Jehan Sadat, fundraising for Israel

Why is Jehan Sadat attending a Zionist fundraising conference? Her best line:
She noted that he gave his Nobel Peace Prize money to the poor of Egypt, despite her telling him that the family could use it. “He said, ‘Money comes and goes, but friends are forever.’ He was right, of course.”
This from the widow of the man who began the institutionalization of corruption in Egypt. And now she participated in a dinner that raised $7 million in bond sales for Israel.
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First impressions: Al Jazeera English

Yesterday, amidst all this effort trying to fix the blog, I watched the countdown clock to 12pm GMT on my television screen. When it reached 0, Al Jazeera English finally launched, about six months behind their last schedule, which was also several months behind the previous announced time. In that time it has changed its name, made some changes to the way it operates to be more Doha-focused, and missed out on the year's biggest story, the war on Lebanon. I visited Al Jazeera English last February and spoke to staff on both the English and Arabic channels. Many had misgivings about the editorial line the channel would took -- in Arabic they were afraid it would embarrass them, in English they seemed to have no clear idea of what that line should be. It turns out, judging from the first day, that AJE does have an editorial line that is different than BBC World or CNN International, but its style remains quite similar to the others -- most notably because of the preponderance of British accents on the channel (and a few non-native English ones, which is a bit of a gamble to take as a broadcaster.) Several things struck me about their political line:
  • They keep on referring to "so-called" Palestinian terror attacks (the rockets launched on Israel from Gaza), putting the stress on "so-called." If they are going to pursue this, which is fair enough, they need to develop the debate over legitimate resistance to occupation using terrorist tactics. The insertion of qualifiers like "so-called" and "alleged" will quickly get tiring without a more probing debate into what's legitimate resistance and what's terrorism against civilians (and where the two meet.)
  • My impression is that they are pretty fair on Israel -- they don't only show in a bad light, they interviewed Shimon Peres and did a little featurette on the Israeli national football team.
  • Their focus on Gaza is on the misery and poverty. I'm glad this is getting more attention, but it'd be great to talk about the ins and outs of Palestinian politics and the role Egypt, Israel and the US have in them. We have enough channels pretending that Palestinian politics are completely independent without external influence already.
  • Their reporting on Zimbabwe, including the first live broadcast in seven years, was impressive and obliquely tough on Mugabe. But why didn't he give the background story to farm nationalization that caused the current crisis? Are there red lines he's not crossing?
  • The reporting on Iran was very interesting. At one point they had Richard Haass from the Council on Foreign Relations debating Egyptian octogenarian strategist Muhammad Hassanein Heykal. Great to see Heykal talking in English, but he was unconvincing. In another segment they had a professor of political science in Tehran who was much more interesting and not pro-regime.
  • Did they really need to include a report on the Emir of Qatar's latest speech as the third or fourth leading news item? Small price to pay, but still...
  • They make obvious attempts to position themselves as outside the West, for instance referring to "making the headlines in the West is Tony Blair's recent statements on Iran..." and then following it with a segment on Iranians not paying attention to all this. Interesting strategy, but it won't always be convincing.
  • They tried to get several scoops in during the first day. The reporting from Somalia was interesting but too human interest and not political enough, but still good to see live images from there. The Zimbabwe report was not as exclusive as they say since the BBC regularly goes there covertly. The interview with the head of Interpol warning that most countries were doing nothing to check for stolen passports was great, a real scoop, but so far I haven't seen it picked up elsewhere. Sour grapes?
Overall, though, I feel this channel has the potential to be much, much better than the most boring and underfunded BBC World or very bland CNN International (which may still have the edge on access). They focus on other issues than the existing channels and, when tackling big topics such as Iran, approach things from a different angle. I see no deep hostility to Israel or the West (although they'll be accused of it), and generally it's pretty professional. Let's hope they keep going the same way -- the big test will be what their coverage will be like during the next regional crisis. Update: Now watching the noon broadcast. They're promoting themselves again. It's getting annoying. Teh top story should not be themselves. Related stories: NYT - A New Al Jazeera With a Global Focus WaPo - Al Jazeera's US Face NY Sun - Al Jazeera in English (hatchet job) NY Sun - Major Cable Providers Refuse To Carry English-Language Al-Jazeera NYT - Not Coming Soon to a Channel Near You Guardian - Weather in Arabia, crisis in Gaza, and no sign of Sir David's Through the Cavehole BBC - Al-Jazeera English hits airwaves Aqoul - Al-Jazeera International: Setting the News Agenda?
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US Copt activist teams up with Fox News

Does anyone else find the prospect of Coptic activist Michael Meunier and Fox News teaming up potentially extremely dangerous? Watch this closely. Maybe it'll be legitimate -- there is plenty to complain about if you're a Copt. But Meunier has a history of manipulating media to advance his own political profile in Washington, and we all know about Fox News' reputation.
U.S. Copts and Fox News Partner on Egypt Project Washington DC Nov.15, 2006 Dear Copts and Friends, I'm pleased to share with you news of Fox News Channel's upcoming special report on religious freedom in Egypt, in which I had the pleasure of co-operating with Fox News producers and journalists during this past summer. U.S. Copts has joined with international cable television giant the Fox News Channel to create a televised special report on human rights abuses against Copts in Egypt. The report, part of a new Fox News series on religious freedom in countries around the world, features exclusive interviews with Coptic victims, priests, and others inside Egypt. In the summer of 2006, I traveled to Egypt with Fox News journalists where we went on locations all over Egypt to shoot hours of documentary footage highlighting victims and sites of anti-Coptic human rights abuses. The footage include those of destroyed churches, victims and their families. If the serious is to come out in the way I hope too, it will provide a great exposure for our cause. My understanding is that the initial report which will air starting today will be a short program. However, I am promised by Fox that the hours of tapes they recorded will be used in another full hour special on Egypt and the Copts. The entire series, including the Egypt report, airs this coming Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, November 15- 17, 2006 on the Fox News Channel at 7.00 PM Eastern Standard Time (2:00 AM Egypt time). Best Wishes, Michael Meunier
If someone can digitally record this on Fox News and somehow send it my way, I'd be very grateful.
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muesli madness

angry-hippie.jpg Authorities are warning this morning of a new threat to the safety of Cairene motorists—angry hippies. “We think they’re coming from California,� confided Mohamed El Jalaad of the Traffic Safety Division of State Security. “It’s the sandals that tip us off. But do not worry. We will crush them beneath the wheels of our Jeeps.� While rumors of steadily rising face-mask sales continue to circulate, pedestrians are being advised to take care in crossing the road. “These angry hippies can be dangerous,� says taxi driver Ahmed al Soua pointing to mark on the side of his cab. While he says he wasn’t really watching, he thinks the mark may have been caused when he sideswiped a Deadhead on a mountain bike. Meanwhile Shabaan Abdel Rahim has announced that he will be releasing a song next week entitled “Squash the bearded freak under the wheels of your Lada.�
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Technical problems

Over the last few days the site experienced severe technical problems, most probably caused by a spam attack. The site was down for about 24 hours while we attempted to resolve the problem. There have been rumors on Egyptian blogs that the site had been blocked -- this is not so. We are certain that the Egyptian government did not block the site, since it was also down for readers outside of Egypt, and have no reason to believe that it may be behind the technical problems. Thanks for the messages of concern from readers as well as calls from the press. Until we get to the bottom of what happened, there is no need to speculate about what may have caused these problems.
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Protest Beit Hanoun Massacre Thursday

In response to the Beit Hanoun massacre of Palestinian women and children, The Muslim Brotherhood, the Revolutionary Socialists and Kefaya have called for a women's demonstration in front of the Arab League in Tahrir Square, Thrusday November 16 at 2:00 p.m. The demonstration will be the first street event organized jointly by women activists from the secular and religious opposition.
Protest Beit Hanoun Massacre

احتجاجا على مقتل النساء والأط�ال �ي بيت حانون على أيدي قوات الاحتلال الإسرائيلي، تدعو جماعة الاخوان المسلمين وتيار الاشتراكيين الثوريين وحركة ك�اية لمظاهرة نسائية أمام مقر جامعة الدول العربية بميدان التحرير الخميس 16 نو�مبر، الساعة 2 ظهراً

تعد المظاهرة الأولى من نوعها لجمعها نساء المعارضة العلمانية والدينية معاً

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Rumsfeld immortalized

Portrait of Donald Rumsfeld by Iraqi artist Moayyed Mohsen (see below for the back story):
Iraqi artist paints Rumsfeld gloating over ruins of Iraq by Asaad Abboud BAGHDAD, Nov 14, 2006 (AFP) - Moayyed Mohsen likes to paint great figures from Iraq's past like the mythical hero Gilgamesh. But this year he turned his talents to another larger-than-life subject in his country's history -- Donald Rumsfeld. Dominating the wall of a Baghdad art gallery in the Sunni neighborhood of Adhamiyah is a massive mural that is no tribute to the outgoing US defense secretary. Rumsfeld is depicted leaning back reading papers, with combat-boot-clad feet propped up on a ruined building. Beside him is a weathered image of the Lion of Babylon -- potent symbol of Iraq's illustrious past -- atop a ruined plinth. The US official is surrounded by whirling bits of paper that morph into birds and fly off into the distance. The artist's image is striking and it was conceived in anger -- not just over the occupation of Iraq but also over what Mohsen sees as the humiliation of a nation that once taught mankind how to write.
Thanks, Paul!
"I long wondered if I could somehow find a way to concisely express my own and everyone else's concerns about the war and Iraq," the artist told AFP from his home in Hilla, the capital of Babil province south of Baghdad. "When I painted this, I felt I wanted to talk to Rumsfeld, to know why we got into this situation," he said, saying the one meter by a meter and a half (3.3 by 4.9 feet) painting took three months to complete. More than any other official, the controversial Rumsfeld came to symbolize the US intervention in Iraq as one of the main architects of the invasion and subsequent occupation. His resignation on November 8 -- the first casualty of the Republican defeat in mid-term congressional elections last week -- met with almost universal acclaim across Iraq's divided communities, who seem to agree on little else than the situation in their war-ravaged country is getting worse by the day. Many Iraqis feel the US defense secretary's handling of the war showed arrogance and disdain for their country -- tellingly symbolized by his famous quip that "stuff happens" when asked to comment on the looting of Baghdad, including its museum, in the invasion's aftermath. Mohsen, who loves reading American magazines, said his model was a photograph he found of Rumsfeld. "The way he sat was very strange to us here in the East -- it is an insult to those around," he said. In the Middle East, showing the soles of one's feet is considered very poor manners, so the Rumsfeld in the painting automatically offends the viewer. The Lion of Babel atop a ruined perch sends another message. "I decided to make the base of the statue a bookcase containing volumes on the arts, literature and knowledge left by Iraqis," he said. "Then I destroyed the base to symbolize the repeated wars and showed the papers flying through the air and changing into white birds showing love and peace to the world." By juxtaposing his subject with ancient monuments, Mohsen sought to pit the endurance of history against the fleeting nature of man -- an apt visual statement, it turned out, in light of Rumsfeld's resignation. "The lion is a long-lived symbol expressing creativity and sublime artistic work in Mesopotamia, while the person is modern and fleeting and will end one day." Mohsen, who is in his 50s and rarely leaves his home in Hilla these days, said he likes to mix past and present to provoke viewers and make them think. Art in the service of politics has a lengthy history in Iraq, especially under deposed dictator Saddam Hussein whose cult portraits as everything from warrior, to Bedouin leader to camera-toting tourist once adorned all parts of the country. Mohsen maintains that he never painted images of Saddam, and said he now makes a living doing portraits. Although the Rumsfeld painting currently hangs in a Baghdad gallery, owner Qassem al-Sebti said he has put it up for sale through a New York gallery. He boasts that the US embassy here once offered him 35,000 dollars (27,000 euros) for it but he refused, a claim that could not be substantiated. "We thought we could get a better price for it in the US," al-Sebti said.
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Al Jazeera English to launch tomorrow

I'm not in the habit of putting up press releases, but this one about the launch -- finally! -- of Al Jazeera English (note that it's no longer Al Jazeera International, apparently the Emir of Qatar decided the whole Al Jazeera group was international, not just the English channel). Considering that AJE has changed not only its name but also its formula since it was announced over a year ago, there might be some surprises in store. The final product seems less ambitious than originally intended -- there will be more time in Doha and less of the 360 around-the-globe stuff they'd bragged about (which seemed like marketing speak to me anyway.) But I have to admit I'm excited to see what they're going to do with this channel and whether it'll be more interesting than the soporific, badly produced BBC World or the rather bland CNN International. AL JAZEERA ENGLISH TO LAUNCH TOMORROW -Worldwide distribution unveiled ahead of launch Tuesday 14 November 2006, Al Jazeera English, the first English language international news and current affairs channel headquartered in the Middle East, launches tomorrow Wednesday November 15th at 12.00 GMT to over 80 million cable and satellite households worldwide. Broadcast across the globe, Al Jazeera English will far exceed its original launch target of 40 million cable and satellite homes. It will be distributed across all continents throughout the world and in addition to cable and satellite will be available on broadband IPTV, ADSL, terrestrial and mobile phone platforms. Major distributors of the channel include: Canal Sat and TPS France Kabel Deutschland Germany Kabel BW Germany HK Broadband Hong Kong YES TV Israel Sky Italia Italy Astro Malaysia Canal Digitaal The Netherlands ORCUS New Zealand Canal Digitaal Nordic Region Digital Satellite (Sky Guide 514) United Kingdom Globecast United States Wadah Khanfar, the Director General of the Al Jazeera Network stated, “Our launch figure is over double the original target we set for ourselves and is unprecedented in the broadcasting industry - no other international news channel has launched with such a high number of homes across the world. We will continue to build on this figure after launch and will be looking to expand our reach significantly. This is another reflection of the strength of the Al Jazeera brand.” Commercial Director of Al Jazeera English Language Channel, Lindsey Oliver said, “I am absolutely delighted that our efforts have paid off and that Al Jazeera English will be launching with over 80 million cable and satellite households. We particularly appreciate the support that has been shown far and wide with distributors signing up to carry Al Jazeera English on the reputation of the Al Jazeera brand, our stated goals, our on air and off air teams, and without having seen the channel on air.” In addition to cable, ADSL, mobile platforms and satellite, Al Jazeera English will be available as a live stream to the one billion users of the Internet worldwide. Al Jazeera’s English language website, aljazeera.net/english will be re-launched with the launch of the English language channel at 12.00 GMT tomorrow, to reflect the channel’s look and feel and editorial content. It will provide live streams of the channel together with RSS feeds, e-mail newsletters and interactive discussion boards. RealNetworks will provide Internet users with a free live stream of the channel. Users will also be able to access a high bandwidth stream via subscription from Real, and a high bandwidth pay-as-you-go service will also be available. The Complete list of Al Jazeera English launch platforms is as follows: Afghanistan Tolo TV Australia Transact UBI TV Belgium TV Vlaanderen Bosnia & Herzegovina Dzemo H & S Bulgaria MSAT SKAT Croatia Vodatel Cyprus Primetel Denmark Canal Digitaal Estonia Elion Ettevotted AS AS STV Teleset AS City TV Finland Canal Digitaal TTV/Elisa Co-operation Pool France TPS Canal Sat Neuf/Cegetel Free T Online Tele 2 NOOS Germany KDG (including Premiere) Premiere Subscribers (FTA Digital Feeds) DNMG (various smaller operators in Germany) Kabel BW – Land Baden-Wuerttemberg HanseNet Telekommunikation GmbH - Hamburg netcologne GmbH Broadband – Cologne Kabel Kiosk (Eutelsat) Telecolumbus – Berlin, and other areas Ghana Metro TV Greece Nova Teledome DSL Honduras Cable Sula Hong Kong HK Broadband Indonesia XL Ireland Digital satellite Israel YES Pelephone, Cellcom, Orange Italy Sky Italia Jordan Jump TV Kenya Nation TV Kuwait United Network Company Latvia Baltkom IZZI Lebanon Cablevision Lithuania Balticum Malaysia ASTRO Maldives Media Net Malta Multiplus Middle East NileSat (including subscribers to the Showtime network) ArabSat New Zealand ORCUS Norway Canal Digitaal Consoll IPTV Next GenTel Poland Cyfra Plus Cyfrowy Polsat Toya (Lodz) Portugal Novis Qatar Qatar Cable Romania iNES Group DTH Group South Africa Vodacom Spain Jazztelia TV Orange TV ZTV – Marina Sweden Com Hem Canal Digitaal Switzerland NAXOO Thailand Buddy TV The Netherlands Canal Digitaal Essent Xtra Televisie Turkey Turksat United Arab Emirates Etisalat Evision United Kingdom Digital satellite (Sky Guide 514) Vingo United States of America GlobeCast Fision Jump TV VDC Uganda Nation TV -ENDS- Notes to Editors: If you are not a subscriber to one of the above systems, you can still access the channel from one of the satellites below or through our live web streaming on www.aljazeera/english.net LIST OF AL JAZEERA ENGLISH WORLDWIDE SATELLITES -Hotbird 6 – Europe -Hispasat 1 C – Spain -Eurobird 1 – UK -Astra 1KR – Europe -Badr 2 – MENA -Badr C – MENA -Nilesat 101 – MENA -Thor III – Nordic Region -PAS10 – India -Turksat 2A – Turkey -Asiasat 3S – Asia -Optus C1 – Australia -Optus B3 – Australia -PAS9 – Americas -IA 13 – Americas -IA 5 - Americas About Al Jazeera English Al Jazeera English is the world’s first English language news channel to be headquartered in the Middle East. Broadcasting from within the Middle East, looking outwards, Al Jazeera English will set the news agenda and act as a bridge between cultures. With unique access as the channel of reference for Middle East events, and broadcast centres strategically placed around the world in Doha, Kuala Lumpur, London and Washington DC, Al Jazeera English will balance the information flow from South to North, providing accurate, impartial and objective news for a global audience from a grass roots level, giving voice to different perspectives from under-reported regions around the world. Al Jazeera English is building on the ground-breaking heritage of its sister Arab-language channel – Al Jazeera, which was responsible for changing the face of news within the Middle East, now extending that fresh perspective from regional to global.
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The Street Is Ours Demo tomorrow

تعلن حركة الشارع لنا أننا سو� نبدأ حملة د�اعا عن تواجدنا.. عن حقنا �ي الحياة العامة.. وعن حقنا �ي حياة خالية من العن� والتحرش الجنسي.. وندعو الجميع، نساء ورجال، إلى التجمع أمام سينما مترو (أحد مواقع تحرشات وسط البلد) يوم الثلاثاء، 14 نو�مبر �ي الثالثة بعد الظهر، تضامنا مع النساء ضحايا أيام العيد وإعلانا بأن الشارع لنا وأن أحدا لن يعزلنا أو يخي�نا بعيدا عنه. كي لا تخا� أي أم على ابنتها أو أخت على أختها وأي زوج على زوجته أو أب على ابنته.. كي لا يسرقوا منا الشعور بالأمن �ي بلادنا.. الآن: مسئوليتنا جميعا أن ننزل الشارع مزيد من المعلومات مراسلتنا على البريد الالكترونى info [at] streetisours [dot] org

The Street is Ours We shall start a campaign defending our presence, our right to public space, our right to a life free of violence and sexual harassment; We call upon everybody, women and men, to gather in front of the Metro Theater (one of the locations where the harassments took place) Tuesday 14 November, at 3 p.m., to express our solidarity with the victims of harassment to make a statement that the street is ours. Nobody will terrify us away. Nobody will isolate us in our country.

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Demo: Kefaya marks 2nd anniversary

Kefaya is holding an anti-Mubarak protest on 12 December, at 12 noon, in front of the High Court in Ramses, marking the second anniversary of the movement's first anti-regime protest in 2004.
Kefaya's 1st anti-Mubarak demo (Photo by Hossam el-Hamalawy, taken on 12Dec04)
[Above: Kefaya and el-Hamla el-Sha'abiya's first anti-Mubarak protest. You can find more pix I took of the 12 December 2004 demo on my flickr account]
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Kefaya Giza coordinator detained

Authorities continued their hassels against Mohamed Al-Ashqar, Kefaya activist and the head of the Popular Committee for the Protection of the Consumer from Corruption in Giza. He was detained yesterday, and his whereabouts are unknown. Ashqar was to lead the "garbage march" today in Giza, to protest the unfair garbage collection fees decreed by the Governor. Related link: State Security "detains" Kefaya activist's car
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Garbage march

The Popular Committee for the Protection of the Consumer from Corruption has called for a march on Monday, 13 November in Giza, to protest the Governor's decree to add unfair garbage collection fees to electricity bills. The silent march is to start in front of the Telephone Centrale in Giza Square, 12 noon, and will proceed to the Giza Governorate building. Participants are encouraged to bring garbage bags which will be dumped in front of the Governorate's building at the end of the march.
اللجنة الشعبية لحماية المستهلك من الجباية وال�ساد والتى استطاعت من قبل وبمأزرة جماهير الجيزة من الحصول على الحكم النهائى بالغاء رسوم النظا�ة المضا�ة الى �اتورة الكهرباء ، تدعوكم اللجنة الى المظاهرة الصامتة التى ستبدأ �ى:الثانية عشر ظهرا يوم الاثنين الموا�ق 13 نو�مبروبمشاركة كا�ة مؤسسات المجتمع الأهلى والقوى الوطنية من امام سنترال ميدان الجيزة يحمل كل منا �ى يده كيس زبالة حيث تبدأ المسيرة من الميدان لتنتهى امام مبنى محا�ظة الجيزة لالقاء هذه المخل�ات امام مبنى المحا�ظة تحت شعار"الزبالة يا مسئولين زبالة ...لن نسدد �واتير اللصوص" للاستعلام يرجى الاتصال بالارقام" 5725297 - 0123997591
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وداعاً أحمد شر�

Communist lawyer Ahmad SharafEddin passed away last night at the age of 57. Sharaf was a student leader in the 1970s, who went on to become a labor lawyer. He was a devoted soldier in working class battles and a ruthless civil rights campaigner at the Lawyers' Syndicate. May he rest in peace… I'm posting a feature, I wrote for the Cairo Times back in 2002, about Awlad Allam slum in Dokki, where Sharaf grew up. Diamond in the rough Nestled among the high towers and fashionable boutiques of Dokki lies a slum with an illustrious past, Hossam El-Hamalawy explores A slum in Dokki!? Eyebrows go up whenever anyone hears of the existence of Awlad Allam, an "informal neighborhood" (read slum area) in the heart of upmarket Dokki. Not far from the Shooting Club, just behind the Ministry of Agriculture complex and the elite residential area by Mossadeq Street, Awlad Allam was actually one of the first settlements on the west bank of Cairo. This small shaabi enclave in a wealthy area was once known for its political militancy. But unlike most slum areas, in which Islamist groups from the Muslim Brotherhood to Al Gamaa Al Islamiya have thrived, Awlad Allam was a stronghold of communists and other leftist groups throughout the 1970s and 1980s. It most notably produced several leftist leaders who played a key role in the students' and workers' movements of those decades. However, in the 1990s, the neighborhood's reputation changed. After being a center of militant secular politics, authorities have accused it of being a hotbed for drug dealers and thugsan accusation strongly denied by its residents, though they admit that apathy, unemployment and frustration have spread among the youth. Now, while the residents of Awlad Allam have abandoned leftist politics (or, as they might say, leftist politics abandoned them), they are facing a greater challenge than State Security crackdowns. For over two decades, they have fought off an attempt by the government to evict them from their prime real estate and move them to the new residential areas around Cairo. Pioneers "The story [of Awlad Allam] is passed on from one generation to the other," says 25-year-old Emad Mubarak. "Dokki was then an agricultural areano buildings, no nothing." Emad is the brother of Hisham Mubarak, a pioneering human rights activist in the 1990s (and occasional Cairo Times contributor) who passed away in 1999. He is also a prominent leftist activist in his own right and has faced persecution from the State Security police on numerous occasions. He decided to follow in the footsteps of his late brother as a human rights lawyer. "People are always shocked when they find out about the existence of a shantytown in the middle of Dokki," Mubarak says. "But we were here before Dokki was built. This is the case in many other areas. The slum existed before the posh district, unlike the common stereotype." There are several histories--and urban legends--about the neighborhood. But legal documents in the possession of former student leader and current labor lawyer, Ahmad Sharaf, show that the inhabitants of Awlad Allam settled around the year 1900 after emigrating from Upper Egypt. "The [inhabitants of the] old part of Awlad Allam were working the land of Princess Fatma Ismail," explains Sharaf. "She owned all of these lands, including the area upon which Cairo University was built. Later it was taken over by the [Ministry of] Awqaf." What started a century ago as a scattering of peasant huts has evolved into a five-feddan slum with a population ranging between 15,000 and 20,000 persons. Until the 1960s, most of the residents were peasants. But now things changed. "You find professors, police and army officers, judges, teachers, lawyers and doctors," says Gouda Al Sheemi, a 59-year-old resident who works at the National Research Center. "This is a microcosm of Egyptian society." The diversity of professions isn't the only common aspect of this community--the poverty of the slum's inhabitants is evident. Around 100 families receive aid from the Ministry of Social Affairs, according to Sharaf. Until recently, Awlad Allam lacked basic facilities. The inner alleys were only paved three years ago and drinking water pipes were only installed in 1997. "Before that women used to carry big plastic containers on their heads, and walk to a public water pipe outside the slum to get their families' share," recalls Mubarak. "The houses are so small that you can't even now extend the pipes inside, so the pipes surround the houses!" A radical history Poverty, in addition to the political conditions the country was going through in the 1970s, radicalized many of the inhabitants of the slum. It's enough to bring up Sharaf's and Mubarak's names to any of the residents and dozens of residents gather around to recount the "legends" of Awlad Allam's favorite sons. "I remember when we were children, Ahmad Sharaf and Hisham Mubarak were like folk heroes," says Ragab Abdel Hamid, a 28-year-old janitor and father of two. "We used to look up to them, and talk joyously about how they caused headaches for the government." Abdel Hamid has named his newborn child Hisham. Communist militants had an active presence in the neighborhood for decades, organizing demonstrations, clashes with the police, and welfare activities. One of the earliest memories Sharaf has about his childhood was the 1956 demonstration against the Suez War. "The people in the neighborhood took to the streets chanting anti-British and pro-Nasser slogans," he says. "We were carrying a symbolic coffin for [British Prime Minister Anthony] Eden that was made of wooden chicken cages. We all marched barefooted and in gallabiyas. I was seven years old then, and I had no clue who Nasser was at that time. I thought he was someone important in the nearby Ministry of Agriculture!" That even marked the beginning of political activities in the area, which heightened after the 1967 defeat that pushed many of Awlad Allam's disillusioned youths to the radical left. Each generation of activists in the slum organized a madrassa talaie (vanguards school) through which the political message was passed on to the following generation. The "school" would be set up in the evenings at any nearby empty school building, mosque, Tagammu party headquarters, or even inside the homes of the residents. "There were two objectives: private tutoring for young students to help them in their studies, and at the same time creating politically conscious cadres," says Mubarak. "It was easy to create such cadres, because of the poverty and the feeling of the educated individuals in the slum of the need to do something about it. That's why the people were attracted to the left, and the communists had the upper hand." The slum's children were also taken on recreational trips to archeological places, and museums to know more about the history of Egypt. During the trips, the youngsters were taught to care about Awlad Allam, their "little Egypt," and also their country, "greater Egypt," adds Mubarak. "We used to pay for everything from our pockets including the chalk bars," says Al Sheemi, remembering the evening classes he used to teach. "Today I meet doctors, engineers, and officers, who come up to me and say: 'Do you remember me? I was one of your students. You helped me a lot.'" Political meetings were conducted, while everyone is sitting on the floor, eating falafel, in an atmosphere of comradeship and respect for differences. "At the end of the day, we were all friends; we were all brothers; and we were all Egypt," Al Sheemi added. Mubarak remembers the "street theater" the communist activists used to organize when he was a child. "We used to get a group of tables; put them together and then cover them with a cloth. That was the stage," he says. "Plays were performed, talking about the regime and social oppression. We used to write these plays ourselves, and the youth in the slum would perform them." The shows were very popular. Huge numbers used to come and watch, including inhabitants of neighboring slums, from both sexes and all ages. Politics to drugs? However, with the retreat of the left and the general deterioration of political life in the 1990s, things changed. Awlad Allam's reputation went from being a political hotbed to a den of thugs, drug dealers, and junkies. "There was no continuation between the 1980s and the 1990s generations," Mubarak says. "But my [1990s] generation is to be blamed for that. We couldn't follow the previous one. The Tagammu [party]'s headquarters doesn't exist anymore in the neighborhood. The Tagammu itself has changed, and became unwelcoming to radicals, especially Trotskyites, who make up for most of Egypt's new left." For Mubarak, the problems in the neighborhood cannot be separated from the general problems Egypt is facing. "Everyone is depressed, with poverty all around you," he says. "You have big ambitions, but you know you won't be able to achieve them. Even the simplest dreams, like getting an apartment, have become impossible. Are you going to live with your family? They are already packed in sardine tins." Drug use became prevalent as social problems such as unemployment and political helplessness became to dominate the lives of the youth. The step from drug user to drug dealer, with the nearby presence of upper class youths, was a small one. "The presence of upper class 'cool' guys around the slum encouraged at some point trading in weed as a way of making a living," Mubarak suggests. But he stresses the fact that drug trade is not as spread as the government claim, and accuses the police of taking such claim as a justification for its brutal practices in the neighborhood. Local residents claim that police often make arbitrary arrests "I was just walking in the street, and suddenly came this police officer asking for my ID," says Ibrahim, one of the teenagers in the neighborhood. "I showed it to him, but then he asked me to get into the police car." Ibrahim says this is a standard procedure, and that he was locked up several times before. "They usually lock you up for two days, and then release you with no reason," he added. Teenagers are regularly imprisoned alongside hardened criminals and receive no protection from police in jails. "You have no idea what they go through inside," says Mubarak. Drug-related offenses aside, locals claim the area has low crime ratespartly through self-policing. "Every neighborhood has got its own good guys and bad guys," says Salama Abdel Latif, a 43-year-old owner of a car workshop. "It's a small neighborhood. If anything happens, we all hear about it, and intervene to solve it." Not going anywhere Drugs may be the last thing on the minds of Awlad Allam's inhabitants. They are more worried about their own homes, from which the government has been trying to evict since the 1960s. "Every generation has heard that the neighborhood will be demolished," says Mubarak. "My elder brothers heard it during their youth, and so did I later. We are not going anywhere, as we don't have any other alternative. Your home is sacred, and you'll never leave it, even if you have money." The first major attempt at evicting the slum dwellers was in the beginning of the 1960s. The Ministry of Awqaf (religious endowments) sold the land to the Society of Broadcasters. However, the people refused to leave, so the society broke off the contract, and took only some plots of empty land around the slum, according to Sharaf. Several attempts occurred in the following decades, but were met by fierce resistance from the inhabitants that escalated into clashes with the police on some occasions. After the 1992 earthquake, local authorities evicted some families from what they considered unsafe housing, and moved them to Qattamiya outside Cairo. "The orders for house demolitions, were signed in the [local authorities'] offices," says Al Sheemi. "The officials and engineers didn't bother to come down here and check the safety of the buildings themselves." He believes, like many others, that the earthquake was merely used as a pretext to begin emptying the neighborhood. "You can't destroy our lives, and transfer us to Qattamiya, or Badr city," says Abdel Latif. "There was no single room [in the slum] that collapsed, unlike the case of other towers in high-class neighborhoods that couldn't withstand the quake." At the center of the government's attempt at evicting Awlad Allam's residents lies greed, argue locals. Because of its location near Dokki, the land they live on could fetch a hefty price. Sharaf and other lawyers, together with the some residents, have been active in trying to transfer the ownership of the land and property from the Ministry of Awqaf to the residents. In 1990, the ministry finally agreed to sell them the land, but asked for a high price. "Initially the Awqaf proposed hilarious figures: LE8,000 per meter," Sharaf remembers. "I told the head of Awqaf, 'if you sell all the inhabitants with their belongings you'd only get one house's price!' We asked for LE30-40 per meter like the other cases of Awqaf lands sold in other governorates. [But] the Awqaf is only interested in the money, and doesn't look at the social dimension." According to Sharaf, the Awqaf secretly attempted to strike a deal with some businessmen in 1994 by which the inhabitants would be transferred somewhere else to facilitate selling the land for high prices. "They estimated the total value of the land to be LE26 million," he says. "Constructing alternative houses for the evicted inhabitants would have cost LE20 million. So the Awqaf will come out with a revenue of LE6 million." After long negotiations, the Awqaf made a new offer seven months ago, citing prices ranging between LE2,000 and LE2,400 per meterstill prohibitively expensive by local standards. "My salary is LE500," says Al Sheemi. "How can I pay LE2,400 per meter? Give us a fair price that suits the people here, and we'll pay." Abdel Latif echoes his words. "Why can't I have my own land like those who live in [the elite nearby] Moussadeq Street?" asks Abdel Latif. "I'm a human being just like them, and I have the right to a decent housing. Don't throw me at the [Qattamiya] mountain." Cairo Times August 2002
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TI and other corruption indexes

Al Masry Al Youm yesterday carried a nice photo series on its (print only) back page: Someone with a camera at hand observed a police officer stealing fuel out of one of the dark-blue police cars (“boks�). He then infuses it into a private car (probably his).

This rather amusing example ranks at the very bottom of the misuse of public funds (or materials), which is wide-spread in Egypt, as Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index 2006, which was released two days ago, suggests once more. Egypt ranks 70th, with a score of only 3.3 out of 10 (last year it was 3.4).

Highest-ranking country in the Arab world is Qatar with a score of 6.0, the lowest is Iraq with 1.9.

I think corruption is still the best example for why economic reform can’t be sustainable without political reform. Countries with wide-spread corruption attract much less foreign investment, and innovative companies have lesser chances to gain grounds against the established ones. But in Egypt, corruption is too important for the regime to stay in power, so the fight against corruption will always serve only its own interests. So, Egypt just came in 165th on the World Bank’s annual “Ease of doing business� ranking.

Speaking of cars and corruption: The US scholars Ray Fisman and Edward Miguel published a study in which they draw a correlation between the amount of parking fines of foreign diplomats accredited at the UN in New York and the level of corruption in their home countries. In other words: ‘show me where you park, and I tell you how corrupt your home country is’.

Here is the link to the study (pdf-file): Cultures of Corruption: Evidence from Diplomatic Parking Tickets

Results: First Kuwait, second Egypt.

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FREE KAREEM!

More details are emerging about Abdel Kareem's case that make me wanna puke. According to HR-INFO, Kareem was expelled from Al-Azhar University, the so called most prestigious Sunni institution in the world (bla bla bla), for his "secular ideas." And if that isn't bad enough, the university itself reported him to the authorities. The religious academics have turned into police informers, it seems.
Free Kareem!
Abdel Kareem was interrogated not on any incidents or crimes he committed, but according to HR-INFO, the prosecutor's questions were all like: "Do you pray? Do you fast?".... Kareem is now in police custody, pending investigation into the following charges: -Spreading statements and rumours that disturb public security -Insulting the President of the Republic -Agitating for overthrowing the regime -Agitating for hatred against Islam -Misrepresenting Egypt, and hurting its image. As you can see, the list of charges are similar to those of the Spanish Inquisitions or witch hunting in Medieval Europe. I expect in the future, the prosecutor will ask us questions like, do you own a black cat? Do you repeat Mubarak's name before going to sleep? You can find more details about the case (in Arabic) here. UPDATE: Here's HR-INFO's statement in English.
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