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Posts tagged ‘Al Jazeera’

Dark Days

A sandstorm has had Cairo under a blanket of grit for two days now. It’s pretty awful. Just a couple of minutes outside leaves you with a coating of dust and sand in your hair. Visibility is down to next to nothing and the whole city is cloaked in a jaundiced pall.

The external drabness fits the mood here. People in Egypt seem more despondent than they have been in a long time. It’s been clear for a while now that the government under the nation’s beloved President Sisi is as repressive as any that came before it. Random bomb attacks against military and police still take place in Cairo and its environs, and the insurgency in Sinai against the security forces there continues. Militants dealt a particularly debilitating blow at the end of January in coordinated attacks that killed at least 26 people. And on the fourth anniversary of the revolution, the mother of a 5-year-old boy was killed by police birdshot while marching to lay a wreath of flowers in Tahrir Square.

That’s not the end of it. This week at least dozens of soccer fans were killed when police fired teargas at a crowd trying to storm a stadium. The victims were almost all young men, between the ages of 19 and 23. The senseless deaths seemed to be more than many here could take. One friend of mine said his cab driver was fighting back tears while talking about the tragedy the next day. For the moment, the love affair between the people and Sisi’s government is cooling.

There was one positive development: the release of Peter Greste, one of the three Al Jazeera journalists who have been in prison here since last December for, well, doing their jobs. They were accused of being in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood, which is outlawed in Egypt, and of reporting false news that damaged national security here.

The charges were preposterous. Greste and his colleagues were well known among the press corps as reputable, mainstream journalists who had worked with a number of international news outlets, including BBC and CNN. And while much of the Egyptian public believed the three were guilty (why would they have been arrested otherwise??), plenty of those in power here knew the case against them was nonsense. Prosecutors were unable to produce a shred of credible evidence against the trio. And yet, Greste languished in jail for 400 days and his colleagues are still there.

The pressure to free them was constant and considerable, and Sisi felt it. Eventually, it paid off for Greste, an Australian citizen, who was released under a recently passed law allowing for the deportation of foreigners charged with crimes. His colleague Mohamed Fadel Fahmy is Egyptian-Canadian; there were reports that he will renounce his Egyptian citizenship so he, too, can be deported. The rumor mill was in full force earlier this week, predicting that he’d be released within hours, but as of this writing he remains in jail.

The most worrisome case is that of the third journalist, Baher Mohamed. He is an Egyptian citizen with no other nationality, so the law allowing deportation doesn’t apply to him. His fate will be decided during his retrial, which is set to begin tomorrow. If Fahmy isn’t out by then, and it looks like he won’t be, he, too, will be retried. Amal Clooney (yes the heartthrob’s wife) is one of the lawyers defending Fahmy and is reportedly coming to Cairo this week to push for his release. Given how things have gone for them with the Egyptian legal system so far, I can’t imagine either man is feeling particularly positive about their prospects in court, but at least Fahmy has a possible get-out-of-jail card in his Canadian passport. And a higher court said this week that it had ordered the retrial because of a lack of evidence in the earlier proceedings, so that could be a good sign.

The whole thing has been a PR disaster for Egypt, leaving many Westerners scratching their heads as to why the government didn’t find a way to release the three a long time ago. From a local context makes more sense; it has little to nothing to do with the men who were arrested, and far more to do with a feud between Qatar and Egypt. Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera, supported the former Islamist regime in Egypt, putting it at odds with the current government here, which outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood and is doing everything it can to suppress the group. What’s more, Al Jazeera, which is owned by Qatar, operated an Egyptian channel, which was sympathetic to the Brotherhood. Given that, in the eyes of ordinary Egyptians, the three men were guilty simply by association.

Recently, though, relations between Egypt and Qatar have thawed a bit, and Al Jazeera shut down its Egyptian channel—a move that some believed paved the way for Greste’s release.  One can only hope that the other two men will be freed soon as well. Sadly, there are plenty of other journalists languishing in jail in near anonymity.

UPDATE: They’re out on bail. Good news, at least for now.

http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/retrial-remaining-al-jazeera-reporters-open-egypt-28911884?via=newsletter&source=CSAMedition

Routine Drama

We’ve been back in Cairo for just over a week and Paris already seems a lifetime away. I think adjusting to the difference in food was the toughest for all of us.

Not that we’re not happy to be back. We are, very much, but I’m glad the trip—as wonderful as it was—is behind us. Now we can focus on life here. I keep thinking about how little time we have left, but I came across a photo of the day our boxes arrived from New York and realized that was only six months ago. It feels like ages. So there’s plenty we can do and experience in the 10 or so months we have left. I’m looking forward to it.

We’re in the midst of a typically Cairene experience, and one we’ve had before. We’re in deep with another stray kitten. He’s adorable, but would have been impossible to ignore anyway, circling my front yard with the loudest and most incessant meow I’ve ever heard. I got the vet to come examine him, because I was worried he was going blind in one eye (you’ve gotta love a vet who makes house calls). He said the kitten, a little ginger fellow who the boys call Rocky and the gardener calls mesh mesh (apricot) was about 5 weeks old and has a type of herpes virus in his eye that is common in street cats, and gave me a prescription for drops. The vet also said that the non-stop mewling was an SOS call, and that Rocky must have lost his mother. Poor little guy.

We set up a little home for him in our laundry shed. There’s a pipe that he can go through to get in and out. So can the other two kittens I’ve been feeding, who are a few months older than Rocky. At first I was worried they were going to take his food from him, but they seem to have taken him under their wing. And not only for the good. The first couple of days Rocky stayed close to the house, but then we found him wandering down the street with one of the bigger kittens. They’re already taking our sweet little guy out on the town and teaching him the ways of the world. They grow up so fast these days.

Trouble is, now it’s been two days and he hasn’t come back. O swears he saw him at the house across the street, where they put out tons of food each day, and the bawab tells me the same thing. I hope they’re right. I just want to give him his eye medicine.

Things in Egypt continue as usual. Life continues to feel pretty normal, but there are tensions bubbling below the surface that seem destined to flare up at some point. There was a bombing downtown, and 12 people were injured. The bomb went off at midnight, so I suppose it could have been much worse.

The government continues to keep the Al Jazeera journalists and many activists in jail, and some of them are on a continued hunger strike. One young man, who has dual Egyptian-American citizenship, is seriously ill and it seems as though he could die soon. The government doesn’t seem inclined to do anything about it. So the military regime is back in full force.

On the other hand, Egypt does feel considerably more stable, although with the current levels of repression you have to wonder how long that can last. In any case, foreign companies are showing renewed interest in expanding here. There’s a delegation of US businesses set to come next month to explore opportunities for investment, and the word is that tourism is picking up. Egyptians, for the most part, are just happy to have a return to normalcy.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the as-yet-unscheduled parliamentary elections. I saw a news story today predicting that the new parliament will be dominated by military types; I see no reason to assume that won’t be the case.  There is still no party nearly as powerful and as organized as the Brotherhood was, so with them out of the picture Egypt is looking at a political vacuum.

CAT UPDATE:

After nearly two days with no Rocky sighting, I think I saw him across the street last night practicing climbing trees, although it was dark so I couldn’t be sure. The kitten I saw was with what appeared to be its mother, and when I approached him the mother growled at me. I tried to get a look at his eye. It seemed to be okay but I couldn’t really tell. Some locals had staged a TNR (trap, neuter, release) campaign recently, so it’s possible the mother got caught up in that and just found her way home.

Holiday Cheer

Phew! I am always so relieved when Christmas is behind us. Usually we have a crush of holidays in December—X’s birthday, Sinterklaas, Christmas, Orthodox Christmas, New Year’s Eve. By the time my birthday rolls around in January I’m too exhausted to want to do anything. This year, though, we’re down to two holidays—Christmas and New Year’s Eve, and we’ve already made it through one.

T opening presentsChristmas was nice. O came in from NY—he’s here for good now—and brought all the presents with him.The boys were so happy. We had a mellow day, and just cooked dinner at home. The next day we drove to Ain Sokhna, a resort on the Red Sea about a 90 minute drive from Cairo, with two other families who have kids in X’s class, one from South Sudan and one from Bangladesh. It was quite the cultural mélange.

The weather in Ain Sokhna was about the same as in Cairo—in the low 60s, but somehow on the beach it felt much warmer. The kids had a blast playing in the sand—they made a giant sand castle—and it was warm enough for me to swim in the sea, although not for too long. Still, it was a great getaway. I think we’ll go back pretty regularly. The roads are good, it’s an easy drive and it’s such a nice break from Cairo that I imagine we’ll go at least a few times a year.Sand Castles

I’ve been running around Cairo doing interviews for the book, which is always exhausting. I had a meeting yesterday in a neighborhood called Shubra, which is about as far north of downtown as I am south. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper the whole way up there, and the entire round trip, interview included, took nearly five hours. It’s hard to get much done when a single meeting can take up your whole day.

Still, I’ve been venturing out of our little bubble pretty regularly. I’m going a bit stir crazy down here. We met a friend of X’s at the Gezira Club last week, which was lovely. They have absolutely everything there—playgrounds, restaurants, tennis, squash, gymnastics, soccer, golf….you name it. I was hoping to do some shopping while we were up in Zamalek but, once again, traffic was so bad that just getting there took it out of us.

Now that O is here there’s a new round of annoying banalities to be dealt with, and they’re even harder this go around. I’m an Egyptian citizen so, by comparison, was able to do things with relative ease. He tried to get an Egyptian cell phone number yesterday and couldn’t because he’s currently here on a tourist visa. They told him he would have to establish residency or get a letter from his employer to be able to get anything other than a prepaid phone. I can’t wait to see what happens when he tries to open a bank account or get added to mine.

I am becoming increasingly exercised about the position of women in Egyptian society. The sexism is everywhere, and so corrosive. I make weekly objections to both of my Arabic tutors about their curricula (which neither of them is responsible for, but who else am I going to complain to?). The rich men are always married to beautiful women and the poor men have fat, ugly wives. Today we were learning vocabulary around one’s daily routine. The man got up, ate breakfast, got dressed and went to work. The woman woke up, fed her family, cleaned the house and then visited with her friends.

But the truth is, the women in Egypt are as responsible for the state of affairs as men are. When I complained to my teacher today, he told me that he talks about this issue with his colleague at the university. His female colleagues just want to get married—to pretty much anyone. And these are women pursuing graduate degrees. I’ve noticed this here before. The women believe it is their duty to cook and clean and take care of their husbands. Men are held responsible for very little. The old attitudes hold and traditional gender roles are entrenched. Until the women themselves push back against them, nothing will change.

Things are going downhill on the political front. There have been several bombings over the past week and there is no reason to think we’ve seen the end of that. The government crackdown on the Brotherhood is more repressive than anything I saw when I was living in the Soviet Union. It’s gotten so nuts that they’re now arresting journalists for reporting on the Brotherhood. These new policies seem destined to backfire.

But the boys and I are about to have a temporary reprieve. We’re flying to NY in a few days and will be there for a week. We’re all looking forward to seeing our friends and being able to enjoy a city that functions for a while. I just hope it’s not too cold.

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