"As President Obama prepares for his trip to Egypt this week, the Mubarak regime is facing unprecedented waves of social protest because life here has become intolerable for millions of Egyptians, who now have no choice but to take to the streets to proclaim their demand for a life fit for humans. Today, between 40% and 50% of Egyptians live below the poverty line; Egypt has become two different countries -- one for the poor and one for the rich. As for the regime, it is now completely incapable of serious reform, so it pushes the police to confront, repress and torture people, overlooking the simple and important fact that police officers are, first and foremost, Egyptian citizens and that what applies to Egyptians in general applies to them too. Most of them suffer in the same way as other Egyptians. I often recall the discussion I had with the State Security officer at the wedding. And I reflect that a political system that relies for its survival on repression always fails to see that the apparatus of repression, however mighty it may be, must be operated by individuals who are part of society and whose interests and opinions generally conform with those of the rest of the population. As repression increases, a day will come when those individuals can no longer justify to themselves the crimes they are committing against people. At that point the regime will lose its power to repress and will meet the fate it deserves. I believe that we in Egypt are approaching that day. "The story opened with a meeting with a State Security officer whom he confronts about working for the regime. It's worth reading in its entirety.
The Earthquake of 2012: Episode One
The date was April 21st, 2012, one that every Cairene will remember, and coincidentally the springtime holiday of Sham el Nessim. Looking back, I realize I heard what was happening while I turned the key to my flat. It started as a subterranean rustling, like a tempest wind in underground palms. I was inside when it hit full force.
Cairo is built on mud, many millennia’s worth of alluvial sludge. When the earthquake began, the city posed only so much resistance, then it just rolled with the punch. The ground came alive, lifted us and set us down, we rode it over and over like a wave. I clung to a wall, trying to stay upright until a crack began to appear beneath my hands, a hairline seam in the paint. My eye traveled to the window where I saw chunk of balustrade dislodge from my balcony. I rushed forward as if to rescue it but a buckled plank of parquet tripped me and I went down. My ear to the trembling floor I heard a quintessential tumult, felt it course through my body like liquid rock. Then it fell away, the howl of a feral earth replaced by the pandemonium of the fleas in its fur.
There’s a Sura in the Quran which if you didn’t know before, you’d be hearing a lot of in the coming weeks. It’s entitled zilzal, which means earthquake, an Arabic onomatopoeia, and well worth quoting in full:
When the Earth is
Shaken to her utmost convulsion,
And the Earth throws up
Her burdens from within,
And man cries distressed:
What is the matter with her?
On that day will she
Declare her tidings:
For that thy lord will
Have given her inspiration.
On that day will men
Proceed in companies sorted out,
To be shown the deeds
That they had done.
Then shall anyone who
Has done an atoms weight
Of good, see it!
And anyone who
Has done an atoms weight
Of evil, shall see it.
My building, god bless it, withstood the quake, as did most of the old ones downtown where damage was particularly light. The chandeliers of the Groppi Café’ were wrenched from the ceiling, whereas the mosaic façade was entirely spared. The Cinema Radio was less fortunate, the lobby collapsed along with the lower portion of the marquis, so that now it reads only ‘R A D’. The statue of Talaat Harb lay on his back in the midan, with a slightly dented fez. No one will miss the mogamma, the monolithic government complex in Liberation Square. It was gutted by fire: a half-century’s accumulation of pointless paper chits consumed in a few hours. Fortunately it was closed, the twenty thousand souls who worked there were spared. There was only one death, a man who had taken up residence in an inner courtyard, unnoticed, nesting in the empty file boxes tossed from the windows by disdainful employees. It seems he’d been one of them, in passport control, and following his retirement had never left the building. He must have really loved his job.
Another unlamented loss was the Cairo Tower, a concrete needle with an observation deck from which a despondent German once leapt to his death. Religious types condemned it for its shape, the shrubs around its base being particularly suggestive and apt to turn a good woman bad. They’ll be happy, as will the people of Zamalek where a brutish apartment house built by a government crony had stood empty for decades, a blight on the skyline, blocking the Nile view of dozens of formerly fine bourgeois flats. It tumbled into an adjacent park where it ruined some lovely trees.
A dozen brick ghettos collapsed into slouching piles, causing the greatest loss of life. But thanks to the holiday many families were outdoors so that casualties remained miraculously low. Some monuments in the old city suffered, yet the minarets of the Mosque of Al-Azhar held on, and many took this as a sign. The minaret atop Bab Zuwayla, one of the city’s medieval gates, fell down, though restored just last year by the Americans amidst much pomp and ribbon cutting. Some people took that as a sign too. The Ibn Tulun Mosque stood firm, as it had it during the last big ones in the fourteenth and twentieth centuries. In fact, it looked better than before, since the loathsome plaster applied to its walls during a state-funded renovation had simply peeled away. Last but not least, the monolith of Ramses II out by the Pyramids, toppled into one of several surrounding traffic flyovers, and lost its head. That was a sign everyone could agreed on.
A pretentious five star hotel on the Nile bank collapsed, probably because everything in it, down to the toilets and bed stands, was made of weighty garish marble. Fortunately, because it was so overpriced and had stopped serving alcohol, it was nearly empty, and the Saudi owners will hardly notice it’s gone. The only problem was that the debris dammed the river and water backed up. The old Egyptian Museum flooded, undermining a fractured foundation. Statuary and many objects were lost, some of them mysteriously, but can you see it? Granite pharaohs tumbling like dominoes, crashing into each other and crushing display cases, ruins within ruins within ruins.
The Dutch sent a team of dredgers and the blockage was cleared with haste, while the French joined the Egyptians to rescue antiquities from the water. Indeed money poured in from every corner to provide assistance to the poor, repair monuments, build low-income housing, you name it; everyone was on their best and most conscientious behavior. Some of the funds even got to the people they were meant for. The reason for this temporary disruption of the usual criminal routine, was that the powers that be had been zilled and zalled themselves. Tales of their mishaps swept the city; people could talk of little else.
Take the son of the president, who along with the Coptic patriarch and the Grand Mufti, chose Sham al-Nessim for a showy interfaith summit. It was held in the Muqattam cliffs conference hall, a cave carved in the living rock. To accommodate the meeting (chosen for its fortress- like security) the entire garbage collector’s quarter was disposed of, mountains of carefully sorted trash piled indiscriminately onto trucks and dumped in the desert.
Each dignitary brought his delegation, flocks of cowled monks, turbaned elders, and brawny guards with plastic tubes in their ears. There were beards, suits and bellies; they filled the semi-circular auditorium with their hems and haws. Each had a go at the mic, with the proceedings broadcast on TV. The president’s son spoke first, about strong leadership, an undisguised shill for his dad, followed by the pope’s and the Mufti’s shills for theirs. It was all very predictable until the earth threw up her burden and a large boulder broke the lip of the cave, blocking the exit. The monks fell to praying in the dark, or rather chanting their chants that sound like Hindi pop. They were in no real danger, except that of having to endure each other’s company. They were in there for days, so we’ll return to them in a moment.
An ill-advised minister drove his bullet-proofed Mercedes convoy into the zaballeen quarter to supervise the rescue effort and assure everyone things were all right. He was pelted with muddy shib-shib and had to beat a retreat. I heard that the mob almost overturned his car. Serves him right. He had the effrontery to toss Egyptian pound coins from the windows of his car, which are practically worthless and he was lucky to escape with his life. From then on government officials chose the same strategy of retrenchment and inaction that had served them so well these many decades. They stood aside, plotting their puny plots and fingering their gold, while the people fended for themselves……
In the next episode of ‘The Earthquake of 2012’, the Nile takes charge as aftershocks rock Um al Dunya!Pre-order Maria Golia's new book on the history of photography in Egypt:
Automatically posted links for January 29th through February 3rd:
- Qatar reports new damage to Gulf undersea cables - Fourth time in a week - I think there's a conspiracy afoot
- Libya Sovereign Wealth Fund to Shun U.S., Ghanem Says - Qadhafi puts his country's money elsewhere
- Ezzedine Choukri: "?? ???? ????? ?? ????? ???? ??? ?" - Rafah episode shows current situation is losing one for all
- The path of centrist political Islam by Khalil Al-Anani - Al-Anani says MB hopeless, Wasat way forward
- Robert Fisk: The curious case of the forged biography - Fisk, hagiographer of Saddam Hussein
- Making a Great Arab City - I like this Rami Khouri piece on Dubai even though I am skeptical, because it praises the tradition of Arab cosmopolitan urbanism
- Arab Media Watch Arab Media Watch > Home - UK outfit combats anti-Arab bias in press
- Hamas explodes a giant hole in Egypt's political cover - Op-ed takes Egypt's hypocrisy on Palestine to task
- It's time to herald the Arabic science that prefigured Darwin and Newton - Faraday prize winner defends historic Arab scholarship
- For sale: West?s deadly nuclear secrets - Whistleblower says top US officials sold nuke secrets to Pakistan (the person is not named in the article, but others say it's Marc Grossman)
- Al-Jazeera Journalist Arrested in Egypt - Howeida Taha arrested, again
- AFP: Egypt censors book fair - Mohammed Choukri, Milan Kundera, Elias Khoury, Hanan al-Sheikh censored from Cairo Book Fair.
Automatically posted links for January 27th through January 28th:
- The Root | TheRoot.com - New African-American webzine
- Mort de George Habache - Carnets du Diplo - Alain Gresh
- Obituary: George Habash - David Hirst
- Killer noise pollution in Egypt - Average Downtown Cairo "like spending the day in a factory"
- Iran's Literature Today - Contemporary Iranian lit in translations (and the original)
- US MILITARY BREAKS RANKS, Part 1 -
- US MILITARY BREAKS RANKS, Part 2 - Mark Perry on Iraq, the surge and military bureaucratic politics
- Egypt takes offers for nuclear project - Let the race for contracts begin
Automatically posted links for November 25th:
- Angry Arab on Eric's Hobsbawm's memoirs - "I have no emotional obligation to the practices of an ancestral religion and even less to the small, militarist, culturally disappointing and politically aggressive nation-state which asks for my solidarity on racial grounds."
- "If Annapolis fails, smash me," souvenir mug says - Brillant! I want one!
- King Hussein of Jordan | From the desert he rose | Economist.com - Review of Avi Schlaim's biography of King Hussein. Sounds rather too positive, but he was certainly an interesting man
- The absurd world of Martin Amis | Comment | The Observer - Funnyman Chris Morris slams into Amis, Hitchens
- The Political Compass - Pretty decent test of political values...
Automatically posted links for November 23rd:
- Arab Countries to Send Senior Delegations to Peace Talks - Saudi reluctantly coming along, other Arab states breathe sifh of relief
- Hands Off Iran - "I will not pay my income tax if we go to war with Iran."
- U.S. Navy steps up fuel deliveries to Gulf forces | Reuters - Increased supply could mean exercises to warn Iran, or worse
- Â«La vie sexuelle dâ€™un islamiste Ã ParisÂ» de Leila Marouane | Babelmed -
- AFP: Egypt Copt jailed 45 years after father's conversion - Utterly ridiculous
- ANALYSIS: PA should have set the bar higher at the outset - Haaretz - Even an Israeli newspaper is aghast at the Palestinians "defeatist attitude" pre-Annapolis
- Al-Qaeda in Algeria | Babelmed - Interview with Hamida Layachi, expert on GSPC