The Shoe Incident

December 15, 2008

Most of the Egyptians I have spoken with today, despite the fact that they either strongly dislike or hate President Bush, did not think what happened at the press conference yesterday was appropriate. In fact, the majority of them said it was “ayb,” or shameful that an Iraqi reporter threw his shoes at the President.

In Egyptian and other Middle Eastern cultures, the bottom of one’s shoe is an extremely dirty thing. No pun intended. Showing the bottom of one’s shoe is considered insulting, so people here do not often cross their legs lest they show the bottom of their shoes. Slapping or hitting someone on the back of the neck is also a very nasty insult, and likely to lead to a serious streetfight. But the worse is probably hitting someone on the back of the neck with one’ shoe, or throwing one’s shoe at someone, which is kind of a combination of the two because one is not only attacking someone else, but with one’s shoe, no less.

I found this interesting because I would not have been surprised had a lot of people supported the reporter’s actions. I get the sense that people here appreciate when someone stands up to the US, especially to President Bush, even if it is just symbolically (or even if they miss). Not necessarily because they hate the US, but because from the other side, it probably seems like the US is a bit of a bully sometimes.

So the fact that this cultural norm overrode this common feeling I thought was interesting. I think most people saw through the pettiness of that action, despite what they think about the American President or the War in Iraq.

New Post on FPA Egypt Blog: 84% of Egyptians Believe Obama’s Election Will Not Change US Policy Towards Arabs and Muslims

December 1, 2008

I have a new, brief post on the Foreign Policy Association Egypt Blog. It’s an interesting tidbit and probably not a surprise to most of you, but I thought I’d share a piece of news from a prominent Egyptian newspaper.

You can read the post here.

Patriotism For the First Time

November 20, 2008

This is a bit of a late post, but I never got a chance to publish it.

I have heard a lot of people say (and seen a lot of Facebook status messages) that they are “proud to be American for the first time” now that Barack Obama has been elected President of the United States. I understand that people have been incredibly unhappy the past eight years under the Bush administration, but does that mean one still cannot be proud to be American? I was proud when firefighters rushed into the burning World Trade Centers, knowingly giving their lives for their country and their countrymen. I was proud of the US olympic team while watching from a restaurant in Morocco. And I was proud to see Americans stand up and make their voices heard, regardless of the result.

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.

Clinton, Monica, and Israel

October 7, 2008

I have a lot of things I still need to post and a lot of work to do, but I have to write this down while it is still fresh in my mind.

We are reading a book in class called Taxi, by Khaled Khamisi. Khamisi recorded his conversations with taxi drivers in Egypt over the span of about two years and compiled them into short stories in this book. It is very interesting and fun to read. Depending on how tired I am and how confident I am feeling with my Arabic, I like to talk with taxi drivers, too, as they really get around Cairo and usually have a lot to say. Sometimes I think I should write my own version of Taxi.

This conversation started with the usual pleasantries and when I told the driver, Ahmed, that I was from America, he was very happy and said “ah, Bush, Bush.” I asked him whether he likes Obama or McCain, as Bush’s term is almost up. He told me he liked Clinton. I asked him why, and he said because he was a good guy. I reminded him of what happened with Monica Lewinsky and he told me that it wasn’t Clinton’s fault. “What would you do if there was an attractive woman dressing and acting that way in front of you?” Anyway, he said, Israel put her in the White House to sabotage Clinton and his administration. I asked him to explain, and he said that the White House and American businesses are controlled by Israel. “People think that the US controls Israel, but it is actually Israel that controls the US,” he said. He told me that because Clinton was not kowtowing to Israel enough they brought him down, and that Bush is not good because he is controlled by Israel.

Ahmed actually mentioned that Israel and the Jews control the White House and America’s economy, which is important to note. Many people here do not make a distinction between Israelis and Jews. However, Ahmed also told me that no matter what you are, Christian, Jew, or Muslim, as long as you are a “just” person, he doesn’t have a problem.

When I pressed him on who he likes in November, he said McCain, because he is a good guy. He didn’t seem to have any interest in Obama.