The Financial Crisis and the GM Bailout

November 18, 2008

So a friend on campus told me two interesting pieces of news today that I thought you all might like to hear. The first is that he overheard two Egyptians speaking at the US Embassy about how the Jews caused the financial crisis. It must be true, because Hamas thinks so as well. The second is that the Israel lobby is blocking the bailout of GM. Just thought you should know.

Suzanne Mubarak Denies there is Sexual Harassment in Egypt

November 17, 2008

That’s pretty much it. Wow. (It’s in Arabic, sorry)

$$$ + "Western Cultural Imperialism?" = Al-Khaleej

November 17, 2008

For all you IR, business, finance, art lovers out there, here’s an article on the United Arab Emirates’ booming economic, and apparently now cultural, influence.

A few choice quotes from the article:

“The whole intention is to make Abu Dhabi the hub of culture in the Middle East, and a cultural destination for the world. It’s going brilliantly,” she says.

Is he worried that the new Arab investors will be calling the shots?

Years of western culture and tradition are being transplanted to the desert, where the Emiratis are greedily slaking their thirst for these new experiences.

There’s so much money around, so much appetite to bring new things to the Middle East that it can’t be long before Abu Dhabi rivals Paris, Venice or Los Angeles – certainly that is the ambition.

This brought a couple of things to mind, I’ll share after I finish listening to Ala Nasiya, insha Allah.

American Movies

November 15, 2008

Egyptians love American movies. A lot. Our friend Mohammed who cuts our hair down the street was just telling me that he noticed a couple of things in American movies and wanted to know if they reflected American society. The first is that there are a lot of gangs in America, and the second is that if people are fighting in the street, for example, no one pays any attention. He must have just seen Goodfellas and Bad Boys 2.

Anyway, the point is that Egyptians get a lot of their ideas about America from our movies. Movies are very popular here, and most Egyptians do not read books. They read newspapers, but that’s about it. I can talk more about this later, but let me just quote a statistic from my professor who is an Arabic literature critic. He said that the greatest number of books sold in Egypt in one year written by Naguib Mahfouz, an Egyptian and possibly the most well-known Arab writer and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, was 3000 copies.

Many Egyptian movies are pointed expressions of Egyptian society. For example, we just finished watching a movie starring Adel Imam, one of the most famous Egyptian actors, in which he plays a business man who at one point buys some poems, releases a book of these poems under his own name, buys all the copies of the book, and then pays some people off to win Egypt’s best poet award. The film of course deals with corruption.

So when Egyptians see American movies, they often think they are a direct reflection of American society. Needless to say I told Mohammed that the mafia and gangs are not really the biggest problems facing American society these days, and that although people do not help each other enough, its not as if it never happens.

I’m not sure he was convinced, but he loves Sly Stallone.

Gym Talk – "Obama, Race, and Israel"

November 14, 2008

I am going to stop numbering my “Gym Talks” because I foresee there will be many more to come.

A couple of guys in the gym asked me today what I thought of Obama. I won’t go through it here but I basically said that I like him although I do not think he is perfect (unlike some other people I know). Anyway, I asked them what they thought. One guy, pointing to his skin, said that Obama being elected was a big deal because brown people in the United States usually cannot be in higher jobs than white people. I explained that although there is racism in the US, we have Black, White, Asian, Arab, etc. presidents of companies, universities, etc. etc. I agreed however that having a Black president is a big deal.

Their biggest complaint about Obama was that they 1. “think that he is going to do things just for the Jews” and 2. “heard that he is biased towards Israel.” One of them mentioned Rahm Emanuel’s appointment in passing. I’ll be honest, the music was really loud, and one guy had a speech impediment, so I didn’t catch everything they were saying. From what I could tell though, they didn’t really go into much detail about their opinion or what they heard. I would venture to guess this is because they don’t really know why they think that Obama is biased towards Israel, and if he is why that might be. These guys are not dumb, but they don’t read The New York Times every day either (that is not a shot at The New York Times, it’s just an example).

I asked what they thought about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general. They said what I hear most Egyptians say, which is that it will never end. We continued talking and they told me that there are good Israelis and bad Israelis just like there are good Egyptians and bad Egyptians, but that the governments are the ones that cause all of the problems because they say one thing and do another. In addition, they agreed with a two state solution.

I am not sure where the idea about race relations in the US came from, but I sure know where the ideas about Obama came from, because as many people have pointed out, the whole Arab world is distraught over Rahm Emanuel’s appointment. They see it as a death sentence for a Palestinian state. And the majority of news and opinion I hear here completely disregard anything else about Emanuel’s personality, experience, or qualification for the job.

I understand people’s concerns vis-à-vis Emanuel and Israel, but I do not think there is evidence that he is going to be bad for the Arab side. He played an important role at Oslo. And as I have said many times before, just because someone is pro-Israel does not mean that he does not believe in a Palestinian state.

The fixation with everything Israel and Zionist in the Arab media gets really frustrating. I have no problem with reporting on the closure of Gaza or on Israeli raids into the West Bank or whatever. These are things that are happening and they are important to people in this region. But the constant discussion of these issues at the expense of sometimes more important ones and the lack of balance in the sharing of opinions is really tiring.

Op-ed "Obama’s Message Resonates in Egypt – To a Point"

November 14, 2008

Thanks again to Claude Salhani at the Middle East Times for publishing my piece “Obama’s Message Resonates in Egypt – To a Point”

Marc Lynch on Emanuel

November 13, 2008

Here is a good post by Marc Lynch (aka Abu Aardvark, whose blog is listed below) about Rahm Emanuel’s appointment as Obama’s chief of staff.

One thing I like about Abu Aardvark is his focus on the importance of public diplomacy and strategic communication, two things with which I have a bit of experience and the importance of which I think is often overlooked.

Keith Olbermann Issues Special Comment on Passing of Prop. 8

November 13, 2008
This is not a topic that I usually cover, but I think Olbermann does a great job here. I was especially impressed with his emotion.

Here is the clip from Youtube.

November 12, 2008

Keith Olbermann Issues Special Comment on Passing of Prop. 8

In a week that has seen everyone from Ellen DeGeneres to Drew Barrymore speak out against California’s passing of Prop. 8 — the ban on same-sex marriage — MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann issued a passionate commentary on the passing of Prop. 8, asking supporters, “Why does this matter to you?”

Olbermann promised last week that he would be issuing a “special comment” on the passing of Prop. 8. Staying true to his word, on his show last night, he prefaced his report by saying that he has no personal stake in the issue of same-sex marriage. He said he was even hard-pressed to find one family member who is gay.

“To me, this vote is horrible…horrible,” Olbermann said. “Because this isn’t about yelling and this isn’t about politics. This is about the human heart, and if that sounds corny, so be it.”

Later in his report, Olbermann pointed to the many times throughout history in which America has had to redefine marriage in accordance with achieving civil rights.

“I keep hearing this term ‘redefining marriage.’ If this country hadn’t redefined marriage, black people still couldn’t marry white people. Sixteen states had laws on the books which made that illegal in 1967… 1967. The parents of the president-elect of the United States could not have married in nearly one third of the states in the country their son grew up to lead.”

Since Prop. 8 passed by a narrow majority last Tuesday, rallies have been held around the state protesting the voters’ decision. On Saturday some 12,500 people marched through Los Angeles’s Silver Lake district protesting the same-sex marriage ban. (The Advocate)

The Dry Cleaners

November 11, 2008

There are about 4 dry cleaners on our street. One of them, called Iran Clean (we live on the corner of Iran and Zahraa streets), usually gets our business. Every couple of months Iran Clean hires a new delivery boy, usually between the ages of 10 and 14. The kid working there now, who for the past few days has been wearing a blue Incredible Hulk hoodie, is very nice. He just brought my dry cleaning over, 2 shirts, which cost 7 Egyptian pounds ($1.27). I am not sure if I am paying khawaga (gringo) prices, but either way that is still pretty cheap. I had a ten dollar bill and gave it to him, and he said “I’ll go get you change and come back.” I told him to keep it. He was speechless. $0.54. I am a saint, I know.

DAM Concert

November 10, 2008

I went to see the Palestinian hip-hop group DAM this past weekend at the Sawy Cultural Center in Cairo. A really good Egyptian hip-hop group opened for them, rapping in mostly English and some Arabic. The beats were really good. I was impressed. The Egyptian group, called The Pharaohs, gave it up for their main inspiration, Tupac. I remember reading an article in the one sociology class I took in undergrad about the transnational nature of hip-hop and hip-hop culture. How teenagers in Japan, for example, were rapping, wearing baggy clothing, and listening to American hip-hop groups. It explained how they used hip-hop as an outlet for their societal frustration, for expressing themselves when there wasn’t always another available medium.

I know of the DAM guys first and foremost through a friend, Sameh, “the Arabic beatbox,” who often collaborates with them. Sameh stayed at my house for a weekend when I was in high school with a program called Friends of Open House. I haven’t really kept up with the friendships I made in the program or with the program itself, but the idea is to bring together Israeli and Palestinian children who live in Ramle, a mixed Israeli-Arab town in Israel, to talk about the issues.

Anyway, the concert was great and there was a lot of energy. Of course, DAM is a political group and politics are part of their songs and their concerts. I cringed during one of their most famous songs called “Who is a Terrorist? (Min Irhabi?).” The chorus goes like this:

Who’s a terrorist?
I’m a terrorist?
How I am a terrorist
When you’ve taken my land?!
Who’s a terrorist?
You’re the terrorist!
You’ve taken everything I own
While I’m living in my homeland

This is a very strong message. But I think it is important to hear what people are saying and try to understand what they are feeling. They called Bush a terrorist, and they called “the occupation” a terrorist. I thought that was interesting. Instead of saying Israel is a terrorist state or the Jews are terrorists, they attacked the occupation. I think that says something. At the end of the show, they lifted their arms and made the peace sign. The group has collaborated with Israeli artists in order to bridge the gaps between Israeli and Palestinian youth through music.

I may not like or agree with everything these guys say, and their message is not always the most positive, but instead of blowing themselves up, instead of firing rockets, they are rapping and making music.

Here is another interesting article on DAM and their relationship with Israeli rapper Subliminal.