AUC Girls at The American University of English

October 25, 2008

This is a pretty good example of what I have to hear all day long at the AUC campus. It’s obviously an exaggeration, but the mixing of English and Arabic is especially on point. Don’t waste your time watching the whole thing unless you understand some amiyya.

“AUC Girls”


Jihadi Internet Forums

October 24, 2008

For anyone who wants a brief refresher on the importance and influence of Jihadi internet forums, or who would like to learn more about them, check out “Influence of Jihadi Forums” at Jihadica.com, a professional and highly respected site about all things Jihad.


Sexual Harassment in Egypt

October 23, 2008

I haven’t written much about this but it is a problem that not only my classmates face on a daily basis because they are foreign and are therefore considered to be “loose” by many Egyptian men, but a problem that Egyptian women, veiled an not veiled, face as well. This is a landmark ruling in a country that has chosen to ignore, both on a legal/political and social level, a frankly disgusting and unacceptable phenomenon.

Egyptian Sexual Harasser Jailed

The BBC and Reuters reported a few months ago on polling that was done in which over two-thirds of Egyptian men admitted to sexual harassing women in the streets. This harassment is both verbal and physical.

Just to give you more of an idea, I’ll share a few stories:

1. A girl on my program almost went home for good after she was constantly harassed near her home. In one incident a man grabbed her and wrapped his arms around her, and in another a man touched her crotch.
2. My roommate’s girlfriend is constantly glared at, whistled at, and told things like “sexy, so sexy,” often even while he is with her.
3. My professor told us that a few years ago she would find holes in her pants from men spraying hydrochloric acid out of syringes at her while she walked by them on the street. The men were eventually arrested and justified their actions by saying that my professor was inappropriately dressed in her slacks.
4. Someone spit in my classmate’s face last week while she was boarding the metro.
5. An American-Egyptian classmate from 2006 told me a story about a security guard who chased her down the street and threatened to throw her in jail if she did not kiss him after he saw her hug a male classmate in the street.
6. In 2006 and more recently last month mobs of young men have physically harassed women in the street, groping them and ripping their clothes.

I could go on and on. The arrest and subsequent sentencing of the man in this case has caused an uproar in Egypt and will hopefully bring this issue to the forefront of the public sphere. One of the biggest problems regarding this phenomenon is the social taboo on Egyptian women dealing with anything sexual. It is a big deal that this woman actually reported that she was harassed because most of these things go unreported for fear of social repercussions.


For Foreign Students, AUC is Not What It Used to Be (2)

October 23, 2008

Thanks to The Daily News Egypt for also publishing my piece:

For Foreign Students, AUC is Not What it Used to Be


McCain and Obama at the Alfred E Smith Memorial Dinner

October 19, 2008

Putting all politics aside for a minute, I highly recommend watching the videos of McCain and Obama at the Alfred E Smith Memorial Dinner if you haven’t already seen them. I found both candidates to be very funny and at the same time truly respectful of one another. I would just like to say that it is things like this, despite all of our problems, that really makes me love my country. Enjoy.

McCain 1

McCain 2

Obama


Al-Jazeera and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

October 19, 2008

I just had a nice conversation with a cab driver which started somehow with us discussing TV and how most TV programs and channels are a waste of time. I listed a few that were good, however, like History Channel, Discovery Channel, and yes, HBO. I mentioned that news programs were generally good as well, as long as they were mostly news. He then said to me, “can I ask you a personal question, and if you don’t mind, could you answer me honestly?” I said sure, of course.

He asked what I thought of Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I gave him my usual spiel, and noted that what I object to about Al-Jazeera in this regard is that they give mostly favorable coverage to the Palestinian side and have mostly stories covering the plight of the Palestinians, while ignoring those Palestinians and Palestinian groups which commit wanton acts of violence, terrorism, and are actively trying to stop any peace process. In addition, I think Al-Jazeera only covers Israeli news which relates to the conflict, and if it is supposed to be a “Middle East focused” news station, it should treat Israel in this regard like it does all other countries in the Middle East.

In any case, he told me that I have to see Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the conflict in a context of occupation and resistance. This of course is a prevailing notion here among others explaining causation for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which I agree is part of the issue but not all of it. I told him that in that context I understand, from the Palestinian side, that when someone kills an Israeli soldier in the West Bank, that is seen as “resistance.” Fine. Obviously, I am very upset when that happens, but if you are going to try to understand the other side, this is a point of view which can be backed up by logical arguments about occupation and resistance. However, I explained, when Palestinians shoot rockets from Gaza into Israel proper, or when suicide bombers blow themselves up on buses or gunman shoot students in schools, this is not resistance. This is terrorism. And when Al-Jazeera does not make that clear, and calls the people who commit these acts “martyrs,” that is completely unacceptable.

At that point I was ready to get out, and he either did not have a response or had had enough. Regardless, it was a very friendly conversation, and we both parted with smiles on our faces.


Salman Al-Farisi and Identity

October 18, 2008

This weekend’s novel is called The Seeker of Truth by Mohammed Abd Al-Halim Abdullah, an historical novel about Salman Al-Farisi, a Zoroastrian Persian who converted to Islam and became one of the Prophet’s companions. The book is a little slow but it focuses on Al-Farisi’s literal and figurative journey towards Islam. I have just read the chapter where Al-Farisi meets a pagan Arab on a boat en route to Greater Syria. Upon first meeting each other, Al-Farisi asks the Arab of his religion. The undertone of their ensuing relationship revolves in large part around their differences of religion (Al-Farisi at this point has converted to Christianity) but in the end become good friends. I suspect they meet again later on in the story.

So far, I have empathized with Al-Farisi’s yearning to be close to God, and have noticed that despite the plot of the book, religion in those times seemed to play a different role in people’s lives. In the United States, and possibly in the Western world as a whole, people to me seem less defined by their religion as they are by their citizenships, their jobs, or their personalities. Back then, it seems, one’s nation and one’s religion were all that mattered. Al-Farisi, at this point in the story, is defined solely as a Persian and as a Christian.

Maybe in Western society, and I realize I am making generalizations here, we do not usually define ourselves this way because it is 2008 and we have Ipods and mortgages and all that other globalized, consumption, modernity, “one world” jazz. There is nothing wrong with this, and to me it is just the way it is and people are free to make their own choices about whom they want to be.

In Egypt, however, and I would venture to say other places in the Middle East and quite possibly around the world, though I don’t have the experience to say so, nationality and religion are still defining aspects of one’s identity. I have spoken before about how common it is for Egyptians to ask a person if they are Muslim upon first meeting them. I do not mean to insult here by saying that Egypt or the Middle East today is lost in a 7th century mentality. However, there is something to be said of that, and although this mentality can have obvious negative consequences which I won’t touch on now, it has positive ones as well.

Personally, I feel something calming about the simplicity of this way of forming one’s identity and it often makes me stop and think about who and what I really am.


Egyptian Media Censorship

October 17, 2008

This past week my program had a meeting with an author, poet, and journalist who works for Al-Ahram, the major pro-government newspaper in Egypt. We had an interesting conversation with him, and he shared some of his poetry with us. I bought a copy of his most recent collection of poems titled Coffee and Chocolate.

We asked him questions about his personal interests, about being a journalist, and mostly about media censorship in Egypt, which is always a hot topic. A number of journalists have been put in jail recently for “slandering,” “threatening national security,” etc., and I think Americans are especially interested in media censorship because of the large degree of freedom of expression in the United States. So, when asked if there is censorship of the media in Egypt, our guest flatly responded “no.” He then explained that there are three lines the media does not cross in Egypt. They are:

1. Criticism of the president
2. Criticism of judges
3. Criticism of the army

To me, of course, this sounds like plain old censorship. In addition, criticism of religious officials, such as the Mufti of Al-Azhar, is also not acceptable, as journalists have been put in jail for criticizing him as well.

What I thought was especially interesting was that he explained that the real censorship in Egypt is societal. People censor themselves for political, religious, or cultural reasons. This makes a lot of sense, as the effects of the political status quo here and the consequences for altering it are established to the extent that people usually do not need to be told when to shut up. They know because it has been this way for a long time. (As a side note, Egypt has been under “Emergency Law” since former President Sadat was assassinated in 1981). In addition, there is cultural and religious self-censorship as Egypt is a culturally intense and religiously conservative society. As an example, many women do not report when they have been sexually assaulted as it is seen as shameful for the family.

In any case, our guest does work for Al-Ahram, and certainly knows the limits on his freedom of speech, so I understand his self-censorship and unwillingness to admit that this country censors its media.


Gym Talk 2 "Why do Americans Think that all Arabs and Muslims are Terrorists?"

October 14, 2008

One of the questions I am most often asked by Egyptians is “why do Americans think that all Arabs and Muslims are terrorists?”

Most Egyptians I have spoken to believe that Americans have a very negative view of Arabs and Muslims (can I just write A/M for now if I am refering to both?) . Some of them do. But just like some Americans have stereotypes about Arabs or Muslims, Americans shouldn’t all be stereotyped either.

Tonight in the gym, the Captain asked me why I was studying Arabic. I told him the usual, which I actually think I have explained to him before, the crux of which being that for whatever study or work I am going to be doing in the future, understanding Arabic will be crucial to understanding the politics, religion, culture, and people of the Middle East. With Ahmed, Walid, Mario (Mahmoud), and the Captain (whose name is also Mahmoud), we continued the conversation and spoke about Americans’ ideas about people in the Middle East. Of course I get very worked up about this topic and although I talked a lot, which I know I normally do in these situations, I thought we had a good conversation and in the end, I think we all learned something and for the most part agreed with each other. I wish I had a transcript of it so as not to miss anything, but I’ll share what I can remember write now.

Ahmed said that Americans believe stereotypes about A/M because of American media. This is interesting, because I having been watching more Al-Jazeera lately and although I think it is a good news channel, it is no doubt biased. So I explained that I think all news and every person has biases, and that the challenge is to gather as much information as possible and then sort it out for oneself. Fox News vs. Al-Jazeera. Neither are perfect, but I learn from both. Ahmed seemed to agree. I explained that part of the reason I am here in Egypt is, in this sense, to get as much information as possible and then go home and try to help Americans understand this region better.

You know what? I realize I sound pompous with some of this and frankly I am sick of writing about this stuff. What I really want to say in this post is how awesome it is and how lucky I am to be able to joke around, talk politics, and make friends with a bunch of Egyptian guys my age in a “ghetto” gym in the middle of Cairo. For me, that is such an important part of what this experience is about. That is the learning that takes place outside of the classroom.


For Foreign Students, AUC is Not What It Used to Be

October 14, 2008

One of the reasons I haven’t been posting enough is that I have been working on this (the other reason being I have a ton of schoolwork, which I know is not a good excuse). Thanks to Tim and Abu Shanab for helping me with the piece, and especially to the editor of the Middle East Times, Claude Salhani, for publishing it.

For Foreign Students, AUC is Not What it Used to Be