Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fond Memories of Baghdad Bob

Big Disclaimer: Before I carry on, I'd like to make it absolutely clear I was not in any way in favor of Iraq's invasion led by the US and never believed propaganda about WMD for a single second. I never bought the bit about them wanting to remove dictators once WMDs turned out to be a complete hoax either. It is abundantly clear today that removing dictators for its own sake is not even close to being on the US foreign policy agenda.

Good. Now that we have that out of the way, I have to say every Arab dictator speech brings back fond memories of Baghdad Bob. Remember him? He was funny as hell. I am talking about Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf who was Iraq's "information" minister during the 2003 invasion of his country. We're using the word "information" in a rather generous manner here, but we might as well so as to give the guy credit for services rendered above and beyond the call of duty, reason, logic, and several other things.

This guy was amazing. He was still mouthing off and making ballsy speeches when armor elements of the US 3rd Infantry Division were rolling into Baghdad. We I saw his final speech I was half expecting him to get tackled to the ground any minute now in mid-sentence. You could see armor maneuvering in the distance behind him as he was saying everything was fine and the infidels were toast.

During recent events, I couldn't help thinking of this guy as I watched dictators make unfortunate speeches in attempts to threaten their population and make like everything is under control even after the point of no return has been crossed by a long way. Their discourse becomes totally disconnected from reality and part of us almost wants to feel sorry for them. (I said "almost".)

What is far from funny, of course, is what those dictators are doing to their population. If it weren't for that, it would be pure comedy.

Monday, February 21, 2011

We Are Not Tunisia or Egypt

We keep hearing this line, don't we. Seriously, it has become a requirement of any Arab leader speech at this point. My concern is that it has become so automatic, in fact, that I'm a little worried the Egyptian government might inadvertently use it if things get messy again in Egypt.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Circumventing Internet Access Restrictions

In recent events across North Africa and the Middle East, access to information and ability to share information have proven crucial tools for people demanding their freedom, and for independent news. It is no surprise then that governments (including Egypt) have at one point or another imposed heavy restrictions on internet access. Some continue to do so.

Depending on the kind of restrictions governments apply to limit or entirely prohibit access to sites like Facebook or Twitter or even the entire internet, some solutions may exist for circumventing these restrictions.

Firstly, take a look at Wikipedia's Internet Censorship page, and pay special attention to the Circumvention section. Some of these solutions may be applicable to your situation. If you have some extra time, also have a look at this article: The Traveler’s Guide To Bypassing Internet Censorship.

Also, Total Social Media's Web 3.0 Lab information page for Bahrain ISPs is very useful. Provides information about ISPs working with the government as well as suggestions for circumventing internet access restrictions. Have a look.

Total Social Media also has an interesting tool called the climaMeter for measuring tweet density at any location in the world. Analysing density of tweets from a particular location can provide clues as to what may be going on or what may be about to happen.

- I am not affiliated with Total Social Media in any way
- Clima is a Trademark of Total Social Media 2011 © All rights reserved

Friday, February 18, 2011

Egypt: Many Revolutions Are Yet to Come

From Wikipedia:

revolution (from the Latin revolutio, "a turn around") is a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time. Its use to refer to political change dates from the scientific revolution occasioned by Copernicus' famous De Revolutionibus Orbium CoelestiumAristotle described two types of political revolution:
  1. Complete change from one constitution to another
  2. Modification of an existing constitution.


Formal definitions aside, it seems to me that revolutions (in the political sense) are usually about people freeing themselves from some sort of oppressive force. If we take a good look at Egypt's January 25th movement under this definition, many questions remain open.

Firstly, I'm at a bit of a loss as to fully defining the Jan25 revolution. What I can say for sure is that we as Egyptians are now free of one particular oppressive force: the one composed of Mubarak and his entourage. My certainty stops there however. For now, we're not even sure we are or will be free of military rule, despite the army's reassuring statements. When one observes communication from various fragmented groups in the aftermath of the revolution, it appears people are still complaining about all sorts of oppression.

For starters, I am seeing women take a stand (at least on the net) for themselves, and rightly so. Issues range from inadequate representation in decision-making circles to rampant harassment to various other women's rights issues - some closely related to religious matters. One can only conclude then, that whatever oppresses them was not dealt with within the Jan 25th movement. This is normal, not all things can be done at once. But it does indicate that their revolution is yet to come.

Another recurring theme in recent days is about freedom of religion and belief. Much discussion has taken place regarding the constitution's notorious Article 2. The religious problem goes beyond the issues Coptic Egyptians usually face. Twitter users are quick to mention you are risking jail if you declare yourself to be atheist or that you belong to any number of other belief systems including Scientology, Jehova's Witness or Bahaii. If various religious groups are to benefit from any freedom, it is likely they will also have to stand up for their rights at some point in the future. This, unfortunately, will be no easy battle by my humble estimates.

Likewise, ongoing strikes in multiple sectors indicate that workers have not entirely - some would argue not even close - freed themselves from what ails them. As the country braces for the removal or at least increased scrutiny of various corrupt practices, workers worry about their pay. This is because the aforementioned corrupt practices were woven into everyone's life. How is an employee earning between LE200 to LE400 a month supposed to feed a family? Bribes were a part of everyday life. If they go, then the pay needs to change. Whether or not all the corruption will actually stop is still an open issue as well.

Many more problems exist in Egyptian society and not all were resolved within the revolution. In fact, the only issue that was terminally resolved was Mubarak's departure. Everything else is still up in the air. It seems we were far more focused on what we were getting away from than on where we were headed. We knew we wanted democracy, but no one really had a plan, except maybe the army and to a lesser extent the Brotherhood. In hindsight, it seems they were the only ones to hit the ground running when Mubarak bailed out.

Some of these revolutions will never take place, because nature can be cruel like that. Others will resolve themselves naturally if/when democracy settles in and we can vote our way to a better future. Others yet may require wide-scale demonstrations and strikes, and will further test the Egyptian citizen's resolve.

The danger now is having a premature sense of closure as the world's attention moves on to other rapidly changing countries and the excitement dies down. Or of letting the energy fade as physical and emotional exhaustion kick in after the difficult test Egypt's people have had to endure. The above-mentioned issues and many more are NOT closed.

The pursuit of freedom requires relentless vigilance.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

One Last Speech?

I am thinking this isn't going to be a very popular idea, but I'm increasingly feeling Mubarak should make one last speech. One from the heart, one with nothing to lose -- and nothing to gain.

If he were to make one last public appearance to tell us how he feels, what he thinks he did well, what he thinks were terrible mistakes. To tell us he loves his country and he is sorry about things that went wrong.

Anything he says may utterly lack credibility for many, but he'd be saying this with no political gains in mind. It's not like he could return or his son could return. The Egyptian people are so kind-hearted that we don't actually know how to hate. I think we would listen, we would nod our approval at him making one sincere speech and we would move on.

I think one last speech would change the image he will leave in the history books. What do you think?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Huge Opportunities Are About to be Missed

And the consequences are going to last for decades. I am talking about representation in talks with Egypt's Temporary Military Administration. Why?

People are complaining that this and that group isn't represented, typically women, youth, religions other than Islam, and others. I am also hearing a lot of complaints about possible Muslim Brotherhood over-representation.

You know why the MB is well represented? It is dead simple. Some dude showed up and said "Hey, I represent all those people here, equaling X% of Egyptian society and we would like our voices heard." In a transition to democracy, no one can refuse such a request.

But what are those other people doing? The ones complaining? Well I don't want to be harsh, but from what I can tell some are still working hard to further their democratic agenda, but many are either taking a break, or basking in the glory, or painting their toenails or whatever. History is still being written. It is being written RIGHT NOW. Toppling Mubarak was only the beginning.

People who want to be represented need to do something about it. No one is going to be more royalist than the king. If you aren't doing anything to make sure your views, your religion, or your gender is benefiting from proper representation then you are de facto accepting whatever outcome nature provides you with.

Freedom is not asked for, it is taken. That, the Egyptian people have done. The same holds true for all the following steps. If you want more women representatives, youth representatives, or any others, they must be selected and endorsed by other women, youth or whatever demographic they're from and they must be IMPOSED in talks.

What will occur in the following months will likely influence the course of matters for decades. There are huge opportunities right this moment, including adding a feminist revolution component to the vast changes we are experiencing.

If these opportunities are missed, try again in 2060.


So I've been in Cairo since the 11th now. Got here on the day Egypt moved on from 30 years of stagnation. Been to Tahrir Square at least for a while every day, got some pictures and video of various events.

One of the things that really impressed me was seeing citizens, many of whom were protesters, putting great care into cleaning the square and even repainting the sidewalks. The sense of solidarity is amazing. People don't hesitate to ask others for help. I saw a long human chain of people holding hands to protect fresh paint on a sidewalk in the square. The atmosphere on those first few days was like living in a utopia.

I also saw police/security forces demonstrate yesterday. It was odd and a little surreal. These people shot citizens.

Now, much remains to be done, and things get a little more serious as the euphoria settles. One of the challenges I see is preserving the same energy level for change after things go back to "normal".

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Confusion... Mubarak Stepping Down?

Apparently Mubarak is stepping down today. The atmosphere seems totally electric in Cairo. Outside Egyptians all over are also overexcited.

It first seemed to begin with Hossam Badrawi, SecGen of the NDP ruling party telling several people and/or news services he felt it was likely president Mubarak would step down. Some time later came this video interview.

Several other statements including one from the military came to add to the picture, though vaguely. Rumors replaced other rumors by the minute, stating that he'd left the country, or gone to the Sharm el Sheikh resort, or that he was still in Cairo. Confusion reigns supreme at this time.

Twitter went crazy the moment this all started and continues to see heavy traffic at this time.

The entire world now awaits the statement Mubarak is supposed to make tonight.

I'll be arriving in Cairo tomorrow. Depending on how this televised statement goes, I might land in the midst of a carnival or in a warzone. We'll see.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Things Egyptians Abroad Can Do to Help

I see a lot of questions on social media about how Egyptians abroad can help the revolution. Truth be told, I wonder sometimes too. I've decided I was going at the end of this week to be there and see what I can do. I haven't found anything online which lists things we can do to help. Here's a few other things I can think of:

1) If you can, go to Egypt!

I know there are various cleanup projects to participate in, or even just going to Tahrir Square and helping hold it is a great thing. If you have reason to (safely) visit other locations that have less media coverage and are able to provide information from those places (Suez comes to mind) you would be helping a lot.

2) Inform friends and acquaintances at your location

This is a leaderless movement. That means every Egyptian abroad is an ambassador. Talk to people, listen to and address their fears or questions in total honesty. Dispel myths and erroneous rumors, or preconceived ideas.

It's amazing, it feels like half the world has been to Egypt on vacation one time or the other but so many of those people don't know anything about the place or subscribe to incorrect notions. Don't be pushy about it, just provide a friendly information service.

3) Keep informing yourself

This may sound obvious but it is a prerequisite to the previous point. Staying informed might not sound like much but it keeps you involved and it helps you inform others and spread the word.

Also keep informed of support gatherings for Egypt in your area and help spread the word about them locally as well as on social media. It is great for those who are there to know so many people are with them and appreciate what they are doing.

4) Financial contributions

I'm not sure at this point whether safe methods of making financial contributions from abroad exist, but I'll update this as soon as I become aware of something suitable.

5) If you have more ideas...

Post comments and they will be added.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Google's Crisis Response Page for Egypt

Google's crisis response page can be found HERE.

The page is available in English or Arabic and provides useful information including:

- internet access
- useful phone numbers
- useful maps
- NGO information
- news

and more.

Excellent Video Depicting Jan 25th Events

Was given a link to this video earlier, now I can't stop watching.

I am Egyptian

My name is Adham. The urge to write the above words for the world to see took me a little by surprise. I have always been averse to any form of nationalism, wherever it may originate. I have also lived most of my life outside Egypt. I have lived in great places, and met great people.

Don’t get me wrong, I have always been proud of where I came from. But I wasn’t really sure why. It just seemed like you had to be proud of where you came from. If I thought a bit, I found some reasons… good food, pyramids, bla bla bla. I remember when I was a kid and found out South American cultures had pyramids too, I was kinda bummed. I hurried to check ours were bigger.

Every time I looked towards Egypt, or visited, or saw an Egyptian team in international sport, a powerful sense of belonging would come over me. It would come, and it would pass. But after the past two weeks it will never pass again while I still breathe. Now I know, I know deep inside me:

I am Egyptian.

I sat and wondered where this change came from. I set upon inspecting my own beliefs. I’ve always thought that we were great, friendly people. Many of us achieved success on an individual level in many fields and many countries, just like people from other countries. On an individual level, we were no less than anyone else. What I also believed though, is that as a people we would never stand up for our rights. I couldn’t see how this would ever change. It was too complicated.

In the past couple of weeks, people proved me wrong. They stood up, at great personal expense, and took massive risks to demand our rights. They continue to do so. Some have fallen and will never be forgotten. Others continue to put their necks on the line every day to stand up for what they believe in, for what we all believe in.

No matter what happens now, these people have brought about changes that can never be undone. Changes that will affect not only themselves, but every Egyptian. We owe these people a debt of gratitude we will never be able to repay.

To those who did what had to be done, who relentlessly pursued freedom in the face of violence, intimidation, fear, and even opposition by their fearful peers…

Thank you.