Saturday, February 28, 2009

Another bomb in Cairo

Less than a week after the Khan bombing, a mentally-ill Egyptian man who had spent time in a psychiatric hospital stabbed an American teacher there and then, today, a firebomb was thrown into a metro station. Thankfully no one was hurt in the attempted metro bombing because the device failed to explode. The motivations are unclear, but it's strange to me since it's not as though they were targeting foreigners. As is clear from the stares I get when I ride the metro, that mode of transportation is usually the domain of Egyptian commuters, not tourists. Halmiyat al-Zaytoon, where the bomb was thrown, was one of the stops along my ride to Ain Shams when I taught English there.
As for me, I'm doing fine. I didn't venture out today until later to meet Erin for dinner in Zamalek. We both worked diligently on reaction papers for law class beforehand to make ourselves feel as though Saturday wouldn't be for naught. When I did set off into the night, it was raining again and not just a mist or a light rain, but real rain. It was surreal to be sitting in traffic in Tahrir Square with raindrops on the windows. Aside from schoolwork, I did a bit of looking into where I might travel over spring break. Tunisia and Lebanon are both contenders at this point. In the nearer future, I'm joining my fellow ambassadorial scholars for a Rotary event on Tuesday. Dinner and a lecture by a Rotarian who is a doctor on one of the riverboats in Zamalek on the Nile.

Foreign Policy article on the release of Ayman Nour
Secretary of State Clinton on her way to the Middle East
Netanyahu fails to persuade Livni to join coalition government in Israel

Friday, February 27, 2009

Wadi al-Hitan

Thoroughly impressed with myself, I am also infinitely sleepy for having started my morning at 6:45. Yes, that's ante meridian, believe it or not. I joined my friend Edward, a Middle East Studies grad student, and a busload of other AUC students, mostly Egyptian, for a trip to Wadi al-Hitan in Egypt's Western Desert. Along the way to the UNESCO world heritage site, we passed Lake Qarun in Fayoum, the closest oasis to Cairo. Perhaps because I didn't really look at the route, I hadn't expected a huge expanse of water complete with boats and wind-whipped waves to suddenly appear in the middle of the desert, but it's by far one of the coolest things I've seen in Egypt. Wadi al-Hitan (lit. "The Valley of the Whales") itself was pretty fascinating for its scientific value. We saw whale fossils that were millions of years old and played an important role in piecing a transcontinental puzzle about the development of marine mammals over time. A German-Egyptian biology professor from AUC brought the story and the scenery to her life with her effervescent enthusiasm and descriptions and explanations. The professor and the others that Edward and I met made the day as much as the trip as much as the breathtaking scenery. It was a fun departure from the norm that hearkened back to the days of biology field trips. It was good to work some geology, evolutionary biology, and pre-history into my other wise social sciences-dominated brain.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Passport Pickup & Conspiracy Theories

Though it's often not the case, I find sometimes that I am growing impervious to the many pitfalls of bureaucracy at AUC or in Egypt. In those magical moments either a spontaneously kind action on the part of someone else or steely resolve on my part yields the desired result and I feel as though I've won a little victory. My switching courses and joining the Master's and my fellowship application confirmation are all part of the former category whereas the retrieval of my passport which has been sitting, with my student visa inside, was of the latter variety.
I'll know about the fellowships at the end of April and my visa, inside the passport that took six phone numbers and four trips up four flights of fire escape stairs to reacquire, lasts until the end of June. Lots of waiting. I don't know my summer schedule yet, but I'll inevitably be in the States at some point to give Rotary speeches and to see family and friends.

The motivations behind last Sunday's bombing are no clearer even with arrests made. Egyptians on the street are, as they do with many things, quick to blame it on the Israelis. Yes, there are huge numbers of Egyptians who wholeheartedly and sincerely believe things like this are the work of the Mossad. I may've mentioned before that I was told at a Rotary function that "it certainly wasn't Arabs behind 9/11" and the shopkeeper at the corner market across from AUC's Greek Campus told a friend that the bombing in the Khan al-Khalili "couldn't have been Egyptians. There are no terrorists in Egypt." Who then? The Israelis. Riiiight. It is this genre of regressive ideas that keeps many Egyptians from approaching regional conflict in a clear-headed way. Given the Lavon Affair, I can see where it might come from, but the sort of conspiracy-theory nonsense that runs rampant in Cairo certainly is way off base. It makes it easier to have an "Other" to blame. Americans are guilty of it too; we're big fans of conspiracy theories ourselves. Think back to the presidential campaigns and those who were alleging that Obama was a Muslim hellbent on Islamizing America. May we all be just a bit more rational and clear-headed.

News and links:
"Mubarak flexes his muscles" in Foreign Policy
"The Fear Factor in Travel" at HuffPost
Egyptian human rights NGO criticizes public prosecution office

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Another Day in Cairo

Today was my first day of Migration and Development. I met both the regular professor and a anthropology/human rights/gender studies professor who will be teaching next weeks class on human rights. It seems as those it'll be a useful course and, even better, I now essentially have a four-day weekend. I have class Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Before you get too jealous, I'm volunteering and reading and writing for these classes on those other days. After class, I went out with some classmates for Moroccan food in a restaurant on one of the Zamalek riverboats on the Nile. We discussed last week's comparative migration law class since one among our ranks had missed. Beyond that, there's nothing particularly exceptional to mention, so I'll cut straight to the news.

Muslim Brotherhood condemns bomb attack
Hizbullah condemns bomb attack
"The fixer in the shadows..." from The Daily Telegraph

Monday, February 23, 2009

Cairene Rain

Today it's raining out. This is only the second or third time such a thing has happened since I've been here. Apparently, people were even pulling over to the sides of the road to let the light shower subside.

I haven't ventured out much today, preferring to work on fellowship applications and reaction papers from the comfort of my own apartment. It wasn't the violence that happened yesterday that kept me inside in and of itself, but when I did go out, I felt warier than usual. It's so tragic that the murderous ignorance of a single person or a group of people can result in the arbitrary death of another human being. No ideology or personal grievance is worth more than than the life of any individual.

I mentioned a documentary in my last entry. Please check out the clip below if you have time. Maquilapolis is about the women who work in maquiladoras just inside the Mexican border, the exploitation they face, and how they go about seeking justice.

Al-Jazeera report on market bomb (video clip)
Sudan's Bashir leaves Cairo today after talks with Mubarak; arrest warrant still in question
Cairo University students protest Interior Ministry security presence on campuses
Egypt takes small step in direction of religious freedom

Note: The whereabouts of imprisoned Palestine activist and blogger Diaa Gad are still unknown. For more information check out Amnesty International's article and the appeal for action at Prisoners for Gaza blog.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Explosion at the Khan

I'd intended to talk about a documentary I saw at the New Campus today, my program-switching, and the English class I taught tonight in Hay al-Asher, but I'm sure the majority of the readership will be more concerned upon hearing news that there was a fatal explosion in Cairo tonight. Everyone I know here in Cairo is safe and sound. Grenades were thrown into a crowd outside a café at the Khan al-Khalili and at least one French tourist was killed. The Khan is where I did my Christmas shopping and where I was the week before last with my friend Alia. It's obviously more than a little unsettling, but I'm sure the security presence has been beefed up.

News reports on the explosion:
from Huffington Post
from Le Monde (in French)
from Euronews

Friday, February 20, 2009

Church, a House Party, and Research Ethics

Hours ago, I had all kinds of delightfully witty and insightful things to put in this entry. Unfortunately, I've filled the intervening time with reading about research ethics, writing a reaction paper, and trying to finesse the germ of what will eventually be my Master's thesis into something submittable to my Methods professor. It follows thus that my brain is mostly of a mushy consistency at this point. Nevertheless, I'll recap the recent goings-on:
I went to Ma'adi Community Church with a relative of my Egyptian friend, Maged's, and his American wife. My friend Phil came with me. It reminded me of many a community church back in the States, except that we were in the middle of a Cairo suburb, no doubt in some proximity to where Jesus Himself actually walked while He was in exile, and surrounded by the Egyptian police (as many churches in Egypt are, for the protection of those within). Graham Kendrick, author of the song "Shine, Jesus, Shine" is currently a guest of the church and led worship which was all fine and well except that the service turned out to be exclusively a worship service with no sermon. It was strange to take everything in–trying to reconcile what seemed and felt like a distinctly American phenomenon in the midst of Egypt which, despite its emulation (or in fact caricaturization) of American consumerism and its adoration of various of our pop stars, is a world apart. The lack of Egyptians was conspicuous and felt wrong somehow. There are other evangelical churches with services in Arabic, though, which have a preponderance of Egyptian attendees. They are by and large converts from the more liturgical and traditional Coptic churches; the fact that conversion to Christianity from Islam is punishable by death in this country is something of a deterrent for Muslims.
Afterward, Phil and I went to a party there in Ma'adi at the apartment of a Somali-Norwegian friend of his. Several other Norwegians, a Swede, some Americans including a girl from Puerto Rico, many Egyptians, a German, and a Congolose guy made for excellent conversation. Many of us are AUC students and we ended up discussing aspects of our various graduate programs and how they fit with one another (I'm not even joking, we're huge nerds). Religion, African politics, gender, and a host of other issues kept us around the table chatting until well past 3 AM when the downtowners among us caught a cab back together. At one point, I met an Egyptian whose paternal grandfather was a Czech Jew who'd converted to Islam in order to marry an Egyptian Muslim woman, changed his named, and moved to Egypt. This same Egyptian's maternal grandma is Italian. It's stories like this that make me love studying migration. The converging of diverse cultures and the interplay between them is fascinating.
For lunch today, I went with friends to the French culture institute for galettes. I got to use my French with the waiters, but was reminded that I was in Egypt by the salade verte which was, in fact, shredded iceberg lettuce, and the fact that the establishment had no change when we were trying to pay our bill. Ma3lesh! I caught a cabride to Zamalek, did some grocery-shopping, lugged a few bags and a box of 12 1.5-liter bottles of water up to the fourth floor (by American reckoning) of my apartment building and into my apartment and then realized I had reading to do, a reaction paper on that reading, and a preliminary outline of my thesis proposal to turn in all by tonight. And so it was that I spent hours reading and writing about research ethics, which was ok by me because its actually quite an interesting topic. Tomorrow we have a Saturday class to replace our Monday class because our professor will be traveling elsewhere in the region.

Sec. of State Clinton to come to Cairo in March for Gaza-rebuilding donors conference
Tourism in Egypt slumps compared to last year, global economic downturn blamed
Still no word on the whereabouts of Diaa Gad

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Change is (up) in the air

Strangely, since I've gotten back it's hit me that Egypt, of all places, and AUC and my group of friends have come to represent stability. Over the last seven years, I haven't spent more than a couple of years in one place and each of the past three academic years has been on a different continent. Making new friends, starting new academic programs, and adapting and re-adapting to cultures is invigorating, but also exhausting. Taking this into account and understanding the value of having a Master's degree as competition increases with the decrease in job availability, remaining in Egypt for another semester (ideally) or two (if necessary) seems the most prudent course of action academically and professionally at this point.
Last night my thoughts were racing as I prepared mentally to go to the new campus to argue to be able to change classes (it may technically beyond the add deadline, though not the drop). I got up early and headed to the Greek Campus just to see one more time if Eman might be able to help me. Lo and behold, she called up the associate registrar who said that there was no problem and that I could bring in the appropriate forms next week. Now, if there's one thing I've learned attending AUC it's not to get my hopes up. As it stands, though, I am positioned to be able to switch into a much more pertinent class and into the Master's program early next week.
I won't know until next month whether or not I've been accepted to the language program for the summer in Cairo, so when exactly I'll do my thesis is still up in the air. At any rate, I will be in America at some point during the summer to give speeches to Rotary clubs in central Illinois. I'll admit that the idea of doing so originally terrified me, but the desire to share the richness of my experience here and the things I've learned far trumps my fear of public speaking and I am more than ready and very excited.
Law class yesterday was pretty interesting, at least for me. We sat outside (whoever is responsible for unlocking classrooms must've taken the day off) in the courtyard in the late afternoon sun, birds chirping, learning about consular protection. A bit dry for some, but because of my interest in the State Department, I was all ears.
Immediately after our course, a sizeable number of us went directly to the CMRS Seminar which, last night, consisted of Philip Rizk showing his film, This Palestinian Life, and answering questions. The film was fantastic. It showed a part of Palestine-rural areas of Gaza and the West Bank-whose inhabitants rarely get to be heard. The people interviewed range from the poetic to the candid to the humorous, but all are extraordinarily resilient in the face of manmade tragedy. There was no anti-Israeli vitriole and no call for violence. Hopefully the film will be made available on YouTube so that I can share it on the blog sometime soon. Philip himself was well-spoken, radiating an aura of calm, and about ten feet tall. Out of respect for that fact that he wants emphasis not to be placed on his detention, but on the ongoing hardships of the Palestinian people, only an occasional indirect mention was made about his ordeal by questioners. Needing to speak to Ray, who was moderating, about my course switch, and then to leave with a group headed for the Greek Club, I didn't get a chance to ask more about Diaa Gad afterward, but have since sent Philip a note to see what he has to say.
One of the questioners, a rather effervescent native of Southern California who had lived in Gaza for sometime, went on a mini-tirade against Evangelical Christians and their categorical support for Israel. Derisive, smug laughter at various comments bubbled of from the crowd of students, expats, academics, and NGO workers. Many of them, I'd guess, would like to paint themselves as more worldly or more righteous, but I think they're missing a far more complex reality and writing Evangelicals off too quickly. Needless to say, I wasn't as amused as much of the crowd. Philip himself went to Wheaton College and, though I am not sure about the details of his faith and religious beliefs, I suspect he knows the situation is more nuanced than Christians simply being irrational fundamentalists. For me, my Christianity is what drives me to be so deeply aggrieved by the gross mistreatment of the Palestinian people not only by Israel, but by the rest of Arab world and the international community as a whole. Though I consider myself simply Christian, my immediate family has for over ten years attended Northwoods Community Church in Peoria, a part of the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches. I don't recall ever hearing a message there offering an explicit position on Israel or Palestine, but I've heard quite a few about loving one's neighbors and one's enemies. Given conversations I've had at home and comments like these replying to an opinion published in the Peoria Journal Star, I know there are a great many in the States that are misinformed or underinformed about the conflict. And, I'll admit that many in the Christian community have found spurious Biblical claims to back up their blind support of Israel action, whatever it may be, but by and large, I think that many Christians are open-minded and desire to understand what's really going on. They suffer from the same lack of good information that most other Americans do. So, khelas (enough!) with the overgeneralizing of American Christians and, at the same time, enough with the ignorance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Links on Palestine:
Economist article on American-Israeli relations vis-à-vis Palestine
B'Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories
United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)

Nour, former candidate for Egyptian presidency, unexpectedly released from prison yesterday
US Senator Kerry visits Gaza, American school destroyed by Israeli offensive
Egypt not keen on having Shalit release linked to truce between Israelis and Hamas

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Far away in Hay al-Ashr

Yesterday I had lunched with my Togolese-French neighbor, Ablavi, who is doing research for CEDEJ (Centre d'études et de documentation économiques, juridiques et sociales) on the denial of public education to Sudanese children in Egypt. Under international law, the children should have full access, but the reality on the ground is much different. Following my lentil soup and ta3mayya with eggs, I came back with Ablavi to our building and then set to reading one of the chapters of a book we're discussing today in Comparative Migration Law. It deals with the concept of "effective nationality" and moral links between a person and his or her country as opposed to merely nominative associations.
Later on, I joined the head of the project through which I teach English, and another volunteer teacher for a forty-five minute cabride to Hay al-Ashr. This place is a whole different world than downtown Cairo. It's much more diverse; Sudanese, Somalis, and many other African migrants and refugees are interspersed among Egyptians. They live in dozens upon dozens of buildings that look exactly the same, built, I'm told, as government housing projects. In many of the windows there is no glass and many of the structures are far from finished and never will be. A burnt-out charter bus marks the right turn to the anonymous-looking apartment complex where we will be teaching this semester. The kids are younger this time around, in their mid- to late teens. I'll be teaching the highest level courses as I did in Ain Shams. After setting some things up and meeting some of the students, the three of us went to a small room with bright blue walls on the third floor of a building a few streets over from the "school". There my companions enjoyed Sudanese food. The ride back was on a bus rather than a taxi; my first experience with the dodgy public buses of Cairo. The seats were falling to pieces, stares and whispers ensued and continued the whole way back. At one point, an elderly man got on the bus and began shouting a recitation of the Qur'an, wandering up and down the center aisle. Every bump sent us nearly out of our seats with no handle or other means of bracing ourselves to be found. I didn't mind it though, but I fear I'll never be able to find my way to such a bus in the middle of Hay al-Asher at 9:45 PM. The only way you really know where the bus is going is from the shouts of a kid who stands in front. I could make out "Tahrir", so maybe I'll figure it all out eventually.
Once back, I made dinner and then hung out with Phil and Ross for a while–we went to get juice. Phil talked to me about the development class and how much he enjoys it and I edged ever closer to trying to switch out of psycho-social and into Migration and Development and fully commit to the Master's. I have looked into fellowship opportunities but would need to apply by March 1st which means I'll have to formally switch from the Diploma into the Master's ASAP. I plan to talk to Ray, the head of the program, today. I have Law in a couple of hours and then the CMRS seminar immediately after. Philip Rizk is coming to speak tonight about the situation in Gaza and his film, This Palestinian Life. It should be interesting and, I hope, an opportunity to hear more about the other blogger and activist, Diaa Gad, on whom there is very little information.

New York Times article on the state of the freedom of speech in Egypt
Abbas indicates flexibility toward Hamas on eve of reconciliation meetings in Cairo
Egypt to send troops, police to Congo as part of UN peacekeeping mission

Monday, February 16, 2009

Mosque-hopping and a Rotary meeting

Instead of wandering around Islamic Cairo on my own, I went out with my friend Phil. Instead of Al-Azhar, we went to the mosque of Ibn Tulun (at right), which was really pretty cool. Built in the 9th century, the mosque is rather spartan, but impressive nonetheless. We climbed the minaret and had a great view of the city. Afterward, we got duped (half-knowingly) by a "history teacher" who wanted to show us another, smaller mosque off the beaten path. Hoping that there wasn't much nefarious that could be done with the 20 LE I was getting bilked out of, I went up on the roof with Phil to climb another minaret and take in more of Cairo. I snapped a bunch of great shots in the street but refrained from photographing a fight that broke out for fear of becoming implicated therein. Instead of continuing to describe what was infinitely more colorful than a birthday sitting around in my apartment would've been, I'll include a few more photos:

After this great adventuring, I went to dinner with Phil and Marise–we got Thai in Ma'adi just as we'd done a few nights ago. Afterward, they got me a cake which, because of time constraints we started eating at a Hardee's outside the metro. It was probably one of the most fun venues in which I've eaten a "mousse caramel" Egyptian-style.
Before class, my friend Reham called and we ended up doing lunch. For my birthday she treated me to a fondant au chocolat at Beano's. Not quite like they were in Europe a few weeks ago, I appreciated the gesture of kindness nonetheless and enjoy my conversation with Reham. Soon I'll include some details from a brief interview I did with her last week.
Today is the day I have Methodology. We all came with ideas for our thesis proposals (we have to write them whether we're doing the Master's or not, but I keep feeling like getting the Master's is the best course of action at this point). I ducked out right at the end though the discussion was ongoing because I had (I thought) to rush to the Nile Hotel to meet my host counselor. Despite calls and texts, I couldn't get through to her for a half hour. When she did call, she told me she was already at the meeting and told me to come by taxi on my own. I'd have done this in the first place if I'd known where the meeting was being held, but no one responded to my emails asking about the location. Ma3lesh. I was less than pleased by the time I arrived, but I keep reminded myself to try and take the mindset of my Egyptian hosts into consideration. They're certainly brimming with good intentions. They were happy to include me in their monthly birthday celebration and bought a cake for the three Rotarians whose birthdays were in February and me. They sang to us at the end. Though the cake was nice, I'd not eaten all day and would've liked to have had the chance to take nourishment instead of sitting in the lobby of the Nile Hotel people-watching. Oh well! The entire meeting was in Arabic, though I caught bits and pieces of heated objections to the recent division of the Rotary District into two or more parts one of which included Egypt and Sudan together. Rotarians were questioning why Egypt was set adrift with Sudan and wondered why not Jordan or Lebanon? I found the whole thing kind of funny. After this, the vice-president suddenly announced me in English and asked me to stand up and give a five-minute speech about my time in Egypt. I wasn't told I'd be speaking and so winged it and gave a background on what I was up to at AUC, thanking Rotary, and mentioning the things I liked about Egypt. I also gave my host club a banner from my sponsor club. Hopefully I'll get one to bring back to Peoria with me as well. One of the Rotarians dropped me off at Tahrir Square and I headed to get one of those things I liked about Egypt–koshary, and then headed back home.
Tomorrow I'm back to teaching English to Sudanese guys, this time in a different part of town. Given the less-than-efficient communication with my Rotary club here and my inability to get involved in service projects with them despite repeated attempts at getting in contact, I hope to get more involved in YVPI/LEAD. More to come on that after I back into the swing of teaching.

Israelis bomb border tunnels today
Egyptian border guard wounded by suspected human, drug traffickers
Aid convoy headed for Gaza leaves from London

*Note: I haven't heard anything more on Diaa Gad, but will update as soon as I do.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Very Rotarian Birthday; More on Diaa Eddin Gad

I have to say that the members of my host club made my morning--I've gotten emails and texts galore wishing me well and inviting me to the Monday night meeting tomorrow. I'll head there after my methods class, hopefully with my nifty Rotary Club of Peoria banner to exchange for one of theirs. As bumpy as my start with Rotary here in Egypt was in the beginning, I can't tell you how much I appreciate the concern and goodwill of the Rotarians in my club. Hopefully this semester I'll be able to do more with them--volunteering and the like. Soon, I am going to head to Islamic Cairo to visit Al-Azhar Mosque and perhaps some others.
First I wanted to mention Diaa Eddin Gad (or Diaa Gad el-Din in some versions of the news stories) again. Because, shamefully, I do not read Arabic with any great ease (I applaud myself if I can decipher the occasional street sign or menu), I cannot vouch for what's said in his blog. I can confirm however that from the information available, he was arrested following a peaceful protest organized by the liberal Wafd Party. I am told by a journalist that Diaa was not advocating for violence against or in Egypt. As there is a dearth of English-language information on him, I will continue to try and find out from Arabic-speakers more details.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Carlsday Eve

I've never thought of Valentine's Day as a particular exciting holiday-gone are the fun days of primary school Valentine parties, so I've long since decide to consider the 14th February Carlsday Eve in honor of, well, myself. Tomorrow's my 23rd birthday and I spent the run up to it in style-doing nothing. Well, I did laundry, read for class, and a little genealogy. Ross and I got koshary for dinner and juice with Phil afterwards. Another day in downtown Cairo. I'm thinking tomorrow I might wander into Islamic Cairo or somewhere remotely more historic than my living room.
Philip Rizk's blog was deactivated by State Security and so he's opened a new one here. You can also find it in my blogroll. He's been very clear about his desire that the focus now shift from him to the fact that there is another blogger and Gaza activist who is still being detained, but who does not enjoy the crossborder connections and dual nationality that ostensibly protected Philip from physical harm and an even more protracted detention; and of course, more largely, the conflict in Gaza. Because I only support non-violent activism and protest, I am doing some fact-checking before including more information on the other bloggers and activists that were detained.

Daily News Egypt article on Rizk, Gaza
Israel presses for truce to be contingent on prisoner release
"Egypt says Obama team understands Israel must stop settlements"
Perceived stalemate not a reason for American inaction in Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Friday, February 13, 2009

February birthdays and Arab-Israeli conflict

Tonight my friend and classmate Cara and I are having a joint birthday party at Sequoia, an outdoor Nileside lounge, restaurant, and bar. She turned 24 on the 8th and I will be 23 on the 15th. February's a big birthday month in my family-my dad's on the 25th, my cousin, the 18th, my aunt, the 16th and so on. It's hard to know that thousands of miles away in the States my family are going about their lives: working, going to school, having parties of their own, going to sports games, dealing with challenges that come their way, etc., while I am living my own life here. Despite all that, it's worth it. I am feeling more acclimated and more and more like coming here was an excellent and wise decision despite the sacrifices. I'm thankful that my family is so supportive as well.
Another February birthday was yesterday, Philip Rizk's. Since his abduction and subsequent release, my mind has again returned to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the situation in Gaza. In this vein, I hope that the regular readers of my blog were able to watch the video clip I posted yesterday. Knowing that the conflict is a hugely touchy subject, I assure you that my approach is one of balance and an attempt at understanding the conflict from both sides. But with that said, I have opinions and convictions about the matter and won't apologize for it. The conclusions I have come to are not necessarily fixed–a closed mind is inimical to progress, but I believe I am informed enough to hold them defensibly as they are now. Like many Americans, I have friends and acquaintances on both sides of the conflict and am torn in my sympathies. What it comes down to though is that the current siege on Gaza is inhuman and cruel. The video clip I posted in my previous entry was produced by a UN agency that receives US funding, not by a fringe group or ideological extremists. When I get more time, I hope to craft a more coherent and comprehensive entry on the history of the conflict for those who may be unfamiliar with it.

Rizk's account of his detention
Possible truce between Hamas and Israel:

Conversion from Islam to Christianity in Egypt brings instability and fear of reprisal
International watchdog group criticizes Mideast states' repression of press

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Khan, Law, and Lebanese

I spent yesterday at Khan al-Khalili with Alia who was one of my closest friends at boarding school and with whom I traveled to Egypt for the first time four years ago. It was a great reunion and we had a lot of fun bargaining and taking pictures and getting snacks at the Naguib Mahfouz Café. I actually didn't purchase anything, I had no need, but try conveying that to the folks at the Khan–"I have everything you need in my shop and I don't even know what you need!" was one line. Another asked specifically what I needed and when I told him nothing he told me that he had "all kinds of nothing for sale". I changed my approached and answered the next person who asked what I was looking for by saying, "a job". They laughed, I laughed, and they quit trying to sell me scarves–all was well.
Most of today was occupied by reading and Comparative Migration Law, my favorite class. We discussed the history of restrictions on and the exclusion of migrants and Mike told us more about a possible opportunity for some of us to travel with London and collaborate with students from Georgetown and elsewhere on a migration law project. Seems like a great opportunity. I'm going to apply, but the project isn't funded for sure and only four slots are available (out of a class of twenty), so we'll see.
Tonight some classmates and I got Lebanese at a place in Mohandaseen called Cedars. Spinach pie, halloumi cheese, lentil soup, tomayya, and more: delicious. Time to get to reading for my pscyhosocial class though.

Details of Philip Rizk's release
Hamas leader in Cairo for another round of talks
Arabs pessimistic about Israeli election outcome


Philip has been released and is with his family. As for the protests and marches, he's asking people to go through with them to protest the siege of Gaza. There are some who may have supported Philip who do not support his political views, so that is obviously a personal choice.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Protests and pressure continue

Protests are continuing to occur around the world for Philip's release; tonight in Cairo a protest against his unlawful detention and the holding of other activists took place in front of the Journalists' Syndicate downtown. Afterward, two of Philip's Middle East Studies colleagues and I heard from a journalist that more than two hundred people had shown up but still nothing on his whereabouts beyond unconfirmed suggestions that he's being held in Nasr City.
Upcoming protests are happening as follows:

Tomorrow in New York as mentioned in the previous entry;

Thursday, 12 February at 12 noon in San Francisco in front of the Egyptian consulate at
276 Mallorca Way in the Marina District;

Friday, 13 February at 12 noon in Washington, DC in front of the embassy (address and contact details in previous entry)

and at 2 PM in Ottawa, Canada in front of the embassy at 454 Laurier Avenue East, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 6R3

Additional information and links to petitions and instructions for letter writing campaigns are available to Facebook users here. I've contacted Rotarians from my host club in hopes they'll have ideas or contacts. Every little bit counts–please write, call, fax, or get involved in a protest!

Letter from president of Wheaton College
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information report
Sun Times coverage of the Chicago rally
New York Times story on abduction, protests
Guardian coverage

Monday, February 9, 2009

Rizk still not released

Philip has now been in custody for three days and there is still no clear indication as to where he's being held. Last night his family apparently heard through someone from AUC that had been in contact with State Security that he will continue to be detained "for further investigation". I received several Facebook messages saying that, early this morning, the police went to his parents' house in Ma'adi without a warrant to look for 'evidence' scaring the family who were able to contact a lawyer who seems to have been successful in making the police leave. Meanwhile, a message from a couple of hours ago said that Philip's sister's apartment was entered using a key belonging to Philip. Personal possessions were removed and the key was left on the desk. Protests are being organized in London, DC, and Chicago. Here in Cairo they've been held at AUC's new campus and at the Journalists' Syndicate with others to come.
The professor with whom I had class tonight urged us to contact whomever we could and to this end, I'm posting information on the Egyptian consulates general and embassies in the States and the UK where there are protests organized. If you are in any of these cities or feel inclined to help by contacting the Egyptian diplomatic representation in your region/country, please do.

Chicago: 500 N. Michigan Ave., Suite #1900, Chicago, IL 60611
phone: (312 828-9162
fax: (312) 828-9167

for more information on protests, etc., contact locally: Rachel Ostergaard

New York: 1110 Second Ave., New York, NY 10022
phone: (212) 759-7122
fax: (212) 308-7643

An approved protest has been planned for Wednesday, 11 February from 11:00 AM (EST) outside the consulate. Facebook users can find more information here.

for more information on protests, etc., contact locally: Laura Kasinof

Washington, D.C.: 3521 International Ct. N.W., Washington, DC 20008
phone: (202) 895-5400
fax: (202) 244-5131

for more information on protests, etc., contact locally: Melissa Florer-Bixler

London, UK: 26th South Street, London W1K 1DWA
phone: 020 7499 3304

Protest organized for tomorrow, Tuesday, 10 February from 5 PM outside the embassy. Facebook users can find more information here.

"Egyptian police scour German-Egyptian activist's home"

More info:

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Update on Philip Rizk

I just came back from AUC where I spoke with a friend who was at the High Court yesterday where the director of our program and, later, another faculty member were trying to assist in Philip's release. While there, they were made to stand inside a pen surrounded by riot police.
While one report said that he was being held at police headquarters downtown, another said Philip was at Lazoghli Prison. Apparently, the German Embassy had initially been notified that he was out of police custody (he had been "officially" released and then subsequently was adbucted), but is now up to speed and acting on his behalf. Complicating matters was AUC's grand (late) inauguration attended by the First Lady, Suzane Mubarak and many other high profile dignitaries. Because of this, cell phones were prohibited leaving the German ambassador out of contact.
Following are more articles and updates including the description of Philip's abduction by a blogger who was present:

"The Kidnapping of Philip Rizk"
"Christian blogger held in Egypt" from Christianity Today
Rizk’s family file case against Banha police, faculty to demand AUC intervention" from the AUC student publication, The Caravan

I cannot begin to understand the logic behind jailing a non-violent activist. If anything, the government is going to motivate other pro-Palestinian supporters to more vigorous activism. I wish there were something I could do, but I'm not sure another naïve Westerner in a keffiyah would be of much use at this point. Phil, a legitimate activist acquainted with the complexities of the Palestinian situation has a network of family members, journalists, bloggers, and other activists and friends going to bat for him. Insha'Allah, all will pan out in the end.
Though it seems selfish to catalog the rest of my day when this poor kid's in prison, I need to keep up the blog. The weather is gorgeous, in the 70s. I went out to mail a thank you letter to my friend in Paris, to get correspondence that had been waiting for me in the Migration & Refugee Studies office for weeks, and to get koshary. I also ended up being useful to at least two people today: On my way back from koshary, passing a shop in which Valentine's Day anticipation had exploded all over everything in the form of fuzzy red hearts, fake flowers, and the cheesiest tokens and signs of "love", I saw a Western woman peering puzzledly at a guidebook. Initially I walked passed without a second thought; this is, at least for this year, my neighborhood and running up to chat with other non-Egyptians here simply because they're non-Egyptians has absolutely no appeal. This poor woman looked quite lost, though, so I went and asked where she'd hoped to go. She turned out to be Brazilian but lives in Houston, Texas and was visiting while her husband, an oil company employee, was in meetings. She'd gotten far off course, so I walked her to a road that went straight north to the square she was looking for. I figured with no turns, it was more than likely she'd arrive eventually. I felt good being able to help someone and having a sense enough of Cairo to be able to accurately direct her.
I came back to my apartment in hopes of cleaning up my living room in preparation for having people over to watch Walz with Bashir, but got a call from Erin who was at her AUC office and need computer help. Luckily, I was able to figure out how to be of assistance. It was there that she filled me in on the goings-on with Philip Rizk. It's really disconcerting that the Egyptian government is holding an AUC graduate student, activist, blogger without charge. Egyptian prisons are notorious for mistreatment and I hope and pray Philip isn't subjected to that. He was supposed to be our CMRS lecturer during the Wednesday night lecture series; despite not knowing him firsthand, it hits close to home.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Egyptian Police Holding AUC Graduate Student, Blogger

An Egyptian/German dual national who is a graduate student at the American University in Cairo has been arrested, apparently without charge, and is being held at police headquarters here in downtown Cairo. An advocate of non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Philip keeps a blog called Tabula Gaza.
The following are articles covering both his arrest and his previous activism:

"Egypt police detain Egyptian-German activist"
"Activists Begin 'March to Gaza'"
"'We Will Stay on Our Land'"

Ma'adi, Mohandaseen and Methods Reading

Late yesterday afternoon, Phil and I met at Tahrir Sq. where Marise and her friend Michelle picked us up. Marise, who deftly dodges microbuses and taxis while simultaneously holding conversations in Arabic and English, conveyed us safely and soundly down the Corniche and on to Ma'adi. Along the way, we passed Ahly (soccer team) fans and trucks atop which there were people perched precariously.

Our destination was Lucille's. We were going for a 4:30 brunch, which I'm not convinced even qualifies as brunch at all, but we had a great time. We went to a coffee shop afterward and chatted until we realized it was after 8 PM. Among our various interesting conversations, we talked about the expectation Marise's parents, who grew up in Egypt but have since lived in Canada and the States for many years, had of anyone who would want to date or marry her. Interestingly, aside from religious qualifications (the family is Catholic), the most important thing to Marise's mom is that this potential suitor be at ease in the social setting of Egyptian family life where, like when I went to the Red Sea with my Coptic friend, literally dozens of relatives and friends and relatives of friends sit around for hours shooting the breeze and eating and reveling in the opportunity to be in one another's company. No stiff, watch-watching Americans allowed. Marise and Michelle dropped Phil and me back off downtown and I showered and got ready to meet up with Phil again to go to our friend Amanda's in Mohandaseen for a party. There were people from the International Organization for Migration, from Africa and Middle East Refugee Assistance, and from AUC in addition to expats and Egyptians in other jobs and from other occupations. I chatted with a couple of French Canadians and realized just how different the Québecois accent is from standard French. Conversations centered on travel experiences or planned travels and, for my friend Cara who's birthday is a week before mine, our plans for a joint birthday party next Friday.
Today I plan to get some reading done for my Research Methods class lest the world think I've forgotten I'm here attending graduate school and volunteering (my English class, as I may have mentioned, starts up again on the 17th).

Men arrested for distributing Bibles at Cairo book fair
Hamas says no to weekend truce talks in Cairo
Calls for Egypt to account for harboring former Nazis

Friday, February 6, 2009

A bite of crow

Ok, ok, so I'm all about admitting when I'm wrong. I decided that my apprehension about my psychosocial class and about trekking out to the new campus once a week was more or less unwarranted after all. The class, though it seems a little too undergraddy, promises to be pretty interesting. The TA who's an American who studied in Canada, Sweden, and now Egypt is married to an Egyptian, and I ended up spending the busride back chatting with her about, among other things, her experiences with her Egyptian in-laws and how alternately frustrating and rewarding that situation can be. We talked about racism in Egypt in the wake of my cab experience and a heated conversation she had with her husband's aunt.
I do have to say that the new campus has something of a surreal atmosphere. Everywhere are Egyptian undergraduates dressed to the nines having little (aesthetically) in common with the kind of over-the-top, bi2a, faux designer, blindingly-shiny or awkwardly tight garb so common downtown. As they lounge around on the steps, ledges, and other seating areas of the multi-million dollar dessert campus, they look more like an Abercrombie advertisement than a scene from the eastern reaches of the Sahara Desert. Adding to the effect are large speakers at every turn piping in almost-tasteful Egyptian pop-esque music, though I don't recall there being any lyrics. The sunshine was warm and inviting, but I imagine that the closer we get to summer, the less I'll be of that opinion.
The busride itself wasn't so bad either. On surprisingly well-kept buses, we leave downtown along a route that hugs the Nile for several kilometers before cutting through the suburbs, then the desert. Along the way, shoddily-built "luxury villas" and institutions seem to have sprung out of the sand each with their own unique style. Some like the Future University of Egypt are an exercise in high kitsch. It's main building is a miniature colosseum (like something you'd see in Vegas) with one side cut away revealing an all-glass entrance seeming to suggest a marriage of classical learning with cutting edge technology. I don't know about the credentials of said university, but somehow I don't think they'll be giving AUC a run for its money anytime soon.
Back at home, feeling lighter at the prospect of really enjoying this semester--no classes to sincerely dread as I did my intro class last semester--I made dinner, or rather boiled pasta and frozen vegetables, and then got juice with Ross and Phil. The pomegranate juice, which costs the equivalent of 36 US cents, was spectacular. Later on, I caught a ride with some friends to a party in Zamalek where I met an Egyptian who tried to make it as a used car-salesman in Lawrence, Kansas but after getting into an auto-accident himself and being wronged, so he told me, by an insurance company, he ended up out of money and having to return to Egypt. Mentioning Caterpillar as I do when I mention being from Peoria, I learned that I can apparently make tens of thousands of dollars selling used loaders in Egypt. I'll keep that in mind. I bonded with another acquaintance over our sobriety. Neither of us is particularly fond of excess when it comes to alcohol--she doesn't drink at all and I'm a wine with dinner kind of guy or a sucker for good Belgian beer, but not more than a couple. We decided that it my be fun to try finding more culturally significant or even offbeat adventures outside of the parties and bars that preoccupy many in the expat community, so hopefully fun will materialize out of that. The circus, maybe? I met a Russo-Egyptian journalist and one who is Franco-British who told me of a Rotarian he met in Canada who was a warden at an upscale prison. Rotarians are everywhere and do everything, it seems.
Soon, for the reading pleasure of those that follow this blog, I will be including an interview or maybe several interviews with Egyptian friends and their impressions on things like the recently-inaugurated American president, relations between the West and the Islam world, American values, terrorism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and more. If you have any questions you'd like me to ask, please send them along.

How the US is trying to spread tolerance and a respect for diversity in Egypt
Ransom paid to Somali pirates to free Egyptian ship and its crew
Dreams fueled by hyperconsumptive tastes and poor planning to yield more suburban sprawl outside Cairo

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Bibimbap and Comparative Migration Law

Last night after sending out a slew of postcards and working on my résumé, I joined a bunch of friends for Korean. The vegetarian crew (of which I'm a sometimes member) got orders of bibimbap--delicious! It's always so surreal to have the Korean owner, Egyptian waiters, and a small herd of Americans interacting as if it were the most normal Tuesday night activity ever. We spent the evening catching up, asking about each other's winter breaks--some were snowier than others. On the way in, we passed a praying policeman or military guy praying with his gun completely apart from him, laying on the floor. I didn't bother snatching it or anything; it probably wasn't loaded anyway.
Today I breathed a sigh of relief as I realized that I made an excellent choice in selecting Comparative Migration Law as my elective for the semester. Mike Kagan (who's teaching the course) is fantastic. Maybe I should be looking for an international law program somewhere. I'm so fickle. Today we talked about jus sanguinis and jus soli as bases for citizenship and discussed the differences between the laws governing nationality in Egypt, Chile, Argentina, China, the UK, and the US. Eventually we'll be developing our own migration codes in small groups. I'm really stoked by the prospect. Tomorrow is my dreaded first trek out to the desert campus for my psychosocial class. I'll try and be optimistic tomorrow when I get on the bus for the hour-long bus ride, but no promises.
I've also been in contact with an author who was a former Rotary ambassadorial scholar to London in the late 1980s. He's coming out with a memoir that promises to be excellent and will discuss in part his Rotary experience. Check out his bio at the Huffington Post website.

Nazi war criminal eluded capture, allegedly died in Cairo in 1992

Paper suggests lack of professionalism as much as problem as suppression in Egyptian media
Short films capture cultural currents in Cairo

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Banking and Bus Tickets

This morning (yes, I woke up before noon) I got up, ready, and dressed, had my regular muesli with coconut yogurt and headed out into the sunshine. Though it's a bit chilly in my apartment at night, that sunshine gave me flashbacks of August and September and I decided to be thankful for the chill. Anyway, I went to the bank to deposit my rent which was really an amusing process. In theory, one takes a number and one waits his or her turn for that number to flash up on a screen at which point one proceeds to the next available teller. In practice, one out of every two people who comes in brush off the man who prints out the numbers, dash up to the counter, and make some excuse as to why what they need to get accomplished is vastly more important than what the other fifteen people waiting to be served need to get done. I had my iPod in and a grinning security guard who was tickled that I was American to keep me occupied and so I made it through the somewhat lengthy wait with a minimum of impatience.
More patience was required for my bus ticket-acquiring excursion to the main downtown campus. I had first to go to the bank there and wait in line (no numbers this time, but still people trying to jump the queue) to pay for a couple of bus tickets. Then, I took my receipt to the top floor of the administrative building which is reachable most conveniently by fire escape. Despite arriving well within the office hours, I found the door to the transport office locked and thus wandered down another corridor until I found someone who took me back to the office as though I were lost. I told her it was locked and so she asked an attendant who'd appeared out of thin air where the man responsible for bus tickets was. Praying, of course. Now, having lived here for some months, I know about how long the prayer should take and, forgive me for speculating, but I think he must've taken a prayer-cum-coffee break. My iPod and this past week's This American Life kept me entertained as I sat in the sunshine again, contemplating the impending insufferable heat. Finally the gentleman arrived, I handed him my receipt and he handed me a couple of bus tickets. Simple enough, I guess. Next, I picked up fourteen postcards after having told as many (or more) people I'd send them one and then continued on to the copy shop to get yet more cumbersome class readings that I plan to tackle soon.
I forgot to mention that the floor cleaning man came a-ringing the other day. I've chronicled his obnoxious doorbell habits before, but since I'm still in my zen-I-was-just-in-Europe-and-loved-it mode, I showered ignoring a good five to ten minutes of sporadic ringing, got dressed, and gingerly made my way to the door where I met the man who wipes down the stairs with dirty rags and demands money for it. We'd been gone (he wanted to know where) and he was thus asking for more money than usual. Fine, fine. I gave it to him, but, you give an inch, he takes a mile. He then asked me something in Arabic and I got two words out of it–maya (water) and hammam (bathroom). Thinking he wanted to fill up his bucket with water from the bathroom, I let him in. I was only partially right. First, he dumped the entire bucket of oily black water (I think it was water) into our toilet, splashing the grit and grime all over everything. Thanks! Then he put the self-same bucket into our bathroom sink (the one I just raved about making sparkle and shine) and fill it up with the faucet whose water I brush my teeth with. Thanks, buddy. Ma3lesh.
I find myself feeling more confident in my (still quite limited Arabic). I regularly tell people "ma3salaama" (goodbye) instead of waving awkwardly and sometimes make the effort to say "assalamo alaykum", the formal greeting meaning "peace be upon you", when I enter a shop, but I don't feel like very many Egyptians actually say it very often. Speaking of Arabic, I'll know next month whether I've been accepted to the State Department's critical languages program for Arabic. Keep your fingers crossed!

Israel warns of retaliatory action against Hamas in wake of missile strike
Egypt to close the Rafah crossing on 5 February
Arab youths seeking employment hit hard by financial crisis

Monday, February 2, 2009

Throwing kittens

To my devoted readership (assuming that you do exist), sorry not to have written last night. While I ran a number of very productive little errands, I didn't have any moving cultural notes or insights to include. I did, however, see a young Egyptian boy wielding a stick and simultaneously grabbing a cat by the nape of its neck and then throwing it several times. Where's PETA now, I wonder?
February, which began almost unnoticed yesterday, is a month of new things--getting used to life in Cairo all over again, new classes, bracing for new manmade challenges concocted by AUC, etc. I'm also teaching in a new school that was opened by the same program through whom I taught before. I would've preferred to stay with my former class, but my courses at the university conflict. I start back to teaching on the 17th, so stay tuned for those updates. There are also new opportunities--new people to meet and new possibilities for volunteering.
Overall the pollution, increased challenges in eating and sleeping healthily, and my displeasure with AUC have sapped a lot of my energy, but I'm still doing well. I've got the rest of my course readings for Comparative Migration Law and will pick up those for Methods tomorrow. Like the class in general, picking up my readings for Psychosocial Issues in Refugee Studies promises to be a pain. I may even be expected to take an hour-long busride to the desert campus place an order and turn right back around spend another hour to return downtown. Realistic, I'm sure. The university hasn't even explained how to obtain bus passes this semester. Ma3lesh, just have to keep on keeping on!
Koshary at Koshary Tahrir with friend and classmate Erin was good--man, that stuff is just so addictive! I wonder what they put in it. On second thought, judging from the methods they employed for cleaning their dishes, I don't want to know what they do with anything there. Ignorance is bliss...and maybe a parasite.

Egyptian gas to flow to Israel
Egypt overturns journalists' prison sentences
Food prices down slightly in Egypt