07, 2005

Al Nafs al lawwama

Last night's prayers were okay. As usual, I can't follow every single verse being read. My mind was mostly occupied with what I'm planning to do on Sunday. My mind grabs a verse every few verses being recited. A verse triggered me, got my tears ready to go for the rest of the night. Looked for the verse in the Quran after the prayer, but couldn't find it, and now I dont' even remember it.

The best part was actually the half-time Khutba, which I usually dislike and try to avoid. But yesterday's was interesting, and the guy was very reasonable, logical and pleasant in his way of talking. He decided to talk about AlNafs for the coming few khutbas. Just gave an overview of what he'll talk about, and I loved it that I wanted to go thank him after the prayers to encourage him to delve as deep as he can into it. من عرف نفسه عرف الله. Among the different states of the human nafs, the highest state is alNafs almotma'enna -- ارجعى الى ربك راضية مرضية. Its not Satan but its our Nafs. There is no one state for each different nafs, but a multitude of states for each one nafs. He reiterated what I believe, and it was good to hear it, which made me eager to see how deep he'll go with this. He finished the khutba and I was about to applaud in the middle of the mosque!

By the end of the prayers, nafsy allawama started acting on me and I couldn't hold my tears. But I really wanted to turn around and slap those two guys praying next to me on their faces for shouting ya Allah so loud. Shut the fuck up. Wondered how different people try to reach God in such different ways.

Today, I still couldn't find that verse that started my tears last night, but my reading ended when this verse got to me hard:
فَاسْتَجَابَ لَهُمْ رَبُّهُمْ أَنِّي لَا أُضِيعُ عَمَلَ عَامِلٍ مِنْكُمْ مِنْ ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنْثَى بَعْضُكُمْ مِنْ بَعْضٍ فَالَّذِينَ هَاجَرُوا وَأُخْرِجُوا مِنْ دِيَارِهِمْ وَأُوذُوا فِي سَبِيلِي وَقَاتَلُوا وَقُتِلُوا لَأُكَفِّرَنَّ عَنْهُمْ سَيِّئَاتِهِمْ وَلَأُدْخِلَنَّهُمْ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِنْ تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ ثَوَابًا مِنْ عِنْدِ اللَّهِ وَاللَّهُ عِنْدَهُ حُسْنُ الثَّوَابِ

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The memory of her

I really miss her, miss her love. That's all I miss about her really. No one ever loved me like she did, and no one ever will. She warned me that I'll miss it and will never find anyone to love me like she did. I took it lightly then, but I knew she was right. Our love was too strong, but just didn't have any power to make things work. That's why I don't believe in the power of love. Its just a feeling.

I dreamt of her a couple of weeks back. Was a nice and mellow dream. Was kind of strange, nothing triggered that dream. Wondered why. Was it a dream of her, or of the feelings I felt with her. She's a different person now. I see her and I don't care for her. The dream brought the old person back. Just for a snapshot, to revive the feelings maybe?

Its not her that I miss, its her love. Its her intense, never ending, ever demanding, never satisfied feelings. Its how all my intensity was never enough for her and she always wanted more. Its how the more I dumped myself onto her, the more she's eager to have more of me. Its how she saw all my flaws, yet she knew exactly what was right about me, and she cherished it. She warned me I'd regret losing that, and here I am. Though I don't want her back and I don't miss her, I love what she brought out of me. Thank you. She hated it tamed, loved it wild, but no one else does, and no one else can unleash it again it seems.

"In each of our lives there's a huge delusion called, the First Love."


Today I pray behind my favorite voice and I'm excited about it.